Meredith Marrongelle - AJP 2008

How students use mathematical resources in an electrostatics context
American Journal of Physics -- June 2008 -- Volume 76, Issue 6, pp. 570-578

Dawn C. Meredith, Karen A. Marrongelle

We present evidence that although students' mathematical skills in introductory calculus-based physics classes may not be readily applied in physics contexts, these students have strong mathematical resources on which to build effective instruction. Our evidence is based on clinical interviews of problem solving in electrostatics, which are analyzed using the framework of Sherin's symbolic forms. We find that students use notions of “dependence” and “parts-of-a-whole” to successfully guide their work, even in novel situations. We also present evidence that students' naive conceptions of the limit may prevent them from viewing integrals as sums.