Date of Award

2005

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Teaching

Advisor

Michael C. Wittmann

Second Committee Member

Eric Pandiscio

Third Committee Member

Tod Shockey

Abstract

A common problem in college level physics instruction is the promotion of the appropriate application and understanding of mathematics to help understand physical problems. It has been shown in a number of studies that students in introductory physics classes in both college and high school have difficulty using mathematics. It has also been shown that fluency in mathematics is an important factor of conceptual learning in physics. This thesis describes one approach to helping students apply their mathematical understanding in a physics classroom. The setting of the research is PHY 1 1 1, an introductory college level algebra based course using research based curricula. I provided students with 10 minutes of mathematics instruction at the start of each week's laboratory meeting with the intention of measuring how such a minor shift in instructional methods might affect their abilities to use mathematics and learn physics. My research study is designed to provide students with opportunities to access their mathematical training in the physics classroom in such a way that the logical skills from mathematics courses are activated in the physics classroom as well. I model student reasoning in the classroom, specifically how students approach a situation by referring to resources, framing and the transfer of knowledge as well as the readout of appropriate coordination classes. I model students receiving instructional treatment as developing an automatic activation of mathematics based knowledge resources in conjunction with and as a result of the activation of physics based knowledge resources. I measured the success of the intervention using a simple mathematics assessment given to all students in the study both at the beginning and the end of the course. I used the results of these assessments to show that the students receiving the intervention improved their ability to perform some mathematical tasks in a physics classroom. I used several metrics to identify the effects of the treatment on physics learning. I find that students receiving the intervention improved their ability to learn concepts in physics over the students in the control group. The effect was a delayed effect which is consistent with the cognitive model used. The increase in conceptual learning in physics is consistent with the literature.

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