Understanding students poor performance on mathematical problem solving in physics

Understanding studentsí poor performance on mathematical problem solving in physicsUnderstanding students poor performance on mathematical problem solving in physics

Jonathan Tuminaro and Edward F. Redish

University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, tuminarj@physics.umd.edu

Many introductory, algebra-based physics students perform poorly on mathematical problem solving tasks in physics. There are at least two possible, distinct reasons for this poor performance: (1) Students lack the mathematical skills needed to solve problems in physics, or (2) students do not know how to apply the mathematical skills they have to particular problem situations in physics. Many physics faculty assume that the lack of mathematicalskillsistheproblem. Wepresentevidencesuggestingthatthemajorsource of studentsí errors is their failure to apply the mathematical knowledge they have or to interpret that knowledge in a physical context. Additionally, we present an instructional strategy that can help students employ the mathematical knowledge they already possess.

Understanding studentsí poor performance on mathematical problem solving in physics

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