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PERC 2012 Abstract Detail Page

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Abstract Title: Research on the learning and teaching of Thermodynamics: Insight from many perspectives
Abstract: Investigations into how what we should be teaching students about
thermodynamics, when it should be taught, and how they think about it
has occurred among middle school students up through physics faculty.
This session collects a cross-section of some of this rich work for a
holistic view of what we're trying to understand through our research
in this area and what methods and frameworks can be employed to parse
this significant area of research. Synergies across these invited
posters will enrich our perspectives on the content itself, how others
understand it and how we can effectively analyze it.
Abstract Type: Poster Symposium

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Warren Christensen
North Dakota State University

Symposium Specific Information

Discussant: Warren Christensen
Moderator: Warren Christensen
Presentation 1 Title: An Expert Path Through a Thermo Maze
Presentation 1 Authors: Mary Bridget Kustusch, Oregon State University
Corinne Manogue, Oregon State University
David Roundy, Oregon State University
Tevian Dray, Oregon State University
Presentation 1 Abstract: There have been several studies in recent years that have demonstrated that upper-division students struggle with partial derivatives and the complicated chain rules ubiquitous in thermodynamics. We asked several experts (primarily faculty who teach thermodynamics) to solve a challenging and novel thermodynamics problem to understand how they navigate through this maze. What we found was a tremendous variety in solution strategies and sense-making tools, both within and between individuals. This case study focuses on one particular expert: his solution path and use of sense-making tools. This expert was also asked to work the same problem using differentials (an approach taught in the Paradigms in Physics: Energy and Entropy course). This presentation will also discuss his reflections on how a differential method compared to his own approach and on the utility of using differentials in teaching undergraduates.
Presentation 2 Title: Conserving energy in physics and society: Creating an integrated model of energy and the second law of thermodynamics
Presentation 2 Authors: Abigail Daane, Seattle Pacific University
Stamatis Vokos, Seattle Pacific University
Rachel E. Scherr, Seattle Pacific University
Presentation 2 Abstract: Entropy is typically not a central focus either in introductory university physics textbooks or in national standards for secondary education. However, entropy is a key part of a strong conceptual model of energy, especially for connecting energy conservation to energy degradation and the irreversibility of processes. We are developing a conceptual model of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics as they relate to energy, with the goal of creating models and representations that link energy and entropy in a meaningful way for learners analyzing real-life energy scenarios. We expect this model to help learners better understand how their everyday experiences relate to formal physics analyses. Our goal is to develop tools for use with elementary and secondary teachers and secondary and university students.
Presentation 3 Title: Identifying Student Difficulties with Conflicting Ideas in Statistical Mechanics
Presentation 3 Authors: Trevor I. Smith, Dickinson College
John R. Thompson, University of Maine
Donald B. Mountcastle, University of Maine
Presentation 3 Abstract: In statistical mechanics there are two quantities that directly relate to the probability that a system at a temperature fixed by a thermal reservoir has a particular energy. The density of states function is related to the multiplicity of the system and indicates that occupation probability increases with energy. The Boltzmann factor is related to the multiplicity of the reservoir and indicates that occupation probability decreases with energy. This seems contradictory until one remembers that a complete probability distribution is determined by the total multiplicity of the system and its surroundings, requiring the product of these two functions. We present evidence from individual and group interviews that students knew how each of these functions relates to multiplicity but did not recognize the need to combine the two to characterize the physical scenario.
Presentation 4 Title: They still remember what I never taught them
Presentation 4 Authors: Michael Loverude, California State University Fullerton
Presentation 4 Abstract: As part of an ongoing project to examine student learning in upper-division courses in thermal and statistical physics, we have examined student reasoning about the approach of macroscopic objects to thermal equilibrium.  We have examined reasoning in terms of heat transfer, entropy maximization, and statistical treatments of multiplicity and probability.  In the current poster, we present student responses from a set of interviews completed 1-2 years after students had completed the thermal physics course.  Students gave a variety of responses, but most students gave answers that did not correspond to the models that they had been taught in the course.