Project-Based Curriculum for Teaching Analytical Design to Freshman Engineering Students via Reconfigurable Trebuchets

Daniel R. Herber, Anand P. Deshmukh, Marlon E. Mitchell, James T. Allison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents an effort to revitalize a large introductory engineering course for incoming freshman students that teaches them analytical design through a project-based curriculum. This course was completely transformed from a seminar-based to a project-based course that integrates hands-on experimentation with analytical work. The project is centered on a reconfigurable trebuchet kit that student groups assemble and work to identify design decisions that will maximize projectile launch distance. Challenges include streamlining the project experience for the large enrollment (up to 148 students) with limited contact hours, and helping students fuse hands-on experiences with quantitative engineering analysis. A mixed-methods approach supported the claim that the curriculum improved the students’ engineering judgment and demonstrated to students the value of engineering analysis and mathematical models in practical engineering design. A rigorous statistical analysis of student trebuchet launch performance at different course stages is included. A qualitative assessment of student learning is derived through students’ reflection of their course experience. Comprehensive results comparing students’ design iterations versus algorithmic design optimization iterations provide important insights into student design intuition, paving the way for hybrid design education models that teach students how to combine human design intuition with quantitative design tools to design superior systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7
JournalEducation Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2016


  • Design education
  • Engineering education
  • Engineering judgment
  • Interactive computer models
  • Model-based design
  • Project-based learning
  • Reconfigurable kits
  • Trebuchets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Public Administration


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