MachineShop: A Design Environment for Supporting Children's Construction of Mechanical Reasoning and Spatial Cognition

My dissertation looked at how children's abilities to think and reason about machines are affected by the task of designing and constructing simple machines. To do this, an integrated CAD/CAM system called MachineShop was created and six children aged 10 to 12 used the system to build mechanical automata of their own designs.

If you are interested in a more detailed look at this research you will find it here. The links below will allow you to download both the full document or individual sections. All files are in Adobe PDF format and file sizes are given to help you estimate download times. Some of these files contain a number of pictures and are quite large.

MachineShop: A Design Environment for Supporting Children's Construction of Mechanical Reasoning and Spatial Cognition


The creative impulse in the human species is nowhere more evident than in children. From an early age they draw, paint, mold, paste, and build a dizzying array of physical objects to both establish their place within societal groups and please and amuse themselves. But this activity is also critical to the cognitive development of the child. From the ages of roughly seven to twelve, children are busy learning to reason logically and to organize thoughts coherently. Piaget calls this the concrete operational stage, where the child has learned to use symbols such as language but is unable yet to reason abstractly. In this stage children begin to truly understand how the world works, and to integrate this information into the knowledge stores that they will use for the rest of their lives. This stage is concrete because this knowledge construction occurs through the construction and manipulation of physical objects in the world.

This dissertation describes a computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) system called MachineShop that was created to assist middle school-aged children in the design and construction of mechanical automata. By assisting children as they design mechanisms and then leveraging the power of computer controlled fabrication tools, children can create mechanical devices that they are not yet capable of making by more traditional means. Through this process children have been found to acquire enhanced visuospatial reasoning abilities, improved understandings of the nature of machines, and increased levels of confidence.

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Complete Dissertation, 277pp, 93.4MB

Individual sections:

This page last updated 01 July 2006