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Lena Blackmon

Lena Blackmon

Stanford University

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Lena Blackmon · PERC Summer Meeting 2020

Characterizing the mathematical problem-solving strategies of advanced novice physics students

Much work has been done to characterize the reasoning of students as they solve mathematics-intensive problems. In this work, we characterize the problem-solving strategies in a classroom setting of advanced novices: students who have completed an introductory physics course but are far from expert-like in their reasoning. We find that students mostly use intermediate strategies that reflect an understanding of specific relationships between quantities, such as analyzing the units of an expression, to reason about mathematical expressions. Few students use more sophisticated strategies like checking limits, which require students to make predictions about how a system will behave. Our results show that there is a need to recognize and teach these intermediary strategies to enable more novice students to check their answers. The teaching of more advanced strategies like limit checking will require careful scaffolding, as students generally do not succeed when simply told to check limits.