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Student Difficulties with Trigonometric Vector Components Persist in Multiple Student Populations Documents

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Student Difficulties with Trigonometric Vector Components Persist in Multiple Student Populations 

written by Brendon D. Mikula and Andrew F. Heckler

Students in introductory physics courses sometimes struggle to correctly break down a single vector into its components when provided only with an arrow, a magnitude, a reference angle, and a coordinate system. Students struggle further when asked to break down a vector in an inclined coordinate system, such as the weight vector of a box on an inclined plane. Varying the placement of the angle consistently affects student error and response patterns across four physics student populations: algebra-based mechanics, algebra-based E&M, calculus-based mechanics, and calculus-based E&M. This suggests that student difficulties with trigonometric vector components are persistent and pervasive, even across different introductory physics courses, and are far below the requisite near-perfect accuracy needed for such fundamental skills. Student error and response patterns are discussed for both problem types.

Published February 1, 2014
Last Modified January 31, 2014

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