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Enriching K-12 Science Education Using LEGOs

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Descriptions of Curricular and Model Development

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.630.1 - 22.630.16



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Paper Authors


Keeshan Williams Polytechnic Institute of New York University

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Keeshan Williams received a B.A. degree in Chemistry from Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), Flushing, NY, in 2005. Upon graduation, he worked as a Chemist for a materials testing laboratory in College Point, NY, and most recently as a Materials Engineer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. After obtaining his M.S. degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering at NYU-Poly in 2008, he started pursuing a Ph.D. degree also in Chemical and Biological Engineering at NYU-Poly in the same year. He is currently serving as a teaching Fellow at the Crispus Attucks Elementary School under NYU-Poly’s GK-12 program funded by NSF and CBRI consortium of donors. His research interests include real-time monitoring DNA-protein interactions at electrified interfaces.

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Vikram Kapila Polytechnic Institute of New York University Orcid 16x16

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Vikram Kapila is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Polytechnic Institute of NYU, Brooklyn, NY, 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 cooperative control; distributed spacecraft formation control; linear/nonlinear control with applications to robust control, saturation control, and time-delay systems; closed-loop input shaping; spacecraft attitude control; mechatronics; and DSP/PC/microcontroller-based real-time control. Under Research Experience for Teachers Site and GK 12 Fellows programs, funded by the National Science Foundation, and the Central Brooklyn STEM Initiative (CBSI), funded by the Brooklyn Community Foundation, Xerox Foundation, J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, Motorola Foundation, White Cedar Fund, and NY Space Grant Consortium, among others, he has conducted significant K-12 outreach to integrate engineering concepts in science classrooms and labs of several New York City public schools. He received Polytechnic’s 2002 and 2008 Jacobs Excellence in Education Award and 2003 Distinguished Teacher Award. 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, four chapters in edited books, one book review, 43 journal articles, and 92 conference papers. Moreover, he has mentored 67 high school students, over 170 K-12 teachers, 21 undergraduate summer interns, and 11 undergraduate capstone-design teams, and graduated eight M.S. and four Ph.D. students.

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Magued G. Iskander Polytechnic Institute of New York University

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Magued Iskander is Associate Professor and Graduate Adviser of the Civil Engineering Department at Polytechnic Institute of NYU, Brooklyn, NY. 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 Polytechnic’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 10 books, 90 papers and graduated six doctoral students, 27 masters students, 12 undergraduate research assistants, and supervised the research activities of three school teachers and nine high school students.

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Enriching K-12 Science Education Using LEGOsEngineering community has a long tradition of “challenge-based competitions” to spur creativityand yield innovative solutions to numerous real-world technical problems. For example, in thelast decade DARPA’s autonomous vehicle and urban challenges have yielded tremendousadvancements in mobile robotics. Similarly, the Ansari and Google X Prizes and NASACentennial Challenges have created a new race to the space. Inspired by the ability of challenge-based programs to draw engineering talent to solve “grand” problems of our age, professionalsocieties, educators, corporations, and government entities have been offering challenge-basedprograms such as the West Point Bridge Design, FIRST Robotics, SAE Design competitions, etc.,to engage and attract K-12 and college students in engineering education and careers.Although today’s students effortlessly interact with modern technological artifacts, they oftenlack an understanding of engineering and technology. In academic setting, participation in aFIRST robotics competition is often the only venue where students get an opportunity to exploreand interact with advanced tools and devices used by engineers and technologists. Many science,technology, engineering, and math (STEM) principles are inherently incorporated intoperforming simple tasks with a LEGO robot, especially in math and physics. Moreover, even lifeand physical science disciplines can be enhanced through robotic activities. To promote students’science understanding, FIRST requires a comprehensive research presentation on competitiontheme, e.g., nanotechnology, climate, transportation, biomedical engineering, etc.Yet, increasingly, educators have been trying to transition these robotic experiences from anafter-school activity into classroom. The LEGO Mindstorms platform offers a variety ofcomponents that not only help engage students’ creativity but also allow the application ofteaching strategies such as scaffolding and problem-based learning. Moreover, judiciousintegration of sensors engages students’ understanding since it allows to connect an abstractconcept or a textbook formula to a tangible measurement performed by students. Finally, thevariety of sensors available with the LEGO robotics platform permits the acquisition andprocessing of a multitude of physical stimuli arising in science subjects that often requireseparate, standalone equipment. This paper will present a series of illustrative LEGO-basedscience lab activities developed under a NSF GK-12 Fellows Program. The activities, developedby engineering graduate Fellows in partnership with K-12 teachers, are grade appropriate,address pertinent learning objectives, and adhere to the science learning standards of the city andstate. For example, in one lab exercise liquid is released from a bottle under various conditions,e.g., nozzle and back pressure. As the released liquid drains into a beaker, two light sensorsacting as photo-gates are used to perform various measurements. The lab addresses elementaryschool standards on scientific inquiry and measurement. In another lab, using LEGO components,sensors, and NXT module, concepts such as gear ratios, friction, potential energy, kinetic energy,and oscillations are illustrated to address middle and high school standards on mechanics. Fullpaper will present details of these and other lessons, assessment of their effectiveness, and resultsof a planned workshop to disseminate these labs to over 40 teachers.

Williams, K., & Kapila, V., & Iskander, M. G. (2011, June), Enriching K-12 Science Education Using LEGOs Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17911

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