Mechanics—the study of motion and of the action of forces on bodies—is a core topic in both physics and engineering that is rife with nonintuitive concepts and content that many undergraduates find challenging to master. Scholars have grappled for decades with developing educational approaches to complex mechanics topics. Although mechanics includes core topics across both engineering and physics, many faculty do not form strong connections between disciplinary treatments of these common principles in ways that might enhance performance, identity, belonging, and ultimately persistence in STEM.
To address these issues, “The Mechanics of Inclusion and Inclusivity in Mechanics” establishes an interdisciplinary partnership across the California Community College, the California State University, and the University of California systems. This project seeks to eliminate equity and performance gaps in mechanics courses by (a) developing a suite of adaptive web-based tools that incorporate videos that illustrate why a topic is relevant to diverse professionals in the real world and adaptive tests, while (b) leveraging those cognitive tools and affective interventions to establish a sense of belonging, a strong STEM identity, and deep conceptual understanding. Parallel to these online efforts will be the implementation of evidence-based practices in the face-to-face classroom, such as the integration of Learning Assistants, implementation of hands-on, minds-on experiments, and development of a supportive, team-based learning environment, in which collaborative norms minimize microaggressions and toxic gendered interactions among team members.
To cultivate a sense of belonging and STEM identity, our work will target the development of coherent conceptual understanding as opposed to memorization (so that students feel that their own ideas contribute to the sense-making attempts of the group), situate problems within authentic scientific and engineering contexts (so that students see the relevance of what they learn to the needs of their communities), and highlight contributions by non-traditional scientists and engineers (so that students see themselves in them). The project will disseminate its resources, a framework for faculty development focused on both the instructional materials and the design of inclusive classrooms, and results of its research throughout the California educational system, online, as well as through professional conferences and publications.