To facilitate the course transformation process for one specific content area — upper-division electrostatics — this thesis presents two new methodological tools: (1) an analytical framework designed to investigate students' struggles with the advanced physics content and mathematically sophisticated tools/techniques required at the junior and senior level, and (2) a new multiple-response conceptual assessment designed to measure student learning and assess the effectiveness of different curricular approaches.
We first describe the development and theoretical grounding of a new analytical framework designed to characterize how students use mathematical tools and techniques during physics problem solving.
Is the collapse of the wave function an ad hoc rule, or a physical transition not described by any equation?
Does an electron, being a form of matter, exist as a localized particle at all times?
We observe gender differences on several measures in the introductory physics courses: females are less likely to take a high school physics course than males and have lower standardized mathematics test scores; males outscore females on both pre- and post-course conceptual physics surveys and in-class exams; and males have more expert-like attitudes and beliefs about physics than females.
These background differences of males and females account for 60% to 70% of the gender gap that we observe on a post-course survey of conceptual physics understanding.
A common learning goal for modern physics instructors is for students to recognize a difference between the experimental uncertainty of classical physics and the fundamental uncertainty of quantum mechanics.
Our studies suggest this notoriously difficult task may be frustrated by the intuitively realist perspectives of introductory students, and a lack of ontological flexibility in their conceptions of light and matter.
We then describe the development of a novel, multiple-response version of an existing conceptual assessment in upper-division electrostatics courses.
The goal of this new version is to provide an easily-graded electrostatics assessment that can potentially be implemented to investigate student learning on a large scale.