Improving Student Understanding of Vector Fields in Junior-Level E&M Documents

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Improving Student Understanding of Vector Fields in Junior-Level E&M 

written by Bert C. Xue, Ryan L. C. Hazelton, Peter S. Shaffer, and Paula R. L. Heron

Over the past several years, the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington has been developing tutorial worksheets for small-group sections for junior-level electrodynamics courses. We have observed that most of our students enter these courses with a working knowledge of static electric and magnetic fields in simple systems. However, many students have significant difficulties in transferring this knowledge to other vector fields. We first attempted to address these difficulties by having students draw analogies from basic static fields to new vector fields, but this strategy proved to be challenging for many students. Our subsequent attempt focused on familiarizing students with how the divergence and curl of a vector field defines that vector field. This approach is proving successful in enabling students to then relate this knowledge of general vector fields to understand newly introduced vector fields.

Last Modified December 1, 2016

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