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Statics Concept Questions For Enhancing Learning

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.554.1 - 5.554.7

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Paper Authors

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Scott Danielson

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Sudhir I. Mehta

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

Session 2268

Statics Concept Questions for Enhancing Learning Scott Danielson, Sudhir Mehta Arizona State University East / North Dakota State University


Students in science, math, or engineering classes often focus on plugging numbers into equations rather than understanding basic concepts. The book Peer Instruction by Eric Mazur (1997) helps physics teachers move students from juggling equations to actually thinking and learning the concepts of physics by use of concept questions. However, Mazur’s methodology has not seen widespread use in teaching statics. This paper reports the initial development of concept questions to support active learning methods in statics classes. The development of statics’ concept questions at different levels of Bloom's taxonomy, their use in statics classes at two different institutions, and initial results are described.

I. Introduction

Educational research suggests many benefits of incorporating active engagement methods like cooperative learning, peer instruction, and critical thinking exercises in our classes (Hake, 1998; Johnson et. al., 1998; Mazur, 1997). However, adopting these techniques is a challenge for many engineering educators. Traditional problem-solving classes like physics and engineering mechanics pose their own unique challenges to using these active engagement strategies. Often students learn how to use formulas in carefully defined problems but avoid learning the broader framework or conceptual basis of the subject. Charles Misner, in a foreword to Mazur’s book Peer Instruction (1997), writes “The idea that physics is all equations is such an established myth among students that many of them refuse to think if they can find equations to memorize.” This sort of student "learning" can also happen in many engineering classes.

However, Mazur’s (1997) powerful data provide strong reasons to adopt his methodology of using concept questions and student interaction to provoke students into more comprehensive understanding and learning. The questions tend to probe deeper understanding of a concept rather than simply plugging numbers into equations. Mazur used diagnostic tests to assess student learning in introductory physics for both experimental (using concept questions and student interaction) and control groups by recording pre- and post-instruction performance. He found significant gains in student learning (as measured by use of established diagnostic tests for physics) as a result of his experimental conditions. In addition to using diagnostic tests, Mazur compared student performance on identical final examinations (given six years apart) for a conventionally taught physics class versus an experimental class. He also found a “marked improvement in the mean, as well as a higher cut-off in the lower-end tail” (p. 16). This improvement of the poor to average student’s learning is an important effect. Concept questions can be used for active cooperative learning activities during class and as exam questions. Mazur suggests that exams contain a combination of traditional computational problems and conceptual questions. This combination makes students study fundamental principles in addition to more traditional homework problems focused on use of equations.

Danielson, S., & Mehta, S. I. (2000, June), Statics Concept Questions For Enhancing Learning Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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