Introducing Mechanics Academy

Creative use of web-based technology to enhance computational science education

From improving our understanding of the dynamics of atmospheric circulation to aiding in the design of life-saving coronary stents, mathematical and computational sciences are playing an ever increasing role in a range of applications that are extremely relevant to industry and society. Even so, as soon as they’re old enough to make such choices, many students start shying away from learning advanced math and science. And they’re doing this for flawed reasons we’ve all heard:

“It’s just so hard”
“All that theory is so boring”
“Why do I need to know any of this?”

It is my attempt to improve this state of affairs in some tiny way that defines my two-fold mission:

  1. To motivate students to learn applied mathematics and physical sciences by highlighting applications that communicate how relevant and integral these fields are to our lives.
  2. To teach students exciting blends of these fields, especially emphasizing computational methodology pertinent to real-world application.

Prompted by my years of training in applied mechanics, I thought I’d start close to home with a resource called Mechanics Academy. The effort—motivated in no small part by the Khan Academy, Code School and edX—aims to use video lessons and interactive, application-relevant simulations to engage and teach students topics in mechanics, applied mathematics and computational science. These simulations run right within the web browser, allowing students to learn by doing, without the hassle of installing complex mathematical and scientific software on their own devices.

I have been working on this project in earnest for the past eight months or so. In this period, I’ve created a web-based scientific computing service to drive the simulation-based demonstrations and exercises on Mechanics Academy. I’ve arrived at a combination of recording technology that I am happy with, and have begun using it to record lectures for my first complete course. I’ve also made a simple content management system to house this original learning material, alongside related Open Educational Resources of high quality.

While quite some progress has been made, the journey has just begun. There is plenty I could use help with, including:

  • Cataloguing existing and creating new learning material
  • Information architecture, to optimally present the material
  • User-experience and visual frontend design, to create an engaging and unintimidating learning experience for challenging material
  • Refining and improving the functionality of the content management system
  • Testing and helping spread the word

So please do get in touch if you’re interested in working with me on the project or if you’re interested in contributing to it financially. Even if you just want to chat about this sort of thing, I’d be delighted to hear from you!