In this section, Professor Karen Willcox shares how the programming projects in 16.90 Computational Methods in Aerospace Engineering provide students with an opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge of computational methods to aerospace problems. She also notes that breaking complex projects into smaller components can help students more effectively approach and navigate this work. She concludes by describing how the projects also offer students an opportunity to develop professional competencies they will need as aerospace engineers.
Applying Theoretical Knowledge
Three programming projects are required in 16.90 Computational Methods in Aerospace Engineering. The programming projects are an important part of the course because, although students might have the theoretical tools to be able to analyze properties with different computational methods, many don’t truly understand these methods until they apply them to real problems. It’s not until they sit down to write a piece of code and get stuck that they realize that they might not understand various aspects of the curriculum, and how they relate to one another. In this way, the projects serve as assessments in the course.
Breaking a Complex Project into Smaller Components
One thing I have learned, as an instructor, is that if the project is complex, it’s best to break it into smaller components and to set due dates for project milestones along the way. Breaking a difficult project into smaller components with intermediate deadlines helps students understand the key skills they need to synthesize and how they might plan their time most effectively.
Developing Professional Competencies
The programming projects are also an opportunity for us to help students develop professional competencies. The assignments require students to prepare a professional report for an audience of aerospace engineers. This helps them practice how to present their results. It encourages them to begin thinking about important elements of science communication, such as how to create a clear graph. These are the kinds of skills that will be very important in their careers, and it is critical that we, as instructors, take every opportunity to reinforce them.