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Coordination of Mathematics and Physical Resources by Physics Graduate Students Documents

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Coordination of Mathematics and Physical Resources by Physics Graduate Students 

written by Ayush Gupta, Edward F. Redish, and David Hammer

We investigate the dynamics of how graduate students coordinate their mathematics and physics knowledge within the context of solving a homework problem for a plasma physics survey course. Students were asked to obtain the complex dielectric function for a plasma with a specified distribution function and find the roots of that expression. While all the 16 participating students obtained the dielectric function correctly in one of two equivalent expressions, roughly half of them (7 of 16) failed to compute the roots correctly. All seven took the same initial step that led them to the incorrect answer. We note a perfect correlation between the specific expression of dielectric function obtained and the student's success in solving for the roots. We analyze student responses in terms of a resources framework and sug- gest routes for future research.

Published November 12, 2007
Last Modified December 1, 2010

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