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Inquiry-Based Learning Activities in Dynamics

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Dynamics - Wow! They accelerate

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.761.1 - 23.761.19



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Paper Authors


Brian P. Self California Polytechnic State University

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Dr Self has taught in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo since 2006. Prior to that, he worked in the Air Force Research Laboratories before teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy for seven years. During the 2011-2012 academic year he participated in a professor exchange, teaching at the Munich University of Applied Sciences. His engineering education activities include collaborating on the Dynamics Concept Inventory, developing model-eliciting activities in mechanical engineering courses, inquiry-based learning in mechanics, and design projects to help promote adapted physical activities. Other professional interests include aviation physiology and biomechanics. Dr Self obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Engineering Mechanics from Virginia Tech, and his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of Utah.

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James M Widmann California Polytechnic State University

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Jim Widmann is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He received his Ph.D. in 1994 from Stanford University. Currently he teaches mechanics and design courses. He conducts research in the areas of machine design, fluid power control and engineering education. He is a past Chair of the ASEE-DEED Division and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar.

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Michael J. Prince Bucknell University


Jeffrey Georgette

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Jeffrey Georgette is a masters student in mechanical engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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Inquiry-Based Learning Activities in DynamicsResearch has shown that students enter classrooms with persistent, strongly-held misconceptionsthat can be extremely difficult to identify and to repair. It is difficult to change a student’sconceptual framework by simply telling them that their robust view of the physical world isincorrect when everyday experience has reinforced this framework. Students know that heavierobjects such as books drop more quickly than lighter objects such as paper, and instructors mayreinforce this idea by teaching that the force due to gravity on heavier objects is greater than thaton lighter objects. Although students may correctly choose appropriate equations to apply tohomework-type problems, they may still leave courses with an insufficient conceptualunderstanding necessary for subsequent courses.An approach that shows promise in helping to repair these misconceptions is that of inquiry-based instruction. This consists of presenting teams of students (introducing the benefits ofcollaborative learning) with a physical situation and asking them to predict what will happen.They can then investigate the situation by experimenting with the laboratory modules. In thisway the physical world is now the “authority” rather than the instructor. In implementing ourinquiry-based approach we have used the following defining features: (a) Use peer instruction and collaborative work (b) Use activity-based guided-inquiry curricular materials (c) Use a learning cycle beginning with predictions (d) Emphasize conceptual understanding (e) Let the physical world be the authority (f) Evaluate student understanding (g) Make appropriate use of technology (h) Begin with the specific and move to the generalWe have pilot tested one inquiry based learning (IBL) activity in our course and will be testingtwo additional ones this quarter in an undergraduate dynamics course. For our first IBL, studentshad to predict the direction of motion if you pull on the string of a spool when the string is on thelower side of the spool. On an online quiz before class, a large number of the students predictthat it will roll away from them. During class, teams of four students are given spools and askeda variety of questions about the accelerations, forces, and moments that are acting. Theyphysical world now becomes the “authority” rather than the instructor.After the IBL activity, the students then have to solve a homework problem and calculate thefriction force and acceleration of the spool. After dealing with the hands-on physical artifact,they now have a stronger conceptual understanding of the different motion possibilities(including slipping). Initial subjective responses were positive, although students responded thatthey needed more time to experiment with the spools and to answer worksheet questions thatwere given to them. This quarter, we will be collecting pre and post Dynamics ConceptInventory data, as well as student subjective responses.

Self, B. P., & Widmann, J. M., & Prince, M. J., & Georgette, J. (2013, June), Inquiry-Based Learning Activities in Dynamics Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19775

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