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Structured, Active, In-Class Learning: Connecting the Physical to the Mathematical in an Introductory Biomechanics Course (Work in Progress)

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Biomedical Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1408.1 - 26.1408.12



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Paper Authors


LeAnn Dourte Segan University of Pennsylvania

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Dr. LeAnn Dourte Segan is a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa. Her primary teaching focus is in the field of solid biomechanics at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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Sarah Ilkhanipour Rooney University of Pennsylvania

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Sarah I. Rooney is a Ph.D. candidate in the Bioengineering department at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her B.S.E. (2009) and M.S.E. (2010) in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).

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Structured, Active, In-Class Learning: Connecting the Physical to the Mathematical in an Introductory Biomechanics Course (Work in Progress)Structured, active, in-class learning (SAIL) is a term used to describe classroom education withan emphasis on learning-by-doing.1 Class time is built around a variety of activities with cleareducational goals meant to engage students in the learning process. These activities may includegroup problem solving, interpreting data or evidence, or engaging in practices of the field, suchas justifying simplifications or estimating magnitude of an answer.Introduction to Biomechanics is a required sophomore course in the Bioengineering curriculumfocusing on the application of statics and mechanics to biologic tissue. To be successful, studentsmust have an understanding of both mathematical and applicable physical/biologic constraints.We have observed that students excel at problem solving when encountering similar examples tothose which they have seen before, but often struggle when presented with a novel or morecomplex scenario. Additionally, students have difficulty explaining the physical meaning ofmathematical formulas and approximating solutions within the physical bounds. Therefore, thecourse is being redesigned for Fall 2014 to incorporate SAIL principles, with an emphasis onconnecting mathematical concepts to physical reality.The following course goals have been developed: 1. Students should develop a problem-solving framework flexible enough to accommodate new problems and deviations from examples, while still understanding the concepts well enough to effectively communicate their thought process, including explicitly stating the limitations associated with their answers and communicating these assumptions verbally and numerically. 2. Students should gain physical insight into the mathematical equations and develop a contextual instinct for the solution (e.g., magnitude of an answer, tension or compression)In order to achieve these goals, we are dedicating 50% of class time to physical, hands-onactivities and group problem solving sessions, and 50% to lectures supplemented with discussionand short feedback questions.Hands-on activities will introduce concepts that the students have not previously studied. Aprovided outline for these “exploratory labs” will help the students to first observe and describe aphysical phenomenon and then define it mathematically. Group problem solving sessions willincorporate elements of design, estimation and simplification that would be encountered in real-world problems, in addition to the traditional mathematical rigor of mechanics.Three planned exams will incorporate big-picture concept questions in addition to traditional,numerical mechanics problems. Throughout the semester, instant feedback “clicker questions”will be utilized to review material and assess student understanding. A variety of non-examassessments are also planned in collaboration with the University’s Center for Teaching andLearning. A concept inventory quiz will be administered at the beginning and end of thesemester based on previously published question inventories.2, 3 Additionally, a pre and postsurvey will be distributed to assess student confidence in their skills, preparation for class andview of SAIL activities. Together these assessments will be used to evaluate the effectiveness ofthe SAIL method in connecting mathematical concepts to physical reality in a biomechanicscourse.References 1. Prince, M., “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research.” Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3):223-231, 2004. 2. Hestenes, D., Wells, M., and Swackhamer, G., “Force Concept Inventory.” The Physics Teacher, 30:141-158, 1992. 3. Richardson, J., Morgan, J., and Evans, D., “Development of an Engineering Strength of Material Concept Inventory Assessment Instrument.” Proceedings of 33rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, IEEE, 2003.

Dourte Segan, L., & Rooney, S. I. (2015, June), Structured, Active, In-Class Learning: Connecting the Physical to the Mathematical in an Introductory Biomechanics Course (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24745

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