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American Journal of Physics

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Mathematics -- Study and teaching -- Research, Physics -- Study and teaching, Electrostatics -- Study and teaching


We present evidence that although students’ mathematical skills in introductory calculus-based physics classes may not be readily applied in physics contexts, these students have strong mathematical resources on which to build effective instruction. Our evidence is based on clinical interviews of problem solving in electrostatics, which are analyzed using the framework of Sherin’s symbolic forms. We find that students use notions of “dependence” and “parts-of-a-whole” to successfully guide their work, even in novel situations. We also present evidence that students’ naive conceptions of the limit may prevent them from viewing integrals as sums.


Copyright 2008 American Association of Physics Teachers. This article may be downloaded for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the American Association of Physics Teachers. The following article appeared in American Journal of Physics. June 2008, Vol. 76 Issue 6, p.570-578 and may be found at:



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