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Enriching Statics Instruction With Physical Objects

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Improving Statics and Dynamics Classes

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.515.1 - 7.515.5



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Paper Authors

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Paul Steif

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

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Enriching Statics Instruction with Physical Objects

Paul S. Steif Carnegie Mellon University


A student who succeeds in a statics course has the ability to analyze basic mechanical aspects of unfamiliar mechanical systems using the principles and methods of statics. The ability to apply learning to solve new and different problems is termed transfer by cognitive scientists.

A variety of factors affect transfer. Most relevant to the present work is the recognition that the depth of the initial learning affects significantly the ability to transfer1. Depth of learning is dependent on a number of factors, including: time on task 2, learning for understanding rather than memorizing facts3, having deliberate practice with feedback4, recognizing the signals that trigger the usefulness of the knowledge 5, and the motivation associated with seeing material being useful6.

Enriching statics with physical objects is consistent with several of these factors, in particular in promoting learning for understanding and in motivating students. This paper describes two means taken to enriching statics with physical objects. First, we have a devised a set of laboratory activities which offer physical counterparts to each of the basic concepts of statics. Second, we have made a set of engineered artifacts available for study by students through digital images and other electronic means. In the rest of the paper, we described these enrichments and the experience of implementing them in statics class of approximately 100 students.

Physical counterparts to basic concepts

A series of laboratories was devised which offered physical counterparts to the following basic ideas: (i) the moment about a single axis due to a force in three dimensions, (ii) the relative motions permitted at standard connections, (iii) free body diagrams of a body for which students supply all loads necessary to maintain equilibrium and (iv) the motions of, and forces acting between, bodies constituting simple mechanisms. Two of these experiments are described in detail.

To address the challenge of relating forces in three-dimensions to moments, an apparatus was designed (Figure 1) that consisted essentially of L-shaped arm, which pivots about a single axis and which is maintained in a neutral position by a set of springs attached to a frame and to the arm near the pivot point. Forces can be applied via a spring scale to various points on the arm. Such forces cause the body to rotate about the pivoting axis. Attached to the frame is a protractor, which allows the rotation of the body to be measured (rotations up to 10° are allowed).

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Steif, P. (2002, June), Enriching Statics Instruction With Physical Objects Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10927

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