Intel: Presenting Realistic Exercises In A Statics Class
2010 Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings
Statics, a foundational engineering course, introduces a unique approach to problem solving, which is characterized by model-based reasoning. The major intended course outcome is for students to develop the ability to create and utilize free-body diagrams as a mechanism for describing and constraining a problem. This ability to abstract and define an idealized problem from complex objects in the world or textual descriptions ratchets the engineer's ability to solve the problem. Sadly, however,
... tudents routinely leave this course having learned to "plug and chug" or jump to a mathematical equation without first defining the problem in a diagrammatic form that articulates the underlying principles. This can lead to serious problems in future courses as the fundamental approach to engineering problem solving has not been understood or embraced. As a foundational course, difficulties here can impact student academic confidence resulting in a diminished sense of self-efficacy that is particularly problematic when amplified by gender and under-represented minorities (URM) issues. And such faltering so early in the major can cause a student to leave engineering. While difficulties in the course arise for several reasons, our project seeks to address the problem of context. Our hypothesis is that women and minorities particularly, and students generally, are more likely to do well in statics when the problems are placed in the context of real world usefulness. An approach to teaching that effectively scaffolds students' efforts at model building and connects abstract principles/concepts to real world, every day applications will benefit all students while promoting diversity in engineering. Towards that end, we have been developing InTEL (Interactive Toolkit for Engineering Learning), a computer-based manipulable environment that supports teaching and learning in statics by mapping images from real-world environments to abstract diagrams for 2D and 3D equilibrium problems. With such digital technology, statics professors will be able to offer students important scaffolding for developing model-based reasoning by contextualizing abstract concepts and principles in lifelike models. Interacting with and manipulating these models will help students develop the kind of intuition that characterizes engineering reasoning and problem solving.