Asee peer logo

Five-minute Demo: Developing an Intuitive Understanding of Support Reactions Using an Interactive Teaching Activity

Download Paper |


2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Best in 5 Minutes: Demonstrating Interactive Teaching Activities

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Tonya Lynn Nilsson P.E. Santa Clara University

visit author page

Tonya Nilsson is a Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering at Santa Clara University (SCU), where she regularly facilitates pedagogical training for other faculty. In 2020, Tonya received the School of Engineering Teaching Excellence Award and the SCU Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence. Prior to joining SCU, Tonya was an Associate Professor at CSU - Chico.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The ability to quickly and accurately find support reactions for simply supported beams is essential for students moving forward in the fundamental mechanics courses in civil and mechanical engineering degree programs. Students who simply try to memorize a procedure lack the insight to assess the validity of their answers and typically struggle on problems with unique loadings. To help statics students develop a more intuitive understanding of how loads distribute in a simply supported beam, an interactive teaching activity was developed that combines physical behaviors with numerical calculations. Students use a standard wooden ruler, which is simply supported on each end by small digital scales, a set of small weights and a series of guided activities to first estimate, then calculate, and finally physically observe the portion of a load carried at each end of the loaded ruler as indicated by the scales. Students progress from single point loads to triangulated distributed loads and prove superposition approaches are valid through the process. This paper provides images of the activity set-up along with the handout students receive to guide them through the lesson.

Nilsson, T. L. (2021, July), Five-minute Demo: Developing an Intuitive Understanding of Support Reactions Using an Interactive Teaching Activity Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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: © 2021 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