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5 Minute Demonstrations To Enhance The Conceptual Understanding Of Engineering Lectures

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

New Learning Models

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.7.1 - 10.7.6



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Paper Authors

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Michele Perrin

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

5-Minute Demonstrations to Enhance the Conceptual Understanding of Engineering Lectures Michele Perrin University of Missouri


Introductory engineering classes are often taught in large lecture halls, but due to a lack of laboratory apparatus, professors use chalk or erasers to demonstrate physical principles. “Imagine this chalk is a Gaussian sphere” is a phrase underclassmen hear and are expected to learn by. Clearly, easily accessible, illustrative instructional aids could facilitate learning complex engineering concepts. This paper describes a set of 5-minute demonstrations that are simple to execute, require very little equipment, and can be used to increase students’ conceptual understanding. Each activity demonstrates a basic engineering principle taken from courses, such as Differential Equations, Physics, Circuits, and Thermodynamics – topics that are required classes for all disciplines. Emphasis is placed on convenience and ease of use by the professor, with most equipment small enough to carry in a pocket or briefcase. These demonstrations introduce a laboratory element into the lecture without the necessity of having a laboratory on- site.


One morning while sitting in on a sophomore engineering class on Electromagnetism, I watched the professor painstakingly lead a group of 75 students through an explanation of a Gaussian sphere using only his hands, a piece of chalk, and the corner of the room. The room corner was being used to emphasize the 3-dimensional aspect of the electromagnetic vectors. Fifty minutes later, the professor put a quiz problem up on the board. I watched as most students sat there in confusion, having no idea how to tackle the problem.

Chalk has been around for centuries. It is a great tool for working mathematical problems or writing definitions. However, its capability for emulating a Gaussian sphere is vague at best. A recurring problem in engineering education is that the undergraduate curriculum generally does a poor job of elucidating information and integrating topics in any meaningful way. Freshman instruction is often delivered in ways that discourage students from pursuing careers in science and engineering.1 Most introductory engineering classes are taught in large, impersonal lecture halls and rely on the recitation or laboratory portion of the course to fill the gaps in students’ conceptual understanding of the subject. The lecture portion usually involves passive participation of the student, spending most of the time mindlessly note-taking without actively engaging in the material being presented. The emphasis is on memorizing irrelevant course content with no attention to the processes of scientific investigation – prediction, analysis, synthesis, or critical reasoning. Studies have shown that laboratory activities significantly enhance a student’s conceptual understanding, but there is often a disconnect between the lecture

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Educations Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Perrin, M. (2005, June), 5 Minute Demonstrations To Enhance The Conceptual Understanding Of Engineering Lectures Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15153

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