Documentation:Learning Principles & Strategies/Case Study Engineering Science/Integrated

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Context: MECH 221 is a large course (12 credits) that integrates various engineering subjects, mathematics and elements of professional practice. One of the components I have taught in this course for many years is a series of 16 optional preparatory lectures reviewing fundamental math and physics concepts from first year.

What do students need to learn? One specific type of problem that students are asked to solve involves determining the forces required to support a rigid structure when a load is distributed on that structure. Addressing the problem involves a combination of applying basic first year engineering concepts of static equilibrium and integral calculus, each covered extensively in their own separate physics and math courses.

What has been your approach to teaching? The students have all the background they need to solve these problems. The difficulty of the static equilibrium and integral calculus components of the problems are trivial compared to the difficulty of problems they solve in first year. Yet when I first starting posing such problems in my classes, I met with a sea of blank faces. The class didn’t know where to start. Inviting students to “talk to your neighbor” to try to reason through the problem or begin to set it up had little benefit. The students were lost.

What approach are you experimenting with?

What are students learning?

What are you learning?

Course Details

Peter Ostafichuk

Professor of Teaching

Mechanical Engineering

Faculty of Applied Science

Course Code: MECH 221

Course Name: Engineering Science 1

Term Offered: 2013 Winter

Mode of Delivery: Face to Face

Class Size: 120

The Teaching Challenge

video goes here!

Case Study - Engineering Science

Group Discussion Results

What may be going on for the students in this scenario?

  • Can’t connect the dots – link physics and calculus knowledge to problem
  • Can’t classify problem
  • Lack ability to see similarity to other problems
  • Lack of practice integrating component skills
  • Don’t know when to apply what they have learned
  • Lack of ability to extrapolate to new situation
  • Can’t transfer knowledge because they can’t adjust to the new task and can’t see the relationship between these two tasks

What learning principles might help us understand the problem and determine teaching approaches?

  • Knowledge organization
  • Skill integration

What teaching strategies might you suggest and why

  • Model problem solving/integrating concepts from physics and calculus
  • Ask students to identify what they need to solve problem
  • Activity on classifying problem, identify tools need to solve, solve, test with related problems of increasing complexity
  • Diagram question – force diagram; create similar question, chose what questions would have the same solution
  • Make connections among concepts explicit
  • Identify where students get stuck
  • Identify why they choose the wrong solution
  • How do they approach solving problems?
  • What did they do to get an answer?
  • Get real time feedback on how students are approaching problem



  • Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Researched-based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Doyle, Terry. (2008) Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment. Sterling: Stylus