Student Understanding of the Physics and Mathematics of Process Variables in P-V Diagrams Documents

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Student Understanding Of The Physics And Mathematics Of Process Variables In P-V Diagrams 

written by Evan B. Pollock, John R. Thompson, and Donald B. Mountcastle

Students in an upper-level thermal physics course were asked to compare quantities related to the First Law of Thermodynamics along with similar mathematical questions devoid of all physical context. We report on a comparison of student responses to physics questions involving interpretation of ideal gas processes on P-V diagrams and to analogous mathematical qualitative questions about the signs of and comparisons between the magnitudes of various integrals. Student performance on individual questions combined with performance on the paired questions shows evidence of isolated understanding of physics and mathematics. Some difficulties are addressed by instruction.

Published November 12, 2007
Last Modified December 1, 2010

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