Asee peer logo

Students are improving their spatial skills in introductory engineering class through projects utilizing 3D printers and laser cutters

Download Paper |


2019 ASEE PNW Section Conference


Corvallis, Oregon

Publication Date

March 20, 2019

Start Date

March 20, 2019

End Date

March 22, 2019



Permanent URL

Request a correction

Paper Authors


Pat Burnett Whatcom Community College

visit author page

Pat currently teaches engineering at Whatcom Community College after 13 years of teaching in the Engineering Department at Edmonds Community College, including holding the chair position. He earned an MS in Physics from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, and a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois of Urbana-Champaign.
Over the past 7 years, Pat has been working with various K-12 organizations to incorporate engineering practices in classrooms as they incorporate Next Generation Science Standards into their curriculum.
Pat has served as co-PI on NSF S-STEM and STEP grants.
Pat is currently serving as the chair for the Washington Council on Engineering and Related Technical Education (WCERTE).

visit author page


Eric Davishahl Whatcom Community College Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Eric Davishahl is assistant professor and engineering program coordinator at Whatcom Community College. His teaching and research interests include developing, implementing and assessing active learning instructional strategies and auto-graded online homework. Eric has been a member of ASEE since 2001. He currently serves as chair of the Pacific Northwest Section and was the recipient of the 2008 Section Outstanding Teaching Award.

visit author page

Download Paper |


A growing body of research indicates that well-developed spatial skills are important to student success in many STEM disciplines, including many engineering majors. This research has further found that spatial skills are malleable and can be improved with targeted training activities. This presentation will share strategies and successes with incorporating spatial visualization skills training in a freshman-level introduction to engineering course. This course is a general introduction that also includes orientation to the engineering profession, academic success strategies, problem solving skills, and introductory math and science applications to engineering. The course prerequisite is college algebra. Much of the spatial skills training content is combined with introductory design and teamwork activities and in total makes up approximately twenty percent of the course.

Students engage in two team projects which are supported by a series of spatial skills practice worksheets. The worksheets prompt students to sketch blocks of varying height in both elevation and isometric views and perform mental rotations about one and two axes. The team projects utilizing the OnShape CAD system, a cloud-based parametric solid modeling system that is available at no cost to educators and students.

The first project has teams of three students creating a Soma puzzle; a 3×3×3 cube assembled from seven pieces made out of unit cubes that has 240 unique solutions. The class follows a detailed explanation of how to create one of the seven pieces, then each student is required to create and share two of the remaining six pieces. Each student is then required to generate an assembly with two unique solutions. Groups then modify and 3D print their parts. There will be 3D printed models available at the presentation for participants to find their own solutions.

The second project has students working first as individual designers and then in pairs to designing a desktop organizer which will be created out of 3mm plywood on the laser cutter. After their initial sketches, individual students create a 3D model with card stock and tape. Students then pair up and negotiate for a final design that emphasizes their own ideas. Together students create a base CAD model, from which, they generate their own versions. Finally, they use the laser cutter and assembly their finished product. There will be models available at the presentation.

Students’ pre- and post- test scores on the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations (PSVT:R) assessment showed statistically significant improvement with mean scores increasing by 6% (p < 0.0002, N = 76).

Burnett, P., & Davishahl, E. (2019, March), Students are improving their spatial skills in introductory engineering class through projects utilizing 3D printers and laser cutters Paper presented at 2019 ASEE PNW Section Conference, Corvallis, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--31867

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015