Thinking Like an Engineer: An Active Learning Approach (3rd Edition)
At our university, all students who wish to major in engineering begin in the General Engineering Program, and after completing a core set of classes, they can declare a specific engineering major. Within this core set of classes, students are required to take math, physics, chemistry, and a two-semester engineering sequence. Our courses have evolved to address not only the changing qualities of our students, but also the changing needs of our customers. The material taught in our courses is the foundation upon which the upper level courses depend for the skills necessary to master more advanced material. It was for these freshman courses that this text was created.
We didn’t set out to write a textbook: we simply set out to find a better way to teach our students. Our philosophy was to help students move from a mode of learning, where everything was neatly presented as lecture and handouts where the instructor was looking for the “right” answer, to a mode of learning driven by self-guided inquiry.
We wanted students to advance beyond “plug-and-chug” and memorization of problem- solving methods—to ask themselves if their approaches and answers make sense in the physical world. We couldn’t settle on any textbooks we liked without patching materials together—one chapter from this text, four chapters from another—so we wrote our own notes. Through them, we tried to convey that engineering isn’t always about having the answer—sometimes it’s about asking the right questions, and we want students to learn how to ask those sorts of questions. Real-world problems rarely come with all of the information required for their solutions. Problems presented to engineers typically can’t be solved by looking at how someone else solved the exact same problem. Part of the fun of engineering is that every problem presents a unique challenge and requires a unique solution. Engineering is also about arriving at an answer and being able to justify the “why” behind your choice, and equally important, the “why not” of the other choices.
We realized quickly, however, that some students are not able to learn without sufficient scaffolding. Structure and flexibility must be managed carefully. Too much structure results in rigidity and unnecessary uniformity of solutions. On the other hand, too much flexibility provides insufficient guidance, and students flounder down many blind alleys, thus making it more difficult to acquire new knowledge. The tension between these two must be managed constantly. We are a large public institution, and our student body is very diverse. Our hope is to provide each student with the amount of scaffolding they need to be successful. Some students will require more background work than others. Some students will need to work five problems, and others may need to work 50. We talk a great deal to our students about how each learner is unique. Some students need to listen to a lecture; some need to read the text over three times, and others just need to try a skill and make mistakes to discover what they still don’t understand. We have tried to provide enough variety for each type of learner throughout.
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