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Abstract Title: Students' Understanding of Density: A Cognitive Linguistics Perspective
Abstract: Density is an important, multifaceted concept that occurs at many levels of physics. Previous research has shown that a primary instantiation of the concept, mass density, is not well understood by students. Our research seeks to determine how students understand the broad concept of density, and whether particular aspects of their understanding are helpful in structuring the concept of charge density. Qualitative data were gathered from 172 freshmen. Broad, open ended questions prompted for responses involving free writing and drawn diagrams. Using the theoretical lens of Conceptual Metaphor Theory six underlying (foothold) concepts were identified in terms of which density was conceptualised: 'filled container'; 'packing'; 'weight/heaviness'; 'intensive property'; 'floating/sinking'; 'impenetrability/solidity'. The foothold concept of 'packing' proved to be the most productive for conceptualising 'charge density'. Responses involving drawing provided a better signal of a productive foothold concept, illustrating the prevalence of underlying metaphorical structure in creative or novel contexts.
Abstract Type: Contributed Poster Presentation

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Philip Southey
University of Cape Town
and Co-Presenter(s)
Saalih Allie; Dedra Demaree