University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Friday, February 26th 2016
3:35 pm:
Speaker: Emily Smith from Oregon State University
Subject: Why are complex numbers and functions hard in physics?

Complex numbers and functions are used in several fields of physics including electricity and magnetism, classical mechanics, and quantum mechanics. However, as my initial research showed, formal instruction on complex algebra in the undergraduate curriculum at Oregon State University tended to repeat the same simple introduction multiple times, rather than providing a more extended treatment. We have developed and implemented assessments and interviews to gauge junior physics majors' developing fluency with complex algebra in a longitudinal study. I have identified tasks which are new to most students and have further delineated skills according to those which are easy to learn and retain, those which are fundamentally easy but cause persistent difficulties, and those which are actually difficult. Results from interviews, pretests, quizzes, and exam problems have suggested changes to in-class instruction, homework problems, and other resources in both mathematics and physics contexts. I will discuss how studies of this nature might inform changes to the curriculum and the development of computer problem solving coaches.

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