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Engineering in Action: Using Aladdin as a Tool to Empower Engineering Learning

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Engineering learning, a three-dimensional construct that includes Engineering Habits of Mind, Engineering Practices, and Engineering Knowledge, has been well established and defined at the post-secondary level (Reed, 2018). Meanwhile, engineering within pre-kindergarten through 12th grade (P-12) classrooms continues to grow steadily. Changes introduced by A Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) have started to place engineering within secondary science education, just as the inclusion of engineering design in Standards for Technological Literacy did within technology education classrooms at the turn of the century (International Technology and Engineering Educators Association, 2000/2002/2007). More and more students are now exposed to engineering learning prior to graduating from high school in a variety of courses like technology, science, and career/technical education classrooms, as well as informal learning programs. Nevertheless, engineering in its own right often remains a missing or minimal component of the learning experience for many students (Change the Equation, 2016; Miaoulis, 2010). To include engineering in a more prominent manner, the Framework for P-12 Engineering Learning (2020) has recently been published as a practical guide for developing coherent, authentic, and equitable engineering learning programs across schools. This guidance includes a definition of the three dimensions of engineering learning, principles for pedagogical practice, and common learning goals. The framework can support the development of in-depth and authentic engineering learning initiatives and provide building blocks toward the 2020 Standards for Technological and Engineering Literacy. As a component of the framework, engineering practices are detailed by describing core concepts that can support performing these practices with increased sophistication over time. Examples include making data-informed design decisions based on material properties and employing computational tools to analyze data to assess and optimize designs. In this Engineering in Action article, we introduce a freely available, open-source computer-aided design (CAD) software called Aladdin and discuss how it can support authentic engineering practice within secondary classrooms. Earlier works have suggested that Aladdin is an effective tool for implementing Next Generation Science Standards (e.g., Chao et al., 2018; Goldstein, Loy, & Purzer, 2017). Similarly, we make a case for using Aladdin in secondary engineering education and discuss how recommendations of the Framework for P-12 Engineering Learning map to specific features of the software.
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36 technology and engineering teacher October 2021
by Viranga Perera, Greg J. Strimel, and
Alejandra J. Magana
engineering in action
using
Aladdin as
a tool to
empower
engineering
learning
With the publication of the Framework for P-12
Engineering Learning, engineering will hopefully
become more prominent and equitable across
secondary education in the coming years.
Introduction
Engineering learning, a three-dimensional construct that includes
Engineering Habits of Mind, Engineering Practices, and Engi-
neering Knowledge, has been well established and defined at the
post-secondary level (Reed, 2018). Meanwhile, engineering within
pre-kindergarten through 12th grade (P-12) classrooms continues
to grow steadily. Changes introduced by A Framework for K-12
Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) and Next
Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) have
started to place engineering within secondary science educa-
tion, just as the inclusion of engineering design in Standards for
Technological Literacy did within technology education class-
rooms at the turn of the century (International Technology and
Engineering Educators Association, 2000/2002/2007). More and
more students are now exposed to engineering learning prior to
graduating from high school in a variety of courses like technol-
ogy, science, and career/technical education classrooms, as well
as informal learning programs. Nevertheless, engineering in its
own right often remains a missing or minimal component of the
learning experience for many students (Change the Equation,
2016; Miaoulis, 2010). To include engineering in a more prominent
manner, the Framework for P-12 Engineering Learning (2020)
has recently been published as a practical guide for developing
coherent, authentic, and equitable engineering learning programs
across schools. This guidance includes a definition of the three
dimensions of engineering learning, principles for pedagogical
practice, and common learning goals. The framework can support
the development of in-depth and authentic engineering learning
initiatives and provide building blocks toward the 2020 Standards
for Technological and Engineering Literacy. As a component of
the framework, engineering practices are detailed by describing
core concepts that can support performing these practices with
increased sophistication over time. Examples include making
data-informed design decisions based on material properties and
employing computational tools to analyze data to assess and op-
timize designs. In this Engineering in Action article, we introduce
a freely available, open-source computer-aided design (CAD)
software called Aladdin and discuss how it can support authentic
engineering practice within secondary classrooms. Earlier works
have suggested that Aladdin is an eective tool for implementing
Next Generation Science Standards (e.g., Chao et al., 2018; Gold-
stein, Loy, & Purzer, 2017). Similarly, we make a case for using
October 2021 technology and engineering teacher 37
Aladdin in secondary engineering education and discuss how
recommendations of the Framework for P-12 Engineering Learning
map to specific features of the software.
