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The Process of Physics Education Research: From Investigation of Students' Reasoning to Improved Learning in the Classroom

Who:  David E. Meltzer - (Department of Physics and Astronomy, Iowa State University)
Where:  Smith Lab, Room 1094
When:  Monday, November 25, 2002 at 10:30
Type:  Physics Education Seminar

Description: The work of physics instructors can be assisted by Physics Education Research through systematic investigations into students' reasoning, development of new curricular materials, and careful assessment of student learning. As an example, I will describe our investigation of students' reasoning in thermodynamics. Analysis of students' written explanations along with one-on-one interviews has disclosed persistent confusion regarding process-dependent quantities such as heat and work. For instance, most students seem to believe that net heat absorbed and net work done by a system undergoing a cyclic process must be zero. Curricular materials designed to address these difficulties are being developed and tested. In a separate project, initial phases of an investigation into the relationship of representational mode (verbal, mathematical, diagrammatic, etc.) to student learning has identified severe and widespread difficulties with vector concepts expressed in graphical form. In a broader context, we are also engaged in development of a "Workbook for Introductory Physics" comprising curricular materials designed for a full semester of fully interactive lectures in large-enrollment classes. Efforts to assess these materials raise general questions regarding measurement of learning gain and sample selection bias. Methods developed to address these and related problems in physics education have implications and impact behind the confines of departments of physics and astronomy.

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