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Improving Undergraduate Engineering Design Instruction Through Lessons Learned Mentoring First Lego League

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Design for the Environment

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.865.1 - 12.865.6



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Paper Authors


Douglas Gabauer Virginia Tech

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Douglas J. Gabauer is a Graduate Research Engineer in the Center for Injury Biomechanics at Virginia Tech. He received his B.S. in Civil Engineering (2001) and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering (2003) from Rowan University. His research has been published both in national and international venues on subjects including roadside safety, injury criteria, event data recorders, and vehicle crashworthiness. He is also a recipient of the 2006 Dwight D. Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship.

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Tim Bayse Virginia Tech

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Tim Bayse is a graduate student in Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech.

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Janis Terpenny Virginia Tech

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Janis Terpenny is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education with affiliated positions in Mechanical Engineering and Industrial & Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. She is co-Director of the NSF multi-university Center for e-Design. Her research interests focus on methods and representation schemes to support early design stages of engineered products and systems. She is currently a member of ASEE, ASME, IIE, and Alpha Pi Mu. She is the Design Economics area editor for The Engineering Economist journal.

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Richard Goff Virginia Tech

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Richard M. Goff is the Pete White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education, Associate Professor, and Assistant Head of the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. An award winning teacher, his main areas of research and teaching are design and design education.

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

Improving Engineering Design Instruction through Lessons Learned from FIRST Lego League Mentoring


Engineering design courses at the undergraduate level pose substantial challenges to novice as well as veteran faculty, especially when implementing open-ended design problems to facilitate student learning. This paper presents a novel perspective on strategies and techniques used to teach undergraduate engineering design based on experience gained from mentoring FIRST Lego League (FLL) teams. FLL is designed to provide children age 9 to 14 with practical, hands-on experience in basic engineering design and computer programming. With guidance from mentors and coaches, teams are tasked with designing, building, and programming Lego® MindstormsTM robots to perform specific objectives. Judging is based on the performance of the robot, a team presentation, teamwork, and a team discussion regarding the robot design.

This paper describes FLL mentoring experience, and paradigms employed by FLL, in the context of teaching engineering design at the undergraduate level. Parallels are drawn between the FLL mentoring experiences and similar problems encountered in project-based undergraduate design courses. Improved teaching and evaluation paradigms are presented with the intent of enhancing the undergraduate design experience. FLL mentoring experience will be presented at two distinct team levels; one at the elementary school and one at the middle school level. Experiences at both levels are discussed with respect to their relevance to undergraduate engineering design and associated strategies that facilitate their implementation.


Lego® MindstormsTM hands-on design, construction and programming have been incorporated into engineering courses at several Universities. The United State Air Force Academy developed a race car competition based on the Lego® MindstormsTM platform to aid cadets with fundamental rigid body dynamics concepts1. Lego® MindstormsTM at Virginia Tech are used to facilitate an interdisciplinary freshman design course that couples mechanical engineering and industrial design students2. At Tufts University, the mechanical engineering department incorporated Lego® MindstormsTM into freshman and senior level courses3. The National University of Ireland employs the Lego® MindstormsTM platform in an introductory engineering design course4. Other universities that have developed hands-on engineering courses or design modules using Lego products include University of Wyoming5 and Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville6.

In addition to use at the university level, Lego® MindstormsTM , in the form of the FIRST Lego League7 (FLL) competition, are also used at the elementary and middle school levels across the country and internationally to promote interest in science and engineering in the young. Previous researchers have outlined instructional modules for mentoring teams involved in the FLL competition8 and reported on students’ experience with mentoring an FLL team9. Through the mentoring experiences of the graduate student authors, the purpose of this paper is to

Gabauer, D., & Bayse, T., & Terpenny, J., & Goff, R. (2007, June), Improving Undergraduate Engineering Design Instruction Through Lessons Learned Mentoring First Lego League Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2672

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