Investigating First Year University Physics Students’ Ability to Integrate Algebraic and Kinematics Graphs
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Keywords:Interpretations, Kinematics, Equations and graphs, Mathematical skills, Conceptual knowledge, Introductory physics
An important tool in the teaching and learning or study of physics is regarded as Mathematics, i.e., it will not be easy to study Physics without the basic knowledge and skills in Mathematics. Mathematics as a “language of science”, and is an expected requirement for students to study physics (Redish, 2005). He furthers argues that physicists blend conceptual physics with mathematical skills and use them to solve and interpret equations and graphs. For instance, in kinematics, different aspects from mathematics such as knowledge of functions and the solving of equations are combined with physics concepts. Many introductory physics students perform poorly on the use of mathematical skills and interpretations of graphs in physics. Two possible reasons may be as follows: i. Students lack the necessary mathematical skills needed to solve the physics problems. ii. Students do not know how to apply and relate their mathematical skills in the context of physics. These two possible reasons were investigated in a Masters Research project which probed first year university students’ interpretations of graphs in kinematics and in mathematics. This paper used the idea of Beichner’s standardized questionnaire on kinematic graphs. From this questionnaire, an equivalent questionnaire was devised in the context of Mathematical equations and graphs. The results of the investigation tend to indicate the deficiencies in the students’ mathematical conceptual knowledge as well as in the transfer of mathematical skills that they possess to solve kinematic equations and graphs. New teaching approaches in the introductory physics, a pre-requite for all STEM studies were thus recommended to enhance student performance in this subject.
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