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Engineering as an Educational Tool: Restructuring Conceptual Physics

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Engineering Physics & Physics Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.615.1 - 26.615.7



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Paper Authors


Franz J. Rueckert Wentworth Institute of Technology

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Dr. Rueckert is an experimental physicist specializing in condensed matter. His research interests include magnetic and electronic properties of perovskite materials and, more recently, novel approaches to physics education.

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Engineering as an Educational Tool: Restructuring Conceptual PhysicsA strong basis in physics is required for the success of any engineering student. As such, thedevelopment of novel systems and methodologies in physics which improve engineeringeducation have generated much interest. Likewise, diverse populations of students can benefit byinverting this paradigm; using engineering practices and techniques to better communicatephysics.While primarily an engineering college, our institute also offers strong programs in interior andindustrial design. Though not focused on advanced computation, an understanding of physicsconcepts is vital to any good design. The goal of our Conceptual Physics course is thus todevelop the ability of students to evaluate the form and function of their work through anunderstanding of general physical principles.In the past, student engagement has suffered as students struggled to relate class topics to thedesign fields. Borrowing from successful aspects of engineering, I have recently redesigned thiscourse to better complement the practical and applied nature of these disciplines. Rather thantraditional problem solving and calculations, students learn through analysis of complex systems.In lieu of homework and exams, the focus of the class has been shifted to group projects and casestudies which demonstrate the application of important topics. As a centerpiece of the course,students are tasked with the construction and presentation of novel Rube Goldberg chain-reactionmachines. This provides a structure by which students can test and refine their understanding ofphysics topics while highlighting their creativity and ingenuity. In this talk, I will outline the newstructure of the course and detail the effect of the changes on student comprehension, retention,and engagement.

Rueckert, F. J. (2015, June), Engineering as an Educational Tool: Restructuring Conceptual Physics Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23953

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