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Mathematical Problem Solving For Engineering Students

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.922.1 - 10.922.17



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Paper Authors

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John Dantzler

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James Richardson

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Tan-Yu Lee

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Robert Leland

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

Session 1526

Mathematical Problem Solving for Engineering Students Robert Leland1, James Richardson2, Tan-Yu Lee3, John Dantzler4 1 Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept. /2Civil and Environmental Engineering Dept./3Mathematics Dept., University of Alabama/4Censeo Research, Inc.

1. Introduction

At the time of the Second World War, Sir Lawrence Holt recognized that younger sailors in the British merchant marine were unable to perform their duties, especially in emergency situations, often leading to loss of life. He called on educator Kurt Hahn for help. In 1941, Hahn began a program that has become known as Outward Bound. This program builds self-confidence and ability by confronting young people with challenging tasks, such as climbing a mountain11. We face a similar situation in engineering education. Students arrive at universities frequently lacking the mathematics and problem solving skills needed to succeed as engineering students. These deficiencies are often not remedied as the students pass through the curriculum, leading to low retention rates and shortages of US educated engineers.

In response, we are developing a course and materials in mathematical problem solving for first- year engineering students who are either Calculus-ready or one semester away from Calculus. Only pre-calculus mathematics is used in the course. This effort supported as an NSF CCLI- EMD proof of concept study. The goal of the course is to increase students’ mathematical problem solving skills in a way that transfers to future coursework. This course differs from many problem solving courses in two ways. First, like Outward Bound, the course will emphasize the solution of hard problems, so that students develop a sense of self-efficacy in mathematics that will transfer to future coursework. Second, the course will emphasize explanations, including training and practice in both self-explanation and explaining problems and solutions to others. We believe these emphases are essential for students to develop mathematics and problem solving skills that will transfer to their future coursework.

2. Rationale for the Course

A simple problem statement for the course we are developing is to teach mathematical problem solving in a way that leads to transfer of knowledge and skills to future coursework. We focused on the solution of difficult, but well defined problems because this is a major deficiency in the students we see. We also included the formulation of real-world problems, which usually are not well defined, contain both incomplete and unnecessary data, and lack a clearly defined objective. Engineers need a solid foundation in solving well defined problems in order to solve these real world problems.

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Dantzler, J., & Richardson, J., & Lee, T., & Leland, R. (2005, June), Mathematical Problem Solving For Engineering Students Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14975

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