How the Way I teach Dynamics has Changed
by
Phillip J. Cornwell

On the first day there was dynamics and it was good.

On the second day a creature came along called “Professor”.  Professor saw that dynamics was beautiful and was the foundation of all engineering science.  Professor wanted to share the beauty of dynamics by shouting its praises from a mountaintop.  Instead, being scared of heights, he wrote dynamics on a blackboard – unable to take his eyes off of what he was writing because of its beauty.  And it was good.  Thus ended the second day. 

On the third day Professor was disturbed by a noise coming from behind him.  He turned around and, lo and behold, there were other creatures in the same room with him.  He learned these creatures were called “students”.  Many of the students had glazed eyes, some were asleep, and some copied frantically everything Professor said or wrote on the board.  Professor was disturbed that some would be inattentive in the presence of the beautiful dynamics so he spoke directly to one of the students much to the shock of the students.  He said, “You, in the first row.  What is ....”  And thus began what is now known as Professor/student interaction. Professor found interacting with students to be enjoyable.  Through this interaction he discovered, much to his astonishment, that not all students could visualize the motion of objects and that some students suffered from severe “intuition impairment”.  To help students, he brought in some physical demonstrations to show the students.  And it was good.  Thus ended the third day. 

On the fourth day Professor found out that it was possible for students to actually learn from and help each other see the beauty of dynamics.  This radical idea was called “cooperative learning” and Professor began to use it in his class.   Professor became excited about discovering that there were actually creatures that studied the process of learning.  He started trying some of the ideas he read about such as “readiness assessment tests” and “plus-deltas” and “concept maps”.   He also began using a wonderful device called a “copy machine” to make copies of example problems to be worked in class.   By passing out the problems to students he discovered there was more time available in class for group work and discussion of the problems.  And it was good.   Thus ended the fourth day.

On the fifth day, Professor was talking to another creature called “Math Professor” and he learned that students had the ability to use a tool called a “computer” and more specifically something called a “computer algebra system” known only as “Maple”.   It became clear to Professor that this new tool could be used to help teach students the beauty of dynamics by allowing them to focus on basic principles instead of having them get bogged down in algebra.  When solving problems, the student could now focus more on setting up the problems and counting the number of equations and unknowns rather than on doing the algebraic manipulation required to get a numerical answer.  Having discovered the power of the computer, Professor discovered another tool called “Working Model”.  This was a dynamic simulation program that could be used to help students in visualizing motion and developing their intuition.  Professor also discovered the mysterious entity known as “The WWW” and he developed a webpage for his class.  And it was good.   Thus ended the fifth day.

On the sixth day, Professor got together with other Professors and discovered that many of the basic principles that made dynamics so beautiful also made their subjects beautiful.  They worked together and completely rearranged the material in their courses to build a newly developed course called “Conservation and Accounting Principles” that was used as a prerequisite to all subsequent engineering science courses.  And it was very good.  Thus ended the sixth day.

On the seventh day Professor rested from teaching and wrote a paper to tell others how he has changed the way he shares the beauty of dynamics, and more importantly, how students are learning dynamics better.