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Impact of biomechanics-based activities on situational and individual interest among K-12 students

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

K-12 and Graduate Experiences in BME

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Carrie A Francis University of Northwestern-St. Paul Orcid 16x16

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Carrie Francis is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul. She received her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has previously received degrees in biomedical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis (B.S.) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (M.S.). Her teaching interests include general physics, statics & dynamics, and mechanics of materials. Her disciplinary research focuses on walking and balance in old adults with an emphasis on gait variability and rehabilitation. Her interests include outreach to K12 students and improving science literacy among non-STEM major students.

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Joseph E Michaelis University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Joseph E Michaelis is a Ph.D. student in Educational Psychology in the Learning Sciences area at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. His research involves studying interest in STEM education, focusing on the impact of learning environments, feedback, and influence of social constructs and identities. This research includes developing inclusive learning environments that promote interest in pursuing STEM fields as a career to a broad range of students.

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Samuel Alberto Acuña University of Wisconsin–Madison

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Samuel Acuña is Ph.D. candidate in the Mechanical Engineering department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he studies neuromuscular biomechanics. He aims to improve gait and balance in older adults by developing technology that influences the nervous system. Samuel received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Brigham Young University in 2012, and his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2015.

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Joseph Towles University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Joseph Towles is a faculty associate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Joe completed his PhD in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University and a research post-doctoral fellowship in the Sensory Motor Performance Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Northwestern University. His teaching and research interests are in the areas of engineering education and neuromuscular biomechanics. With respect to engineering education, Joe focuses on assessment and evaluation of student learning; and innovation and research in approaches to enhance student learning. Concerning neuromuscular biomechanics, Joe’s research interests are in translational studies aimed at elucidating the mechanics and control of the hand following neurologic and musculoskeletal injury with the goal of developing innovative rehabilitative and surgical interventions that improve grasp function. Computational and experimental approaches are used to investigate intrinsic characteristics of muscles, neuromuscular control and sensorimotor integration in the context of functional restoration of grasp.

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Engineering remains a field with disproportionately low representation of women and individuals from underrepresented minority (URM) groups. As early as middle school, these groups start losing interest in STEM fields (National Science Foundation, 2004; Driver, 1985). Thus, early interventions that spark interest and encourage pursuit of STEM areas are greatly needed. Biomechanics is a highly relatable, interdisciplinary field with ties to engineering, medicine, and athletics. In a previous study (Francis et al., 2016), we found biomechanics-based activities had potential for teaching biomechanics to 5th-8th grade students with presumably varying interest levels and demographic backgrounds. Our current study investigates the impact of similar biomechanics-based activities on situational and individual interest among K-12 students while considering gender, grade-level, and ethnicity.

We surveyed students attending an engineering outreach event before and after participating in a set of interactive biomechanics activities (up to seven), e.g., measuring jump height with a Microsoft Kinect system, measuring walking characteristics using Wii Balance Boards, measuring muscle activity using surface electrodes, and using a haptic robot to "feel" objects in a virtual reality environment. We designed the survey to measure individual and situational interest in sub-sets of students self-identified by gender, grade level, ethnicity and initial interest in engineering. Pre-participation questions were printed on one side of a piece of paper; post-participation questions were printed on the reverse. An ANOVA test, conducted using R, was used to compare individual and situational interest levels pre- and post- and as functions of demographic factors.

Over two-days, we collected 607 completed surveys (82% of total) from students. 52% were female and 20% were members of an URM group. Before participating in the biomechanics-based activities, we found that boys (t(606) = 5.56, p< 0.05) had higher individual interest in engineering than girls. After participating, the number of boys and girls who indicated they would pursue a career in engineering increased significantly, though the effect size was small (t(606) = 6.06, p< 0.05, d=0.14). Specifically, students who indicated low individual interest accounted for that increase (d=0.22). We also found that boys and girls with high individual interest experienced the same level of situational interest. Boys with low individual interest, however, experienced significantly greater situational interest than girls with low individual interest (t(288) = 2.61, p< 0.05, d=0.22). Our results suggest biomechanics-based activities can engage students at high and low levels of interest in biomechanics and can positively impact their consideration of careers in engineering. We were unable to engage low interest girls more than boys, and ethnicity was not an influential factor—possibly because of the activities chosen and/or the demographics of facilitators.

Our goal is to build an online repository of biomechanics activities that are well-tested, education standards-compliant, and both educational and inspirational to a diverse group of students.

Francis, C. A., & Michaelis, J. E., & Acuña, S. A., & Towles, J. (2017, June), Impact of biomechanics-based activities on situational and individual interest among K-12 students Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28459

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