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Teaching Problem Solving By Storyboard

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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

Innovative Teaching Techniques

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1226.1 - 10.1226.11

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Paper Authors

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Barry Dupen

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

Session 2568

Teaching Problem-Solving by Storyboard Dr. Barry Dupen Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne


Problem-solving methods taught in Statics, Dynamics, and Strength of Materials courses vary in complexity. Some methods require one or two computations, such as calculating the tensile stress in a rod of a given diameter subject to a known tensile load. Other methods require a series of steps, such as frame analysis (three steps), or calculating the moment of inertia about one or more centroidal axes of a compound shape (ten steps). The standard approach used in textbooks is to first explain the theory, then demonstrate a solution with an example problem. The mathematics are presented in sequential order, beneath a diagram. Linear dimensions, angles, and forces which are calculated in the solution are shown on the diagram for reference. In the classroom, an instructor may follow a similar approach: present the theory, then demonstrate a solution with an example problem. The instructor presents the mathematics in sequential order on a blackboard, adjacent to a diagram. Dimensions, forces, and so on are added to the diagram in the order of their calculation, so the student sees a changing diagram…a step-by-step “movie” of the problem-solving process on the chalkboard. The diagram goes into a student’s notes in the same manner, but the finished product is a single, finished diagram, not a movie. Later, when a student attempts to solve homework problems, the diagram becomes a point of confusion.

In order to help students learn to solve multistep problems, a series of handouts were developed for Statics and Strength of Materials classes. Each handout uses a storyboard approach to problem solving, where mathematical calculations are matched with an in-process diagram…a series of movie frames. Each diagram includes a shadow of the previous diagram, so the student can visualize the problem solving sequence.


In the first semester of teaching Strength of Materials to Mechanical Engineering Technology students, a trend developed in homework performance. Student success varied inversely with the number of computational steps. For example, five problems requiring a single computation were usually all solved correctly, but a single problem consisting of five computational steps was rarely solved correctly. Students who could manage arithmetic and algebra would get lost in a multistep problem. This trend recurred in subsequent Statics and Strength of Materials classes.

These classes were structured so that students attended a lecture on a topic, then the students completed a series of homework problems which were submitted at the following lecture to be graded. Students observed and took notes on problem-solving techniques in class, but most of the learning really took place outside the classroom, one or two days later, as students attempted to solve homework problems.

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Dupen, B. (2005, June), Teaching Problem Solving By Storyboard Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon.

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