Engineers, faculty, and administrators in higher education understand that introductory solid mechanics courses such as Statics remain an essential component in most engineering curricula. Undergraduate students also recognize the importance of mastering mechanics courses. However, their enthusiasm is often curbed by their frustration trying to understand many of the critical, but often abstract, topics presented in the course. Compounded by large class sizes, reduced attention spans, and a heavy workload in other first-year courses, students can quickly feel overwhelmed and become disengaged from the course. That disinterest can eventually lead to an aversion to the entire engineering discipline. As expected, the turnover rate of first-year engineering programs can be substantial.
Statics instructors are then faced with a seemingly impossible task – effectively teach Statics and simultaneously engage students to grasp their attention to minimize attrition. It is well established that an effective way to accomplish this task is to maintain a high level of intellectual excitement by using active classroom demonstrations that engage students, enabling them to overcome boredom and frustration.
The objective of this study was to create a series of effective and fun classroom demonstrations (modules) to aid students in developing their conceptual understanding of moments, a fundamental topic in Statics. The motivation for this effort stemmed from anecdotal evidence in the form of student feedback and observations made during exam grading by the authors. The evidence suggested that students deemed moments to be one of the most challenging topics in Statics. Since the concept of moment is a recurring theme found throughout the hierarchy of mechanics courses, the authors created an active demonstration for each Statics subtopic involving moments. They include:
1. "At arm's length" – identify the principles of moments and moment arms using a volunteer's shoulder as a pivot point
2. "Students forming couples" – visualize the concept of a couple moment using two student volunteers applying equal and opposite forces to a rotating table
3. "Show some restraint" – identify the types of reactions found in typical support conditions used in engineering
4. "Cutting the cheese beam" – demonstrate the concept of generating a bending moment in an elastic beam due to an applied shear force
5. "Breaking bread" – demonstrate the difference between bending moment, and positive and negative shear in a beam using individual slices of bread as differential elements
6. "The MVP mnemonic" – illustrate a method for students to learn the sign convention for bending moment (M), shear force (V), and axial force (P) in beams
Each module includes objectives, an overview of the theory, resources needed, a step-by-step procedure, estimated preparation and demonstration times, as well as recommendations based upon the authors' experience. Cognizant of the time and budget constraints of faculty, the authors designed the modules to minimize the preparation time and cost associated to produce the demonstration materials.
Assessment consists of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved survey to solicit students' perception of the effectiveness of the demonstrations to improve their understanding of the statics concepts. The statistically significant results indicate the demonstrations were effective compared to a control group taught without them.
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