Student difficulties in translating between mathematical and graphical representations in introductory physics

Shih Yin Lin, Alexandru Maries, Chandralekha Singh

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We investigate introductory physics students' difficulties in translating between mathematical and graphical representations and the effect of scaffolding on students' performance. We gave a typical problem that can be solved using Gauss's law involving a spherically symmetric charge distribution (a conducting sphere concentric with a conducting spherical shell) to 95 calculus-based introductory physics students. We asked students to write a mathematical expression for the electric field in various regions and asked them to graph the electric field. We knew from previous experience that students have great difficulty in graphing the electric field. Therefore, we implemented two scaffolding interventions to help them. Students who received the scaffolding support were either (1) asked to plot the electric field in each region first (before having to plot it as a function of distance from the center of the sphere) or (2) asked to plot the electric field in each region after explicitly evaluating the electric field at the beginning, mid and end points of each region. The comparison group was only asked to plot the electric field at the end of the problem. We found that students benefited the most from intervention (1) and that intervention (2), although intended to aid students, had an adverse effect. Also, recorded interviews were conducted with a few students in order to understand how students were impacted by the aforementioned interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2012 Physics Education Research Conference
EditorsN. Sanjay Rebello, Paula V. Engelhardt, Alice D. Churukian
PublisherAmerican Institute of Physics Inc.
Pages250-253
Number of pages4
ISBN (Electronic)9780735411340
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Jan 1
Event2012 Physics Education Research Conference, PERC 2012 - Philadelphia, United States
Duration: 2012 Aug 12012 Aug 2

Publication series

NameAIP Conference Proceedings
Volume1513
ISSN (Print)0094-243X
ISSN (Electronic)1551-7616

Other

Other2012 Physics Education Research Conference, PERC 2012
CountryUnited States
CityPhiladelphia
Period12-08-0112-08-02

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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