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The Tinkerer's Pendulum For Machine System's Education: Creating A Basic Hands On Environment With Mechanical "Breadboards"

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.651.1 - 5.651.21



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Paper Authors

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Kristin L. Wood

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John Wood

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

Session 2566

The Tinkerer’s Pendulum for Machine System’s Education: Creating a Basic Hands-On Environment with Mechanical “Breadboards”

John J. Wood*, Kristin L. Wood** *Department of Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State University **Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin


The pendulum of engineering education is swinging from an emphasis of theoretical material to a balance between theory and hands-on activities. This transformation is motivated, in part, by the changing students entering engineering programs. Instead of a tinkering background with the dissection of machines and use of tools, students are now entering with computer, video games, and other “virtual” experiences. This focus has left a void in the ability to relate engineering principles to real-world devices and applications. In this paper, we introduce a new approach for filling this void in a mechanical engineering curriculum. In particular, we describe modifications and extensions to machine design courses to include hands-on exercises. Through the application of “mechanical breadboards,” clear relationships between machine design principles and the reality of machine components are established. These relationships reduce the number of topics covered in the courses, but greatly increase the interest of the students and their potential retention of the material.


1.1 Motivation:

Engineering education is transforming from a theoretical emphasis to a balance between applied mathematics and science material and hands-on activities. Design components in courses are helping to provide this balance. Instead of relegating design courses to the last two semesters of an engineering program, many universities are spreading the experiences across the entire 4-5 year curriculum.

An example of this distribution of design courses is shown in Figure 1. This figure illustrates a spectrum of the current design education at The University of Texas (UT), Department of Mechanical Engineering. As shown in the figure, five-core courses of the curriculum include substantial design components. These begin with a freshman Introduction to Mechanical Engineering course. Students study a range of topics in this course, including survival skills (using library and internet resources, email, ethics, team skills, etc.); the engineering design process; engineering graphics, drawings, and solid modeling; the role of engineering analysis; and others. The topics in this course are integrated with a reverse engineering experience where student teams choose a mechanical toy or other device (e.g., a mechanical clock), predict how the device works, dissect it, analyze the functionality and simple physical principles, predict how it was fabricated, and suggest possible redesigns and improvements.


Wood, K. L., & Wood, J. (2000, June), The Tinkerer's Pendulum For Machine System's Education: Creating A Basic Hands On Environment With Mechanical "Breadboards" Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8777

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