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Abstract Title: How students’ conceptual understanding is influenced by the grammatical structure of physics equations
Abstract: In physics equations, each symbol stands for a physical quantity, and mathematical expressions define relationships between these physical quantities. How do physicists and physics students make sense of these abstract equations? We suggest a theoretical approach to this question that marries ideas and methods of functional grammar and perceptual symbol systems. In short, we propose that mathematics, as used in physics, shares many identifiable elements with those of the grammar of human languages.  Moreover, these elements seem to play a similar cognitive/symbolic purpose to their equivalent linguistic structures. Consequently, although many mathematical expressions may validly describe a given physics situation, few are contextually appropriate. We present a study revealing how physics students interpret mathematical structure. For example, different forms of the same equation influence students' models of the physical reality that the equation describes. We discuss the implications of this research for how students interpret mathematics in physics.
Abstract Type: Contributed Poster

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: David T. Brookes
Florida International University
Co-Author(s)
and Co-Presenter(s)
David H. Landy, University of Richmond
Jose P. Mestre, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign