Dissertation Research Teaser – 7 Key Factors in LEGO Robotic Open Ended Challenges

7 Key Factors in Elementary Engineering

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Site Back Online

Kidsengineer.com was down for a few days due to a hack.  Sorry for the inconvenience.  I am still doing some cleanup.  It’s really hard to keep up with this stuff yourself.  I ended up using a service to restore my site after these attacks.

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New Kits

New kits for school LEGO EV3 and LEGO WeDo 2.  It’s going to be a fun year!



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Review of My Book

Nice review of my book I just noticed on Amazon.  Thanks, Ann Wyman.  Glad you liked it.

I recently read the book “Elementary Robotics” by John Heffernan and I recommend it to any teacher interested in starting a LEGO Robotics Program. This is a great book and very useful if you are looking to start an elementary robotics program or if you already have a program implemented and you are looking for some fresh ideas to enhance your program. The book is full of engaging lessons that integrate Mathematics, Science, Technology, Engineering and English language arts together. The lessons and projects range from projects for Pre-Kindergarten students up to and including lessons for students in grade 6. The robots used in the lessons are BeeBots for grades Pre-K and K, WeDo LEGO Robotics Kits for grades 1 through 4, and either NXT or EV3 LEGO Robotics Kits for grades 5 and 6.

I like the way John explains why he creates the lessons the way he does. He gives many pointers and goes over things that didn’t work well in his lessons before he perfected them. These pointers are very helpful, so other teachers know what to avoid and why to avoid certain things that don’t work well in the classroom. He explains everything really well which makes it easy for teachers to implement these lessons. He even states what time during the school year is best to use a particular lesson. He not only describes why he does certain things in his lessons, he also explains why he doesn’t do certain things.

This book is easy to use, has great well written detailed lesson plans that include handouts for the students. It is a nice addition to a teacher library and a great book to have if you are teaching or would like to teach robotics. I highly recommend this book and plan on using some of his lessons this year.

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How To Make An Activity Timeline in EXCEL (Revised)

How do you produce a timeline of recurring activity types easily using EXCEL?  I had some trouble getting EXCEL to do this so I am sharing my technique here.  I use this in my research to characterize the engineering design process of different students as they do a LEGO robotics open ended engineering task.

Let’s say you have this data (see below).











Select the Start and Code columns including the header.  Produce a marked scatter chart.  That produces this chart.  It is what we basically want but the duration of each activity is not shown.  Delete the legend marked “Code”. I also delete the y axis values 1 to 6 and manually write in the EDP phases using Insert -> Shape.    See final example.









The trick is to use custom X error bars (positive only), which is actually what we want to see.

Select the code series and format it. Select error bars, plus, and custom.  Then select the duration (elapsed) cells for the custom values of the error bars.

You then format the error bars to be a thick line.

Then erase the points by selecting and formatting those as  Marker -> No Marker.  Then delete the actual data points.

Here is the result.  I also changed the color of the error bars.  I have not yet figured out how to change each code’s timeline (error bars) to a different color.

Note that EXCEL correctly handles the overlapping, simultaneous activities 1 and 2 that occur between 2 and 3 minutes.











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LEGO WeDo – Using a Motor and Two Sensors

Can students use a motor and two separate sensors with WeDo?  If you hook up the motion and tilt sensors to the USB hub and put a sensor  on top of the motor, it does not really work.  You get continuous beeping and the Connection Tab flashes different images and it does not work reliably.

However, if you use two separate USB WeDo hubs, each in separate USB ports on your computer, it does work reliably.  The screenshot below shows the program for a burglar alarm.  When either sensor goes off (independently), the motor moves and a different sound is produced for each sensor.  You do have to provide additional USB hubs (than each kit provides) for this to work.

WeDo double sensors with motor

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Started Dissertation Research

I have started filming for my dissertation research.  It feels like a big step forward with so much leading up to this:  13 courses, pilot study, comps, dissertation proposal, and so much reading!  I will be filming 6 second grade and 6 sixth grade students (6 of them female and 6 of them male).  So far, I have taped the 3 second grade boys.

Each student first performs a LEGO based warm-up task to add a roof to house without one.  The walls are too far to have the available pieces span it directly.


They next build an open-ended engineering challenge, which is a safe and interesting amusement park ride, with age appropriate LEGO robotics materials.


I will then do a cross-case analysis of the engineering design process by age and gender with focus on causal reasoning.


