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The Toothpick Factory: A Simulation Game For The Soft Skills

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Student Learning Techniques & Practices in Engineering Technology

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1272.1 - 13.1272.8



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Paper Authors


Marilyn Barger University of South Florida

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MARILYN BARGER is the Principle Investigator and Executive Director of FLATE, the Florida Regional Center for Manufacturing Education funded by NSF and housed at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa Florida. She earned a B.A. in Chemistry at Agnes Scott College, and both a B.S. in Engineering Science and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering (Environmental) from the University of South Florida, where her research focused on membrane separations. She has over 20 years of experience in developing curriculum for engineering and engineering technology for elementary, middle, high school and post secondary institutions. She is a registered professional engineer in the State of Florida.

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Jodi Sutton HCC

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Jodi Sutton is currently the Curriculum Coordinator for FLATE, a regional center for manufacturing education. One of her primary responsibilities is developing curriculum materials, for outreach (middle and high school teachers), and professional development. Jodi has a Masters of Arts in Education from TUI University and a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Washington State University. Prior to her current position, she worked with different branches of service where she reviewed, developed, and facilitated course curriculum for service members and government civilians

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Eric Roe Hillsborough Community College

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ERIC A. ROE is the Director of FLATE, an NSF Regional Center of Excellence in Manufacturing Education. He received his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of South Florida (USF). During his time at USF, he has researched fluidized bed drying, been a consultant to the Citrus Industry, worked on Florida Department of Citrus research projects, and the High School Technology Initiative - funded by NSF. Prior to USF, he was employed as a technologist in Research and Development at Tropicana Products, Inc. with process and product development responsibilities. His research interests are food engineering, fluidized bed drying, and the integration of engineering and education.

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Richard Gilbert University of South Florida

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RICHARD GILBERT is a professor of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering at
the University of South Florida. He is a co-pi on the FL-ATE Center Grant. He has developed
educational materials for ISA (Instrument Society of America), AVS (American Vacuum
Society) Science Educator’s Workshop, and the National Science Foundation through a grant to
develop high school science and math curriculum content. He is currently working with D. L.
Jamerson Elementary School to develop curriculum content for its Center for Math and

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

The Toothpick Factory© A Simulation Game for the Soft Skills


FLATE, a NSF-ATE regional center for manufacturing education has as one of its goals to provide curriculum and related professional development for community college faculty and teachers that meets the needs of employers. Responses to every industry survey and questionnaire FLATE has ever conducted throughout the State overwhelming indicates soft skills, including teamwork and all aspects of communication, are high on the list of necessary, but still absent skills. One of FLATE’s first objectives was to mitigate this need.

To reduce the skill gap for soft skills, FLATE developed a simulation game, “The Toothpick Factory ©” and an associated training package to teach technology teachers and faculty how to implement the game in their classrooms. Although there are a plethora of activities that offer short experiences and activities that emphasize teamwork, many are puzzle solving and survival scenarios that drop a group into a situation that requires them to work together to usually “get out” of an unrealistic place and/or situation. Other “what ifs” are even more removed from the working environment and are often used as “ice breaker” activities. These implementations may result in some learning by experience; however they do not drill down to, and emphasize the characteristics of good manufacturing workplace team work skills.

The Toothpick Factory © is a series of activities set in an actual working environment, a production facility that makes custom toothpicks. It comes with a full suite of game parts, as well as lesson plans, classroom teaching materials, and debriefing guidelines. A professional development workshop is available to help potential facilitators learn how to most effectively use the simulation. This presentation will outline The Toothpick Factory© simulation game, highlight the workplace soft skills it reinforces and summarize the initial implementation data and responses both in classrooms and facilitator training sessions.

Barger, M., & Sutton, J., & Roe, E., & Gilbert, R. (2008, June), The Toothpick Factory: A Simulation Game For The Soft Skills Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3881

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