What is Aladdin?
Aladdin (formerly known as Energy3D) is a freely available, open-
source CAD program that has been developed specifically to
help students learn about designing energy-eicient buildings
and renewable energy solutions (Xie, Schimpf, Chao, Nourian, &
Massicotte, 2018). It also allows education researchers to study
actions that students perform within the platform (e.g., Seah &
Magana, 2019; Vieira, Seah, & Magana, 2018). Since the software
is easy to use and has built-in tutorials, students can quickly learn
how to model a simple building (e.g., see Figure 1). They can then
start to do analyses to understand if their designs meet their needs
(e.g., being within a certain budget and being an energy-neutral
building). Aladdin can be downloaded for free on both Mac and
Windows computers from the following website: https://intofuture.
org/aladdin.html. The development of a cloud-based version is
currently underway to make it even more powerful and accessible.
Is Aladdin an Eective Teaching Tool?
Previous education research suggests that Aladdin is an eective
tool for helping secondary education students specifically to learn
important engineering concepts. Goldstein, Omar, Purzer, & Adams
(2018) found that middle school students benefited by working on
a design project using Aladdin; importantly, even if their projects
were relatively simple. Furthermore, in their study, also with middle
school students, Dasgupta, Magana, & Vieira (2019) showed that
Aladdin helped students to learn principles of thermodynamics and
heat, and allowed them to perform systematic experimentation to
create better building designs. Magana et al. (in press) demonstrat-
ed dierent learning activities enabled by Aladdin within middle
school, high school, and pre-service teacher classrooms. They
found that students in all classrooms increased their conceptual
understanding of thermodynamics. Students in those classrooms
also produced feasible designs (i.e., met the design criteria and
were energy eicient).
How Can Aladdin Be Used With the New
Engineering Framework?
The Framework for P-12 Engineering Learning describes engineering
learning as being composed of three areas: Engineering Habits of
Mind, Engineering Practice, and Engineering Knowledge. We will
illustrate how Aladdin can be used to teach students each of these
areas within engineering learning.
Engineering Habits of Mind
Engineering Habits of Mind consist of optimism, persistence, collab-
oration, creativity, conscientiousness, and systems thinking. While
Engineering Habits of Mind should be modeled through specific
teaching practices, Aladdin can still help promote these habits.
Specifically, students can learn about systems thinking by model-
ing buildings within Aladdin. They can understand how designing
a building requires both identifying important components of a
building system (e.g., location, size, and energy) and quantifying
how those components interact with one another. Considering that
almost all contemporary engineering now relies on the extensive
use of CAD tools, early introduction of CAD concepts and usage in
P-12 education may foster engineering habits of mind in an even
more practical sense.
Engineering Practice
Engineering Practice involves engineering design, material process-
ing, quantitative analysis, and professionalism. Each of these com-
ponents of Engineering Practice involves a number of skills. Here
we will demonstrate how Aladdin can help students learn skills for
each component listed above.
Engineering design involves a number of skills such as problem
framing, information gathering, ideation, engineering graphics,
design communication, and decision making. We will particularly
focus on decision making, as Aladdin has built-in analysis tools to
help students make better design decisions. After students have
modeled a building, they can quickly perform an annual energy
analysis to determine the net energy usage of their building. Figure
2 shows an example annual energy analysis with net energy shown
in circular orange markers and connected by a thick black line.
The annual energy analysis tool allows students to quantify which
months of the year require more energy. They will additionally be
able to identify components of their building that require significant
energy and try to mitigate that energy use. Since the annual energy
analysis tool only takes a few seconds or a few minutes to run,
students can easily explore how changes to their building design
aect the energy use of the building.
In real-world engineering projects, engineers need to account for
material properties such as thermal, mechanical, and electrical
characteristics. The material processing component of Engineer-
ing Practice involves a number of skills such as manufacturing,
measurement and precision, fabrication, casting/molding/forming,
separating/machining, joining, conditioning/finishing, safety, and
Figure 1.
