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Our best juniors still struggle with Gauss’s Law: Characterizing their difficulties Documents

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Our best juniors still struggle with Gauss’s Law: Characterizing their difficulties 

written by Rachel E. Pepper, Stephanie V. Chasteen, Steven J. Pollock, and Katherine K. Perkins

We discuss student conceptual difficulties with Gauss's law observed in an upper-division Electricity and Magnetism (E&M) course. Difficulties at this level have been described in previous work; we present further quantitative and qualitative evidence that upper-division students still struggle with Gauss's law. This evidence is drawn from analysis of upper-division E&M conceptual post-tests, traditional exams, and formal student interviews. Examples of student difficulties include difficulty with the inverse nature of the problem, difficulty articulating complete symmetry arguments, and trouble recognizing that in situations without sufficient symmetry it is impossible (rather than "difficult") to calculate the electric field using Gauss's law. One possible explanation for some of these conceptual difficulties is that even students at the upper level may struggle to connect mathematical expressions to physical meanings.

Published August 24, 2010
Last Modified November 1, 2010

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