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Developing Threshold Conception in Statics

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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

Statics - They can move at constant velocity!

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.407.1 - 23.407.10

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Paper Authors


Sirena C. Hargrove-Leak Elon University

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Sirena Hargrove-Leak is an Assistant Professor in the Dual-Degree Engineering Program at Elon University in Elon, NC. The mission and commitment of Elon University have led her to explore the scholarship of teaching and learning in engineering and service-learning as a means of engineering outreach. Hargrove-Leak is an active member of the American Society for Engineering Education both at the national and regional levels. With all of her formal education in chemical engineering, she also has interests in heterogeneous catalysis for fine chemical and pharmaceutical applications and membrane separations.

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Developing Threshold Conception in StaticsThe study and practice of engineering involves complex problem solving which requires theapplication and integration of fundamental principles of mathematics and science. Thedevelopment of the skill needed to do this effectively and efficiently is a journey from novice toexpert that begins in the undergraduate curriculum. The more analytical aspects of complexproblem solving are often introduced in statics courses.Referring to the example of a computer programming class in their book Overcoming Barriers toStudent Understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge, Meyer and Landaccurately summarize what happens as, “…students may grasp the concepts of class, objects,tables, arrays and recursion, but they may not appreciate the deeper threshold conception, theunderlying „game‟ as it were, of the interaction of all these elements in a process of ever-increasing complexity.” In a typical statics class, my experience has been that 1 of every 5students demonstrates a strong ability to solve complex problems, 1 of every 5 studentsdemonstrates a strong inability, and the rest fall somewhere in between. In an effort to facilitatean increase in the number of students demonstrating a strong ability to solve complex problems, Iinstituted teaching techniques to support knowledge organization and the development ofmetacognitive skills.Teamwork, in-class problem solving, and “think-alouds” are three strategies with strongindicators of their utility in supporting learning. These strategies were combined throughout thecourse. Student work was collected to assess the development of a deeper threshold conceptionof engineering problem solving. Students were also asked to assess their own progress in awritten survey at the end of the semester. This paper discusses the development of this projectand its execution, assessment, and preliminary outcomes during the first semester of itsimplementation.

Hargrove-Leak, S. C. (2013, June), Developing Threshold Conception in Statics Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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