An example house in Aladdin
38 technology and engineering teacher October 2021
material classification. While it is a CAD software, presently Aladdin
does not easily allow fabrication, for example, by sending CAD
designs to a 3D printer (though it supports printing out 2D pieces
for assembling into 3D structures). Nevertheless, students can still
use the software to learn about material classification. Students can
explore how changing material properties (e.g., thermal insulation
of building walls) may aect the overall building design. Aladdin
allows students to set either the U-value or R-value for one or more
walls of a building (see Figure 3). The U-value is the overall heat
coeicient of a material and has units of W/m2 ·°C. In the case of a
hot summer day or a cold winter night, an ideal house should have
low U-values for its walls to minimize thermal energy transferring
through them. A low U-value will keep the inside of the building
insulated, thus allowing it to be cooler inside in the summer and
warmer in the winter. Alternatively, instead of setting the U-val-
ue, students can set the
R-value. The R-value is a
measure of the resistance
to heat conduction and
has units of h·ft2 ·°F/BTU.
As part of their building
design, students can
explore setting dierent
insulation values (either U-
or R-values), they can look
up typical insulation values
for real building construc-
tion materials, and they
can explore the consequences of setting dierent insulation values
for dierent walls to factor for solar irradiance.
Quantitative analysis involves a number of skills such as compu-
tational thinking, data collection, analysis and communication,
system analytics, modeling and simulation, and computational
tools. By the nature of the CAD software, Aladdin is ideal for teach-
ing all of these skills, but here we will particularly focus on how it
can help teach students to use computational tools. Aladdin allows
students to model buildings in a specific location (e.g., Indianapolis,
Indiana). Students can use the heliodon feature to visually study the
Sun’s path through the sky as a function of time (see Figure 4). In
the case of Indianapolis, since the city is located nearly 40 degrees
north of the equator, students will notice that the Sun’s path is
lower in the sky in the winter and higher in the summer. They can,
Figure 2.
The Aladdin built-in annual
energy analysis tool showing
energy use (in kWh) for various
components of a modeled
building as a function of
time (in months). The figure
has been modified from the
Aladdin output to improve
readability by increasing the
marker and font sizes and by
using colorblind safe colors
(electronic version only).
Figure 3.
Wall insulation can be
modified for buildings
in Aladdin
October 2021 technology and engineering teacher 39
for example, then think about how their building designs can take
advantage of the Sun’s path to maintain a certain temperature
throughout the year.
The final component of Engineering Practice is professionalism,
which involves a number of skills such as professional ethics,
workplace behavior/operations, honoring intellectual property, the
role of society in technological development, engineering-related
careers, and technological impacts. Since Aladdin allows students
to model buildings and to analyze them for their energy eiciency,
the software naturally lends itself to a discussion about technologi-
cal impacts, particularly impacts on the environment. Constructing
and operating buildings produces significant amounts of carbon di-
oxide emissions. In 2017, buildings accounted for 39% of the world’s
carbon dioxide emissions (Abergel, Dean, Dulac, & Hamilton, 2018).
Given that buildings are a significant contributor to climate change,
we need to both make current buildings more sustainable and
improve future building designs. Aladdin can help teach our youth
to be mindful of the impact that buildings have on the environment
and to work towards mitigating those negative eects.
Engineering Knowledge
Engineering Knowledge involves engineering sciences, engi-
neering mathematics, and engineering technical applications.
We will focus here on engineering sciences and engineering
technical applications.
Engineering sciences include statics, mechanics of materials,
dynamics, fluid mechanics, mass transfer and separation, chemical
reaction and catalysis, circuit theory, thermodynamics, and heat.
Aladdin can help students learn concepts in both thermodynamics
and heat. A lesson on the first law of thermodynamics would be a
good introduction to students using Aladdin. Students would then
use the software with the knowledge that maintaining a comfort-
able temperature inside a building (i.e., no change in its internal en-
ergy) means that the building needs to have no net heat (assuming
of course, there is no thermodynamic work done on the building).
Students can use the heat flux visualization tool in Aladdin (see
Figure 5) to understand how certain parts of a building have higher
heat fluxes (windows in this particular case) and can think about
ways in which thermal energy exchange between the inside of a
building and the outside environment can be minimized.
Engineering technical applications include concepts such as me-
chanical design, structural analysis, hydrologic systems, geotech-
nics, environmental considerations, and electrical power. Given that
Aladdin allows students to easily add solar panels onto their model
buildings, it is a convenient place to teach students about electrical
power generation. This is also a relevant topic to students since we,
as a society, will likely be using more solar power for our electri-
cal power generation in the coming years and decades. When a
student places a solar panel, they will have a number of options to
alter properties such as the model of the solar panel (e.g., ASP-
Figure 4.
