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Communicating Advanced Manufacturing Concepts to Middle-school Students Using Lego-Machines (Work in Progress)

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre- College Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.363.1 - 26.363.10



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Paper Authors


James Nowak Jr. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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James Nowak is a senior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Class of 2015) majoring in Mechanical Engineering. His research includes 3-D printing on nano-composite materials and machining studies on bio-materials. He is passionate about inspiring local students to pursue engineering careers in advanced manufacturing. Nowak is the recipient of the 2013 Haas Student Manufacturing Award and 2014 Rensselaer Founder's Award of Excellence.

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Daniel A Kaczmarek Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Daniel Kaczmarek is a junior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, pursuing a dual degree in Mechanical Engineering and Design, Innovation, and Society. Daniel is interested in showing young students career opportunities in the STEM fields, especially those in advanced manufacturing.

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Elizabeth S. Herkenham Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Ms. Herkenham is the K-13 Education Outreach Director of the School of Engineering (SoE) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her responsibilities include managing the Pre-College educational programs for the NSF-funded Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center (ERC), CURENT ERC, and faculty-driven Broader Impact initiatives. Under Ms. Herkenham's leadership, the RPI Engineering Ambassadors undergraduate program was established in Spring 2011. This unique program has been an effective approach for disseminating cutting edge research concepts into today’s 4- 12 grade classrooms. The Advanced Manufacturing Lego-Machines are outstanding examples of outreach modules designed and implemented within the framework of the RPI Engineering Ambassador program and under the technical guidance of faculty support.

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Johnson Samuel Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Dr. Samuel has been serving as an assistant professor in the mechanical, aerospace and nuclear engineering department of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute since the spring of 2011. As director of the Nano/Micro-scale Manufacturing and Material Design Lab at Rensselaer, he leads research and education efforts in the areas of advanced manufacturing and material design. Besides research, Johnson is also passionate about training and developing the next generation of manufacturing engineers in the US. He is the 2014 recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the Rensselaer Class of 1951 Outstanding Teaching Development award.

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Communicating Advanced Manufacturing Concepts to Middle-school Students Using Lego-machines (Work in Progress)In 2011, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) identifiedadvanced manufacturing as a key sector for revitalizing the economy and for promoting a cultureof innovation in the United States (US). Following this, several federal programs and initiatives,such as the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) and the National Network forManufacturing Innovation (NNMI), have been announced to promote manufacturing research,education and jobs in the United States. While these steps are geared towards enabling a“manufacturing renaissance” in the nation, the high-tech manufacturing sector is faced with aserious shortage of a skilled workforce. This problem is further compounded by the fact that theyouth in the country have a negative perception of the manufacturing industry and are thereforereluctant to pursue education and career opportunities offered by the field. In order to addressthis national crisis, there is a critical need to develop innovative education and outreachprograms that promote a healthy picture of manufacturing in the United States. The use of Lego-based instructional and outreach modules represent one such avenue.In this paper, we report the design and implementation of an advanced manufacturingeducational module that uses Lego-machines to teach critical manufacturing concepts to middle-school students. The module comprises of a hands-on “design-and-build” exercise that allows thestudents to build a three-axis motion platform using Lego components. This versatile motionplatform is then used by the students to experience five advanced manufacturing-relatedconcepts, viz., 1) The engineering-thought process that is required to construct a complexassembly of controllers, gear trains, and Lego bricks; 2) The “art-to-part” creative process thattransforms an idea into a tangible product; 3) the ability to quantify the 3-D space usingcoordinates that dictate the movements of the Lego-machine in space, 4) Cutting tool selectionprinciples that dictate the trade-off between amount of material removed and resolution of finalproduct, and 5) Tolerances and measurements through the use of a metrology end effector onthe motion platform.Multiple variations of the above module have been developed and tested in local middle-schools,with the most popular one being a one-period activity. The paper will present preliminary resultsfrom the assessment data that point to the efficacy of these modules in teaching advancedmanufacturing concepts to the students and in promoting a healthy view of manufacturing in theUS. Given the success of these one-period modules, a teacher-training workshop was alsoconducted to equip middle-school teachers will the skills needed to implement variants of thismodule in their own classroom. The paper will discuss the outcomes of this teacher-trainingworkshop. In addition, the paper will also present ideas on how this concept of pairing thecommunication of advanced manufacturing concepts with Lego-centered modules can bedeveloped into the framework of a curriculum that would meet state educational standards.

Nowak, J., & Kaczmarek, D. A., & Herkenham, E. S., & Samuel, J. (2015, June), Communicating Advanced Manufacturing Concepts to Middle-school Students Using Lego-Machines (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23702

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