Wednesday, June 22, 2011

LEGO Engineering Symposium 2011 - Part 3

Reflections on LEGO Engineering Symposium 2011 (Tufts University’s CEEO, 24-26 May 2011) - Part 3 of 3.

Presentations (Day Three) – 26 May 2011

Kristen Wendell – Comparing Three Enactments of an Engineering-Design-Based Curriculum on the Science of Sound
Kristen talked about an interesting aspect of her “Science through LEGO Engineering” work... What can be learned from how the same engineering-design-based curriculum on the science of sound is delivered in three different classrooms?

Two sets of results were presented…
  1. Students’ understandings of sound production, transfer, and pitch
  2. Comparing learning environments
From the pre-post-tests, it was shown that for the sub-domain of sound production, all classrooms showed similar gains in reasoning about mechanisms. The gains vary by classroom for the sub-domains of sound transmission and pitch.

What was it that the two teachers whose classes had the highest gains on the pre/post-test did differently to the other teacher?

Of a range of differing patterns of interaction that were identified, Kristen highlighted the following…
  • Problematizing phenomena - Conveying to students that there is still a scientific puzzle to be solved, that a physical situation is more mysterious or “problematic” than it appears.
    - Eg. Drawing students’ attention to a question like, “Why is it that we can hear something across the room?”
  • Responding to peer’s ideas - Students communicate agreement, disagreement, or extension of another student’s idea - with oral comment or silent hand gesture.
    - E.g. hand gestures to indicate agreement / not sure / disagree
  • Embodying ideas with physical artifacts - Acting out scientific ideas with tangible materials; using physical objects as tools for discussion of the unseen.
  • Connecting to the design challenge - Specifying, or asking students to specify, how the current science investigation would inform work on a design project or process.
I think that Kristen’s research is an excellent study to learn from in terms of framing a research question as well as how to collect, analyse & present data. And awesome use of PowerPoint!!

Chris Rogers – On his soapbox (-:
On paper, this talk was to be about "Pushing the Boundaries of STEM Learning with a Camera" and although he certainly included some details about this, it ended up being a much broader presentation. Chris was on his soapbox and well in form. Some of the themes he touched on…
  • The merit of learning through argument and failure.
  • Multiple pathways.
  • SAM Animation.
  • Physics glasses (this was the bit about the camera)
    e.g. Create a robot to roll a die repeatedly and use a camera to determine the result, to answer the question, “Is my die fair or not?”
Chris’ talk complemented the message from Ethan quite nicely that the CEEO is continually working on tool development.

One aspect of the presentation that surprised much of the audience was that it wasn’t produced in PowerPoint or OpenOffice, but LabVIEW!

Damien Kee – It’s not rocket science (or why you don’t need a programming degree to teach robotics)
Damien’s message was essentially, “Keep it simple!” As leading robotics educators, we have a responsibility to bring newcomers into the fold, but remember to keep it gentle!

A simple, but important, point well made. When Damien explained what his talk was going to be about, the sigh in the audience was amazing! He was clearly saying something that the “overwhelmed” set in the audience was keen to hear. I think there were a lot of people in the audience who would identify more with the newcomers than the experts!

Challenges ideas:
  • Going the distance – use one move block to drive a particular distance
  • How far? – How far does the robot travel when the wheels do one complete rotation?
  • How fast? – How far does the robot travel in 2 seconds? 4 seconds?
  • Off roading – Driving on different surfaces
  • Figure eight – Program a sequence of moves to make the robot move in a figure 8
  • Mexican wave (or “wave” for North Americans) – Multiple robots perform a common goal
Ray Hsu (National Instruments) – LabVIEW for LEGO Mindstorms (LVLM)
Ray introduced LabVIEW for LEGO Mindstorms (LVLM) and highlighted some of the new features…
  • Project center – schematic editor
  • Remote control editor
  • Sensor viewer
He also showed An example from the site that took my fancy was to create a Base 10 to Base 2 convertor.

LVLM is available for pre-order and will retail at US$99 for a single seat licence and $550 unlimited site licence.

Summaries and lessons learned from the Development Labs

1. Seeing the science/engineering in children's thinking
Kristen Wendell and David Hammer

This group watched videos and analysed transcripts of classroom interactions. They identified the ideas proposed by the students and activities in which the student were engaged
  • What do we think they think?
  • How are they approaching the task?
They also generated a “menu of possibilities” of instructional moves.

What might a teacher do next, and why?

For example, one move might be to have the students record failures, for use later. A failure now is informative and might be helpful later. It’s valuable to identify an idea that isn’t useful in a particular situation.

Thinking about these instructional moves is all about “retooling instincts”, perhaps like practising a sporting skill. Sometimes we might wish we’d reacted in a different way.

