Bringing Labs into Differential Equations

Submitted by Becky Baranowski on

The goal of these assessments was to engage students in hands on experiments similiar to a science lab.   Students always ask why differential equations is so important in STEM fields.  So, two labs were done in my differential equations class.  One was using thermometers and checking their accuracy (how long does it take for the thermometer to get back to body temperature after drinking cold water, doing jumping jacks, and chewing gum (placebo)).  The 2nd one was to verify that a mass spring system follows a 2nd order differential equation.  Both involved students collecting data, analyzing it with different technologies, and writing up a lab report.  In both cases, students really liked the hands on experience along with learning different technologies.  They also liked that both experiments were cross discipline (physics and engineering).  Students were much more engaged this semester with the experiments, and all provided positive feedback.  Student engagement was up, and students were happy to see how the course is used in other fields of study.  From the attached document, refer to pages 64-71 for the labs.  

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s15-1st-set-handouts-students.pdf 3.65 MB
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Average: 4.9 (7 votes)


Andrew Burch Sun, 04/19/2015 - 5:35pm

Very interesting Becky. I need to find more things like this to do in my courses, but I find it more difficult in classes that have such a wide array of majors. 

Teri Graham Sun, 04/19/2015 - 6:06pm

I love this!  It is another wonderful example of how the students live to learn. I am striving to bring more contextualization and hands on activities like this into my courses. I look forward to when our department meetings will include working together and sharing best practices. 

Becky Baranowski Mon, 04/20/2015 - 8:26am

Andy - even in MAT091 and MAT151, students like doing hands on things, no matter the major.  They all have to take a science course, so relating it to science is great.  We have a lot of lab equipment that you can use.  I can meet with you to show you how to incorporate it.  In return, I need to buckle down and learn more about IMathAS.  =)

Peter Turner Mon, 04/20/2015 - 12:01pm

I love how you continually make the abstract concrete through the global-tactile-kinesthetic modality. Strong research behind it . . . well done!

Heather Muns Mon, 04/20/2015 - 3:33pm

These sound like great labs.  I did have one question and maybe I missed it, but what was your baseline data?  I know you said that you did these hands-on labs, but what did you do before and how did you measure engagement?  Remember, my brain isn't really working right now, so there is a good possibility that I just missed it.  :-)

Becky Baranowski Mon, 04/20/2015 - 3:47pm

The baseline data was not really given.  The students used to ask "why do I need to learn this and how does it apply".  It was all of the students that would ask this.  The end data is that now all of them say " I see how it is used".  There are still a few areas/concepts of them asking how some of the material is used (such as Laplace Transform), so I need to come up with a lab for them on this.  

Bronwen Steele Tue, 04/21/2015 - 1:58pm

Why did you attach a 72 page document? 

Bronwen Steele Tue, 04/21/2015 - 1:59pm

Actually, the synthesis between the math and physics is impressive, yes,  skimmed the 72 page document. Could you tell a difference in their learning?

Becky Baranowski Tue, 04/21/2015 - 2:02pm

Attached a 72 page document because it is in PDF form and didn't know how to just extract the "important" pages.  =)

Michelle Breaux Tue, 04/21/2015 - 5:04pm

I definitely need to incorporate more of these lab type activities in my classes.  I wish I had done more in my math classes when I was a student.  It helps make the connection to real world and it gives them experience when things don't go perfectly (as they learned when I subbed for your class with the thermometers!)

Jennifer Shannon Wed, 04/22/2015 - 12:26pm

I really like this Becky. It really shows how having the students see a concept hands on really makes them understand. I only wish I had more time especially in MAT 151 to continue with more labs. The limitation of time and the number of things we have to accomplish makes it so difficult. It really helps the students to see how it is applied in the real world.

William Farrar Wed, 04/22/2015 - 8:53pm

Nice work Becky!  This is another great example of how actually applying the learning makes a difference.  You demonstrate and remind us of that critical finding that learning abstract concepts is always best if bootstrapped by actual empirical experience!