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Straws, Balloons, and Tootsie Rolls: The Value of Hands-On Activities in the Engineering Classroom

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2018 ASEE Mid-Atlantic Section Spring Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

April 6, 2018

Start Date

April 6, 2018

End Date

April 7, 2018

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Paper Authors


John Robert Schedel Jr. United States Naval Academy

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John Schedel is an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is a career Naval Officer, having served 22 years as a Navy SEAL and as an engineering professor. He enjoys teaching a variety of undergraduate engineering courses related to structural engineering, mechanical design, project management, and economic forecasting, while also serving in academic leadership positions. John is also an accomplished inventor and children’s author.

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Angela Schedel U.S. Naval Academy

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Naval Officer, Helicopter Pilot, 1994-2005
Instructor, U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering Dept, 2007-2013, 2015-2018
Science & Technology Liaison, Office of Naval Research, 2013-2015

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Within engineering education, long-term retention of major concepts is a key objective. Numerous classroom techniques combine to work towards this goal, including testing, laboratories, and demonstrations. One highly effective, yet often underutilized, tool for improving long-term understanding is hands-on activities that students do at their desks, especially those involving simple items with which they are already familiar. Five characteristics are common to a productive, in-class, reinforcement activity. (1) All students participate, preferably at their own desks. (2) Items involved are commonplace, familiar to the students, and low-cost. (3) Activities are relatively quick, providing a brief break within the lecture. (4) Elaborate setup or support equipment is not required. (5) Before the activity, students are given a few moments to predict results. This paper describes a variety of quick, hands-on activities used in a recent mechanics class at the United States Naval Academy.

Schedel, J. R., & Schedel, A. (2018, April), Straws, Balloons, and Tootsie Rolls: The Value of Hands-On Activities in the Engineering Classroom Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Mid-Atlantic Section Spring Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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