Asee peer logo

Does Conceptual Understanding Matter: Patterns Of Error In Senior Engineering Students Problem Solving In Statics?

Download Paper |


2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Conceptual Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.428.1 - 15.428.20



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Tameka Clarke Douglas Purdue University

visit author page

Tameka Clarke Douglas is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Computing at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech). Before coming to UTech, Tameka was a PhD student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She was a George Washington Fellow and Graduate Research Assistant in the Department of Engineering Education, Purdue University. Her primary research interests are studying communities of practice and difficult concepts in science and engineering.

visit author page


Aidsa Santiago Roman University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez

visit author page

Aidsa I. Santiago Román is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Science and Materials and the Director of the Strategic Engineering Education Development (SEED) Office at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus (UPRM). Dr. Santiago earned a BA (1996) and MS (2000) in Industrial Engineering from UPRM, and Ph.D. (2009) in Engineering Education from Purdue University. Her primary research interest is investigating students⃢↬ understanding of difficult concepts in engineering science with underrepresented populations. She also teaches introductory engineering courses such as Problem Solving and Computer Programming, Statics, and Mechanics.

visit author page


Ruth Streveler Purdue Universtiy

visit author page

Ruth A. Streveler is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue
University. Before coming to Purdue she spent 12 years at Colorado School of Mines, where she
was the founding Director of the Center for Engineering Education. Dr. Streveler earned a BA in
Biology from Indiana University-Bloomington, MS in Zoology from the Ohio State University,
and Ph.D in Educational Psychology from the University of Hawaii at M?noa. Her primary
research interest is investigating students’ understanding of difficult concepts in engineering

visit author page

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Does conceptual understanding matter: Patterns of error in senior engineering students problem- solving in Statics?


This paper describes a study that investigates students’ explanations of force when describing the errors they made when solving a Statics problem based on the concepts of free body diagram (FBD) and equilibrium. Three male civil and mechanical engineering seniors were asked to think aloud as they solved the fore mentioned problem. Participants’ solutions were analyzed using two conceptual frameworks. The first framework describes a substance-based conceptual schema of force that students may have. This framework is based on the works of Reiner, Slotta, Chi and Resnick 1 and Chi 2. The second framework from the works of Steif 3 describes the common errors that students make in their solutions of Statics problems and the Statics concepts that they represent. Findings of this study show that students who got the answer incorrect made four common errors. In conjunction, when explaining the reasoning behind these errors, students talked about the force(s) as represented in the problem and solution as a substance or a material object.


The scientific principle taught in Statics is the principle of equilibrium. The primary science prerequisite to understanding the principle of equilibrium is Newtonian mechanics. An understanding of the primary concepts of force and equilibrium according to Newton’s laws lays the foundation for understanding the principle of equilibrium. According to Newtonian laws for a system to remain in equilibrium the net forces and torques have to all add up to zero.

Students are expected to draw on their conceptual understanding of Newtonian force as a platform for subsequent learning or sense-making of concepts taught in Statics such as free body diagrams (FBD) and equilibrium 4. Failure to accurately understand the concept of force may serve to confound their understanding of Statics concepts and in turn their ability to correctly apply these concepts to the solution of statics problems and or more advanced mechanical systems.

Clarke Douglas, T., & Santiago Roman, A., & Streveler, R. (2010, June), Does Conceptual Understanding Matter: Patterns Of Error In Senior Engineering Students Problem Solving In Statics? Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16714

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015