Mathematical Conflict in Physics: Computation vs. Representation
AAPT Meeting, Salt Lake City, UT, August 2005 (Contributed Talk)
In introductory physics the algebraic equations are thought of in two different ways. The first is representational and the second is computational. In the first mode we represent a relationship between variables, and the latter mode we calculate the numeric value of a particular quantity. Physics experts view these two modes as strongly interconnected, and are very adept at coordinating between these two different uses of the equations. We have found evidence that novice physics students, on the other hand, have great difficulty coordinating between these two modes of thinking. Some students even seem to have conflicting methods for computation and representation. We will present some of our data about the mathematical conflict and describe our work to further understand its causes.