Mathematical habits of mind for introductory physics

Steve Kanim

New Mexico State University

Physics education researchers have long been interested in students' conceptual understanding of physics topics. One general finding is that a robust conceptual understanding of the material is not a typical outcome of traditional instruction: For most students this understanding develops only with a change in course emphasis, preferably aided by research-based curricular materials. Recently, physics education researchers have broadened the scope of their investigations beyond initial focuses on conceptual understanding and problem solving to include topics such as student identity and epistemology, and we again see that desirable outcomes require curricular changes based on a research foundation. Both for researchers and for physics instructors, then, it is more important than ever to clarify our intent: What is it that we hope to achieve in our physics courses, and how do we prioritize our course goals?

Important research and curriculum development has emerged from Rutgers University based on a recognition that most students don't really understand how science works, that their understanding is not substantially improved through traditional physics instruction, and that this is an important broader goal both for STEM majors and for students who are taking a terminal physics course. As with conceptual understanding, the development of scientific habits of mind requires an explicit course focus, with curricular materials designed to allow students to observe carefully, develop hypotheses and models, and invent experiments to test their ideas.


Last modified: Mon Nov 16 09:02:44 2015