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Motion Visualization and Creation of Free-body and Kinetic Diagrams

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2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


Tempe, Arizona

Publication Date

April 20, 2017

Start Date

April 20, 2017

End Date

April 22, 2017

Conference Session

Technical Session 3a

Tagged Topic

Pacific Southwest Section

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Paper Authors


Estelle M Eke California State University, Sacramento

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Estelle Eke is a full professor of Mechanical Engineering at California State University, Sacramento. She received a B.S. degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University, a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science from Rice University, and a Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Rice University. She worked for two and half years in the Spacecraft Navigation Section at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and then taught for two and half years in the Department of Aerospace Science Engineering at Tuskegee University before joining California State University, Sacramento. While at Tuskegee University, she received the Teacher of the Year award in Aerospace Engineering for two consecutive years. At Sacramento State, she was named Outstanding Teacher in the College of Engineering and Computer Science in 2000. She teaches courses in the areas of Computer Applications in Engineering, Dynamics, and Controls. Her research interests are in optimization and robotics. She also serves as a design judge for FIRST Robotics competitions at the elementary and high school levels.

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Abstract In order to study the motion of objects encountered in a mechanics course, students must be able to visualize the motion of the objects. First principles can be applied to analyze the object’s behavior. In statics, the first branch of mechanics, free-body diagrams are introduced. These diagrams show the magnitude and direction of external reactions acting on an object. In dynamics, the second branch of mechanics, these free-body diagrams are coupled with another set of diagrams known as kinetic diagrams to analyze the motion of the object.

Students have tremendous difficulty generating both types of diagrams. Failure to correctly draw these diagrams is partly attributed to a student’s inability to visualize the motion of the object and account for all the necessary external reactions. The strategy employed in this paper is the development of an App that (1) uses Working Model 2D to animate the motion of objects as depicted in the problem statement, and (2) provides a monitored hands-on environment in which students create the free-body and kinetic diagrams. The student receives immediate feedback after creating the diagrams. Specifically, the App detects and alerts the student of any errors in the diagrams and provides an opportunity for the student to make corrections. Emphasis is placed on providing constructive feedback that will alleviate student frustration. In particular, points of application of forces are emphasized along with the appropriate labeling of forces. The student performs a self-assessment at the end of each attempt in generating the diagrams. If a perfect score is not achieved in a particular attempt, hints are given to help improve the score in the next attempt. Thus, students are able to make corrections and monitor their progress. The student’s grade in the first attempt for each problem is recorded and made available to the instructor. This allows the instructor to discuss concepts or areas that may be difficult for students to grasp.

This App has been tested by students since its development a year ago. Results show that there is a direct correlation between the number of problems a student attempts in the App and the student’s overall performance in problem solving. In most mechanics texts, it is assumed that the students can visualize the motion described in the problem statement. Furthermore, the answers to problems are given without providing feedback that is most relevant to student success. The App successfully bridges these gaps by providing guidance in the essential steps in problem solving.

Eke, E. M. (2017, April), Motion Visualization and Creation of Free-body and Kinetic Diagrams Paper presented at 2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, Tempe, Arizona.

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