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Abstract Title: How Plug and Chug Interferes with Symbolic Problem Solving
Abstract: Several studies indicate that physics students perform worse on symbolic problems, those with symbols and no numbers, than on numeric problems, those involving numbers. We studied the mathematical strategies used by students (N = 477) in a second semester introductory physics course to solve long answer, free response questions during a final exam in a second semester introductory physics course.  The students were randomly given symbolic or numeric versions of two problems. While there was one dominant strategy observed in the numeric problems, there were a variety of strategies used in the symbolic problems. We hypothesize that on the version with numbers, the students were guided by a plug-and-chug approach that focused on solving for the remaining non-numeric variable symbol. Without that structure in the symbolic version, they are much more likely to choose a random variable to isolate and solve.
Abstract Type: Symposium Poster
Parallel Session: Probing understanding of the sophisticated use of "simple" mathematics in physics
Session Time: Parallel Sessions Cluster III

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Eugene Torigoe
Thiel College
and Co-Presenter(s)
Andrew Meyertholen, Shuwang Zhang, and Alan He, University of Toronto