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Teaching A Rigorous Problem Solving Framework In Entry Level Mechanical Engineering Courses – Theory And Practice

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.929.1 - 6.929.7

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Gregory Kremer

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

Session 1566

Teaching a Rigorous Problem-Solving Framework in Entry-Level Mechanical Engineering Courses – Theory and Practice Gregory G. Kremer Ohio University


Although students in entry-level mechanical engineering courses have been through the Calculus and Physics sequence, they are often unprepared for the “new thinking” required to solve engineering analysis problems. The process of reading a description of a physical situation, deciding which analytical theory applies, converting the physical situation into a solvable mathematical model, and finally visualizing the forces and motions to evaluate the physical realism of the solution can be a daunting task. This paper studies the use of a problem-solving framework in a Dynamics class to help students to develop the skills needed for solving engineering mechanics problems. The framework initially serves as a “crutch” that helps students work their way from problem statement through solution, but ultimately it allows students to focus more on understanding key concepts because they are relieved of some pressure related to figuring out what to do next. Although assessment results from using a rigorous framework in the course have been generally positive, students are still reluctant to do what is perceived as “extra work” when they think they immediately know how to solve a problem and will abandon the framework in such cases if given the opportunity.

I. Introduction

When determining the most appropriate method of presenting material in an engineering course, many factors must be considered. Chief among these factors are the intellectual maturity level of the students and the desired objective or outcome of the course. Upper-level students should be given the freedom and responsibility of semi-autonomous learning, but entry-level engineering students often require a more structured format and more guidance both in what to learn and how to learn. Relative to course objectives, the major question is whether the emphasis should be on process or content. In other words, should successful students walk away from the course with an understanding of certain concepts and topics, or should they be skilled in applying a process for dealing with relatively generic problem situations. These issues have been considered extensively at Ohio University in relation to the entry-level engineering courses, and this paper reviews our attempts to increase student learning in a sophomore-level Dynamics course by increasing the emphasis on problem-solving frameworks.

II. Theory

The goal of increasing learning is a common one but is very abstract. In order to realize this goal it is necessary to identify student learning needs and current course deficiencies, implement concrete changes to a specific course or throughout the curriculum, monitor the effects of the changes, and reiterate the process for continuous improvement. The details of this process for a Dynamics course are given in the next section - this section focuses on one of the options for

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Kremer, G. (2001, June), Teaching A Rigorous Problem Solving Framework In Entry Level Mechanical Engineering Courses – Theory And Practice Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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