TitleTeaching Gravitational Potential Energy: Student Interaction with Surface Manipulatives
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Conference2019
AuthorsKimbrough, Adrian, Paul J. Emigh, Jonathan W. Alfson, and Elizabeth Gire
Conference NamePhysics Education Research Conference
PublisherAmerican Association of Physics Teachers
Conference LocationProvo, UT

3D plastic surface models have been used to help students explore mathematical concepts related to functions of two variables. In order to understand how students reason with these models and their associated contour maps, we present analysis of three small groups of students working on an instructional activity designed to help students explore the relationship between gravitational potential energy and force for an Earth-satellite system. Students most often used the surface to examine functional behavior, discuss derivatives, and compare characteristics of the surface. Students often referred to the surface model in their explanations by pointing, gesturing, and tracing (without marking). Students held and drew on the surface less often, and rarely used the contour map. These results indicate that students may need additional support in using the contour map and encouragement to use props to visualize gradient vectors and viewing the surface from different vantage points.

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