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Teaching Structured Programming Using Lego Programmable Bricks

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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

Mobile Robotics in Education

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1370.1 - 12.1370.10



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Paper Authors


Eric Wang University of Nevada-Reno

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ERIC L. WANG is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. Dr. Wang has won numerous awards including the Tibbitts Distinguished Teaching Award, UNR's most prestigious teaching award. In addition to his pedagogical activities, Dr. Wang conducts research on sports equipment, biomechanics, robotics, and intelligent materials.

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Jeffrey LaCombe University of Nevada-Reno

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JEFFREY C. LACOMBE is an Assistant Professor of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. In addition to his education-oriented research activities, Dr. LaCombe’s research lies in the areas of kinetic processes in materials (such as diffusion and solidification), nanoscale manufacturing methods, and remotely operated aerospace & satellite systems.

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Ann-Marie Vollstedt University of Nevada-Reno

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ANN-MARIE VOLLSTEDT is a doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. Ms. Vollstedt has MS degrees in both Mechanical Engineering and Secondary Science Education. Her dissertation focuses on methods to increase the cognitive development of engineering students.

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

Teaching Structured Programming Using LEGO Programmable Bricks

Abstract For the first time in nearly a decade, the LEGO programmable brick has undergone a major hardware revision. The LEGO programmable brick has been adopted for a variety of uses in primary, secondary, and higher education. With the introduction of the new hardware, there appears to be a growing interest in using the programmable brick for teaching computer programming to college students. The goal of this project was to develop a set of instructional workshops, online tutorials, and accompanying project-based learning exercises that, combined, teach the basics of structured computer programming.

Traditionally, structured computer programming is taught in an instructor-centric manner using a combination of lectures and programming assignments. The use of the programmable brick facilitates the use of student-centric active/project-based teaching methods. The instructional model described in this paper includes alternating weeks of workshops (i.e. interrupted lectures) and projects, supplemented with online video tutorials for asynchronous learning. The instructional materials include ROBOLAB, which is a graphical programming language, and the programmable LEGO brick.

A series of workshops and assignments have been developed and refined over the past several years and spans both the old and new hardware versions. A series of online tutorials were developed to explain each programming concept and an online learning module, complete with self-study quizzes, was developed to help students transfer the skills learned in the graphical programming environment to the traditional text-based format, such as that commonly used in C programming.

Concept inventories were used to assess student learning and a statistical analysis of student use was performed to assess the utility of each of the online video tutorials. Finally, a control-group study investigated the difference in student learning between exclusive use of an online learning module compared with learning experiences supplemented by in-class instruction. The concept inventory for computer programming was developed and implemented for the first time during the spring 2006 semester in order to assess student learning. The new hardware will be introduced for the first time in the spring 2007 semester. The concept inventories included both ROBOLAB (graphical) and pseudo-code (text-based) questions. The pseudo-code component was deemed important in order to quantify the student’s ability to transfer knowledge between domains. The key concepts included in the inventory were: goto’s, conditionals, loops, nested structures, variables, functions/arguments, and subroutines/subprograms.

1. Background

There is a vast history of using LEGO® bricks in education. Projects that use the RCX programmable brick have included a wide variety of projects and courses ranging from robot competitions1-3 to laboratory experiments4-10 to project based learning11-17. There have also been a few recent publications dealing specifically with computer programming18-20, which is the focus of the study described herein. By definition, the RCX requires programming and almost all

Wang, E., & LaCombe, J., & Vollstedt, A. (2007, June), Teaching Structured Programming Using Lego Programmable Bricks Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2160

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