Hands-on Activity Understanding Movement in Humans and Robots

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5 (5-7)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

This activity uses non-expendable (reusable) LEGO MINDSTORMS robot kits and software; see the Materials List for details.

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency:

Subject Areas: Biology, Science and Technology

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle

A graphic showing various gears and wheels of different sizes.
Gears and wheels aid with motion.
Copyright © Pixabay http://pixabay.com/en/cogs-cog-wheel-drawing-gear-gears-213655/


This activity helps students understand how a LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robot moves using motors and wheels. Then students relate the concepts of decision-making actuation and motion in humans to their parallels in mechanized robots, and understand the common themes associated with movement.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

An important aspect of biological engineering and neuroscience is the ability to view the human body as a functioning, controlled system. Engineers use this systems approach when building robots. More and more research findings indicate that mathematical principles similar to those used in robotics are extremely useful or even necessary for a complete understanding of the human body. Within such fields as biological engineering, systems and neurobiology, engineers are becoming increasingly involved in research involving the human body and efforts to replicate the functioning of many of its systems.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Compare the functions of the components involved in movement in both a human body and in a robot.
  • Program an EV3 robot to move based on the input it receives from a sensor.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

4-LS1-2. Use a model to describe that animals' receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways. (Grade 4)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Use a model to test interactions concerning the functioning of a natural system.

Alignment agreement:

Different sense receptors are specialized for particular kinds of information, which may be then processed by the animal's brain. Animals are able to use their perceptions and memories to guide their actions.

Alignment agreement:

A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-LS1-8. Gather and synthesize information that sensory receptors respond to stimuli by sending messages to the brain for immediate behavior or storage as memories. (Grades 6 - 8)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence.

Alignment agreement:

Each sense receptor responds to different inputs (electromagnetic, mechanical, chemical), transmitting them as signals that travel along nerve cells to the brain. The signals are then processed in the brain, resulting in immediate behaviors or memories.

Alignment agreement:

Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural systems.

Alignment agreement:

  • Describe how a subsystem is a system that operates as part of another, larger system. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Explain how various relationships can exist between technology and engineering and other content areas. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Explain the interactions between the nervous and muscular systems when an organism responds to a stimulus (Grade 8) More Details

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Materials List


Note: This activity can also be conducted with the older (and no longer sold) LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT set instead of EV3; see below for those supplies:

  • computer loaded with the NXT 2.1 software

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/umo_robots_act] to print or download.


See the Are We Like Robots? associated lesson for the activity introduction.


Refer to the Understanding Movement in Humans and Robots Presentation (a PowerPoint file) to conduct this activity.

Before the Activity

With the Students

  • Divide the class into groups of three or four students each.
  • Introduce the class to the LEGO EV3 robot (bevelbot) as describe on slide 8.
  • Introduce the EV3 brick as the brain of the robot. However, this "brain" must be programmed, unlike humans who learn from experiences. Explain that it is the user-defined programming that tells the brick what to do (slide 9).
  • Introduce the equivalent of nerves in a robot (slide 10).
  • Introduce robot equivalents to humans (slide 11).
  • Explain how motors help robots move. Ask the class to compare the way robots move to the way people move (slides 12 -13).
  • Have everyone set up the LEGO EV3 bevelbots on the floor. Explain the engineering challenge: To make the robot move towards a wall, sense the wall once it gets close and back up when it is too close to a wall (slide 14).
  • Explain the working of the ultrasonic sensor and start programming (slide 15).
  • Walk the class through basic programming of the bevelbot (slide 16).
  • Direct students on how to start the program they downloaded on the EV3 brick and have students explain what they told their robot to do (slide 17).
  • Have students sit in groups and pass out the Movement in Robots Worksheet in (slide 18-19). Solutions to the activity sheet questions are given in slide 20.
  • Talk about energy sources in humans and robots (slide 21).
  • Compare the process of deciding to move in humans and robots (slide 22).
  • Provide a summary of humans vs. robots (slide 23). Ask students identify some other ways in which robots are similar to human brains.
  • Administer the post-activity worksheet (slide 24).


biceps: The muscle on the upper inside of the upper arm coming from two heads.

EV3: Programmable "computer" brick that controls a LEGO robot.

hamstring: Any of three muscles at the back of the thigh that function to flex and rotate the leg and extend the thigh.

limb: The arm or leg of a human being.

quadriceps: The muscle in front of the thigh, divided into four parts.

robot: A mechanism guided by automatic controls.

system: A group of interdependent components functioning as a unified whole; a set of methods or rules governing behavior.

tendon: A band of connective tissue that unites a muscle with some other body part (such as bone) and transmits the force exerted by muscles.

triceps: The muscle on the lower outside of the upper arm coming from three heads.


Pre-Activity Questioning: To find out student preconceptions and base knowledge, ask students in a group setting about their knowledge of brain anatomy, computer parts and EV3 sensors, and write student responses on the board.

Worksheet: Administer the Student Post-Activity Worksheet (slide 24).

Post-Activity Game: Conduct the Jeopardy Game by using the Jeopardy - Understanding Movement in Humans and Robots PowerPoint file, which is designed to play an entire game of Jeopardy using lesson and activity content.

  • Divide the class into groups of two to four student each.
  • During each group's turn, ask them to choose a category.
  • Use the mouse left key to click on the "student choice" to reveal a jeopardy question. Click on the "question" icon on the slide to reveal the correct answer.

Troubleshooting Tips

Troubleshooting is an important part of programming. This activity provides many opportunities for students to learn to find problems on their own, with some teacher guidance if necessary. If a group is having trouble programming, ask them to explain to you what the program does, starting at the beginning. While they are explaining, look at their program to make sure it matches the explanation. If you are not sure what a part of the program means, refer to the EV3 reference guide or legoengineering.com.


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© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2009 Curators of the University of Missouri


Ajay Nair; Charlie Franklin; Ashwin Mohan; Satish Nair

Supporting Program

GK-12 Program, Computational Neurobiology Center, College of Engineering, University of Missouri


This curriculum was developed under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0440524. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: October 17, 2020

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