This thesis explores the role of multiple representations in introductory physics students’ problem solving performance through several investigations. Representations can help students focus on the conceptual aspects of physics and play a major role in effective problem solving. Diagrammatic representations can play a particularly important role in the initial stages of conceptual analysis and planning of the problem solution. Findings suggest that students who draw productive diagrams are more successful problem solvers even if their approach is primarily mathematical. Furthermore, students provided with a diagram of the physical situation presented in a problem sometimes exhibited deteriorated performance. Think-aloud interviews suggest that this deteriorated performance is in part due to reduced conceptual planning time which caused students to jump to the implementation stage without fully understanding the problem and planning problem solution. Another study investigated two interventions aimed at improving introductory students’ representational consistency between mathematical and graphical representations and revealed that excessive scaffolding can have a detrimental effect. The detrimental effect was partly due to increased cognitive load brought on by the additional steps and instructions. Moreover, students who exhibited representational consistency also showed improved problem solving performance.
The final investigation is centered on a problem solving task designed to provide information about the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of graduate student teaching assistants (TAs). In particular, the TAs identified what they considered to be the most common difficulties of introductory physics students related to graphical representations of kinematics concepts as they occur in the Test of Understanding Graphs in Kinematics (TUG-K). As an extension, the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) was also used to assess this aspect of PCK related to knowledge of student difficulties of both physics instructors and TAs. We find that teaching an independent course and recent teaching experience do not correlate with improved PCK. In addition, the performance of American TAs, Chinese TAs and other foreign TAs in identifying common student difficulties both in the context of the TUG-K and in the context of the FCI is similar. Moreover, there were many common difficulties of introductory physics students that were not identified by many instructors and TAs.
|School:||University of Pittsburgh|
|School Location:||United States -- Pennsylvania|
|Source:||DAI-A 75/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Science education, Theoretical physics|
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