During November and December I was handing out a sheet of problems every week in my first-year undergraduate thermodynamics class so that students could evaluate and refine their understanding and problem-solving skills as the course progressed. Of course, most students will not have done this and those problem sheets will have been part of their list of good intentions, which have now become part of their revision schedule. Well, perhaps? Anyway, to help them is attached ‘Professor Patterson’s Patented Problem-solving Procedure (PPPPP)’ for entry-level thermodynamics problems.
PPPPP is written in the context of thermodynamics but actually it is what engineers tend to do when faced with analysis problems, i.e. draw a sketch including all the known information, identify some simplifying assumptions then apply and solve the relevant physical laws. There is plenty of research that shows most of us are visual problem-solvers [e.g. Martin & Schwartz, 2014] but it is remarkably difficult to persuade people to summarize a problem pictorially. It takes practice and that’s why we give students lots of problems on which to hone their skills.
Martin, L., & Schwartz, D., 2014, ‘A pragmatic perspective on visual representation and creative thinking’, Visual Studies, 29(1):80-93.
Painting from Okemos High School Art Collection at MSU