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Creativity and Elementary Engineering

In the theoretical framework of a new book called Engaging Young Engineers:  Teaching Problem Solving Skills Through STEM (Stone-Macdonald, Wendell, Douglass, Love, & Hyson, 2015), the authors posit that there are 5 kinds of thinking developed by teaching problem solving via STEM for early learners.

  1. Curious thinking
  2. Persistent thinking
  3. Flexible thinking
  4. Reflective thinking
  5. Collaborative thinking

In the chapter on flexible thinking, they cited an interesting article on creativity in the classroom context by Sternberg (2003).  In it, Sternberg claims that: 1) intelligence consists of  three forms:  analytic, practical, and creative and 2) that schools typically overvalue analytic intelligence (which also involves memory).

Sternberg lays out 12 types of creative decisions people make.

  1. Redefine problems
  2. Analyze your ideas
  3. Sell your ideas
  4. Knowledge is a double edged sword
  5. Surmount obstacles
  6. Take sensible risks
  7. Willingness to grow
  8. Believe in yourself
  9. Tolerance of ambiguity
  10. Find what you love and do it
  11. Allowing time
  12. Allowing mistakes

I thought that many, if not all of these,  are an integral part of the engineering process.

Sternberg’s overall conclusion is worth quoting at length.

“Our main conclusions are as follows. First, creative thinking is relatively distinct from analytical and practical thinking. Knowing someone’s skills in analytical or practical thinking will not say much about the person’s skills in creative thinking. Second, teaching for creative thinking in schools can improve children’s academic performance. It helps the more creative children to capitalise on a strength at the same time that it helps the less creative children to compensate for or correct a weakness. Third, creativity is in large part an attitude toward life. Specific decisions can be made that enhance creativity. ”  (p. 335-336)

Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Creative thinking in the classroom. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 47(3), 325–338.
Stone-Macdonald, A. K., Wendell, K. B., Douglass, A., Love, M. L., & Hyson, M. L. (2015). Engaging Young Engineers:  Teaching Problem Solving Skills Through STEM. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.
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Guest Blogger Marissa Zych on CS Non-Profits

Nonprofits have the opportunity to see a problem and analyze it, come up with a creative solution, and expand upon what educators are teaching. Utilizing the base that the education system constructs, nonprofits allow for continued education and provide advancements within specific fields. It certainly isn’t easy to create a successful nonprofit. It takes heart, great support, and engaged stakeholders, but there are some non-profits out there that are doing a great job. 

Girls Do Hack

It’s important to make sure young people are getting proper education, even extending outside of the classroom. With the help from sponsors like Misha Malyshev, a program called Girls Do Hack became possible. This program has mentors that work in science, technology engineering, and math fields. These mentors are there to inspire young women to potentially follow in their footsteps. This is an extremely important program that may help bridge the ratio gap of men and women in these fields.

For more information: http://girlsdohack.adlerplanetarium.org/


Code.org is a relatively new nonprofit that is dedicated to explanding participation in computer sciences. Founded in 2013 by brothers Ali and Hadi Partovi, this initiative targets women and underrepresented students of color to learn software development. This nonprofit designs it’s own courses, trains teachers, partners with large school districts, helps change government policies to expand the reach and education of computer sciences.
For more information: https://code.org

Synapse Project

The Synapse Project, founded in 2011 by a then-15 year old Grace Greenwald, holds the goal to make everything related to neuroscience available to girls of all ages. This initiative’s goal is to get young women talking about the brain in the sense of medicine, psychology, technology, education, and child development. This nonprofit also connects these young women with professors, doctors, and scientists to further the conversation and ignite interest in these fields.

For more information: http://the-synapse-project.org

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PHD – Bit of a Break

I passed my dissertation proposal defense in June.  The proposal consisted of the first 4 chapters of my dissertation.  These are Problem Statement, Literature Review, Theoretical Frameworks, and Methodology.  These chapters may have to change a bit depending of what I find in the actual research but will very likely be mostly done.

I was hoping to start filming at the end of the school year but the IRB approval (which was quick) only left me a week at the very busy end of school year.  So I taped 4 kids doing the warm-up task but am going to defer the main filming until next year.  Because my sixth graders graduated, I will do my normal robotics units with my sixth and second grade classes first thing next school year and film 6 of each grade in the October/November timeframe.

That gives me a bit of a break until then, which is nice.  I am have been pushing myself very hard the last 3 years and moving very fast so a little rest was needed.  I have a few books to read and I will analyze my warm-up tasks after I finish  robotics curriculum consulting job this summer but the change of pace is very much appreciated.  I won’t have a strict deadline either to finish the disseration but I am shooting for fall 2016.  That will give me 3 semesters to film, analyze, and write.

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