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Bringing Soil Mechanics to Elementary Schools

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

It's Elementary

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.254.1 - 23.254.18



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Paper Authors


Eduardo Alfonso Suescun-Florez Polytechnic Institute of New York University

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Eduardo Suescun-Florez received a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering from La Salle University, Bogota, Colombia in 2000. Upon graduation, he co-founded Geotecnia de Colombia LLC., and worked as an engineering consultant for public and private agencies in Colombia and South America. Most recently he worked as external engineering consultant for the World Bank in Washington, D.C. After obtaining his M.S. degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2010, he began pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering with major in Geotechnical Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. He is currently serving as a teaching fellow at the Bedford Village and Langston Hughes Elementary Schools under NYU-Poly's GK-12 program funded by NSF and CBSI consortium of donors. His experimental research interest is focused on the high strain rate behavior of sands including transparent soils and its application on modeling of rapid earth penetration.

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Ryan Francis Cain PS 3 The Bedford Village School

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Ryan Cain teaches elementary science in Brooklyn, NY. Since 2010, he has served as a partner teacher in NYU-Poly's AMPS/CBSI GK-12 Fellows project.

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Vikram Kapila Polytechnic Institute of New York University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Vikram Kapila is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at NYU-Poly, where he directs an NSF funded Web-Enabled Mechatronics and Process Control Remote Laboratory, an NSF funded Research Experience for Teachers Site in Mechatronics, and an NSF funded GK-12 Fellows project. He has held visiting positions with the Air Force Research Laboratories in Dayton, OH. His research interests are in K-12 STEM education, mechatronics, robotics, and linear/nonlinear control for diverse engineering applications. Under Research Experience for Teachers Site and GK-12 Fellows programs, funded by NSF, and the Central Brooklyn STEM Initiative (CBSI), funded by six philanthropic foundations, he has conducted significant K-12 education, training, mentoring, and outreach activities to integrate engineering concepts in science classrooms and labs of dozens of New York City public schools. He received NYU-Poly’s 2002, 2008, and 2011 Jacobs Excellence in Education Award, 2002 Jacobs Innovation Grant, 2003 Distinguished Teacher Award, and 2012 Inaugural Distinguished Award for Excellence in the category Inspiration through Leadership. In 2004, he was selected for a three-year term as a Senior Faculty Fellow of NYU-Poly’s Othmer Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies. His scholarly activities have included three edited books, six chapters in edited books, one book review, 51 journal articles, and 100 conference papers. He has mentored four doctoral students, eleven masters students, 25 undergraduate research students, and eleven undergraduate senior design project teams; over 300 K-12 teachers and 95 high school student researchers; and eighteen undergraduate GK-12 Fellows and 53 graduate GK-12 Fellows. Moreover, he directs K-12 education, training, mentoring, and outreach programs that currently enrich the STEM education of over 2,000 students annually.

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Magued G. Iskander P.E. Polytechnic Institute of New York University

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Dr. Magued Iskander is a professor of Civil and Urban Engineering at NYU-Poly. Dr. Iskander is a recipient of NSF CAREER award, Chi Epsilon (Civil Engineering Honor Society) Metropolitan District James M. Robbins Excellence in Teaching Award, Polytechnic’s Distinguished Teacher Award, and NYU-Poly’s Jacobs Excellence in Education Award (twice). Dr. Iskander’s research interests include Geotechnical modeling with transparent soils, foundation engineering, and urban geotechnology. He makes extensive use of sensors and measurement systems in his research studies. Dr. Iskander has published ten books, 100 papers, and graduated six doctoral students, 27 masters students, twelve undergraduate research assistants, and supervised the research activities of three school teachers and nine high school students

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Bringing Soil Mechanics to Elementary SchoolsIntroducing elementary school students to real engineering activities inspires their creativity at anearly age. Hands-on engineering activities stimulate positive feelings towards engineering, sincenovel tools and techniques are used to deliver curricular content aligned with standards.Likewise, exposure to what engineers do, allows students to aspire to become engineers whilethey are at an impressionable age.The main goal of this paper is to describe several soil mechanics-related activities conductedwith elementary school students. The activities were designed and conducted by a graduatestudent (Fellow) and his partner teacher under an NSF GK-12 Fellows grant. The Fellowexposed second, third, and fourth grade students to fundamental concepts of soil mechanicswithin the geotechnical engineering context as experienced by students in their own surroundingsand environment. Applications of soil mechanics in construction were also presented. Theactivities presented in this paper include: (1) soil permeability studies where students learn thatthe flow rate of water in soils depends on soil composition and grain size; (2) erosion in riverswhere students design and make buildings, and place them in the vicinity of a stream to predicttheir stability; and (3) shallow and deep foundations where students make their own soil profiles,and test the bearing capacity of various foundation systems. All activities support the requiredscience curriculum at the elementary school level. The Fellow and teacher conducted the labexperiments and challenged students and helped them to understand their assignments. Pre- andpost-evaluations were employed to assess the gain in students’ engineering knowledge as a resultof participation in the described activities.Robotic tools including LEGO NXT and 3-D printers were utilized for data collection and tofabricate scaled-models of student-designed residential and commercial buildings. For example,for the soil permeability investigations, an experimental setup was devised that uses a LEGONXT controller and an ultrasonic sensor to facilitate automated data collection. Moreover, whenconducting the “river erosion model” studies, the students took ownership of their learning sincethey: (1) proposed designs for their buildings; (2) had their designs digitally fabricated; and (3)made decisions about the placement of their buildings on a river bank, modeled on a table-topusing a variety of clay and sand. The river erosion model demonstrated water’s ability to changethe surface of the Earth and students could visualize the impact of erosion on their builtenvironment. The setup can also enable students to investigate the effects of foundation-types,foundation material, etc., to withstand a flood event. Students found these experimental toolsparticularly attractive, which made the class more enjoyable. Moreover, hands-on activitiesmotivated the students to learn the required basic concepts of science, e.g., a unit on Earthmaterials. Furthermore, the automated data acquisition system provided an interactive learningenvironment that allowed students to focus on the technical concepts rather than the drudgery ofmanual data collection.The paper demonstrates that students are motivated to study science, technology, engineering,and mathematics (STEM) through simplified geotechnical engineering exercises. Moreover, theuse of LEGO NXT toolkit enhances student learning, reasoning, and analytical judgment.

Suescun-Florez, E. A., & Cain, R. F., & Kapila, V., & Iskander, M. G. (2013, June), Bringing Soil Mechanics to Elementary Schools Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19268

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