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Abstract Title: Curriculum Development Addressing Multiplicity, Probability and Density of States in Statistical Physics
Abstract: In research on teaching and learning in upper-division statistical physics, we created a guided-inquiry activity (tutorial) addressing the discrete binomial distribution and its approximation by the continuous normal distribution. The curriculum emphasizes the distribution dependence on N, the number of binary trials, making extensive use of computational software with graphical displays, allowing N to span more than six orders of magnitude.  These activities provide excellent motivation for examining the increasing density of states toward the limit where integration of a continuous density function is required.  Thus, we have an ideal opportunity for students to engage the summation to integration transition of integral calculus.  The tutorial and a revised version were implemented during the past two years. Findings include improvement in recognition that the distributions become increasingly narrowed about the mean with increasing N.  However, significant confusion remains between microstates and macrostates and their roles in determining probability.
  * Support: NSF
Abstract Type: Contributed Poster

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Donald B. Mountcastle
University of Maine
Department of Physics and Astronomy
5709 Bennett Hall
Orono, ME 04469-5709
Phone: 207-581-1039
Fax: 207-581-3410
and Co-Presenter(s)
John R. Thompson
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Maine Center for Research in STEM Education
University of Maine