Tag Archives: learning

Engineering idiom

Many of us, either as students or as instructors, will have experienced the phenomenon that students are more likely to give a correct answer when the context is familiar [Linn & Hyde, 1989; Chapman et al 1991].  Conversely, a lack of familiarity may induce students to panic about the context and fail to listen in a lecture [Rosser, 2004] or to appreciate the point of a question in an examination.  Your dictionary probably gives two meanings for context: ‘surrounding conditions’ and ‘a construction of speech’.  You would think that the importance of teaching by reference to the surrounding condition is so obvious as to require no comment; except professors forget that conditions experienced by students are different to their own, both now and when they were students [Nathan, 2005 & ‘Creating an evolving learning environment’ on February 21st, 2018].  To get an appreciation of how different consult the ‘Mindset List‘ produced each year by Beloit College; for example as far as the class of 2020 are concerned robots have always been surgical partners in the operating room [#55 on the 2020 Mindset List].

What about the construction of speech?  I think that there is an engineering idiom because engineering education has its own ‘language’ of models and analogies.  Engineering science is usually taught in the context of idealised applications, such as colliding spheres, springs and dashpots, and shafts.  It would be wrong to say that they have no relevance to the subject; but, the relevance is often only apparent to those well-versed in the subject; and, by definition, students are not.  The result is a loss of perceived usefulness of learning which adversely influences student motivation [Wigfield & Eccles, 2000] – they are more likely to switch off, so keep the language simple.


Chipman S, Marshall S, Scott P. Content effects on word problem performance: A possible source of test bias? American Educational Research Journal, 28(4), 897-915, 1991.

Linn M, Hyde J, Gender, mathematics, and science, Educational Researcher, 18(8), 17-19, 22-27, 1989.

Nathan R, My freshman year: what a professor learned by becoming a student, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2005.

Rosser SV, Gender issues in teaching science, in S. Rose. and B. Brown (eds.), Report on the 2003 Workshop on Gender Issues in the Sciences, pp. 28-37, 2004.

Wigfield A, Eccles JS, Expectancy-value theory of motivation, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1): 68-81, 2000.


CALE #7 [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]

Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate

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 [1962].  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]

Creating an evolving learning environment

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about marking examinations and my tendency to focus on the students that I had failed to teach rather than those who excelled in their knowledge of problem-solving with the laws of thermodynamics [see my post ‘Depressed by exams‘ on January 31st, 2018].  One correspondent suggested that I shouldn’t beat myself up because ‘to teach is to show, to learn is to acquire‘; and that I had not failed to show but that some of my students had failed to acquire.  However, Adams and Felder have stated that the ‘educational role of faculty is not to impart knowledge; but to design learning environments that support knowledge acquisition‘.  My despondency arises from my apparent inability to create a learning environment that supports and encourages knowledge acquisition for all of my students.  People arrive in my class with a variety of formative experiences and different ways of learning, which makes it challenging to generate a learning environment that is effective for everyone.   It’s an on-going challenge due to the ever-widening cultural gap between students and their professors, which is large enough to have warranted at least one anthropological study (see My Freshman Year by Rebekah Nathan). So, my focus on the weaker exam scripts has a positive outcome because it causes me to think about evolving the learning environment.


Adams RS, Felder RM, Reframing professional development: A systems approach to preparing engineering educators to educate tomorrow’s engineers. J. Engineering Education, 97(3):230-240, 2008.

Nathan R, My freshman year: what a professor learned by becoming a student, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2005

Depressed by exams

I am not feeling very creative this week, because I am in middle of marking examination scripts; so, this post is going to be short.  I have 20 days to grade at least 1100 questions and award a maximum of 28,400 marks – that’s a lot of decisions for my neurons to handle without being asked to find new ways to network and generate original thoughts for this blog [see my post on ‘Digital hive mind‘ on November 30th, 2016].

It is a depressing task discovering how little I have managed to teach students about thermodynamics, or maybe I should say, how little they have learned.  However, I suspect these feelings are a consequence of the asymmetry of my brain, which has many more sites capable of attributing blame and only one for assigning praise [see my post entitled ‘Happenstance, not engineering‘ on November 9th, 2016].  So, I tend to focus on the performance of the students at the lower end of the spectrum rather than the stars who spot the elegant solutions to the exam problems.


Ngo L, Kelly M, Coutlee CG, Carter RM , Sinnott-Armstrong W & Huettel SA, Two distinct moral mechanisms for ascribing and denying intentionality, Scientific Reports, 5:17390, 2015.

Bruek H, Human brains are wired to blame rather than to praise, Fortune, December 4th 2015.