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The ‘Typical Particle’ Approach to Learning Rigid Body Dynamics

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Alternative Methods of Teaching and Learning Mechanics

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Keith D. Hjelmstad Arizona State University

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Keith D. Hjelmstad is President's Professor of Civil Engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University.

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Amie Baisley University of Florida

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Amie Baisley is a lecturer in the Department of Engineering Education at the University of Florida. Her teaching and research interests are centered around the sophomore level courses that engineering students take and how changes in those courses can impact student learning and retention.

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Rigid body dynamics is a foundational course in all engineering curricula based upon the mechanical sciences. It is one of three courses that make up The Mechanics Project, an effort at Arizona State University to reimagine the learning experience in the sophomore-level engineering mechanics courses (statics, dynamics, and deformable solids). The conversion of these courses to an objective-based system to assess mastery launched a reconsideration of the fundamental strands—the DNA—of the courses. The design objective of focusing learning as much on ‘why’ as on ‘how’ suggested that students should learn how to derive equations of motion from first principles. This approach led to a set of objectives that are a framework to solve any rigid body dynamics problem. The resulting approach differs from the more traditional approach with special equations, already derived, to solve certain types of problems (which can promote plug-and-chug problem solving). Our approach is built around the description of the position vector of a typical particle in the system. From there, students sum forces and moments over all the particles to get the equations of motion, essentially leading them through the steps that Euler took to generalize Newton’s laws of motion. Each problem requires the student to visualize and mathematically describe the motion of the system at hand. This approach allows the students to see where the equations of motion come from, it provides a unique opportunity to master vector notation, and it reinforces and improves skills in calculus and differential equations. This paper will describe our approach to learning dynamics with examples to show the key role of the position vector in the setup of every dynamics problem.

Hjelmstad, K. D., & Baisley, A. (2020, June), The ‘Typical Particle’ Approach to Learning Rigid Body Dynamics Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35292

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