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A Spiral Learning Curriculum In Mechanical Engineering

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.91.1 - 15.91.14



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Paper Authors


Robert Roemer University of Utah

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Robert B. Roemer is currently a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. He received his B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University. He teaches courses in engineering design, and is interested in integrating the use of design projects and active learning throughout the curriculum to improve engineering education.

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Stacy Bamberg University of Utah

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Stacy J. Morris Bamberg is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. She received her S.B. and S.M. in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her Sc.D. in Medical Engineering from the joint Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. She teaches the required freshman design sequence, the required junior mechatronics sequence, and electives in musculoskeletal functional anatomy for engineers and medical instrumentation and physiology. She is interested in the use of technology in the classroom and improving student outcomes through hands-on and interactive experiences.

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April Kedrowicz University of Utah


Debra Mascaro University of Utah

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Debra J. Mascaro is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. She holds a B.A. in Physics from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She teaches freshman design and senior-/graduate-level classes in microscale engineering and organic electronics.

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

A SPIRAL Learning Curriculum in Mechanical Engineering


In this course development project funded through an NSF CCLI Grant, we are developing, implementing, and evaluating a new required integrated four-course sequence taught in the first two years of our ME curriculum. Each year will focus on a broad contemporary topic in Mechanical Engineering, namely robotic/mechatronic systems and sustainable energy systems. Using these themes we will introduce students to: the fundamentals of multiple engineering science topics, design practice and methodology, and the knowledge and skills required in professional engineering practice—all of which will be reinforced in, and expanded upon, in later more specialized courses. This new sequence attempts: 1) to address the well-publicized challenges of educating the current generation of American students with their short attention spans, expectations of immediate rewards, and limited “hands-on” experience (vs. years of “fingers-on” experience with modern electronic devices), 2) to improve our graduates’ professional skills as recommended by practicing engineers, and 3) to implement improved pedagogical techniques via an overriding “design as knowledge” teaching philosophy1 that will teach through an emphasis on model-based design and product realization in a Student-driven Pedagogy of Integrated, Reinforced, Active Learning (SPIRAL) approach. That approach applies Bruner’s concept2 of a “‘spiral curriculum’ that turns back on itself at higher levels” through repetition at ever increasing depths of knowledge. Our approach thus both distributes the teaching of basic engineering knowledge and skills through multiple courses and integrates their teaching throughout the curriculum via repetitive exposure in multiple courses, using multiple active learning approaches. This paper outlines our overall approach and philosophy, while three companion papers describe our initial experiences in the first course in this four-course sequence.

1. Introduction

As shown in many individual studies and summarized in recent articles and books,3-6 when compared to traditional lecture courses, the use of active, co- operative learning and open-ended projects seems to: significantly enhance learning, retention and application of material; help non- traditional students in their learning; and motivate engineering students to remain in school. Many departments have successfully implemented subsets of the possible approaches (e.g., Fig. 1) in individual courses.

Figure 1. How people learn.5

Roemer, R., & Bamberg, S., & Kedrowicz, A., & Mascaro, D. (2010, June), A Spiral Learning Curriculum In Mechanical Engineering Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16789

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