First Year Physics Students’ Expectations of the Role of Mathematics in Physics

Jeanne Kriek, Reuben D Koontse

Abstract


Students’ use of mathematics in physics is one area where expectations impact significantly on the learning of physics. First-year physics students' expectations of the role of mathematics in physics were explored to determine if that provided an indication of their actual behavior when solving problems, a contributing factor to their learning of physics. Three data sources (Student Expectations of the Role of Mathematics in Physics (SERMP) survey, focus group interviews and students' test scripts) were used. A theoretical framework for physics education was selected which lead to a two-level system; a knowledge-structure level where associational patterns dominate, and a control structure level where one can describe expectations and epistemology. A survey and focus group interviews were used to investigate 193 University of Botswana (UB) 1st-year physics students’ expectations of the use of mathematics in physics. To explore the effect of students’ expectations on their actual use of mathematics when solving physics problems these students' test scripts were analyzed. It was found that students were aware of what they were able to do (self-efficacy). Therefore students’ expectations need to inform the way teaching of physics is done, especially in tutorial sessions where the focus of some universities is on solving problems

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