Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Engineers frequently utilize computer simulation as part of their design processes to model and understand the behavior of complex systems. Simulation is also an important tool for developing students’ understanding of modeling and strengthening their intuition for problem solving in complex domains. This project uses a two-joint robot arm problem and accompanying computer simulation to demonstrate to AP BC Calculus students how and why we would use calculus concepts simultaneously in Cartesian and polar coordinate systems. We developed the simulation in a way that allows students to experience mathematical modeling in an applications-based engineering context. A small cohort of students in AP BC Calculus completed an open-response survey of their perceptions on mathematical modeling before and after completing our simulation. Analyzing these data using direct content analysis showed that students seemed to increase their understanding of mathematical modeling as an iterative process, although some students narrowed their description to focus on computer simulation. This study supports the role of simulation in developing students’ understanding of mathematical modeling and developing specific content knowledge, and how engineering can provide a valuable context for the application of mathematical modeling.

Copyright Statement

© 2020, American Society for Engineering Education, Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference, Virtual On line.