Contemporary science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) increasingly require advanced knowledge about mathematical physics models and methods of scientific computation. In STEM educational environments this entails the necessity to implement pedagogical curricula and methodologies that epistemologically balance the inclusion of interactive engagement sequences of computational modelling activities, and offer students opportunities to develop meaningful knowledge of physics, mathematics and scientific computation, as well as of the specific STEM concepts and processes. Our approach in this context is based on interactive engagement activities built around computational modelling experiments implemented in the Modellus environment that span the range of different kinds of modelling, from exploratory to expressive modelling. In this paper we describe research concerning a sequence of activities about hydrostatic pressure forces and torques, a theme of an introductory fluid mechanics course for undergraduate university engineering students having only elementary knowledge of secondary education physics and mathematics and no significant prior knowledge about scientific computation. We analyse student’s perceptions about the activities and the effects generated on the learning process. Using a Likert scale questionnaire, we show that students reacted positively to the Modellus based activities, considering them helpful in the learning process of the mathematics and physics of fluid mechanics and for their overall professional training. The results also show that students considered Modellus a useful software for computational activities that help the learning of mathematical physics models, sufficiently easy to learn and user-friendly. Based on the analysis of student’s work content, we show that students were able to construct and explore the proposed mathematical physics models and simulations, and establish meaningful and operationally reified relations with the relevant hydrostatic phenomena. We also show that the computational modelling activities were effective in resolving several difficulties persisting after theoretical lectures and problem-solving paper and pen activities.
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