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See You In The Funny Papers: Attempting To Rectify Students' Long Standing False Intuitions Of Engineering Science And Technology

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Curriculum Development in Mechanical ET

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1099.1 - 10.1099.9



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Paper Authors

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Francis Di Bella

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Engineering Technology Division Curriculum Development in Mechanical Engineering Technology

See You in the Funny Pages: Attempting to Rectify Student’s Long-Standing False Intuitions of Engineering Science

Francis A. Di Bella, P.Eng.

ABSTRACT Present and future engineering technology students have been in a long standing, subliminal educational environment that is effecting their intuition as regards the physical laws of science and engineering. That environment consists of their exposure to not only science fiction and science fantasy films but also daily newspaper comics featuring non- engineering characters (even Dilbert has been a culprit in this deception) and summer- adventure movies starring their action hero actors who ‘can-do-no-wrong”. This exposure results in a subliminal effect on what the young boy or girl understands is the way the universe works. For example, actors are seen swinging from the middle of a rope bridge that is over 100 ft long only to survive the crash against the steep sides of the cliff. In reality the swing from such a height is equivalent of jumping from a 50 ft tall building and expecting to survive! While it is certainly entertaining to see the hero of the film survive, the unintended message that the stunt delivers is that the laws of physics are different than what they are in reality. What was once a bending of the physical laws of the universe in animated films has now been expanded to adventure films with human actors who enjoy the exaggerated use of computer derived special affects.

This paper sites other several examples of this false instruction and suggests that this subliminal instruction into the laws of physics is resulting in a reduction in the intuition for our future engineering students. The subsequent re-instruction of the actual engineering physics becomes a much more difficult chore for engineering instructors. The paper also illustrates how such sources of miss-information can be used to entertain and educate the engineering student in the reality of the physical laws.

Although the pedagogy described in this paper has not been adopted as part of the general curriculum for instructing engineering technology students at Northeastern University, it has been successfully used by the author. That success has been measured by the student’s enhanced reception and interest to these case study problems that are worked- out in the author’s Mechanical Engineering Technology courses. The case studies are usually good examples of Feasibility Analysis in Dynamics, Stress Analysis, Introduction to Fluid Dynamics, Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer. The students find these examples to be an interesting diversion from the typical “real world” examples and/or Case Studies that are typically used for instruction. The result is not only a more entertaining presentation but also a lesson in feasibility analysis applied to a problem that

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005 American Society of Engineering Education

Di Bella, F. (2005, June), See You In The Funny Papers: Attempting To Rectify Students' Long Standing False Intuitions Of Engineering Science And Technology Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14451

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