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A Problem Centered Approach To Dynamics

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Enhancing Mechanics Instruction

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.84.1 - 13.84.14



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Paper Authors


Gary L. Gray Pennsylvania State University

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GARY L. GRAY came to Penn State in 1994 and is an Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics. He earned a Ph.D. degree in Engineering Mechanics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1993. His research interests include the mechanics of nanostructures, dynamics of mechanical systems, the application of dynamical systems theory, and engineering education.

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Francesco Costanzo Pennsylvania State University

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FRANCESCO COSTANZO came to Penn State in 1995 and is an Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics. He earned a Ph.D. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Texas A&M University in 1993. His research interests include the mechanics of nanostructures, the dynamic crack propagation in thermoelastic materials, and engineering education.

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

A Problem Centered Approach to Dynamics

Abstract When teaching dynamics, one of our goals is to expose future engineers to a variety of real-world problems and modern engineering tools. Historically, we have done this via example problems worked in class and homework problems we assign to the students. On the other hand, the theory associated with new ideas was always presented the way it is done in the most popular textbooks, that is, we would just jump into derivations with minimal motivation as to why these new ideas were needed. Our exposure to the literature on problem-based learning prompted us to experiment with it in a studio environment with small numbers of students. Unfortunately, this required two faculty in every class and, as a result, was very labor intensive. Therefore, we wondered if new material could be introduced in a more contextual fashion (i.e., introducing a problem whose solution is best obtained using ideas that are developed as the problem is solved) to capture the motivational effect of problem-based learning, but in a more standard setting. This paper describes, via a number of examples, this approach to the introduction of new ideas that we call problem-centered. We also relate our experience in teaching dynamics this way, in lectures delivered electronically and in lectures delivered on the chalkboard, to large classes and small, and to honors and non-honors students. Finally, we present anecdotal evidence that the approach, at the very least, captures the interest of the students. While we have no data comparing the performance of students taught the way we used to teach dynamics with the performance of students taught in this problem-centered fashion, we feel it is important to report that problem-centered approach can be used with success in a variety of settings, where success means that it doesn’t get in the way of the amount of material that can be taught and that the students’ interest in the material is enhanced.

Introduction To maintain and enhance our nation’s ability to be on the forefront of technology development, colleges and universities have been called to adopt the most effective teaching practices of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses as well as to provide undergraduates with opportunities to study STEM “as practiced by scientists and engineers as early in their academic careers as possible”.1 In fact, the practice of engineering today requires that graduates be prepared in a large variety of ways, which are reflected in ABET criteria as well as other recent studies.2, 3 In addition, as supported by a wide body of literature, educating STEM students to work in a highly diverse environment requires that students acquire knowledge in the same way as it is used in practice.4

To begin to address these educational needs, we are developing a framework for teaching freshman and sophomore-level engineering statics and dynamics. In particular, we have altered the way we teach statics and dynamics so that we: specifically teach concepts and reinforce that teaching with in-class quizzes of concept questions and with concept questions on exams;5 employ a parametric approach to design by studying motion and loads over intervals of space and time;

Gray, G. L., & Costanzo, F. (2008, June), A Problem Centered Approach To Dynamics Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4265

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