As an aside, David noted that the symposium participants were much better at listening to students’ ideas and didn’t tend to use phrases like “they almost have it” as much as the pre- or in-service teachers that he typically works with. Is this because providing feedback to engineering design challenges requires teachers to listen?

2. Integrating Engineering & Literacy
Erin Riecker and Elissa Milto

The Integrating Engineering & Literacy (IEL) project is funded by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). One of the main goals of the project is to help teachers bring engineering to grade 3-5 classrooms through challenges in children's literature. They are using books that teachers already use (not necessarily fiction). They will be starting with 20 teachers from 3 districts, and following them for 4 years.

For the workshop, the challenges were drawn from two books…
  • Mouse and the Motorcycle - Ralph S. Mouse has driven his toy motorcycle off a nightstand and landed in a trashcan. Can you help him escape (with the motorcycle)?
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Peter loves his pet turtle, Dribble. Unfortunately, Peter’s pesky little brother Fudge has a tendency to destroy Peter’s favorite things. Can you help Peter protect Dribble?
The development lab participants attempted these challenges and then generated questions, suggestions for professional development, cross-curricular ties, etc. For example, some of the questions raised:
  • When to introduce engineering challenges? – stop during chapter or go back and ask, “what if?”
  • How does the setting in the book influences the design constraints?
  • Class discussion to define the problem - Should the challenge be based on the overall theme of the book or a specific problem?
3. SAM (Stop Action Movie Making) - Tools for children to create representations of their ideas
Elsa Head and Brian Gravel

In the morning session, participants played with SAM Animation to create stop action movies of a “cycle”. In the afternoon, they came up with ideas for incorporating engineering and animation, for example:
  • Documenting steps/process used
  • Film festival of movies from throughout the year
  • Maths – changing variables, dynamic measurements
  • Sharing learning
  • Using time lapse (eg. measuring shadows, growth, weather)
Brian posed the question, “What is it that kids like about video games?” Answer: Doing things that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. SAM allows for this.

SAM is available from:

4. LabVIEW Education Edition / LabVIEW for LEGO MINDSTORMS - The Next Generation of Programming
Barbara Bratzel, Rob Linslata, and Rob Torok (!)

Because the focus of our development lab was on a new piece of software, it tended to be more of a workshop in format than the other labs, but nevertheless the participants had opportunities to explore and create.

In the morning session, Barbara introduced the LabVIEW for LEGO MINDSTORMS software (LVM) and framed a challenge in terms of creating musical instruments using the NXT and LabVIEW. In the afternoon, I led an intelligent highway / autonomous vehicle challenge. The building instructions and programming samples are available from

I thought our workshop went pretty well, but Barbara made our workshop look really good by showing lots of videos of the participants’ creations. I particularly liked the point that Barbara made about LabVIEW having a very high ceiling - with lots of stairs!

5. Supporting the Development of Engineering Design Skills K-12
Morgan Hynes and Ethan Danahy

With a focus on engineering design skills, it’s no great surprise the participants in this development lab were given a couple of design challenges to play with…

Challenge 1 – Build something that will stay in a wind tunnel (mounted vertically, with a fan at the bottom pushing air up) the longest. Particpants were given materials and 15 minutes to build their solution.

Challenge 2 – Build something that will make the longest descent from top to bottom. This time they were given 15 minutes, and a catch… You must sketch/plan before building THEN after sketching, instructors announce that the designs will be passed to left and you must build another teams design!

Lots of great ideas highlighting various engineering design skills came out of the subsequent discussion / reflection, including:
  • Quit while you are ahead
  • Inconsistencies between trials
  • Borrowing ideas, sharing
  • Learning to fail, ok to fail
  • Modifying designs based on experiments
  • Research includes testing.
  • Compromising: merging, picking ideas
  • Communication
  • Working within constraints When are you done?
Challenge 3 - Create or redesign a classroom activity to emphasize specific engineering design process steps or skills AND create/incorporate assessment into the activity.

The design compass is looking pretty good now and is available as a free download from

6. Physics Glasses: Augmented Reality and other fun things with Image Analysis
Bill Church & Kevin???

This development lab was all about using a webcam as a sensor, for example to represent the momentum in a system as a graphical overlay. Even though wasn’t able to attend this development lab, I’ve had a bit of a play with the new image processing toolkit in LabVIEW and it’s pretty cool. I think there’s a lot of potential here!

Listening to the summary of the lab gave me an idea for a swarm robot project that might be useful for my students back home – mount a camera above a field to determine the location/orientation of the robots and an object. The robots aim is to move the object to a particular location. Hmm….

Merredith’s summary – Pushing the envelope of STEM learning
Merredith close the proceeding with the following questions…
  • How would you summarise your major “take aways” from the Symposium?
  • How are you going to push STEM?
Here are some of the themes that came up in the following discussion…

See you at Tufts in 2012!!

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