Symbols: Weapons of Math Destruction
AAPT Summer Meeting, Greensboro, NC
In studies involving nearly 1000 students we have found that numeric versions of certain questions have averages of almost 50% higher than equivalent symbolic versions. Analysis of students, written work as well as student interviews has revealed that the explanation for a large portion of the effect is not related to algorithmic symbolic manipulations, but instead to a confusion of the meaning of the symbols used. Common confusions found in the symbolic version were rarely observed for the numeric version of the same problem.
In this talk we will describe a theoretical framework we have been using to describe this numeric/symbolic effect. The framework highlights cultural assumptions physicists make about the meaning of symbols and also describes factors that influence the numeric/symbolic effect. We will also discuss the connections between the numeric/symbolic effect and success in physics.
E. Torigoe & G. Gladding (2007) PERC Proceedings 2006, 883, pp.153-156