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Abstract Title: Student Reasoning About the Divergence of a Vector Field in Advanced Undergraduate Electromagnetism
Abstract: Expanding our knowledge of student difficulties with advanced undergraduate electromagnetism is essential if we are to develop effective instructional materials.  Drawing on in-class observations, student interviews and written responses to conceptual assessment questions, we document specific epistemological tools that students draw on when reasoning about the divergence of a vector field.  Many students mistakenly associate a non-zero divergence of the electric field at the location of a point charge with a global property of the field everywhere in space, and frequently rely on a more colloquial meaning of "divergence" (corresponding to field lines "spreading out"), even when this conflicts with their understanding of Gauss' law in differential form.  Students may also struggle to reconcile the implications of Gauss' law for magnetic fields with unphysical idealizations used for mathematical convenience.
Abstract Type: Contributed Poster Presentation

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Cecilia Astolfi
University of St Andrews
St Andrews, Scotland, UK,
Co-Author(s)
and Co-Presenter(s)
Charles Baily
University of St Andrews

Contributed Paper

Contributed Paper: Download the Contributed Paper