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PERC 2010 Abstract Detail Page

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Abstract Title: Investigating student understanding of thermodynamics concepts and underlying integration concepts
Abstract: As part of work on student understanding of concepts in advanced thermal physics, we are exploring student understanding of the mathematics underlying physics concepts. One area in which we have done this is with integration in the contexts of thermodynamic (P-V) work, which is process-dependent, and changes in internal energy, a (process-independent) state function. Physics majors answered paired questions, one in a physics context and the other an analogous integration question stripped of physical context, to investigate whether some of the difficulties identified as physics conceptual difficulties could have origins in the mathematics. We found similar difficulties in the work and one-dimensional integral questions. With state functions, student performance strongly favored the physics version. We also asked the math questions to calculus students, with similar results. Our findings have implications for mathematical roots of some physics conceptual difficulties and for student understanding of, and the overlooked sophistication of, canonical representations.
Abstract Type: Contributed Poster

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: John R. Thompson
University of Maine
Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
5709 Bennett Hall
Orono, ME 04469-5709
and Co-Presenter(s)
Donald B. Mountcastle, University of Maine