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A New Approach To Thermodynamics

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.28.1 - 4.28.5

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Paper Authors

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Sheila Palmer

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

Session 3233

A New Approach to Thermodynamics

Sheila C. Palmer U.S. Naval Academy


After teaching a class several times, changing the presentation is essential to keep the material interesting for me. Having taught Thermodynamics numerous times and having three sections scheduled for Fall semester 1998 prompted me to take the collaborative approach described here.

Many discussions of collaborative learning focus on the general techniques to be used. These ideas are all helpful but the application to a particular course is often unclear. Thus, this paper includes the description of a collaborative presentation of several typical Thermodynamics topics. Being aware of the classroom atmosphere is essential in making collaborative learning work. As such, the presentation of the topics includes alterations made to accommodate the personalities of each section.

In what has become the “typical” collaborative learning classroom setup, the tables are in groups, not rows. As such, short group activities are enhanced. Some days, students spend more class time teaching each other than I do lecturing. Other days, I do most of the talking and punctuate the topics with short problems for the groups.

The effects of the classroom arrangement and methods used to present materials are determined using student evaluations throughout the semester. In addition, student performance on a common, course-wide final examination is examined.


The course described in this paper is Engineering Thermodynamics, a semester-long course that introduces engineering students to thermodynamics. Most students in the course were first-semester juniors. During Fall semester 1998, I taught three sections (approximately twenty students per section) of this course using a collaborative approach. This paper summarizes some of the teaching techniques used by providing descriptions of the presentation of several typical thermodynamics lectures. Observations resulting from the semester and an assessment of the effectiveness of the collaborative approach are provided.

Typical “Lectures” I. Definitions

In most courses, students typically learn the language particular to the subject matter early in the semester. The amount of language necessary to begin having a discussion of a thermodynamics problems can be overwhelming. In addition, using a traditional lecture approach to provide the definitions for the students often leads to boredom for the instructor and the students.

Palmer, S. (1999, June), A New Approach To Thermodynamics Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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