Students develop and solidify their understanding of the concept of "perimeter" as they engage in a portion of the civil engineering task of land surveying. Specifically, they measure and calculate the perimeter of a fenced in area of "farmland," and see that this length is equivalent to the minimum required length of a fence to enclose it. Doing this for variously shaped areas confirms that the perimeter is the minimal length of fence required to enclose those shapes. Then students use the technology of a LEGO MINDSTORMS(TM) NXT robot to automate this task. After measuring the perimeter (and thus required fence length) of the "farmland," students see the NXT robot travel around this length, just as a surveyor might travel around an area during the course of surveying land or measuring for fence materials. While practicing their problem solving and measurement skills, students learn and reinforce their scientific and geometric vocabulary.
Students explore materials engineering by modifying the material properties of water. Specifically, they use salt to lower the freezing point of water and test it by making ice cream. Using either a simple thermometer or a mechatronic temperature sensor, students learn about the lower temperature limit at which liquid water can exist such that even if placed in contact with a material much colder than 0 degrees Celsius, liquid water does not get colder than 0 °C. This provides students with an example of how materials can be modified (engineered) to change their equilibrium properties. They observe that when mixed with salt, liquid water's lower temperature limit can be dropped. Using salt-ice mixtures to cool the ice cream mixes to temperatures lower than 0 °C works better than ice alone.
Students act as civil engineers developing safe railways as a way to strengthen their understanding of parallel and intersecting lines. Using pieces of yarn to visually represent line segments, students lay down "train tracks" on a carpeted floor, and make guesses as to whether these segments are arranged in parallel or non-parallel fashion. Students then test their tracks by running two LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT robots to observe the consequences of their track designs, and make safety improvements. Robots on intersecting courses face imminent collision, while robots on parallel courses travel safely.
Students solidify their understanding of the terms "circumference" and "rotation" through the use of LEGO MINDSTORMS(TM) NXT robotics components. They measure the circumference of robot wheels to determine how far the robot can travel during one rotation of an NXT motor. They sharpen their metric system measurement skills by precisely recording the length of a wheel's circumference in centimeters, as well as fractions of centimeters. Through this activity, students practice brainstorming ways to solve a problem when presented with a given scenario, improve their ability to measure and record lengths to different degrees of precision, and become familiar with common geometric terms (such as perimeter and rotation).
Students develop an understanding of the concepts of "push" and "pull" as they "save" stuffed animals from danger using LEGO MINDSTORMS(TM) NXT robots. After learning more about the concepts through a robot demonstration, students explore the concepts themselves in the context of saving stuffed animala from the table edges. They choose to either push or pull the animal to safety, depending on the orientation of the robot and toy. They see the consequences of their choices, learning the importance of understanding these force concepts and the differences between them.