Towards understanding and characterizing expert covariational reasoning in physics

Charlotte Zimmerman, Alexis Olsho, Suzanne White Brahmia, Michael Loverude, Andrew Boudreaux, Trevor Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

4 Scopus citations


Relating two quantities to describe a physical system or process is at the heart of “doing physics” for novices and experts alike. In this paper, we explore the ways in which experts use covariational reasoning when solving introductory physics graphing problems. Here, graduate students are considered experts for the introductory level material, as they often take the role of instructor at large research universities. Drawing on work from Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education (RUME), we replicated a study of mathematics experts’ covariational reasoning done by Hobson and Moore with physics experts [N. L. F. Hobson and K. C. Moore, in RUME Conference Proceedings, pp. 664-672 (2017)]. We conducted think-aloud interviews with 10 physics graduate students using tasks minimally adapted from the mathematics study. Adaptations were made solely for the purpose of participant understanding of the question, and validated by preliminary interviews. Preliminary findings suggest physics experts approach covariational reasoning problems significantly differently than mathematics experts. In particular, two behaviors are identified in the reasoning of expert physicists that were not seen in the mathematics study. We introduce these two behaviors, which we call Using Compiled Relationships and Neighborhood Analysis, and articulate their differences from the behaviors articulated by Hobson and Moore. Finally, we share implications for instruction and questions for further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPhysics Education Research Conference, PERC 2019
EditorsYing Cao, Steven Wolf, Michael Bennett
PublisherAmerican Association of Physics Teachers
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9781931024365
StatePublished - 2019
EventPhysics Education Research Conference, PERC 2019 - Provo, United States
Duration: Jul 24 2019Jul 25 2019

Publication series

NamePhysics Education Research Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1539-9028
ISSN (Electronic)2377-2379


ConferencePhysics Education Research Conference, PERC 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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