NCSU K-12 Workforce Development Project 2012

(Actual Title: Lego Robot Vehicle Afterschool Workshops: Transportation Engineering Problem Solving (Modules-15)

Principal Investigator: James Martin, P.E.

Final Report


For many years, kids have developed an interest in engineering by playing with LEGOs. Like these kids, LEGOs have grown up and a new generation of kids will learn the basic principles of engineering using LEGO Mindstorms NXT robots – robots that can see, speak, feel, and move.

The Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) at North Carolina State University will collaborate with the University of Florida to implement workshops for children at the middle school level in North Carolina. This program, LEGO® Robot Vehicle Afterschool Workshops:  Transportation Engineering Problem Solving, will provide a hands-on experience that will get kids excited about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics and foster interest in transportation engineering as a career choice.

CTE will use the “LEGO® Robot Vehicle Lesson Plans for Secondary Education – A Recruitment Tool for Transportation Engineering” developed by the Transportation Technology Transfer (T2) Center in the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida and implement it in North Carolina.  Presented as an afterschool activity, the program will consist of one workshop offered during the school year.  The workshop will be made up of five 1.5 hour sessions each.  We anticipate working with eight students at one school. The workshops will be coordinated by CTE in conjunction with the North Carolina Local Technical Assistance Program (NC LTAP).

The lesson plans will introduce the students, at their level, to the congestion mitigation solution research priority for recurrent congestion, describing the importance of modeling and assessment of advanced technologies and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) with respect to congestion mitigation; and improvements of traffic signal systems to reduce delays in urban corridors.

Students will be exposed to computers, basic computer programming, mathematics as it relates to the tasks, and robots as tools.  Students will learn some fundamentals of transportation engineering and how the use of advanced technology is integral to solving current and future transportation problems.  They will also learn how much transportation affects the quality of life in our society.  Students will become excited about the field of transportation engineering and become interested in pursuing this field as a career.

Interpersonal and communication skills will be stressed as students will be divided into teams.  They will be given a scenario problem statement to work on throughout the five sessions.  Combined with PowerPoint presentations and demonstrations, students will work hands-on with a pre-built LEGO NXT Intelligent Vehicle and LEGO education software. Measurement criteria consist of pre- and post-tests and mini assessments.

As students work through the sessions, they will see that there are many approaches to problem solving.  Their confidence will build as they work and experiment to complete the tasks.  They will see that engineering can be fun.

Students will leave the workshop with an understanding of what an engineer does and more specifically the kind of work done by a transportation engineer. Transportation engineers not only plan, design, evaluate, and supervise; they use a variety of technology-related tools to assist them in their work.  Through the use of the software component, students will see how technology is crucial to transportation engineering.

They will also gain insight as to how traffic congestion impacts their lives; developing an understanding of how transportation engineers solve problems that are relevant to their everyday lives.

CTE will share lessons learned from the workshops held in North Carolina with the T2 Center at UF as well as other Consortium members.

The United States Department of Labor predicted that job growth for civil engineers will be above average – about 24 percent over the next decade.  Spurred by general population growth and its impact on transportation infrastructure, demand for transportation engineers is expected to increase.  Transportation is vital to job growth and economic development at the state and regional level.  In order to retain a competitive edge, it is imperative to get kids interested in engineering at a young age and to promote the field as a viable and exciting career path where they can have a positive impact.