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Curricular Materials and Methods for Student Conceptual Understanding in Mechanics of Materials

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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

NSF Grantees' Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.355.1 - 23.355.6



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Paper Authors


Shane A. Brown P.E. Washington State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Shane Brown conducts research on cognition and conceptual change in engineering. He received his bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees from Oregon State University, both in civil engineering. His Ph.D. degree includes a minor in Science and Mathematics Education. His master’s degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of California-Davis. Dr. Brown is a licensed professional civil engineer and has six years of experience designing water and wastewater treatment facilities in central California. He was the recipient of the NSF CAREER award in 2011. Dr. Brown’s research interests are in conceptual change, epistemology, and social or situated cognition. Specifically, his research focuses on theoretical approaches to understanding why some engineering concepts are harder to learn than others, including the role of language and context in the learning process.

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Devlin Montfort Washington State University

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Curricular Materials and Methods for Student Conceptual Understanding in Mechanics of Materials Knowledge necessary for innovation refers to more than just the ability to searchfor an equation that suits the situation, but the ability to understand, apply, and transferinformation to new situations. In order for knowledge to be transferable it needs to bebased on fundamental concepts, instead of computational algorithms or equations.Because the specific applications of engineering knowledge are so diverse, an innovativeengineer must possess a strong understanding of the concepts underlying the problemsdiscussed in the classroom. The idea of conceptual understanding captures the type ofknowledge necessary for innovation. By definition, conceptual understanding is flexibleand transferable; a person with this deeper understanding is able to apply it in anyenvironment. The goal of this project is to conduct research on student’s conceptualunderstanding of select topics in mechanics of materials. Student interviews wereconducted with 82 sophomore level engineering students from four different universities. An interview protocol that provides a student the opportunity to fully representtheir understanding and knowledge through the presentation of concepts in multiplecontexts was implemented using Piaget’s clinical interview and think-aloud interviewmethods. The interview protocol focused on stresses and strains in axially loadedmembers and beams. The protocol was designed to provide students multiple scenariosand contexts to share their understanding of stress and strain, including typical textbookor homework-like representations, ranking tasks, physical models, and pictures of failedmembers. The combination of interview questions with multiple contexts, an interviewprotocol with probing questions and clinical think-aloud interview methods providedextensive opportunities to elicit student thinking.Several misconceptions were identified through this process: 1. If an axially loaded member is pulled in the horizontal direction, then the change in size in the vertical direction is due to an applied force. 2. Stresses only occur in the direction of the applied load. Students often believed that stresses only occurred in the direction of the applied load, even when considering stress elements at orientations not parallel or perpendicular to the applied load. 3. Bad things happen near point loads in beams and axially loaded members. Students often believed that the largest stresses in these members were near point loads, without consideration of textbook equations of stress distributions under specific loads. 4. Normal stresses do not occur in beams because they are not in the direction of the load. Students often reported that the only stresses in beams were under the point load and in the direction of the point load.These misconceptions provide practical knowledge for instructors and insights to theoriesof conceptual change.

Brown, S. A., & Montfort, D. (2013, June), Curricular Materials and Methods for Student Conceptual Understanding in Mechanics of Materials Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19369

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