Have you ever wondered why Einstein is so frequently quoted on so many topics? I have cited him seven times in the past on this blog [https://realizeengineering.blog/tag/einstein/] and only four occasions relate to his scientific breakthroughs. Robbert Dijkgraaf has suggested that Einstein pretty much invented that concept of a scientist as a public intellectual. Although Einstein may not have been reticient about commenting on world affairs, his remarks and aphorisms were as carefully crafted as his contribution to science which is why they are so frequently quoted.
I have remarked before about the tendency of engineers to hide away and avoid communicating with society, in part because we are trained as problem-solvers and solving problems often requires a degree of solitude and silence that is incompatible with public profile [see ‘The Charismatic Engineer‘ on June 4th, 2014]. However, there are many potenting existential challenges facing society for which the solutions involving engineering or an understanding of technology [see ‘Poetasting engineers‘ on March 4th, 2015]; engineers have a responsibility to follow Einstein’s example and become public intellectuals taking as much care over their remarks as their engineering.
Naturally, I and my engineering colleagues will worry about making mistakes and will be tempted to use it as reason for keeping quiet; however, even Einstein made mistakes. Carlo Rovelli in his book ‘The Order of Time’ provides a reassuringly long list of six things that Einstein got wrong or about which he changed his mind. On that note, I feel I should end with one of Einstein’s quotes: ‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new’.
This quintet of ‘E’ words form the core of the 5Es lesson plans. They probably appeared first in the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study of the 1980s based on work by Atkin and Karplus . They form a series of headings for constructing your lesson or lecture plan. This framework has been used to construct all of the lesson plans posted on this blog [https://realizeengineering.blog/everyday-engineering-examples/]. Since the lesson plans are designed for introductory engineering courses, the Engage step always incorporates an Everyday Engineering Example. I have amended the Oxford English Dictionary definition of the 5Es below to illustrate the content of each step.
Engage – to attract and hold fast [the students’ attention]
Explore – to look into closely, scrutinize, to pry into [the topic of the lesson]
Explain – to unfold, to make plain or intelligible [the principle underpinning the topic]
Elaborate – to work out in detail [an exemplar employing the principle]
Evaluate – to reckon up, ascertain the amount of [knowledge and understanding acquired by the students]
The combination of 5Es and E cubed [Everyday Engineering Example] works well. We found that they increased student participation and understanding as well as attracting higher student ratings of lecturers and the course [Campbell et al. 2008].
Atkin JM & Karplus R, Discovery or invention? Science Teacher 29(5): 45, 1962.
Little W, Fowler HW, Coulson J & Onions CT, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Guild Publishing, London, 1983.
Campbell PB, Patterson EA, Busch Vishniac I & Kibler T, Integrating Applications in the Teaching of Fundamental Concepts, Proc. 2008 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, (AC 2008-499), 2008.
CALE #5 [Creating A Learning Environment: a series of posts based on a workshop given periodically by Pat Campbell and Eann Patterson in the USA supported by NSF and the UK supported by HEA]
A month or so ago I gave a lecture entitled ‘Establishing FACTS (Fidelity And Credibility in Tests & Simulations)’ to the local branch of the Institution of Engineering Technology (IET). Of course my title was a play on words because the Oxford English Dictionary defines a ‘fact’ as ‘a thing that is known or proved to be true’ or ‘information used as evidence or as part of report’. One of my current research interests is how we establish predictions from simulations as evidence that can be used reliably in decision-making. This is important because simulations based on computational models have become ubiquitous in engineering for, amongst other things, design optimisation and evaluation of structural integrity. These models need to possess the appropriate level of fidelity and to be credible in the eyes of decision-makers, not just their creators. Model credibility is usually provided through validation processes using a small number of physical tests that must yield a large quantity of reliable and relevant data [see ‘Getting smarter‘ on June 21st, 2017]. Reliable and relevant data means making measurements with low levels of uncertainty under real-world conditions which is usually challenging.
These topics recur through much of my research and have found applications in aerospace engineering, nuclear engineering and biology. My lecture to the IET gave an overview of these ideas using applications from each of these fields, some of which I have described in past posts. So, I have now created a new page on this blog with a catalogue of these past posts on the theme of ‘FACTS‘. Feel free to have a browse!
In his novel ‘Nausea’, Jean-Paul Sartre suggests that at around forty, experienced professionals ‘christen their small obstinacies and a few proverbs with the name of experience, they begin to simulate slot machines: put in a coin in the left hand slot and you get tales wrapped in silver paper, put a coin in the slot on the right and you get precious bits of advice that stick to your teeth like caramels’. When I first read this passage a few weeks ago, it seemed like an apt description of a not-so-young professor writing a weekly blog.
I am on vacation combining the positive effects of reading [see ‘Reading offline‘ on March 19th, 2014] and walking [see ‘Gone walking‘ on April 19th, 2017] with a digital detox [see ‘In digital detox‘ on July 19th, 2017]; but, through the scheduling facilities provided by WordPress, I am still able to dispense my slot machine homily. I will leave you to decide which posts are from the left and right slots.