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Footballs, Rockets, And Legos: A Hands On Approach To Enhancing The Quality Of Engineering Design Education

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

LabVIEW and Mindstorms Based Experiments

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.618.1 - 13.618.25



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Paper Authors

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Joel Dillon United States Military Academy

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Jose Salinas United States Military Academy

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Footballs, Rockets and LEGOs™: A Hands-on Approach to Enhancing the Quality of Engineering Design Education


ME450, a course developed to provide a capstone design experience to non-engineering majors at the United States Military Academy at West Point, has for three years successfully presented the mechanical engineering design process to students enrolled in humanities, social sciences, life science and other non-engineering degree programs. The effectiveness of the course at inspiring this somewhat reluctant student population to get excited about applying engineering principles and problem-solving techniques is primarily due to a syllabus that is structured around three engineering design projects, or EDPs. These projects, which become progressively more complex throughout the semester, require students to take taught theory out of the classroom and apply it to the design of mechanical systems. Observations and data collected over the course of the previous three years, to include direct student feedback and an analysis of embedded learning indicators, indicates that these design projects promote effective learning in direct proportion to the level of effort that students are willing to dedicate toward their completion. Clearly, students who embrace the challenges presented to them and strive to fully understand and design innovative EDP solutions come away with a much richer learning experience than students who limit their involvement to the minimum requirements. This conclusion, while not unexpected, poses an interesting challenge: how do you structure the course in such a way that it encourages the kind of dedicated involvement that is critical for effective learning to take place? The nature of the projects presented is, of course, an extremely important contributor. The second and third EDPs are carefully designed to be uniquely relevant to student experience and interest and, for the first time, the initial EDP has been assigned as a “self-selected” design project in which the students themselves are required to focus on solving a problem of their own choosing. This novel approach has produced remarkably positive results in terms of student enthusiasm and motivation to innovate, greatly enhancing the overall quality of the introductory design experience, which is targeted at reinforcing the conceptual fundamentals of the engineering design process presented in the classroom. The second EDP, a water bottle rocket design, introduces the concept of the application of a theoretical model to predict “real-world” results, while the third and final EDP, a LEGO™ Mindstorms™ vehicle design, presents a complex technical problem design to challenge students’ analytical and creative abilities. The most significant obstacle to learning in both of these technical projects is an observed tendency of students to over-simplify or fail to fully grasp the full extent of the problems presented. When this happens, students invariably develop perceptions that the engineering design process is, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, a hindrance to effective problem solving. To counteract this dynamic, the most recent evolution of ME450 has incorporated four new laboratory exercises intended to challenge students to delve into specific aspects of the assigned EDPs and, by doing so, derive a better appreciation of the complexity of the technical problems involved. This heightened understanding has the effect of promoting a more universal enthusiasm for the application of the engineering design process, as

Dillon, J., & Salinas, J. (2008, June), Footballs, Rockets, And Legos: A Hands On Approach To Enhancing The Quality Of Engineering Design Education Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3825

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