Asee peer logo

Overarching Problems in Sophomore Mechanics Courses

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Teaching Mechanics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1133.1 - 22.1133.18



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Shawn P Gross Villanova University

visit author page

Shawn Gross is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in structural engineering and engineering mechanics.

visit author page


David W Dinehart Villanova University

visit author page

Assistant Chairman, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

visit author page


Joseph Robert Yost Villanova University

visit author page

Joseph Robert Yost is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in structural engineering mechanics and design

visit author page


Aleksandra Radlinska Villanova University

visit author page

Aleksandra Radlinska is an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University. She teaches introductory undergraduate courses on civil engineering materials as well as graduate courses that relate fundamentals of materials science with applications to civil engineering materials.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Overarching Problems in Sophomore Mechanics CoursesIn 2009, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at ________________restructured its sophomore mechanics courses to present topics in a more integrated sequence.Courses in the classical areas of Statics, Mechanics of Solids, and Civil Engineering Materialswere repackaged into a pair of four-credit mechanics courses which combine content from theseareas. The first course (Mechanics I) integrates elements of Statics and Mechanics of Solidsalong with a few topics from Civil Engineering Materials. The second course (Mechanics II)integrates the remaining elements of Mechanics of Solids with the majority of Civil EngineeringMaterials.A key pedagogical component in this integrated curricular restructuring is a structuredimplementation of problem-based learning: the use of overarching problems. An overarchingproblem is a common design or analysis problem encountered in the discipline that involvesnumerous basic concepts brought together to compose a more complex problem. For example,students are able to use the Statics concepts of equilibrium and truss analysis, along with thetraditional Mechanics of Solids concepts of stress, axial deformation, and factor of safety, andthe Civil Engineering Materials concepts of steel material behavior, to analyze a decaying steeltruss bridge in need of repair and retrofit. Other overarching problems from these coursesinclude the analysis of a concrete gravity dam, the design of a water tower for a Third Worldcountry, analysis and material selection for a prestressed concrete highway bridge, thestrengthening of wood I-beams using composite materials, and the 3-D analysis of a highwaysign structure under combined loading.Overarching problems are used in two ways within these courses. First, they are used as anintroductory context slide at the beginning of each lecture. This facilitates tying the lecture toreal world applications and previous and future lectures. Each overarching problem is alsosolved by students in a step-by-step fashion in a 2-1/2 hour recitation period, in which studentswork through individual mechanics steps in a structured fashion with assistance from instructorsas necessary. Examples of each of these uses are shown in the figures on the attached sheet.Overarching problems have many potential pedagogical benefits, including (1) presenting “real”engineering problems early in the curriculum, (2) providing the context for simple “tool-like”mechanics concepts, and (3) illustrating the interconnectivity of simpler mechanics calculations.Pre- and post-solution period surveys are used with each overarching problem to gauge thestudents’ perceptions on how these solution periods achieve the pedagogical benefits above andhow they improve their ability to achieve certain specific learning outcomes in the course.Additional surveys at the end of the courses are used to understand the role that overarchingproblems play in students learning alongside more traditional instruments such as lectures, in-class examples, textbooks, quizzes, and exams.This paper describes a typical overarching problem and details how overarching problems areused in these two mechanics courses. Lessons learned from the use of overarching problems,including challenges encountered, are discussed. Quantitative assessment results from the toolsdescribed above are presented. Conclusions on the benefits of overarching problems are drawn. Overarching Problem #1 Steel Truss Bridge How do we determine how  large the pin in this connection  needs to be?  Is the size of the  truss member at the  connection adequate to resist  the force in the that member?CEE 2105 15‐3 Figure 1. Example of slide used at the beginning of a lecture Figure 2. Example overarching problem solution sheets

Gross, S. P., & Dinehart, D. W., & Yost, J. R., & Radlinska, A. (2011, June), Overarching Problems in Sophomore Mechanics Courses Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18874

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015