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Abstract Title: Undergraduate Engineers' Sense-making of Mathematics
Abstract: We are investigating what facilitates or impedes mathematical sense-making -- seeking for meaning and coherence between mathematics and the physical system-- by students in their introductory physics and engineering courses. As such, we have administered epistemological surveys and conducted clinical interviews with students in introductory physics and basic circuits courses. A comparison of clinical interviews of two students, Matt and Emily, illustrates a trend: the tendency to hook up mathematical formalism to the physical intuition facilitates conceptual understanding and problem-solving.  Although Matt and Emily both possess the needed basic math skills and physical ideas, Matt solves problems more fluidly and successfully for two reasons: (1) he has formed cognitive units, called symbolic forms [1], in which an algebraic template is tied to a conceptual interpretation, and (2) his epistemological beliefs about math, unlike Emily's, support his using these symbolic forms as a central part of his problem solving.

[1]Cognition and Instruction, 19(4), pgs 479-541, 2001
Abstract Type: Contributed Poster

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Mike Hull
University of Maryland PERG
University of Maryland Department of Physics
082 Regents Drive
College Park, MD 20742-4111
Phone: (301) 405-6185
Co-Author(s)
and Co-Presenter(s)
Co-author:
Eric Kuo
University of Maryland PERG
(301) 405-6185
erickuo -at- umd.edu