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Adding Context To A Mechanics Of Materials Course

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

What's New in the Mechanics of Materials?

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Page Count


Page Numbers

12.178.1 - 12.178.11



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Paper Authors

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Andrea Surovek South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

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

Adding Context to a Mechanics of Materials Course


One of the greatest challenges in teaching fundamental engineering courses is getting students engaged in the material by making them feel it is relevant and has context in the “real world”. This is clearly important considering that providing context for abstract engineering concepts as well as “learn-by-doing” experiences can increase student comprehension1. In addition, a lack of context has been cited as a contributing factor to early attrition rates in engineering students2. Unfortunately, addressing real world applications in engineering courses is typically left until upper division, discipline specific classes. Contextual learning is often left out of engineering core course such as Statics and Mechanics of Materials, despite both the significance of the material taught in these courses to upper division classes and the pedagogical advantages to using such an approach in engaging multiple types of student learning styles3. Labs and case studies can help in developing context; this paper presents a project that can easily be adapted into any mechanics class, regardless of discipline or lab component, that helps students to personalize the material.

In order to illustrate the difference between contextual problems and those lacking context, consider a potential mechanics of materials problem:

A shaft is subjected to the torque shown. Find A the shear stress developed in the shaft and the angle of twist at point A relative to point B.


Figure 1 A basic torsional shear stress problem in mechanics of materials

The problem does not tell the students anything about the source of the torque, the likely use of the shaft, or anything else that might allow then to place some context on why it might be valuable to know the shear stress or angle of twist. Even if the shaft were studied in a lab setting, the usefulness of the problem in life might not be evident. However, consider the same problem as developed by students in a Mechanics of Materials course, shown in Figures 2 and 3:

Surovek, A. (2007, June), Adding Context To A Mechanics Of Materials Course Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1491

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