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Incorporating Active Learning of Complex Shapes in STEM Courses

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.938.1 - 26.938.11



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Paper Authors


Yeow Siow University of Illinois Chicago

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Dr. Yeow Siow has worked for more than ten years as an engineering educator and practitioner. With experience in the automotive industry, he brings real-world examples and expectations into the classroom. Known for his unconventional teaching style, he has earned accolades at Michigan Technological University, Purdue University Calumet, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he currently teaches.

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Incorporating Active Learning of Complex Shapes in STEM CoursesA major obstacle students encounter in many STEM subjects is visualization of complex three-dimensional shapes, such as the p-v-T surface in thermodynamics. Conventional means ofcontent delivery, such as textbooks and projector screens, are passive in nature and areineffective in many situations. Alternatives such as immersive visualization technology are oftencostly and require specialized laboratory, creating a disconnect between lecture and spatiallearning.An exploratory method is introduced whereby learners can achieve meaningful, long-termunderstanding of the material by constructing 3-D objects. This method may be implemented inmany existing STEM courses without the need for restructuring, and without incurring additionalcost. Learners assume the role of information creator instead of audience. Using existing materialor technology – free or open-source software, foodstuffs, etc. – students now build the objectfrom the ground up, by imitation, imagination, or both. The deliverables may include a computermodel as well as physical product, and the outcome is meaningful appreciation of the 3-D objectof interest and, ultimately, the subject matter.An example of this method was successfully implemented in a thermodynamics course in Spring2014. In thermodynamics, understanding the 3-D phase diagram of water is crucial in achievingthe course learning goals. Two projects were assigned within the first two weeks of the semester.For Project 1, students were tasked with creating a 3-D phase diagram using shapable foodstuffs– mashed potato, cheese, etc. – at home, and bringing the finished product to the next class. Thisproject served as a preliminary and was intended to incite a sense of fun and engagement.Project 2 was assigned immediately following Project 1. In this project, students working inteams must create a 3-D computer model of the 3-D phase diagram using software that are eitherfree or readily available on campus computers. In constructing the 3-D model, students were intotal control of every detail of the surface and the degree of accuracy. Once completed, studentsbrought the models into a visualization software for on-screen manipulation such as rotating,zooming and dissecting in any direction, thereby gaining an insight into the nuances of thecomplicated surface. Finally, each submitted model was 3-D printed to allow for further learningenhancement through touch.Assessment of effectiveness includes comparison of average test and course grades between twosemesters: one with the projects implemented and one without. End-of-semester courseevaluation data and comments are also compiled and analyzed. The overall observation isoverwhelmingly positive. Not only did students perform better in subsequent tests following theproject, the average grade also improved compared to the non-project semester.Further refinement of this project may include requiring actual steam data to reconstruct the 3-Dsurface. All in all, this hands-on approach can ensure high level of appreciation of the subjectmatter.

Siow, Y. (2015, June), Incorporating Active Learning of Complex Shapes in STEM Courses Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24275

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