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Enhancing Students' Understanding of Dynamics Concepts Through a New Concept Mapping Approach: Tree of Dynamics

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Innovations in Solid Mechanics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

25.574.1 - 25.574.13



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Paper Authors


Ning Fang Utah State University

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Ning Fang is an Associate Professor in the College of Engineering at Utah State University, USA. He has taught a variety of engineering courses such as engineering dynamics, metal machining, and design for manufacturing. His areas of interest include computer-assisted instructional technology, curricular reform in engineering education, the modeling and optimization of manufacturing processes, and lean product design. He earned his Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering and is the author of more than 60 technical papers published in refereed international journals and conference proceedings. He is a Senior Member of the Society for Manufacturing Engineering and a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He is also a member of the American Society for Engineering Education and a member of the American Educational Research Association.

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Enhancing Students’ Understanding of Dynamics Concepts Through a New Concept Mapping Approach - Tree of DynamicsAbstractDynamics is a high-enrollment and high-impact, core engineering course that nearly all studentsin mechanical, aerospace, civil, biological, and biomedical engineering programs are required totake. However, dynamics is also widely regarded as one of the most difficult courses to succeedin because the course covers a broad spectrum of foundational concepts. Lacking a solidunderstanding of dynamics concepts is among the major reasons that many students performpoorly in dynamics.Concept mapping, developed upon constructivist learning theory, is a graphical representation(like a flow chart) that shows how individual concepts are related to and connected with oneanother and form large wholes. Since its development in 1972 by Joseph Novak and hiscolleagues who sought to follow and understand changes in children’s knowledge of science,concept mapping has been adopted in nearly every discipline ranging from STEM (science,technology, engineering, mathematics), psychology, and medicine to business, economics,accounting, history, and literature by institutions ranging from K-12 to undergraduate education.Engineering instructors have also applied the concept mapping technique to the teaching andlearning of dynamics concepts.This paper proposes a new concept mapping approach, called the “Tree of Dynamics,” toenhancing students’ understanding of dynamics concepts. The new approach has two uniquefeatures. First, the relationships among dynamics concepts are represented by “tree” structuresincluding roots, trunks, branches, leaves, and fruits. “Tree” structures enhance students’ intuitivecognition (perception) of the hierarchical relationships among dynamics concepts and also addfun to student learning. In the conventional concept mapping approach, linking words or phrasesare employed to represent the relationships among concepts, which requires students to havehigh skills of abstractive cognition. Second, active learning (learning by “doing”) is highlyinvolved in the new concept mapping approach. Students construct their own “trees” rather thenthe instructor constructing “trees” for students. In the conventional concept mapping approach,the instructor constructs a concept map and demonstrates it to students, and then students learnby “watching and listening,” which is essentially a way of passive learning.The “Tree of Dynamics” approach was recently implemented in an engineering dynamics courseat a large public research university. The purpose was to improve students’ understanding ofdifferences and relationships among seven key dynamics principles and to help students see the“big picture” of dynamics. A total of 76 undergraduates participated in the study. The paperpresents four representative examples of students-generated “trees.” Pre-post tests wereadministrated to measure student learning gains. The assessment results show that the averagelearning gain for all student participants was 64.2%. Compared to the average pretest score, theaverage post-test score increased 1.45 standard deviations. Among the 76 students surveyed, 54students (71%) agreed or strongly agreed that the “Tree of Dynamics” helped them understandhierarchical relationships among dynamics principles and associated equations.

Fang, N. (2012, June), Enhancing Students' Understanding of Dynamics Concepts Through a New Concept Mapping Approach: Tree of Dynamics Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21331

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