Supporting mechanical reasoning with a representationally-rich learning environment

Ann F. McKenna, Alice M. Agogino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


A learning environment to support mechanical reasoning and understanding of simple machines for middle school and high school students is presented, along with results of an evaluation of its effectiveness in student learning. Based on recommendations from 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. SIMALE was implemented with a diverse population of 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. Analyses of results show significant increases in post-test performance for all treatment variations within SIMALE. The results also revealed unexpected dramatic results in equalizing post-test scores along ethnic and gender dimensions, in spite of large population differences in pre-test scores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-104
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Learning environment
  • Mechanical reasoning
  • Precollege education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Engineering


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