K’nex toys consist of various plastic rods and connectors cleverly-sized to allow the creation of a variety of structures. While the K’nex Corporation focuses on the K-12 market, there are a myriad of engineering applications that have been demonstrated at the university level. Many of these occur at the lower division level in freshman experience courses or introductory statics courses. Other applications have included constructing structural models for structural design and capstone courses. This paper takes this use of classroom technology even further by demonstrating how K’nex pieces can be used effectively in an upper-division, highly technical structural dynamics / seismic design course.

For the past several years, students in ARCE 483 Seismic Analysis and Design at xx university have been designing experiments using K’nex pieces. The types of experiments that have resulted include the effects of fixity on natural frequency, flexible versus rigid performance, seismic activity on a bridge structure, soft story behavior in buildings, the effect of floor system stiffness on the deflection of a system, the effect of mass dampers on tall buildings, identifying building mode shapes, and even modeling a viscous damper using K’nex, sponges and jello. This paper will demonstrate that K’nex toys can be an inexpensive yet very effective classroom technology for creating physical models and demonstrations in even the most technical engineering courses.

This paper is part of a larger effort to develop a consortium of schools that use K’nex product in the classroom. The consortium members will share ideas, communicate best practices, and encourage each other to improve engineering education and understanding through physical models. This paper will hopefully be considered for the Civil Engineering Division session on Classroom Technology.


Architectural Engineering

Number of Pages




URL: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/aen_fac/117