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Problem Framing Behavior in Statics and Thermodynamics

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Thermal Sciences

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.984.1 - 23.984.10



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Paper Authors


John Jackman Iowa State University

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Dr. John Jackman, Associate Professor, Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering at Iowa State University conducts research in engineering education. His work in engineering problem solving has appeared in the Journal of Engineering Education and the International Journal of Engineering Education. He is currently investigating how to improve students’ problem framing skills using formative assessment.

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Stephen B. Gilbert Iowa State University


Gloria Starns Iowa State University

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Senior Lecturer, Mechanical Engineering.

Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, Iowa State University, 1996

M.S., Mechanical Engineering, Iowa State University, 1990

B.S.M.E, University of Kentucky, 1986.

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Mathew Hagge Iowa State University

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PhD "Computational modeling of biomass pyrolysis" 2005

Areas of Teaching: Thermodynamics, Power Plants, Freshman Engineering

Actively working on improving student learning by designing class structure/activities that require student understanding to be successful.

Actively working on teaching in a way that uses/develops existing student understanding rather than the traditional method (starting with professor expertise and working backwards) of presenting broad statements important to a field.

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LeAnn E Faidley Wartburg College

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LeAnn Faidley is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Science at Wartburg College in Waverly, IA. She teaches the freshman engineering sequence, the mechanics sequence, the design sequence, and materials. She is interested in a number of pedagogical research questions including how students can be helped to better formulate questions, the development of scenario based laboratories, and the use of service based learning in the engineering classroom.

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Problem Framing Behavior in Statics and Thermodynamics When engineering students struggle with problems, it usually occurs in the problemframing stage when they are trying to identify the relevant principles and concepts and how theyare related to each other (e.g., a free body diagram, vapor dome graph, state diagram). We areinterested in identifying when students are experiencing difficulty in this problem framing stageso that we can provide meaningful formative assessment in terms of hints that helps themdevelop better problem solving skills. The problem contexts for this study include statics,materials, and thermodynamics. Participants in this study were freshmen (20 students) andsophomore (20 students) undergraduates in engineering (primarily mechanical engineering) atIowa State University and Wartburg College. To identify when students are experiencingdifficulty in problem framing, we collected data on student behavior as they solved problemswith different levels of complexity. We used Smartpens to record students’ writing/sketchingand voice as they used a think-aloud protocol to describe their thought processes. The problemdescriptions and information resources were provided within a web-based problem solvingenvironment, ThinkSpace. Students’ information seeking behavior was captured by recording thecomputer screen. Using protocol analysis, we analyzed student cognitive activities related toreasoning, metacognition, and information seeking so that we could classify the different typesof behaviors. Students and instructors were surveyed on problem complexity for the problem set usinga Likert scale from 1 to 5 (5 being most complex). These results were used to calibrate ourresults so that we could determine any differences in behavior between simple and complexproblems. Instructor results were consistent with student complexity ratings. To characterize thepossible factors that contribute to this complexity, we developed a set of factors based onprevious research and rated each of the problems. Using the complexity ratings, we calculatedthe correlation coefficient between each of the factors and the rating. Five factors had acorrelation coefficient greater than 0.5 and therefore, are likely contributing to problemcomplexity. Our protocol analysis of student cognitive activities during problem solving showedsignificant differences in activities between good and poor performing students. Thesedifferences can be seen first of all in the timing of activities in that poorer performance isassociated with longer and more frequent pauses in student activity. It also appears that thebetter performing student has an integrated set of metacognitive and reasoning activities early onin the process. Poorer performance tends to be linked with limited reasoning activities early inthe problem framing stage. Information seeking occurs after some initial metacognitive andreasoning activities for better performing students. For poor performing students, we observedmore frequent information activities and they typically begin before metacognitive and reasoningactivities.

Jackman, J., & Gilbert, S. B., & Starns, G., & Hagge, M., & Faidley, L. E. (2013, June), Problem Framing Behavior in Statics and Thermodynamics Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22369

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