Student thinking about the divergence and curl in mathematics and physics contexts

Charles Baily, Laurens Bollen, Andrew Pattie, Paul van Kampen, Mieke De Cock

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

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Undergraduate physics students are known to have difficulties with understanding mathematical tools, and with applying their knowledge of mathematics to physical contexts. Using survey statements based on student interviews and written responses to open-ended questions, we investigated the prevalence of correct and incorrect conceptions regarding the divergence and curl of vector fields, among both mathematics and physics students. We compare and contrast pre-instruction responses from intermediate-level E&M students at KU Leuven and the University of St Andrews, with post-instruction responses from St Andrews students enrolled in a vector calculus course. The differences between these student populations were primarily in areas having to do with physics-related concepts and graphical representations of vector fields. Our comparison of pre- and post-instruction responses from E&M students shows that their understanding of the divergence and curl improved significantly in most areas, though not as much as would be desired.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2015 Physics Education Research Conference
EditorsAlice D. Churukian, Dyan Jones, Lin Ding
PublisherAmerican Association of Physics Teachers
Number of pages4
ISBN (Print)978-1-931024-28-0
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2016
EventPhysics Education Research Conference 2015 - Maryland, College Park, United States
Duration: 29 Jul 201530 Jul 2015

Publication series

NamePER Conference series
PublisherAmerican Association of Physics Teachers
ISSN (Print)2377-2379


ConferencePhysics Education Research Conference 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityCollege Park


  • Physics education research


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