Bing Redish - AJP 2008

Symbolic manipulators affect mathematical mindsets.
American Journal of Physics, Volume 76, Number 4 (April 2008), pp. 418-424

Thomas J. Bing, Edward F. Redish

The use of symbolic calculators such as MATHEMATICA is becoming more commonplace among upper level physics students. The presence of such powerful calculators can couple strongly to the type of mathematical reasoning students employ. These tools do not merely offer students a convenient way to perform the calculations they would have otherwise done by hand. We present examples from the work of upper level physics majors where MATHEMATICA plays an active role in focusing and sustaining their thoughts around calculation. These students still engage in powerful mathematical reasoning while they calculate, but struggle because of the narrowed breadth of their thinking. We model MATHEMATICA’S influence as an integral part of the constant feedback that occurs in how students frame, and hence focus, their work.