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Abstract Title: Making Sense of Physics Sensemaking
Abstract: The scientific endeavor is fundamentally about making sense of the universe. Sensemaking should therefore be supported explicitly by physics instruction. However, recognizing sensemaking often relies on expert intuition rather than clear definitions. This session aims to add sharpness and coherence to this often fuzzy or fragmented theoretical construct. In our talks, we will characterize physics sensemaking in a variety of educational contexts (secondary school, undergraduate courses, and clinical interviews). We aim to spark a discussion of sensemaking in physics as a theoretical construct, clarify its meaning, and suggest approaches for cultivating it in physics instruction.
Abstract Type: Talk Symposium
Session Time: Parallel Sessions Cluster II
Room: Meeting Room 5

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: R. Russ
University of Wisconsin, Madison
and Co-Presenter(s)
A. Elby, P. Emigh, E. Gire, A. Gupta, K. Hahn, M. M. Hull, S. Kapon, E. Kuo, M. Lenz, T. Odden, R. Russ, M. Schvartzer

Symposium Specific Information

Presentation 1 Title: Vexing Questions that Sustain Sensemaking
Presentation 1 Authors: Tor Ole Odden, University of Oslo
Rosemary Russ
Presentation 1 Abstract: Many physics instructors aim to support student sensemaking in their classrooms. However, this can be challenging since instances of sensemaking are often short-lived, with students defaulting back to approaches based on answer-making or rote mathematical manipulation. In this talk, we will present evidence that specific types of student questions can serve a key role in sustaining the sensemaking process. Using a case-study of two students discussing an E&M thought experiment, we show how students' entry into sensemaking is marked by a specific question and how this question recurs throughout their subsequent explanation, arguing that these recurrences may serve to stabilize and extend the sensemaking process. We will then describe instructional and research implications of these types of vexing questions.
Presentation 2 Title: Sensemaking as exploiting affordances in the problem space
Presentation 2 Authors: Eric Kuo, University of Pittsburgh
Andrew Elby, University of Maryland
Ayush Gupta, University of Maryland
Michael M. Hull, University of Vienna
Presentation 2 Abstract: Physics problem solving requires navigation of an interconnected web of elements in a problem space, which includes physical and mathematical principles and ideas. We propose that "sensemaking during problem solving" means seeking out, establishing, and exploiting connections between the elements of the problem space that afford solutions.  This sensemaking framework adequately describes current characterizations of problem solving, but, more importantly, expands the focus of research in problem-solving sensemaking in two ways.  First, this framework can capture other types of connections not well-described by established problem-solving protocols. Second, this framework brings focus to the process of sensemaking, not just the outcomes of sensemaking. That is, learning how to sensemake means learning the process of how to seek out and recognize new kinds of affordances in complex problem spaces.  We close by discussing the implications of this framework for instruction and future research.
Presentation 3 Title: Nurturing sensemaking of, through, and with a mathematical model
Presentation 3 Authors: Shulamit Kapon, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
Maayan Schvartzer, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
Presentation 3 Abstract: Mathematization provides a powerful form of reasoning and sensemaking in physics. However, high school and undergraduate physics students rarely use it as a tool for sensemaking. We discuss findings from an ethnographic study in schools where all the K11-K12 students enrolled in advanced physics courses conduct an individual or paired long-term research project (18 months). The students carry out their research in the school laboratory, guided by physics teachers who act as research mentors. We followed them for the full duration of a project (12-18 months). The unit of analysis is a mentor and his/her mentees. We use examples from one of these case studies to unpack and illustrate how mathematization as a form of sensemaking can be nurtured in a research apprenticeship by necessitating the use of formalism, and scaffolding the understanding of its explicit and implicit meanings. This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant No. 325/17).
Presentation 4 Title: Helping physics majors evaluate their own answers to physics problems
Presentation 4 Authors: Elizabeth Gire, Oregon State University
Paul Emigh, Oregon State University
MacKenzie Lenz, Oregon State University
Kelby Hahn, Oregon State University
Presentation 4 Abstract: The universe has no solution manual and we physicists need ways of evaluating our own solutions to the problems we consider. This "solution evaluation" is just one aspect of physics sensemaking. To help students become more powerful physics sensemakers and build a habit of evaluating their solutions, we have developed an intermediate mechanics course for sophomore-level physics majors that has an explicit focus on physics sensemaking, particularly solution evaluation. We will discuss analysis of the ways students evaluate their own solutions and their evaluations of algebraic answers we provide. We find that our students have a dizzying variety of ways of making sense of algebraic answers to physics problems, even when we suggest specific strategies to try. Some of these strategies have two stages - a manipulation stage and a judgment stage. We find that students are quite proficient in making manipulations and need more support in making productive judgments.