Thesis Detail Page
written by Alexandru Maries
This thesis explores the role of multiple representations in introductory physics students' problem solving performance. Representations can help students focus on the conceptual aspects of physics and play a major role in effective problem solving. Diagrammatic representations can play a particularly important role in the initial stages of conceptual analysis and solution planning. Findings suggest students drawing productive diagrams are more successful problem solvers even if their approach is primarily mathematical. Furthermore, students provided with a diagram sometimes exhibited deteriorated performance. Think-aloud interviews suggest this is partly due to reduced conceptual planning time as students jump to implementation. Another study investigated two interventions aimed at improving introductory students' consistency between mathematical and graphical representations and revealed that excessive scaffolding can have a detrimental effect due in part to increased cognitive load. Students exhibiting representational consistency also showed improved problem solving performance.
Finally, a problem solving task was designed to investigate the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of graduate student teaching assistants (TAs). The TAs identified their choices of the most common difficulties of introductory physics students related to graphical representations of concepts occurring in the Test of Understanding Graphs in Kinematics (TUG-K). The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) was also used to assess this aspect of PCK for both physics instructors and TAs. We find that teaching an independent course and recent teaching experience do not correlate with improved PCK. In addition, the performance of American, Chinese, and foreign TAs in identifying common student difficulties in the context of the TUG-K and FCI is similar. Moreover, many common introductory physics students difficulties were not identified by many instructors and TAs.
University: University of Pittsburgh
Academic Department: Physics and Astronomy
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