VU Physics and Astronomy Colloquium

Tuesday, February 19, at 8:30 AM in NSC 119.

"The Beginning and the End: Exploring the transition from representational dependence to representational fluency"

Dr. Mary Bridget Kustusch, Department of Physics, Oregon State University

One of the primary goals of physics is to model complex phenomena in order to understand mechanism. In the case of physics education research, the phenomena of interest are how people think about (and learn) physics, as well as how to facilitate the transition from physics student to professional physicist. This colloquium describes two studies that address one aspect of thinking like a physicist: the ability to use multiple representations appropriately to solve problems. In the first study, qualitative case-studies of faculty solving a challenging thermodynamics problem demonstrate the need for a broader definition of representation fluency to include how one chooses a solution path, as well as how one navigates within the path that is chosen. The second points to a need to understand representational dependence by using a mixed method (quantitative and qualitative) approach to model how introductory students' use of right-hand rules varies with the representational features of the given problem. Each study contributes to enlarging our understanding of the use of multiple representations in physics and, ultimately, to being better able to facilitate the transition from representational dependence to representational fluency.