Heliodon feature in Aladdin allows students to analyze energy use based on the Sun’s path across the sky
40 technology and engineering teacher October 2021
400M, CS6X-330M-FG, and FS-275), size, cell type (e.g., polycrys-
talline, monocrystalline, and thin film), cell eiciency, and inverter
eiciency (see Figure 6). Cell eiciency is defined as the fraction
of incident solar energy that is converted by the cell to electrical
energy. While solar energy is freely available, students may be
interested to learn that a contemporary limiting factor for solar
energy production is cell eiciency. Even today, the most eicient
solar cells tend to be under 40% eicient (Green et al., 2020). While
certain solar panel parameters are limited by current technology,
students can explore ways to alter the number, size, and orientation
of solar panels to increase electrical power production.
Conclusions
With the publication of
the Framework for P-12
Engineering Learning,
engineering will hopefully
become more prominent
and equitable across
secondary education in
the coming years. As this
occurs, teachers will need
eective tools to help
them teach engineering
concepts to students in an
authentic manner. Here
we demonstrate how a
freely available, open-
source CAD program can
serve that purpose. By doing so, we hope that we have provided
some examples and ideas for teachers to empower engineering
learning within their classrooms in authentic and rigorous ways.
In addition, this tool may provide options for teachers to continue
their instruction virtually in times of interruption, such as during
the COVID-19 pandemic.
Acknowledgments
We thank Charles Xie for developing Aladdin and Cynthia A. Brew-
er (Penn State) for the Color Brewer tool (https://colorbrewer2.org)
that helped us select colorblind-safe colors for Figure 2. The re-
search reported in this paper was supported in part by the U.S. Na-
tional Science Foundation (NSF) under the award DRL #1503436.
This content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not
necessarily represent the oicial views of the NSF.
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Viranga Perera, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral
researcher at Purdue University (West Lafayette,
IN). He can be reached at viranga@purdue.edu.
Greg J. Strimel, Ph.D., is an assistant
professor of technology leadership and
innovation at Purdue University (West Lafayette,
IN). He can be reached at gstrimel@purdue.edu.
Alejandra J. Magana, Ph.D., is the W.C. Furnas
Professor in Enterprise Excellence at Purdue
University (West Lafayette, IN). She can be
reached at admagana@purdue.edu.
This is a refereed article.
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Conducting experiments is an important practice for both engineering design and scientific inquiry. Engineers iteratively conduct experiments to evaluate ideas, make informed decisions, and optimize their designs. However, both engineering design and scientific experimentation are open‐ended tasks that are not easy to assess. Recent studies have demonstrated how technology‐based assessments can help to capture and characterize these open‐ended tasks using unobtrusive data logging. This study builds upon a model to characterize students' experimentation strategies in design (ESD). Ten undergraduate students worked on a design challenge using a computer‐aided design (CAD) tool that captured all their interactions with the software. This “process data” was compared to “think‐aloud data,” which included students' explanations of their rationale for the experiments. The results suggest that the process data and the think‐aloud data have both affordances and limitations toward the goal of assessing students' ESD. While the process data was an effective approach to identify relevant sequences of actions, this type of data failed to ensure that students carried them out with a specific purpose. On the other hand, the think‐aloud data captured students' rationale for conducting experiments, but it depended on students' ability to verbalize their actions. In addition, the implementation of think‐aloud procedures and their analysis are time consuming tasks, and can only be done individually.
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In schools, design projects can be implemented at a variety of ways and with varying degrees of resources from teachers and schools. However, little work has been done on the differences between student learning outcomes and the type of design projects. This study compares two design projects implemented in 7th grade classrooms (n=677) at two different schools to explain affordances of each approach based on differences in project authenticity, scale, and depth of context in supporting student learning outcomes. The main data sources were an engineering science test and a design reasoning elicitation problem, administered at each school before and after the design project. To understand the relationship between students' science learning gains and school implementation, we conducted a sign test to compare between-group differences and a Mann Whitney Test to compare within-group differences. Then, we performed a content analysis to examine students' design reasoning and a two-way contingency table analysis to understand if a student's school implementation was related to the changes in design trade-off reasoning. Students at both schools exhibited statistically significant but small gains on their engineering science test scores. While students at the school with a more interdisciplinary, more authentic design project had higher scores on the engineering science test, students at the school with a smaller scale implementation discussed more trade-off factors in their design reasoning elicitation problem. These findings suggest that differences in project implementation appear to be associated with different learning outcomes, and there are potential benefits to both authenticity and simplicity in design projects. © 2018 International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology. All rights reserved.