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General Card #1821
PBL in Materials - Aunt Ada’s Tree House
Updated: 1/27/2022 2:40 PM by Becky Benishek
Reviewed: 10/14/2022 2:57 PM by Michael Johnson
PBL module to design an “epic” tree house using finite element analysis.

In this project-based learning experience, students are asked to design and optimize an artificial tree trunk to support an “epic” treehouse for a fictitious, eccentric but innovative, Aunt Ada. It was implemented in a Strength of Materials course at Lehigh University to a class of 52 students in their second, third, or fourth year. This module may be suitable for use in a Strength of Materials class or any finite element analysis class. The project has both individual and team based assignments completed outside of class. When implemented, it took a total of two 50-minute class periods dedicated to assignment explanations and team discussions spread over the course of five weeks.

The module has a total of five parts including defining parameters, writing pseudo code for a finite element analysis, creating a design proposal, and completing a 1D finite element code and analysis. It is suggested to modify this project in the future to be condensed into three parts. This project provides a platform for exploration of some of the course learning objectives in an experiential format; furthermore, a number of in-class active-collaborative exercises support the project and further enhance the course content.

Learning Objectives
1) Determine both normal and shearing stresses in simple beam and beam like structures; utilize stress analysis information to design application specific beam cross-sections (here, normal stress only),
2) perform 1D stress/strain analysis utilizing the finite element method,
3) construct a computer code to implement a finite element solution for a one-dimensional rod of
varying cross-section
4) compute critical buckling load for columns subject to different fixations (i.e. boundary conditions),
5) account for column weight in computing critical buckling load.
Instructor Tips
If finite element analysis is not part of a course’s typical coverage but an instructor desires to expose students to discretized methods for solving integrals, then additional lecture time for this topic must be budgeted.

Much is left open-ended in this project so instructors must decide how much supplementary information should be given to the students, when the information should be shared, and how it should be disseminated.

If a code is sought from students, instructors must either ensure that students have necessary prerequisite coding skills or spend further lecture time on coding.

Instructors must decide if lecture time will be surrendered to allow for student team presentations. This can be a lively way to end the project.

The module assignments should be condensed to have three parts instead of five parts.
  • Demonstrate constant curiosity about our changing world
  • Integrate information from many sources to gain insight
  • Assess and manage risk
  • Determine Design Requirements
  • Perform Technical Design
  • Analyze Solutions
  • Identify Opportunity
  • Evaluate Tech Feasibility, Customer Value, Societal Benefits & Economic Viability
  • Test Concepts via Customer Engagement
  • Develop Partnerships & Build Team
Categories & Tags
  • Classroom & Courses
  • Civil Engineering
  • Architectural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
This folder includes introduction to the project and author requests. The reflection includes insights, tips, and suggested changes. The adaptations includes changes implemented and suggestions.
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
Introduction.pdf Instructor Notes .pdf 12/5/2017 68.6 KB 787
Instructor Reflections.pdf Instructor Notes .pdf 12/5/2017 78.9 KB 800
Author Requests.pdf Instructor Notes .pdf 12/5/2017 26.8 KB 806
Adaptations.pdf Instructor Notes .pdf 12/14/2017 30.2 KB 779
This folder includes documents from the course - syllabus and learning objectives.
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
Syllabus F2015.pdf Syllabus .pdf 12/5/2017 142.4 KB 824
Learning Objectives F2015.pdf Other .pdf 12/5/2017 54.6 KB 758
Delivery master file includes all files in one pdf. All other files are the assignments and rubrics for the module.
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
Delivery Master File.pdf Instructor Notes .pdf 12/14/2017 2.6 MB 523
Team Formation Questionnaire.docx Activity / Handout .docx 12/18/2017 18.5 KB 501
Project 1a Assignment F15.docx Activity / Handout .docx 12/18/2017 211.4 KB 500
Project 1b Assignment F15.docx Activity / Handout .docx 12/18/2017 212.3 KB 522
Project 1c Assignment F15.docx Activity / Handout .docx 12/18/2017 219.1 KB 485
Project 1d Assignment F15.docx Activity / Handout .docx 12/18/2017 193.5 KB 520
Project 1e Assignment F15.docx Activity / Handout .docx 12/18/2017 145.9 KB 510
Rubric Treehouse 1a.docx Assessment / Rubric .docx 12/18/2017 13 KB 526
Rubric Treehouse 1b.docx Assessment / Rubric .docx 12/18/2017 12.9 KB 510
Rubric Treehouse 1c.docx Assessment / Rubric .docx 12/18/2017 12.6 KB 493
Rubric Treehouse 1d.docx Assessment / Rubric .docx 12/18/2017 13.2 KB 512
Rubric Treehouse 1e-2.docx Assessment / Rubric .docx 12/18/2017 13.3 KB 495
Project 1e- Self and Team Evaluation.docx Assessment / Rubric .docx 12/18/2017 83.6 KB 522
Team Feedback Project 1e- Sample Letter 1.docx Student Artifact / Example .docx 12/18/2017 810 KB 494
Team Feedback Project 1e- Sample Letter 2.docx Student Artifact / Example .docx 12/18/2017 809.5 KB 517
Final Project and EML Evaluation.docx Assessment / Rubric .docx 12/18/2017 17.1 KB 520
This folder contains student artifacts from the project.
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
Student Work - Parts A to C.pdf Student Artifact / Example .pdf 12/23/2017 72 KB 807
Student Work - Part D.pdf Student Artifact / Example .pdf 12/23/2017 86.3 KB 821
Student Work - Part E.pdf Student Artifact / Example .pdf 12/23/2017 237.2 KB 819
Articles highlighting this module.
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
Lehigh Engineering Article - KEEN.pdf Other .pdf 12/14/2017 482.6 KB 749
KEENzine Issue 4 - Article Other 10/6/2020 -  
Engineering Unleashed Story Other 10/28/2020 -