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Abstract Title: Upper-division Student Difficulties with the Dirac Delta Function
Abstract: The Dirac delta function is a standard mathematical tool used in multiple topical areas within the undergraduate physics curriculum.  While Dirac delta functions are often introduced in order to simplify a problem mathematically, students often struggle to manipulate and interpret them.  To better understand student difficulties with the delta function at the upper-division level, we examined responses to traditional exam questions and conducted think-aloud interviews.  Our analysis was guided by an analytical framework that focuses on how students activate, construct, execute, and reflect on the Dirac delta function in physics.  Here, we focus on student difficulties using the delta function to express charge distributions in the context of junior-level electrostatics.  Challenges include: invoking the delta function spontaneously, constructing two- and three-dimensional delta functions, integrating delta functions in different coordinate systems, and recognizing that the delta function has units.  We also discuss possible implications of these findings for instruction.
Abstract Type: Contributed Poster Presentation

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Bethany R. Wilcox
University of Colorado Boulder
and Co-Presenter(s)
Steven J. Pollock, University of Colorado Boulder

Contributed Paper

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Contributed Poster

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