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Improving Student Problem Solving Skills In The Identification And Correction Of Errors

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.567.1 - 6.567.8

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Andrew Rose

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

Session 3147

Improving Student Problem Solving Skills in the Identification and Correction of Errors

Andrew T. Rose University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown


Engineers and engineering technologists are faced with a number of different types of problems in industry. In addition to finding solutions to traditional problems, one other type of problem encountered is critically reviewing a set of calculations or a design to identify and correct errors. Checking design calculations is typically performed in industry prior to issuing a final design.1 The purpose is to provide a quality product and limit professional liability associated with professional engineering practice. In addition to checking design calculations, the study of engineering failures often involves the search for what caused the failure.3 In many cases these failures can be traced to calculation errors, incorrect design assumptions, or inappropriate application of theory.3 Unfortunately, traditional problem solving in technical courses usually does not directly emphasize the skills necessary to solve these types of problems. Most problem solving in technical courses is focused on taking a problem statement and developing a solution to provide the required answer. Assessing whether the answer provided with an existing solution is correct requires skill in problem interpretation, solution diagnosis, and attention to detail.8 To improve student skills at reviewing calculations to identify and correct errors, a “Syntax Error Analysis” concept has been developed. The concept involves giving the students a problem statement along with an erroneous solution. Students are required to analyze the problem and determine where errors occur in the analysis and make corrections. Several trials using this type of problem have been conducted and student feedback obtained. The results have been used to further develop and improve this type of learning experience. Assessment of whether solving problems of this type improves student problem solving skills necessary for identifying and correcting errors is also discussed.

I. Introduction

Problem solving techniques used in engineering and engineering technology courses typically present the student with a problem for which a solution must be found by applying concepts learned in class. This approach involves reading the problem, extracting “Given” and “Required” information, and developing a solution. This is the common way of learning new material. In many cases in industry, a problem solution has been developed, but the result is incorrect. The problem then becomes one of reviewing the erroneous solution and identifying and correcting the errors. In some cases, the presence of errors is obvious due to an absurd result. In other cases, the error is not apparent until the solution is studied and the errors identified.

Syntax error analysis problems are designed to provide students experience solving these types of

Rose, A. (2001, June), Improving Student Problem Solving Skills In The Identification And Correction Of Errors Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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