Welcome to Thinking Like an Engineer: An Active Learning Approach. We have set up this website as a companion to our textbook to provide our fellow instructors with some insight and materials to enhance what is already available from our publisher.

When we started, we didn't plan to write a textbook – we were simply looking for a better way to teach our students. Matt, Ben, Bill and Beth began teaching together in 2002, and David joined the mix in 2006. One of the cornerstones of our teaching philosophy has always been one of Bill's favorite sayings: "you can't teach a sleeping student." We've always tried to interject our teaching with activities or examples to engage our students, seeking ways to make them be active learners rather than passive learners.

A second cornerstone of our philosophy is to make our students self–learners. We want our students to begin to figure out how to teach themselves. Ultimately, when they get out on the job, they will never see the same problem twice. One of the exciting things about engineering is that every problem, every challenge, is unique. Every situation you are put in will demand that you apply a new level of thinking.

Over the years, our quest formed into "Thinking Like an Engineer". We hope the text we have written and the materials we have provided help to inspire students to begin to "think like engineers" and understand the challenges and satisfaction of pursing an engineering career. 

How this book came about:

Our philosophy was to help students move from a mode of learning where everything was neatly presented as lecture and handouts in which the instructor was looking for the “right” answer, to a mode of learning driven by self-guided inquiry.  We wanted students to advance beyond “plug-and-chug” and memorization of problem-solving methods, to asking if their approaches and answers make sense in the physical world.  We couldn’t settle on any textbooks we liked without patching materials together – one chapter from this text, four chapters from this one – so we wrote our own notes.  Through them, we tried to convey that engineering isn’t always about having the answer—sometimes it’s about asking the right questions, and we want students to learn how to ask those sorts of questions. Real-world problems rarely come with all of the information required for their solution. Problems presented to engineers typically can't be solved by looking at how someone else solved the exact same problem.  Part of the fun of engineering is that every problem presents a unique challenge, requiring a unique solution. Engineering is also about arriving at an answer and being able to justify the “why” behind your choice, and equally important, the “why not” of the other choices.

This text came about through our teaching experiences at Clemson University.  At Clemson, all students who wish to major in engineering begin in the General Engineering Program, and after completing a core set of classes can declare a specific engineering major.  Within this core set of classes, students are required to take math, physics, chemistry, and a two-semester engineering sequence.  Over the past ten years, our courses have evolved to address not only the changing qualities of our students, but also the changing needs of our customers – the degree granting programs.  The material taught in our courses is the foundation upon which the upper level courses depend for the skills necessary to master more advanced material.  It was for these freshman courses that this text was created.  Over the years, we have made difficult decisions on exactly what topics, and how much of each topic, to teach.  Initially we took the typical introductory course approach: a little bit of everything, providing breadth with no depth.  We found that our students retained very little of the knowledge a month after the exam.  We have refined our current text to focus on mastering five areas-- click About The Book for more information.

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