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Hands-On Beam Models and Matching Spreadsheets Enhance Perceptual Learning of Beam Bending

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Proven Strategies in Classroom Engagement Part I: Artifacts for Creative Pedagogy

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Daniel J. Pickel University of Waterloo

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Daniel Pickel is a graduate student who is currently working towards his PhD in Civil Engineering. Specifically he is studying a novel rehabilitation technique for high volume highways in Ontario, aimed at reducing the frequency of construction activities on Ontario's busiest highways.

Daniel has a bachelor's degree in education, focused on science and mathematics in the senior levels of Ontario's Secondary schools.He is very interested in adapting teaching techniques at all levels in order to make content more accessible to all students.

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G. Wayne Brodland University of Waterloo

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Dr. Brodland has a longstanding interest in engineering education and has built dozens of models to aid student learning. He hold awards in teaching and in research and is actively involved in the Ideas Clinic, a major experiential learning initiative at the University of Waterloo.

He also actively studies the mechanics of biological cells. He and his team spent several decades investigating a critical step in embryogenesis called neural tube formation, developing novel instruments and computational models to aid their quest. More recently their interest has shifted to learning how cancer cells detach from a primary tumor and begin the process of metastasis. - See more at:

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Rania Al-Hammoud P.Eng. University of Waterloo

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Dr. Al-Hammoud is a Faculty lecturer (Graduate Attributes) in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Al-Hammoud has a passion for teaching where she continuously seeks new technologies to involve students in their learning process. She is actively involved in the Ideas Clinic, a major experiential learning initiative at the University of Waterloo. She is also responsible for developing a process and assessing graduate attributes at the department to target areas for improvement in the curriculum. This resulted in several publications in this educational research areas.
Dr. Al-Hammoud won the “Ameet and Meena Chakma award for exceptional teaching by a student” in 2014 from University of Waterloo. Her students regard her as an innovative teacher who introduced new ideas to the classroom. Such ideas include using “props” to increase students’ understanding of the materials, as well as using new technology such as i-clickers and IF-AT cards. Dr. Al-Hammoud also organized a bridge-building contest in one of her courses where she worked with other professors in the department to integrate the project horizontally across the curriculum.

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This evidence-based practice paper explores the use of a physical beam model and a matching spreadsheet that plots deflection, slope, shear, moment and loading diagrams as teaching tools. These tools were used to reinforce engineering theory as part of a second year civil engineering statics and solid mechanics course. The models consisted of three beams of known cross-section and stiffness, two supports which could be altered to provide clamped or simple support, and two dial gauges to measure beam deflection, all of which could be affixed to a base delineated with markings to quantify the distances between individual model components. Steel weights could be placed at any portion along the beam to apply vertical point loads to the beam. The physical model was accompanied by an electronic spreadsheet that calculated diagrams for slope, curvature, shear, moment and loading based on beam geometry, Young’s modulus and boundary conditions. In the first of two exercises, students examined beams with clamped, simple and free boundary conditions, observed linearity between loading and deflection, and used statics to calculate shear and moment diagrams. They also compared their calculations with beam diagrams produced by a matching spreadsheet. In the second session, after the students had been taught methods for calculating deflections in statically determinate beams, they examined model beams with various strategic boundary conditions and load patterns, looking for physical manifestations of deflection, slope and curvature (moment) within those beams. As part of this exercise, students chose a particular beam design and loading, and used a version of the spreadsheet that could plot all of the beam diagrams, including beam loading, based on the initial geometry, Young’s Modulus and boundary conditions of the beam and dial gauge-measured deflections under any loaded points. Seeing the spreadsheet back-calculate the loads they had applied from observed deflections did much to make students ponder the close relationship that exists between load, boundary conditions and deformed geometry. By comparing characteristics of the model beam with the spreadsheet diagrams, students were able to make and strengthen their connections between mathematical, visual and kinesthetic representations of beam bending. After each exercise, students were asked to provide written feedback on the effectiveness of the exercise through questions such “What are three specific things you learned about beams today?” “Which observations were unexpected or in conflict with your intuition?” “How did the physical model and spreadsheet enable you to better understand the operation of beams?” The students said the exercise helped them understand how various support conditions, material properties and applied loads effect the deflection of the beam. They also stated that the spreadsheet helped them understand the relationship between the deflection, slope and curvature. Changes to the beam supports sometimes produced deflection changes that conflicted with their intuitions, causing them to think more deeply about how beams actually work.

Pickel, D. J., & Brodland, G. W., & Al-Hammoud, R. (2016, June), Hands-On Beam Models and Matching Spreadsheets Enhance Perceptual Learning of Beam Bending Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25431

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