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Engineering Students’ Mathematical Problem Solving Strategies In Capstone Projects

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Understanding Engineering Design

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.559.1 - 10.559.14



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Paper Authors

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Monica Cardella

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Cynthia Atman

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

Engineering Students’ Mathematical Problem Solving Strategies in Capstone Projects

Monica E. Cardella, Cynthia J. Atman Industrial Engineering Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching University of Washington Seattle, WA

Abstract Mathematics is generally considered to be a fundamental element of engineering education. However, there is little empirical evidence characterizing the role of mathematics in the engineering design process. The goal of this paper is to take a research informed approach towards understanding engineering students’ use of mathematical problem solving strategies while engaged in capstone design projects. This paper presents some initial evidence elicited through observation of a team of five industrial engineering seniors, interviews with these students as well as students from other engineering departments and document analysis. The data is analyzed using a framework based on the work of Alan Schoenfeld1 which consists of five aspects of mathematical thinking: the knowledge base (e.g., calculus), problem solving strategies or heuristics, effective use of one’s resources (or cognitive structures, such as memory), beliefs and attitudes (about mathematics), and engagement in mathematical practices. Results from this study provide insights for mathematics and engineering educators as they support engineering students’ integration of mathematics and mathematical thinking into their design practices.

Introduction and Relevant Literature Mathematics has been a central part of engineering throughout the history of the profession2 and continues to be an important element of engineering education. Many members of the engineering education community are continuing to devote attention to how mathematics should be taught to engineering students—through the introduction of mathematics into design courses3, the design of mathematics courses for engineering students4,5 and the integration of mathematics into engineering curricula6,7. Most members of the engineering education community believe that mathematics is both important and helpful for students in designing and developing systems (e.g. Moussavi8) and developing the ability to reason (e.g. Underwood9). However, little work has been done to empirically investigate how engineering students use mathematics as they practice engineering design.

In addition to supporting the community’s beliefs about the importance of mathematics, an empirical investigation of engineering students’ use of mathematics can inform future decisions about how to best teach mathematics to engineering students. One issue to address here is whether mathematics should be taught within an engineering-specific context or if general mathematics courses sufficiently prepare engineering students. Some educators suggest that mathematics should be taught by the engineering faculty because only engineering instructors are

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Cardella, M., & Atman, C. (2005, June), Engineering Students’ Mathematical Problem Solving Strategies In Capstone Projects Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14732

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: © 2005 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