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Manipulatives in Engineering Statics: Supplementing Analytical Techniques with Physical Models

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Mechanics Classroom Demonstrations

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Joel Alejandro Mejia Angelo State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Joel Alejandro Mejia is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Angelo State University. He is interested in research regarding underrepresentation of minority groups in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), especially the use of culturally responsive practices in engineering education. He is particularly interested in the use of comprehension strategy instruction in linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms; funds of knowledge; physical and digital manipulatives and their application in engineering courses; engineering identity; cultures of engineering; retention, recruitment, and outreach for underrepresented minorities in STEM; and engineering discursive practices.

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Wade H Goodridge Utah State University

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Wade Goodridge, Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering and Technology Education at Utah State University, has taught Solid Modeling, CAD, Introductory Electronics, Surveying, Statics, teaching and Learning, Assessment and Evaluation, and Introductory Engineering courses at Utah State University. Goodridge has been teaching for the Utah State College of Engineering for more than 15 years. He holds dual B.S degrees in industrial technology education and civil engineering from Utah State University, as well as an M.S. and Ph.D. in civil engineering from Utah State University. His research interests include spatial thinking/spatial ability at a course specific level in engineering, conceptual and procedural knowledge interplay in novice engineering students, and entrepreneurship.

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Benjamin James Call Utah State University - Engineering Education

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Benjamin Call graduated with his Masters of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (Aerospace Emphasis) in 2006 from Utah State University. After eight years with NAVAIR, he has returned to pursue a PhD in Engineering Education. He is funded by the Presidential Doctoral Research Fellowship. His research interests range from sophomore-level engineering curricula to spatial ability and creativity to student entrepreneurship.

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Steven David Wood Utah State University

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Steven Wood is a junior in the Civil Engineering program. After finishing his BS he plans on completing a MS in Civil Engineering. In addition to studies, he is a teacher’s assistant and he teaches a recitation class for the Statics course. His Interests in the field of engineering are public transportation, specifically in rapid and heavy rail systems. His research interests include spatial ability, learning styles, and gender differences in meta-cognition.

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Engineering statics is a fundamental course, and a core building block, that prepares students for subsequent courses such as dynamics and mechanics of materials. This course helps engineering students develop a fundamental understanding of basic mechanics areas of statics critical for the analysis of other core engineering courses throughout the engineering program. However, engineering statics has been characterized as one of the challenging courses for students. Statics remains one of the courses where achievement levels are sometimes not satisfactory. One particular challenging area for instructors is to show “intangible” mechanics principles that may seem too abstract for students. For instance, analysis of internal forces of members in a truss system may be easily procedurally calculated leading to a solution that may not have a true intuitive meaning for the student. Thus, visualization is necessary to help the student move from procedural fluency to conceptual understanding of statics concepts. It is through conceptual understanding that the student will demonstrate her/his ability to reason in settings that involve not only mathematical manipulation but also application of concepts, relations, and representations. Conceptual understanding is the bridge that could enable students to solve new kinds of problems and achieve success in statics.

In order to assist students gain conceptual understanding of internal forces, a physical manipulative of a truss was developed in order to help students visualize, feel, and analyze the behavior of the material being manipulated. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand how a physical manipulative of a truss contributed to the conceptual understanding of truss analysis in statics. In this study, twelve students were presented with a simple problem of a truss, where no measurements or numerical quantities were provided, and asked to determine which members where in tension or compression. Then, the participants were given a model of a physical manipulative resembling the same problem they were given before and asked the same questions. Finally, an exit interview was conducted with each participant in order to obtain more information about their experience with the physical manipulative. Preliminary results indicated that physical manipulatives helped participants visualize intangible concepts learned in the classroom and provided a venue to gain conceptual understanding of internal forces.

Concurrent protocols, in which each participant was asked to think aloud during the process of completing a task, were collected and observations were made as another form of data collection. These verbal thought processes, as well as follow-up interviews and observations, were audio recorded and transcribed. Constant comparative analysis was used to critically draw important information about the participants and their reactions about the physical manipulative. The implications of the research findings will be discussed, including the lessons learned from this study. The results obtained from this study will be used to modify and expand further research using manipulative models in engineering mechanics courses.

Mejia, J. A., & Goodridge, W. H., & Call, B. J., & Wood, S. D. (2016, June), Manipulatives in Engineering Statics: Supplementing Analytical Techniques with Physical Models Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25673

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