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Learning "Outside The Toy Box"

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Teaching Outside the Box

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.800.1 - 7.800.7



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Paper Authors

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Jason Keith

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

Main Menu Session 1613

Learning “Outside the Toy Box”

Jason M. Keith Department of Chemical Engineering, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI 49931


This paper describes the use of educational tools to teach chemical engineering undergraduate students the fundamentals of electric circuits and control systems for a bench scale chemical mixing plant prototype. It was found that having access to kits aimed at elementary and middle school students aided student learning of these challenging multidisciplinary concepts. A strategy for using these tools for student projects, both simple and advanced, is outlined.


Team-based, hands-on, multidisciplinary design projects have seen an increased place in the chemical engineering curriculum, especially w ith the advent of the new criteria set forth by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology. However, even with these efforts, students are often challenged to learn advanced engineering topics outside of their major discipline on their own or with help from their instructor. This often results in student frustration and a lack of learning.

At the same time, engineers inherently are fascinated with children’s toys that focus on or utilize simple engineering fundamentals. For example, there are many simple wooden puzzles that are for kids all ages. They keep children occupied and can challenge the mind of even the most intelligent people. These toys possess the capability of providing high level learning skills.

In order to increase student learning in design projects, these procedures have been implemented in a new elective chemical engineering course at Michigan Technological University, CM4900: Interdisciplinary Design. The project that the students worked on focused on the development and construction of a prototype bench scale reactor to mix three fluids together in a desired proportion. For their electrical networks, students used one of two electronic kits to develop a foundation of knowledge in electronic circuits:

· the BASIC Stamp II Microprocessor, manufactured by Parallax, Inc., which consists of a breadboard and microprocessor, textually programmed on a PC

· the recently developed Lego Mindstorms Kit, which is a giant programmable Lego brick that easily reads sensor input and provides output to motors. The 8-bit microprocessor (known as the RCX) can be programmed with a LabVIEW like interface or with a text based program in C (named NQC for Not-Quite-C).

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Keith, J. (2002, June), Learning "Outside The Toy Box" Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--11197

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