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Faculty Sponsor

David Maloney

Department/Program

Physics

Abstract

Previous physics education research has demonstrated that students have many common sense ideas about the behavior of the physical world derived from their childhood experiences. This previous research has also demonstrated that these common sense ideas strongly affect what students can learn. This project works to uncover the common sense understanding of electrical forces between two charges that students bring to entry-level physics courses. Its main focus is to answer these questions: do students think that other objects affect the Coulomb force two charges exert on each other and, if so, what are their conceptions, or common sense ideas, about what alters the effect? The Coulomb force between two charged particles depends on the product of the two charges divided by the distance between them squared (๐น๐น=๐‘˜๐‘˜๐‘ž๐‘ž1 ๐‘ž๐‘ž2รท๐‘Ÿ๐‘Ÿ2) . Although this is a straightforward principle, many college students taking entry-level physics courses think that these interactions are much more complicated. We designed a series of questions to investigate the studentsโ€™ common sense ideas. These questions probe what the students are thinking by having them contrast a base scenario of two charges at a fixed distance away from each other with a series of scenarios having another charge, insulator, or conductor present. Students are also asked to explain how this new element changes the force between the two original charges, if at all. According to Coulombโ€™s law, the force between the charges at a fixed distance should not change from their interaction in the base case; however, student responses suggest otherwise. Students often believe that new elements alter what was true in the original scenario, proposing mechanisms such as insulators absorbing forces or conductors amplifying forces. Discovering how students think about the interactions between charged particles and whether such ideas change with different student cohorts will allow educators to better counteract these common sense ideas. Knowing the ideas students are entering with will allow instructors to construct materials and activities that will enable students to gain a deeper and more thorough understanding of the course material and how the natural world actually behaves.

Disciplines

Physics

Investigating Student's Common Sense Ideas of Coulomb's Law

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Physics Commons

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