2022 First-Year Engineering Experience

GIFTS: Introducing First Year Students to The Running Track Analogy of an Electric Circuit

Presented at Technical Session T2

This work-in-progress describes a unique teaching method used for introducing the series electric circuit to under-represented minority engineering students. It is unique because of its teaching method for mathematics and historically is not used in FYEE programs. First Year Engineering Student (FYES) retention and overall success is predicated on their recent academic success in high school. Too often a struggling first semester student has limited knowledge of how a simple series electric circuit relates to a real-world event or physical concept. Student-centered active learning, in which students are asked to “do” something beyond listening and note taking, as this teaching idea suggests, should be used in STEM courses.

What is effective teaching to engage students whether in hybrid mode or in person? How can STEM activities remain fun and interactive? Whether in-person, hybrid, or remote learning environment, STEM teachers have likely grappled with one or more of these questions. Freshmen often do not make the ‘link’ between an equation and a physical system despite attempts at the water flow analogy for electric circuits. One such equation that is pervasive in many branches of the engineering profession is Ohm’s Law which describes a linear relationship between voltage on the left hand side of the equal sign and current multiplied by resistance on the right side. The ability to understand and apply this equation to an electric circuit is common and useful in electrical, computer, biological and even mechanical engineering projects.

The teaching method used for explaining the series circuit uses a low cost electric circuit kit that the students build and test; the water flow in a pipe kit is not practical in the classroom. They also learn how to model the circuit using MATLAB Simulink and engage in practical lectures on the running event called the hurdles and its physical relationship to circuit experiments.

Course modules are taught in the Problem Solving for Engineers course for freshman in 2021 and Spring 2022. The Problem Solving for Engineers course teaches students how to apply mathematics to the real-world including problems encountered in everyday life. The freshman class, consisting of 55 students was taught virtually while the class of 149 students is taught mask-to-mask. Most of the students are considered underrepresented and most all engineering majors are included.

Additional concepts in the simple series circuit including the voltage and resistance are explained and compared to this real-world event. The series electric circuit was conceptualized in terms of a hurdle event where runners are analogous to electric charges, hurdles represent electrical resistance and the Gatorade station is explained in terms of the source voltage. Students are surveyed on their understanding of the running hurdles event in terms of analogies, for example, the movement electrical charges in a circuit is analogous to a runner moving along a track. Preliminary survey results are overall a positive response. Through practical lecture material on hurdle running and hands-on experimentation, freshmen student learning is enhanced. Additional data will be collected on student learning through polls, quizzes, student presentations and surveys.

  1. Dr. Christopher Horne P.E. Orcid 16x16http://orcid.org/0000-0002-8499-0253 North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University [biography]
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