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Problem Solving In Engineering, Mathematics, And Physics – Part 2

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1024.1 - 11.1024.10



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Paper Authors


Kathleen Harper Ohio State University

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Kathleen A. Harper is Director of Undergraduate Curriculum Development for the Department of Physics and has actively taught for the Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors (FEH). Prior to joining Physics she was an Instructional Consultant with Faculty & TA Development at The Ohio State University. Dr. Harper earned her BS in Electrical Engineering (1993) and MS in Physics (1996) at Case Western Reserve University and her PhD in Physics at The Ohio State University (2001).

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John Demel Ohio State University

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John T. Demel is Professor of Engineering Graphics in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He coordinates and teaches for the First-Year Engineering Program. Dr. Demel earned his B.S.M.E. at the University of Nebraska (1965) and his Ph.D. (1973) in Metallurgy from Iowa State. He was the institutional Principal Investigator for the Gateway Engineering Education Coalition 1992-2003.

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Richard Freuler Ohio State University

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Richard J. Freuler is the Coordinator for the OSU Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors (FEH) Program and teaches the three-quarter FEH engineering course sequence. Dr. Freuler received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in 1974, a B.S. in Computer and Information Science in 1974, and a Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in 1991 all from The Ohio State University.

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

Session nnnn

Problem Solving in Engineering, Mathematics, and Physics – Part 2 Abstract

This is a work in progress dealing with problem solving across disciplines in an attempt to make engineering students better problem solvers. The purpose is to enable students to identify common types of problems in a variety of subject areas and to help them learn appropriate strategies suggested by each problem type. A previous investigation reported on a survey of math, physics and engineering faculty with respect to the types of problems they employed in their instruction.1 A major result of this study was that little common vocabulary is used to describe problems and problem solving. Therefore, the additional result that the disciplines do not share a common approach to categorizing problem types and appropriate solution techniques is not surprising. In order for interdisciplinary efforts to make further progress, it appeared that a common language and framework were needed. The current investigation deals with developing a problem-solving vocabulary and then a method of problem categorization that could be agreed upon by STEM disciplines. Starting with problem-solving words that appeared in transcripts of the faculty interviews, a vocabulary list was developed by consulting dictionaries, faculty, and national problem solving experts. With this in hand, a matrix was developed to categorize problems. This framework shows some promise as a means for promoting useful problem- solving conversations among faculty, and may have explicit applications in the classroom, as well. Work in the immediate future will focus on sharing, testing, and improving the matrix. From there, it will be employed as a tool for curriculum design. Ultimately, studies will investigate if students in courses affected by this categorization scheme are more efficient and effective problem solvers, and if they more readily transfer problem-solving skills from one course to another.


The Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors (FEH) program at Ohio State has included some coordination of topics in physics, engineering, and mathematics since 1997 in an effort to 1) help students have appropriate background for each course and 2) assist students in making connections between the different subject areas. One element that is particularly common in all three disciplines is problem solving, but until recently there had not been much discussion of this prevalent aspect of STEM education in the coordination efforts. Some of the literature indicates that typical college experiences do not lead to much improvement in student problem solving skills2-4 and that the problem solving skills that may develop in one discipline are not readily transferred to another content domain.5 It was postulated that the FEH program with its interdisciplinary nature might serve as a useful setting for a successful attempt to impact these issues.

In initial conversations during FEH meetings, it was observed that the physicists had names for some of the sorts of problems they assigned, but it did not appear that the engineers or

Harper, K., & Demel, J., & Freuler, R. (2006, June), Problem Solving In Engineering, Mathematics, And Physics – Part 2 Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--514

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