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Development Of Engineering Problem Solving Skills Through Laboratory Experimentation

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.377.1 - 6.377.10

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Paper Authors

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Zbigniew Prusak

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This paper describes approaches used to teach and develop various aspects of skills necessary for solving majority of real world engineering problems. The learning takes place during experimentation with a very low cost apparatus for accelerating projectiles. The apparatus utilizes several basic physical principles such as elasticity, gravity, sliding friction, and fluid friction. Various geometric characteristics of the apparatus and the process are used as variables. The apparatus is fairly fool proof, so after a brief introduction, very few guidelines for what to do and how are given to students. However, the students are monitored for progress in accomplishment of their own goals and how they stand compared to another competing group. The learning process includes competition between teams of students who use a given experimentation setup. The problem solving skills targeted in this exercise include approaches traditionally associated with engineering such as math and stat-based analysis, optimization and prediction. Since real world engineering problems are seldom purely technical, the so-called soft skills are also accentuated with heavy emphasis on process organization and teamwork. The goal of the exercise is not only to solve a given problem, which is intentionally not clearly defined, but also to come up with a range of solutions based on the understanding of the underlying scientific principles, and to develop metrics to evaluate these solutions. Stating and solving engineering contradictions present in the design and functioning of the apparatus have proven to be one of the prime areas of students’ problems. An initial assessment of areas of biggest problems encountered by students during the course of the whole process is included along with proposed remedies.

Prusak, Z. (2001, June), Development Of Engineering Problem Solving Skills Through Laboratory Experimentation Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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