How to teach kinematics and dynamics to engineering students in the 21st century?

Submitted a proposal for the teaching and learning conference.

Call for Proposals

How to teach kinematics and dynamics to engineering students in the 21st century?

I will talk about challenges of teaching traditional Mechanical Engineering courses (kinematics and dynamics) in the 21st century on the basis of my experience teaching these courses in the UWM’s College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) at the undergraduate and graduate level. Mechanics is at the intersection of physics, mathematics, and engineering. The ideas in the foundation of modern mechanics also played an important role in the history of culture, in particular, during the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century and the transition towards the modernity. This inherent connection of mechanics with the modernity yields a number of challenges in teaching it in the post-industrial post-modern period including the decline of motivation and mathematical preparation of the students, the rise of digital virtual reality, and others.

I will discuss some recipes of overcoming some of these challenges. In undergraduate kinematic design (ME360) we discuss the history of modern day mechanisms (many of the mechanisms in a standard Design of Machinery textbook were invented by da Vinci, James Watt and other great minds of the past) and ideas behind them; how classification of the mechanisms is related to the principles biological classification according to the engineers of the 19th century (e.g., Robert Willis and Franz Reuleaux) and how traditional mechanical design can interplay with modern concepts such as biomimetics or artificial intelligence.

In graduate-level courses (ME726, ME760) I suggest student project topics which concentrate on a particular interdisciplinary aspect of dynamics, such as the history of clock-making (Horology), biological application of scaling methods in mechanics (Allometry), Newton’s ideas before the “Principia Mathematica” and similar topics, which raise interest towards traditional mechanics as a modern and vivid area of scientific research.

Besides the cultural implications of mechanics, we also try to relate it to real life engineering problems with the alumni will encounter upon their graduation.