Advanced engineering tutorials in college physics
Shaw, Christopher L.
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Physics education research has shown that physics students fail to understand basic Newtonian mechanics after completing physics courses, irrespective of the proficiency of the teacher or reputation of the institution when using traditional lecture formats. Further research has shown that inquiry based tutorial methods result in greater conceptual understanding by students. Additionally, tutorial methods have been shown to also improve student attitudes and motivations about physics. Problem solving has long been notoriously difficult to teach. Through the use of tutorials, many students learn physics concepts more intuitively. Often referred to as interactive engagement, or inquiry methods, tutorials help the students teach themselves about the science involved in physical phenomena. Using engineering principles to teach physics promises to add to the efforts of physics education research. Symbolic problem solutions allow the students to understand the relationship between the variables in the physical system, and the affects they have. Graphical analysis helps the students visualize the problems, the interactions involved, and the solutions meaning. Optimization, either using calculus techniques, or qualitative analysis of advantages and disadvantages, allow the student to see the behavior of the system when tailored to fit design constraints. The tutorials used in this study were designed to incrementally build an intuitive understanding of engineering components such as capacitors, solenoids, achromatic lenses, structures, or dynamic systems. Each step was built on the previous problem to show a logical progression. Tutorials were developed symbolically. Study of the symbolic formula helped the student answer conceptual questions about the system. Solutions were finally solved quantitatively using realistic numbers to show true orders of magnitude. Symbolic equations were then analyzed for optimization through calculus or qualitative means. Sometimes multiple solutions were possible and creativity was necessary.