Examining Students' Representation Choices in University Modeling Instruction

Daryl R McPadden, Florida International University


Representations (such as pictures, diagrams, word descriptions, equations, etc.) are critical tools for learning, problem solving, and communicating in science, particularly in physics where multiple representations often serve as intermediate steps, a means to evaluate a solution, and highlight different aspects a physical phenomenon. This dissertation explores the representation choices made by students in the University Modeling Instruction (MI) courses on problems from across introductory physics content. Modeling Instruction is a two-semester introductory, calculus-based physics sequence that was designed to guide students through the process of building, testing, applying, and refining models. As a part of this modeling cycle, students have explicit instruction and practice in building, evaluating, and coordinating representations in introductory physics. Since I am particularly interested in representations across all of introductory physics, this work was situated in the second semester of MI. To address students' representation choices, the Problem Solving and Representation Use Survey (PSRUS) was developed as modified card sort survey, which asked students to simply list the representations that they would use on 25 physics questions from across introductory physics. Using non-parametric statistical tests (Mann-Whitney-Wilcox, Wilcoxon-Ranked Sign, and Cliff's Delta), I compare the number and variety of representations that students choose. Initially, students who took the first semester of MI use significantly more representations in their problem solving when compared to those who did not; however, there are significant gains in the number of representations that these students choose over the semester across the introductory physics content. After significant changes to the second semester MI curriculum, the difference between these two groups disappears, with both groups increasing their representation choices when compared to the previous semester. Using network analysis to compare students' concurrent representation choices, I also show that students use a consistent set of representations on mechanics problems; whereas, they choose a wider variety on electricity and magnetism (EM) problems. In both mechanics and EM, pictures serve as an important connecting representation between the others. I use these results to make suggestions for instructors, curriculum developers, and physics education researchers.

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Recommended Citation

McPadden, Daryl R, "Examining Students' Representation Choices in University Modeling Instruction" (2018). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10976835.