Student understanding of Taylor series expansions in statistical mechanics

Trevor I. Smith, John R. Thompson, Donald B. Mountcastle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations

Abstract

One goal of physics instruction is to have students learn to make physical meaning of specific mathematical expressions, concepts, and procedures in different physical settings. As part of research investigating student learning in statistical physics, we are developing curriculum materials that guide students through a derivation of the Boltzmann factor using a Taylor series expansion of entropy. Using results from written surveys, classroom observations, and both individual think-aloud and teaching interviews, we present evidence that many students can recognize and interpret series expansions, but they often lack fluency in creating and using a Taylor series appropriately, despite previous exposures in both calculus and physics courses. Published by the American Physical Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article's title, journal citation, and DOI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number020110
JournalPhysical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research
Volume9
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 8 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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