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Classroom Teaching Aids And Laboratory Experimentation To Engage Students In Materials Learning

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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

Civil Engineering Teaching Part Two

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.296.1 - 13.296.15

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Paper Authors

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Stephan Durham University of Colorado at Denver

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Micah Hale University of Arkansas

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Seamus Freyne Manhattan College

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

Classroom Teaching Aids and Laboratory Experimentation to Engage Students in Materials Learning


Most civil engineering programs require one course in materials and materials testing. These courses are designed to provide students with general knowledge of the production, properties, and behavior of common structural materials. Emphasis is often placed on the three predominately used materials: concrete, steel, and wood. This paper presents teaching aids and laboratory experiments that can be used as an effective method of introducing material properties and behavior to students. The authors have identified several analogies, in-class demonstrations, visual aids, and laboratory experiments that enhance the learning of structural materials. The “Hamburger Helper” analogy can be used to describe aggregate’s function as economical filler in concrete as noodles (aggregates) are considerably cheaper than hamburger meat (cement) and can be used to produce a larger meal (concrete mixture) at a reduced cost. Cement hydration is often a difficult topic for students to understand. The reaction between water and cement can be demonstrated using a candy, the “Atomic Fireball.” The heat liberation curve for cement hydration resembles the heat given off by an Atomic Fireball. The stress-strain curve for steel can be described as “Traffic Gridlock on an Interstate.” The initial portion of the curve resembles slow moving traffic that produces large amounts of stress for drivers. This is followed by a point on the curve or location on the interstate when traffic speed increases resulting in decreased stress and much greater strain. This comparison continues through strain hardening until failure or the drivers reach their destination. Straws are an effective method of illustrating the structure of wood. Wood is composed of hollow tube-like cells that resemble a group of drinking straws. Laboratory experiments that examine the effects of water-to-cement ratio and curing environment on concrete compressive strength reinforce topics discussed in class lectures. Teaching aids and laboratory experiments are an effective method of demonstrating important concepts. The methods discussed in this paper have shown to engage students in the learning of structural materials.


Many civil engineering curriculums require at least one course in construction materials. These classes provide students with the basic knowledge and understanding of the production, properties, testing, and behavior of common structural materials. A large emphasis is placed on concrete, steel, and wood due to their wide use and availability in the design and construction of structures. This paper presents teaching aids and laboratory experiments that have been used by the authors in their respective classes. These teaching resources have been found to be an effective and interesting method of introducing material properties and behavior to students. The resources identified in this paper include analogies, in-class demonstrations, visual aids, and laboratory experiments. Such resources discussed in this paper are used to explain the effects of

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