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M Model: An Online Tool For Promoting Student Problem Solving Utilizing Mental Models

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Teaching Mechanics of Materials & General Mechanics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

15.848.1 - 15.848.11



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Paper Authors


Edward Anderson Texas Tech University

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Edward Anderson is a Texas Tech University, Department of Mechanical Engineering Professor. He has also served as the Ray Butler Distinguished Educator and received the Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teacher and the Texas Piper Professor awards. He has written two engineering textbooks and numerous textbook websites. His research focuses on application of technology to learning and how to measure and promote higher-order cognitions using technology. During 2009/10, he served as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the United States Air force Academy.

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Roman Taraban Texas Tech University

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

M-MODEL: An Online Tool for Promoting Student Problem Solving Utilizing Mental Models


Students learn to solve problems by developing mental models of the problem. Although these models are many and diverse, a common one used in engineering education consists of identifying the known and unknown variables, construction of a graphical problem representation, and developing a mathematical model representing the two preceding steps. This is particularly the case for courses in physics, mechanics, and electrical circuits. M-MODEL is a computer-based implementation of this approach to problem-solving. It requires users to build the known/unknown, graphical (free-body diagram in this paper), and mathematical models of a problem. Once the student creates a complete model, M-MODEL checks it for errors such as proper number of graphical elements, naming of variables, and equation formatting. These checks also provide users with feedback that can be used to correct or improve their models. Once users are satisfied with their models, M-MODEL proceeds to solve their equations as well as display the correct solution for users to compare to their models. M-MODEL also provides a tool that individual authors can use to prepare problem models.

This paper discusses the features of M-MODEL as applied to an Engineering Statics course. It also discusses how it may be used to encourage students to develop mental model approaches to problem solving. 

Introduction: Students solve problems by constructing mental representations or mental models of the problem. These models take many forms such as graphical, mathematical, flow charts, process steps, and schematics to mention a few. As pointed out by Norman10, these models can be contradictory, incomplete, superstitious, erroneous, and unstable, while varying in time. It is the task of the educator to help students learn how to form accurate and useful mental models and apply them to knowledge domain problems. M-MODEL is a computer-based tool that permits mechanics and engineering educators to develop problems using the principle mental models of the discipline in a consistent and flexible manner. This paper describes the user and problem author environments, the philosophy behind M-MODEL, and some of the pedagogues embedded in it. Several engineering problem solving models or schema have been reported recently. These include the Wankat and Oreovicz19 problem solving strategy, McMaster problem solving program of Woods20 and Woods, et al.21, Gray and colleague’s6 structured approach to problem solving, Mettes and associates9 Systematic Approach to Solving Problems, and Litzinger, et al.’s8 Integrated Problem Solving Model. The Wankat and Oreovicz strategy divides problem solving into definite steps including motivation, exploration, and reflection as well as the more common define, plan, execute and check steps. The McMaster problem solving program uses a structure similar to that of Wankat and Oreovicz and implements it across entire curricula. Gray’s structured approach emphasizes pattern-matching that starts with a small number of general equations that students reduce to fit a given situation. The Mettes problem solving

Anderson, E., & Taraban, R. (2010, June), M Model: An Online Tool For Promoting Student Problem Solving Utilizing Mental Models Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16097

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