TitlePrompting Special-Case Analysis in Classical Mechanics
Publication TypePresentation
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsHahn, Kelby T., Emigh Paul J., Lenz MacKenzie, and Gire Elizabeth

One way that physics experts check and gain new insights into their answers is by performing special-case analysis. Special-case analysis involves (1) restricting the parameter space of a problem to a case where the solution is either known or can be intuited, and then (2) either making a judgement about answer correctness or gaining new insight into the problem. This research project examines how students in classical mechanics perform special-cases analysis. We present analysis of homework problems where students were either (1) explicitly prompted to perform a special-case analysis for given cases or (2) asked to make sense of their answer but the special-case-analysis strategy was not specifically prompted. We found that the cases students chose to analyze varied and that students used a variety of reasoning to defend and understand their cases. Surprisingly, few students made judgments. Of those who did, the types of judgements differed with prompting.

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