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Enhancing an Upper Division Structural Dynamics Course Using K'nex Toys

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Proven Strategies in Classroom Engagement Part I: Artifacts for Creative Pedagogy

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Allen C Estes California Polytechnic State University

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Allen C. Estes is a Professor and Head for the Architectural Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Until January 2007, Dr. Estes was the Director of the Civil Engineering Program at the United States Military Academy (USMA). He is a registered Professional Engineer in Virginia. Al Estes received a B.S. degree from USMA in1978, M.S. degrees in StructuralEngineering and in Construction Management from Stanford University in 1987 and a Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1997.

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Cole C McDaniel California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo

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Dr. Cole McDaniel, P.E., is a Professor of Architectural Engineering at the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) where he teaches courses on the analysis and design of structural systems with a focus on seismic behavior.

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Alec Roberto Zavala California Polytechnic University - San Luis Obispo

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Alec Zavala is a Graduate Assistant for the Architectural Engineering Department at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. He currently conducts research in the field of forced-vibration testing of structures under construction. He will be graduating in June 2016 with the intent of entering the field of structural engineering.

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K’nex toys consist of various plastic rods and connectors cleverly-sized to allow the creation of a variety of structures. While the K’nex Corporation focuses on the K-12 market, there are a myriad of engineering applications that have been demonstrated at the university level. Many of these occur at the lower division level in freshman experience courses or introductory statics courses. Other applications have included constructing structural models for structural design and capstone courses. This paper takes this use of classroom technology even further by demonstrating how K’nex pieces can be used effectively in an upper-division, highly technical structural dynamics / seismic design course.

For the past several years, students in ARCE 483 Seismic Analysis and Design at xx university have been designing experiments using K’nex pieces. The types of experiments that have resulted include the effects of fixity on natural frequency, flexible versus rigid performance, seismic activity on a bridge structure, soft story behavior in buildings, the effect of floor system stiffness on the deflection of a system, the effect of mass dampers on tall buildings, identifying building mode shapes, and even modeling a viscous damper using K’nex, sponges and jello. This paper will demonstrate that K’nex toys can be an inexpensive yet very effective classroom technology for creating physical models and demonstrations in even the most technical engineering courses.

This paper is part of a larger effort to develop a consortium of schools that use K’nex product in the classroom. The consortium members will share ideas, communicate best practices, and encourage each other to improve engineering education and understanding through physical models. This paper will hopefully be considered for the Civil Engineering Division session on Classroom Technology.

Estes, A. C., & McDaniel, C. C., & Zavala, A. R. (2016, June), Enhancing an Upper Division Structural Dynamics Course Using K'nex Toys Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26691

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