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A New Approach To Teaching And Learning Statics

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Improving Statics and Dynamics Classes

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.79.1 - 8.79.7



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Paper Authors

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Anna Dollar

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Paul Steif

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

Session 2268

A New Approach to Teaching and Learning Statics

Paul S. Steif, Anna Dollár

Department of Mechanical Engineering Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 /

Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Department Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056


As engineers need to be increasingly flexible in their careers and adjust to an ever-widening range of technologies, a firm command of basic engineering subjects, such as mechanics, is increasingly important. Such a command must include the ability to apply mechanics. Along with many instructors, we are often disappointed with the extent to which students are able to use mechanics in the analysis and design of real systems and structures which they confront in their subsequent education [1].

Our approach to helping students use mechanics is consistent with the ideas put forth by Diana Laurillard [2] who argues that in higher education we ask students to learn a way of viewing and representing the world. In mechanics this way of viewing the world involves mathematical symbols that represent interactions between parts of mechanical systems and their motions and deformations. We take failure to relate the symbol to that which it represents (relating the “sign” to the “signified” in Laurillard’s parlance) as underlying much of the difficulty that students have in applying mechanics.

Our instructional approach is also strongly rooted in the idea that students learn new things by building upon what they already know [3]. New ideas should be presented so that students can build upon their existing ideas. Finally, different students favor different learning styles [4]. Instruction typically shortchanges students who are visual and sensing learners, as compared to those who are verbal or intuitive learners. Moreover, students can learn by interacting with each other and with instructors. Activities that facilitate learning in a variety of modes enable more students to succeed.

For these reasons, we contend that the initial study of Statics needs to be refocused away from machines and structures. Students often have trouble envisioning the forces between inanimate bodies, e.g., between relatively rigid contacting parts of a machine. When the forces are not real to students, Statics is an exercise in mathematics for them: manipulating variables that have no physical counterparts. Instead, students should first work with forces (and couples) that they can, indeed, perceive. This includes forces and couples that students exert with their own hands, as Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Dollar, A., & Steif, P. (2003, June), A New Approach To Teaching And Learning Statics Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12443

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