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Cross-disciplinary coherence: Mathematics and Physics for Engineering

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Mathematics Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.352.1 - 23.352.11



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Paper Authors

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Gregory Richard Baker Ohio State University

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Cross-Disciplinary CoherenceDespite great strides in teaching pedagogy in the sciences and engineering, demonstrable long-termsuccess in student performance is difficult to find. It is possible that much of the difficulty in makingsubstantial improvements in science and engineering education lies in the deteriorating skills of studentsin the use of mathematics. To some it seems that math and physics education, the core to a start inengineering education, has pursued studies to improve how the content is taught at the neglect of whatcontent is taught. There is a pressing need for students to learn and understanding how to usemathematics in physics and engineering. From my experience in teaching ordinary differential equation toengineering students, it is quite clear to me that students see their mathematical education as simply avast collection of specific procedures, a view encouraged by math teachers, probably unintentionally.They have little ability to express ideas that arise in physics and engineering in mathematical terms, andthen use math problem-solving skills to understand the consequences. The question raised here iswhether better coordination of the content in first-year math and physics courses could improve studentability to use math in subsequent engineering courses. If this is so, then the mathematical content used inthe physics course and how it is used must be documented before changes in the content in the mathcourse can be planned. At the same time, the physics course could be changed to better illustrate andemphasize important mathematics concepts, helping students to appreciate what they need to knowmathematically.My starting point then is to analyze the current textbooks used in the first year courses in physics andmathematics at a large Midwest university with the specific view to document the mathematical skills andconcepts that are used and/or needed. Preliminary results already indicate mismatches in the uses ofdifferentiation and integration, but more fundamentally, there is a deliberate avoidance in the use offunctions in physics, denying engineering students the opportunity to see how calculus appears in physics.Concept charts will be used to highlight the differences.

Baker, G. R. (2013, June), Cross-disciplinary coherence: Mathematics and Physics for Engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19366

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