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Contextualizing Statics: Our Process and Examples

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Mechanics Division Technical Session 4

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Paper Authors


Diana A. Chen University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Diana A. Chen is an Assistant Professor of General Engineering at the University of San Diego. She joined the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering in 2016. Her research interests are in areas of sustainable design, including biomimicry and adaptability in structural, city, and regional applications. She earned her MS and PhD in Civil Engineering from Clemson University in South Carolina, and her BS in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College.

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Sarah Wodin-Schwartz Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Dr. Wodin-Schwartz joined WPI in August 2015. She is passionate about teaching core engineering and critical thinking skills that apply to application-driven problem-solving. She is especially interested in engineering design and product development. She is excited to work with students to help them understand not only the technical skills required of them as engineers but also the social, environmental, and physical implications of implementing technical engineering solutions.

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Engineering sciences, commonly found in the second year of engineering programs, are the technical courses that are considered some of the most important background for an engineering student. Yet, these courses have become impenetrable from changes in content and pedagogy and are abstracted from any human or societal context. In this work-in-progress paper, we describe our efforts in bringing human context to Statics at two teaching-focused institutions. We purposefully integrate context into the course by scaffolding students to see Statics as all around them and relevant to their own lives. Our efforts can be divided into four main categories, in increasing levels of student difficulty: concepts in context, problem-solving in context, decision-making in context, and make-your-own context. In the first level, new course material is introduced by relating it to phenomena experienced in daily life to help students grasp challenging concepts. Students are shown ways in which Statics surround them in their daily lives through real-life, everyday examples used to explain technical concepts in class (e.g., learning to paddleboard by analyzing moments). In the second level, students practice Statics problem-solving in context by examining a real-world scenario through a Statics analysis. These context problems include reflection questions that ask students to consider the meaning and impacts of their numerical solution. In addition to these levels of contextualization that are easier to implement, we also describe in this paper how we have created entire projects around decision-making in context, and how we have led students to draw their own connections between Statics concepts and how they might use them in their own lives. Our goal is to demonstrate Statics concepts as more than “how things are engineered” (i.e., training future engineers to understand Statics in engineered objects) by helping students appreciate and see the relevance of Statics in every aspect of their lives. This paper presents our process and select examples for other instructors to use and build on. Lastly, we offer our reflections on the process and our tips on how to conceptualize context around Statics to help interested instructors generate their own ideas.

Chen, D. A., & Wodin-Schwartz, S. (2019, June), Contextualizing Statics: Our Process and Examples Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32546

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