Starting with Physics: A Problem-Solving Activity for High-School Students Connecting Physics and Mathematics
Problem-solving plays a central role among the various manifestations of the interrelations between physics and mathematics in the high-school physics classroom.
Research on the problem-solving habits of physics high-school students shows that they often start and end solving problems by looking for seemingly relevant formulas, thus decrementing the development of their physics understanding. From another perspective, teachers were found to employ in their teaching different phys-math patterns which share in common one aspect: they all begin from physics (qualitatively) before moving on to mathematics.
Here we describe a study on the use of a classroom activity (“Starting with Physics”) that attempts to motivate students to employ, when solving problems, physics concepts and principles before using formulas and other mathematical manipulations technically. Students receive only the first part of a problem consisting of a textual description of a phenomenon and the relevant mathematical information, without any subsequent questions. They are asked to describe and explain the phenomenon by using physics concepts and principles without using equations.
A study was carried out in physics high-school classes that used this activity. The findings indicate that most of the students managed to adequately describe the events using appropriate physics concepts and principles and that the mathematics that they utilized helped them promote their physics understanding. The students were cognizant of the rationale of the activity’s design and its important contribution to their learning. This activity is highly appreciated by physics teachers. They claim that it emphasizes the common underlying physical principles of apparently different problems and supports problem-solving in physics. However, it is necessary to carry it out with the same students several times in order to bring about its habitual use.
KeywordsPhysics-mathematics interrelations Physics concepts and principles Qualitative explanations Reflection and metacognition Qualitative problem-solving
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