June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
Educational Research and Methods
12.652.1 - 12.652.13
Engineering Students’ Mathematical Thinking: In the Wild and with a Lab-based Task
Abstract Although mathematics is considered to be a fundamental element of engineering education, little empirical research has been conducted to understand how engineering students actually use mathematics. This project takes a research- informed approach towards understanding the role of mathematics in engineering design by combining two studies of engineering students’ use of mathematical thinking: a study of engineering students’ use of mathematics during an industry- based senior design project and a study of engineering students’ use of mathematics during a laboratory based design problem.
The capstone study used a combination of qualitative methodologies to investigate engineering students’ use of mathematics during one of their first real- world design projects. For this study, a team of five industrial engineering students agreed to allow the investigator to observe their team meetings, individually interview each team member and analyze their work related to their capstone project. For the laboratory based study, eight industrial engineering seniors were asked to think aloud while completing a three-hour design problem. The findings from the capstone study guided the analysis of the data from the laboratory based study.
Mathematical thinking behavior was investigated using Schoenfeld’s five fundamental aspects of mathematical thinking: knowledge base, problem solving strategies or heuristics, effective use of resources, beliefs and affects and mathematical practices1 . Additionally, Atman and Bursic’s design process coding scheme 2 was used to investigate the engineering students’ design behavior, and identify relationships between mathematical thinking and engineering design behavior.
In both contexts the engineering students engaged in mathematical thinking throughout their design processes. This paper presents: 1) a summary of the different mathematical thinking activities that the students engaged in during the capstone study, and 2) a summary of the mathematical thinking activities the students engaged in during the laboratory based study, and 3) some insights from the laboratory study into how the students engaged in mathematical thinking during specific design activities.
The results of this study provide insights into how engineering students actually use mathematics, which can inform the way that mathematics is taught to engineering students as well as students at the pre-college level.
Motivation from the literature Mathematics has been a central part of engineering throughout the history of the profession3 , as well as a typical part of an engineering curriculum. The reasons for its inclusion, however, and stakeholders’ perceptions on why it is included, are varied. Some students believe that they take mathematics courses simply because the mathematics courses act as a gatekeeper, ensuring that only the brightest students are able to take engineering courses, while other engineering students view mathematics as one of the many tools that are at an engineer’s disposal4 .
Cardella, M., & Atman, C. (2007, June), Engineering Students’ Mathematical Thinking: In The Wild And With A Lab Based Task Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2984
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