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Using Projects To Improve Understanding Of Introductory Thermal Science Conepts

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Design Experiences in Energy Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1387.1 - 9.1387.6



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Paper Authors

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Heather Cooper

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

Session 2433

Using Projects to Improve Understanding of Introductory Thermal Science Concepts Heather L. Cooper Purdue University


Engineering and technology students often struggle with comprehension of thermal science topics, due to the seemingly abstract nature of the topics when compared with materials or machine design concepts. For example, it is difficult for some students to “see” the conservation of thermal energy explained by the First Law of Thermodynamics, yet they can easily visualize transformations between potential and kinetic energy in a simple mechanical system. Laboratory experiments help alleviate the difficulties in some cases, but even a lab-based introductory thermal science course in the Mechanical Engineering Technology department at Purdue University does not consistently improve student understanding of the basic principles. This paper describes the development and implementation of simple open-ended projects, used in conjunction with the laboratory portion of the course, as a means for increased student understanding. Project topics have ranged from proving basic equations to investigating more complex problems, such as the effect of window treatments on cooling requirements or the feasibility of alternative energy sources. Results from Fall 2003 semester projects are presented.


Many universities have implemented projects to enhance student learning in thermal science courses. A cursory search of recent activity in this area reveals an entire project-based thermodynamics course1 and projects in thermodynamic cycle optimization2. These are just two examples of the use of projects to improve understanding of thermal science concepts that are traditionally difficult for engineering and engineering technology students to grasp.

In the lab-based introductory thermal science course in the Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) department at Purdue University, projects were first implemented in the Fall 2002 semester. It was desired to have the students demonstrate their overall knowledge of instrumentation and measurement of thermal systems, and their comprehension of the relationship between the theoretical concepts and physical systems. Rather than requiring students to perform a lab practical exam at the end of the semester based on the wide variety of laboratory experiments and analyses throughout the semester, projects were developed as an integrated approach to evaluate student learning in the lab portion of the course.

Project Development

The basic structure of the projects involves students working in small teams to complete a simple open-ended project over approximately twelve weeks. Table 1 outlines the typical project schedule and shows the deliverables at each stage. Week one of the project corresponds to the third week of the semester, during which the projects are introduced to the students and they complete a brainstorming session. In the fourth week of the project, students submit a detailed

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Cooper, H. (2004, June), Using Projects To Improve Understanding Of Introductory Thermal Science Conepts Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13475

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