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Relating Thermofluids to Life: Enhancing student engagement with project-based learning
Project-based learning enhances student engagement. Thermodynamics and Fluid Mechanics are considered difficult components of Mechanical Engineering curriculum due to the need for numerous abstract concepts and advanced mathematics. In a junior-level Thermofluids course, project-based learning is combined with students' personal and professional interests in order to deepen their engagement with the material. Students propose projects that connect the course material with their interests and hobbies. They are allowed to work in teams or by themselves. The work on projects begins half-way through the semester. They present demonstrations in the project fair during the allocated exam slot. We shall present selected student project demonstrations: a model Stirling engine, a hydraulic automaton, an air vortex-cannon, a half-hour glass. Students created these prototypes from simple materials such as cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, syringes, soda cans etc. The paper will document the changes in students’ approaches to studying as a result of working on these projects. Data from student performance on tests, their attitudes in class, their absorption of new concepts (as measured by semester-end course evaluations through two different instruments and instructor observations), will be compared with the prior classes that were not assigned these projects. The evidence of enhanced student engagement was most pronounced in the case of students with lower GPA in other courses.