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Using Workshops As An Integral Component To Teaching Classical Thermodynamics

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.587.1 - 4.587.30

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Paper Authors

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Ronald James

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Janet L. Gooder

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Charles Wisniewski

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Brenda Haven

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A. George Havener

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

Session 3530


Janet L. Gooder, Brenda A. Haven, A. George Havener, Ronald L. James, Charles F. Wisniewski United States Air Force Academy


The Aeronautics Department at the United States Air Force Academy has found some success using workshops in its regular offering of introductory classical Thermodynamics. This course is taught annually to about 900 cadets, less than a third of whom are engineering students. To help motivate student interest and improve student learning, in-class workshops have replaced 8 of 42 lecture periods. The workshops engage small teams of students in hands-on learning experiences. For instance, the first workshop requires student teams to start from a general form of the 1st Law of Thermodynamics and obtain a proper reduced energy statement for a common household device such as a bicycle pump or a hair dryer. Other workshops are more rigorous and include data-reduction, graphing, analysis, and design activities. Good teamwork and communication are essential elements in the workshops. Some workshops require the student teams to present and explain their results to the class thereby allowing the students to learn from each other. Thus far, workshops have been piloted in two Summer 98 sections and used in 25 sections of the Fall 98 term and 18 sections in the Spring 99 term. Student assessments of the workshops are mixed. Summer term students viewed the workshops as valuable, fun, and a good way to learn. Fall and Spring term student opinions are less positive. Even though student attitudes towards the subject (normally low) and test performance improved, the issue of time became a problem for the fall term. In the fall sections, the strict 50-minute class period creates a time constraint that is not present in the Summer sessions. Some provisions have been developed to better cope with the time constraint, but preliminary feedback from the Spring term indicate more changes are necessary. Overall, the use of workshops appears to be an improvement because students are actively involved and more directly responsible for their learning, resulting in a better understanding of thermodynamic principles.

I. Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to describe how the use of workshops may improve the learning experience of United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) cadets taking an introductory course in classical thermodynamics. The course is titled Energy Systems and is denoted Engr310. Following a newly designed departmental course assessment program1, the goal of Engr310 is to instill in the students the fundamental principles of thermodynamics and the relevance of these principles to energy systems. The goal is attained by requiring students to successfully complete the objectives presented in Table 1.

James, R., & Gooder, J. L., & Wisniewski, C., & Haven, B., & Havener, A. G. (1999, June), Using Workshops As An Integral Component To Teaching Classical Thermodynamics Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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