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An Interactive Visual Environment For Scientific Problem Solving

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.170.1 - 6.170.11



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Paper Authors

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Georg Mauer

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

Session 1566

An Interactive Visual Environment for Scientific Problem Solving Georg F. Mauer University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Science and engineering students do not typically receive explicit training in scientific problem solving, i.e. applying science principles to specific situations. Students’ problem solving skills often show little improvement throughout their course of studies. This paper describes a structured, graphical, interactive (GUI) learning environment, which presents problems and tools for analysis in systematic and logical order, and encourages the student to develop the solution path in the manner of an experienced expert. The learning environment’s subject area is Engineering Dynamics, which was selected for its systematic structure and its early (usually sophomore) place in the undergraduate curriculum. The software presents the concepts required to solve homework problems, organized along book chapters. First, the student is prompted to analyze the problem statement, i.e. to extract relevant information from the text and classify the problem. Free-body diagrams are developed interactively on-screen. The problem solution is then developed conceptually by applying the problem information to the current (and preceding) chapter’s laws as appropriate. The conceptual solution is complete if the number of variables in the problem matches the number of equations in the conceptual solution set. Lastly, the quantitative solution is developed in Mathcad, using the applicable laws from the conceptual solution and the data given. The problem solving software thus creates and reinforces a pattern for problem solving which is typically absent among novice students: they tend to start the solution process with the numbers at hand, and then try to find an equation that yields the desired result. Over time, the software thus is expected to train students in systematic problem solving. Context-sensitive help throughout explains laws, procedures, and their possible connections to the problem at hand.

I. Introduction

Scientific problem solving in science and engineering education is a skill acquired by intensive and often frustrating training. Even when students understand the pertinent scientific theories and mathematics, no clear path or general strategy is typically visible to the beginner. There is ample evidence that teaching excellence (such as well designed presentations of sample solutions) and students’ subject knowledge do not per se translate into the acquisition of problem solving skills. Rather than solving by applying principles and laws, students often find it expedient to emulate sample solutions.

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Mauer, G. (2001, June), An Interactive Visual Environment For Scientific Problem Solving Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9445

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