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A Scaffolding Case Study for Teaching Engineering Problem Solving to Underrepresented Minorities

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Curricular and Non-curricular Models for Diverse Learners in Engineering

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.105.1 - 26.105.11



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Paper Authors


Morris M. Girgis Central State University

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Morris Girgis is a professor at Central State University. He teaches undergraduate courses in manufacturing engineering. He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Hannover
University, Germany. His current research in engineering education focuses on developing and implementing new educational tools and approaches to enhance teaching, learning and assessment at the course and curriculum levels.

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Scaffolding Techniques for Teaching Engineering Problem Solving for Underrepresented Minorities Morris M. Girgis, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Manufacturing Engineering Central State University Wilberforce, Ohio 45384-1004 (937) 376-6309 mgirgis@centralstate.eduAbstractMany underrepresented engineering students struggle in college because of their deficiencies in problemsolving. This is mainly due to the students' lack of conceptual understanding and inability to apply theirmathematical knowledge while solving engineering problems. Also, professors often assume that problemsolving ability is expected to naturally increase by mastering domain concepts as well as masteringrelevant problem solving heuristics and processes, and ultimately learning to put these concepts andprocesses together to solve problems. Our research suggests that, for underrepresented minority students,learning conceptual knowledge can be best achieved through practicing problem solving in a graduallearning approach supported by scaffolding techniques.The paper describes teaching techniques for problem solving for underrepresented minorities utilizingmini-projects as supplemental instruction in any engineering mechanics course, such as "statics" or"strength of materials." This project-based instruction focuses on the analysis of a mechanical systemconsisting of multiple springs and pulleys. Students were assigned one system configuration and wererequired to identify relevant concepts, formulate mathematical relationships, derive the system's governingequations and solve for the required variables. The derivation of mathematical equations was conductedfor the assigned system involving physical parameters with appropriate assumptions and constraints. Inaddition, laboratory experimental models were built to offer students additional scaffolds to helpunderstand the concepts which led to increasing their ability to solve the problem. The physical modelsalso enabled adjusting or changing the system's parameters and/or configurations.Although the mathematical content and physical concepts required for the project are fairly simple, somedifficulties for the “novice” student exist for developing, organizing and solving the system’s linearequations. For the "expert" students, the problem can be made more challenging by increasing the numberof system components or by assuming spring stiffnesses to be different (k1, k2, etc.) instead of having samevalue (k). For the struggling students, the original system configuration was simplified into sub-systems tofacilitate a scaffolding instructional technique. Students were guided to first work out a simpler systemwith fewer springs and thus fewer unknown variables. During this scaffolded activity, students establishedtheir basic skills in formulating the mathematical model, applying the engineering concepts (such asHooke's law, pulley concept and free-body diagram, etc.), and drafting the solution plan to obtain the finalresults. During all project stages, instructional soft scaffolds were offered by the instructor. By graduallyincreasing the system complexity, students enhanced their conceptual understanding, mathematicalmanipulation skills as well as problem solving competency. During the student's growth in knowledge andskills, the instructor's scaffolding was gradually reduced and ultimately removed.An assessment instrument for problem solving was designed and utilized to evaluate the effectiveness ofthe students' learning. Research results showed positive students' feedback and notable progress in projectengagement as well as improvement of their overall knowledge and skills.

Girgis, M. M. (2015, June), A Scaffolding Case Study for Teaching Engineering Problem Solving to Underrepresented Minorities Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23446

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