What is Playful Engineering Based Learning?

Playful engineering based learning (PEBL for short) acknowledges the central role that play has in creative endeavors, from young childhood throughout adulthood. Play motivates students (and experts) of any age to engage in making, coding, modeling, inquiring, doing the activities central to engineering. PEBL leverages the power of play to support students learning engineering in a way that is fun and deeply authentic to the inquisitive and constructive nature of the discipline.

Lessons that engage student in playful engineering based learning

Lesson 1 – Introduction to the SPIKE Hub and Kinetic Sculptures

Lesson Focus & Goals: Students will build a kinetic sculpture robot using an input (sensor) and output (motors).

Objectives: Students will use a motor to create a moving sculpture. Students will control these motors using a sensor (for example a button or distance sensor). This robot will be operated from a program downloaded to a central hub computer, such as a Spike Prime Hub.

Activity/Structure: Students first learn the basic components of a robot–motors, sensors, and hub–including their basic functions (output, input, controller) and relationships to one another (input→controller→output).

Students are then provided with a Spike Prime Hub, one to two motors, and a sensor. They attach motors and sensors to the hub, and operate those devices using the Heart Program (see Notes for Operation Using the Spike Prime Heart Program below).

Once familiar with the operation of the Heart Program, students create a kinetic sculpture using their Spike Prime components, other Lego pieces, and found/craft materials. The design criteria are that the sculpture must be controlled by a sensor, and it must use two different kinds of motion.

Once done with their first draft of their design, students watch the Testing and Presenting video with special guest Tylee Nez, and then share their designs with their peers.

Notes for Operation Using the Spike Prime Heart Program

  • Motors and sensors should be plugged into the Spike Prime hub ports labeled A-F.
  • Motors can be attached with pins directly to the hub, to move together as a unit.
  • All Spike Prime hubs come with a default “Heart Program”. To run the Heart Program, turn on your hub and press the arrow keys until the display on the hub shows a Heart icon (♥). With the heart displayed, press the central button.
    • This program will detect and run motors plugged into the hub.  Any motors attached should begin to turn. If the motors do not turn, first check that they are plugged in, and second press the right arrow button to increase their speed.
    • In the Heart Program motor speed can be increased with the right arrow button, and decreased with the left arrow button.
    • The Heart Program will automatically detect up to one sensor per “row” (so plugged into port A OR port B, port C OR port D, port E OR port F) and display a basic sensor reading in the corresponding row of pixels on the hub display. The Heart Program can detect at most three sensors, each in a separate row.
    • When a motor is plugged into the hub in the same row as a sensor (for example sensor in port A, motor in port B) then the sensor will control the motor.

Lesson 2 – Silly Walks and Biomimicry Placemats

Lesson Focus & Goals: Students will build a robot that moves without wheels. This can be motivated as making a robot walk “silly” (particularly appropriate for young learners age 4-9) or as making a robot move in a way inspired by animals (appropriate for learners of all ages).

Objectives: Students will use a motor to create motion in a robot. Students will operate these motors using a program downloaded to a central hub computer, such as a Spike Prime Hub.

Activity/Structure: (Optional initial step, if framing around biomimicry) Students identify an animal whose motion they would like to emulate. If working in small groups, they discuss and choose with their partners. Students write down the animal they’ve chosen, how it moves, and how they might make a robot move in the same manner.

Students start with a Spike Prime Hub and one or two motors. Using LEGO Technic pieces (and optionally found objects) they construct a robot that moves (locomotes, wiggles). The only restriction is that this movement cannot be due to wheels alone, it must come from other components.

Supplemental options for the activity structure

  • Request that students specify the type of motion they want to create ahead of time, and think through (perhaps write down) how they will achieve that motion–what components will be needed, and how should they be attached? How fast should the motors turn?
    • This is especially salient when framing the activity around biomimicry, as students should choose what animal they want to emulate and think through how that animal moves.
  • Have students program their motors to move using the Spike Prime App. This can be used to accomplish specific forms of motion not possible with the heart program alone. This can be done with students new to the platform as an introduction to programming with SPIKE Prime, typically after making a robot that moves with the Heart program, or with advanced students at the start of the activity as an additional criterion.

Assessment: Have students show off their robot, explaining how it moves and why they designed it the way they did. (Optionally) Use this showcase as an opportunity for peer learners to provide feedback or ask questions. (Optionally) Have students write down (or say) how their robot could be used to help someone or improve their classroom or community.

Resources for designing with playful engineering based learning in mind

Engineering Design Notebook. Used with a Robot. Common Formative Assessment

Lessons developed in collaboration with a Navajo community grower

Weeklong Summer Engineering Design Workshop

  1. Build a Shade House or Hogan
  2. Design and build a Farm Truck or Cart
  3. Fan to Cool and Dry Produce
  4. Explore Coding with Garden Security System, i.e., Scarecrows..
  5. Color Selector Gate Opening System