Designing and assessing a learning environment to support mechanical reasoning

Ann McKenna, Alice Agogino

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This paper describes and assesses a learning environment designed to support mechanical reasoning and understanding of simple machines. Based on recommendations from the literature on instructional frameworks and cognitive aspects of mechanical reasoning, SIMALE (the Simple Machines Learning Environment) was designed to support reflection, collaboration, and presentation of concepts from multiple perspectives and contexts. SIMALE was implemented with middle and high school students with three treatment variations: (1) environment with focus on Lego exercises to engage in hands-on physical activities, (2) environment with focus on a web-based computer module, and (3) environment with both the computer module and Lego exercises. Learning was measured in three categories: analytic problem solving, conceptual understanding, and drawing and modeling ability. The assessment found that students significantly increased their understanding in all three categories for all treatment variations within SIMALE. The results revealed unexpected dramatic results in equalizing post-test scores, in spite of large population differences in pre-test scores. A complete description of the study, the assessments and the statistical analyses are presented. Based on these findings we present recommendations for creating educational experiences and environments that support development and application of simple machines concepts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12345-12367
Number of pages23
JournalASEE Annual Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002
Externally publishedYes
Event2002 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Vive L'ingenieur - Montreal, Que., Canada
Duration: Jun 16 2002Jun 19 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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