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New Approaches In Teaching Undergraduate Dynamics

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.748.1 - 6.748.11



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Paper Authors

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Robin Redfield

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Brian Self

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

New Approaches in Teaching Undergraduate Dynamics Brian Self Robin Redfield United States Air Force Academy Colorado Springs, CO

ABSTRACT In order to enhance a first course in dynamics, instructors at the United States Air Force Academy have supplemented the class with demonstrations, laboratories, computational problems, and student presentations. Goals of the enhancement are to increase student motivation and understanding. Initial results may not show that students perform better overall, but motivation and interest levels are definitely improved and long-term appreciation and understanding may be increased. Making dynamics more hands-on and “real” may help to make it a less dreaded course without “dumbing down” the content.

INTRODUCTION A first course in dynamics is often daunting for the typical undergraduate student. It brings together basic Newtonian physics and an array of mathematical concepts including vector algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus, all of which can be quite abstract. Also, dynamic behavior is often non-intuitive. Students can get lost in the computations and lose (or never gain) insight into and appreciation for the power and relevance of dynamic analysis. Too often, undergraduate dynamics is only a number crunching exercise where students utilize equations without ever really understanding the terms within those equations and the implication of the results. At the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), we are attempting to give cadets a better physical feel for and experience with the laws of dynamics.

The USAFA has a significantly different population of student compared to the typical university or college. The differences do not come so much from aptitude or motivation but from the constraints of the Academy. The student’s time at the USAFA is much more in demand, as they are required to graduate from programs with typically 155 semester hours in no longer than four years. They are also loaded with military, leadership, and athletic requirements. It is not unusual for students to have less than an hour free every other day that they can use to take advantage of “extra instruction” (office hours). The students have little time to be critical thinkers regarding their academic endeavors.

Fortunately, dynamics is scheduled in a two-hour class period every other academic day at the USAFA. We have taken advantage of this extra hour by adding some laboratories, physical demonstrations, and student presentations to our course. Other non-traditional assignments include computational mechanics problems and a three-dimensional kinematics design project. The primary motivation behind these additional assignments are (a) to increase student interest and motivation, (b) to aid in student learning and understanding, and (c) to provide the students with a better appreciation of real-world applications of dynamics.


Redfield, R., & Self, B. (2001, June), New Approaches In Teaching Undergraduate Dynamics Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9601

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