Black Ph.D.: Air resistance problems, resources, and epistemic games

Katrina E. Black

Multiple Perspectives on Student Solution Methods for Air Resistance Problems

Physics education researchers use many frameworks to observe and analyze student understanding in physics - each is useful for understanding and explaining particular student behaviors. In this dissertation, I focus on two: difficulties and knowledge in pieces. In the difficulties paradigm, researchers focus on identifying specific topics or questions that pose challenges to students without making claims regarding underlying cognition. In the pieces paradigm, the focus is on describing the structure of student ideas, which are often found to be developed on-the-fly, easy to change, and can be described as made up of chunks of knowledge that are not inherently correct or incorrect. I use both video and written data collection methods and the difficulties and pieces theoretical frameworks to examine aspects of students' solutions to first-order separable differential equations in an air-resistance context. I uncover several difficulties students have when applying boundary conditions, and develop a new graphic, the consistency plot, that allows researchers to track individual student responses over time. Additionally, using air resistance as a context, I expand upon resources, a model of student thinking that falls into the pieces paradigm. I both expand the resources model directly and make connections between it and other modes of analysis present but less common in physics education research: epistemic games, gesture analysis, conceptual blending, and Process/Object theory. Introducing procedural resources as a type of resource allows the resources model to better describe students' problem-solving activities. I give several examples of procedural resources used in the incorporation of boundary conditions, and I show how procedural resources can be organized into facets of epistemic games. I also examine the creation of procedural resources. Drawing from the traditions of gesture analysis, conceptual blending, and Process/Object theory, I consider the internal structure of two procedural resources, Group and Move, and give a plausible path for the creation of the resource Separate Variables.

Black, Katrina E., "Multiple Perspectives on Student Solution Methods for Air Resistance Problems" (2010). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 1091.



Frank on the stability of students' thinking

Brian W. Frank

Multiple Conceptual Coherences in the Speed Tutorial: Micro-processes of Local Stability
Proceedings of the 9th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2010) - Volume 1, Full Papers, pp.873-881
Published on line at arXiv:1008.3258v1

Researchers working within knowledge-in-pieces traditions have often employed observational approaches to investigate micro-processes of learning. There is growing evidence from this line of work that students' intuitive thinking about physical phenomena is characterized more so by its diversity and flexibility than its uniformity and robustness. This characterization implies that much of the dynamics of students' thinking over short timescales involve processes that stabilize local patterns of thinking, later destabilize them, and allow other patterns to form. This kind of "change" may only involve dynamics by which the system of intuitive knowledge settles into various states without changing the system structure itself. I describe a case study in which a group of college students shift their thinking about motion several times during a collaborative learning activity. Instead of focusing on micro-processes of change, I describe these dynamics in terms of mechanisms that contribute to local stability of students' conceptual coherences.


Wittmann on conceptual blending in wave propagation

Michael C. Wittmann
Using conceptual blending to describe emergent meaning in wave propagation
Proceedings of the 2010 International Conference on the Learning Sciences

Students in interviews on a wave physics topic give answers through embodied actions which connect their understanding of the physics to other common experiences. When answering a question about wavepulses propagating along a long taut spring, students' gestures help them recruit information about balls thrown the air. I analyze gestural, perceptual, and verbal information gathered using videotaped interviews and classroom interactions. I use conceptual blending to describe how different elements combine to create new, emergent meaning for the students and compare this to a knowledge-in-pieces approach.