University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group


UMD PERG PhD Dissertations:
Erin Soh

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Erin Sohr, Doctor of Philosophy, 2018

Dissertation directed by: Prof. Ayush Gupta, Dept. of Physics, and Prof. Andrew Elby, College of Education


This dissertation covers two distinct threads of research; both threads focus on understanding student-thinking in quantum mechanics and then draw implications for future research and instruction. The primary goal of this collection of work is, in any way possible, to improve instruction and find ways to better support students in their learning.

The first thread of research focuses on tension negotiation in collaborative group problem-solving. While group-work has become more commonplace in physics classes, this research provides instructors some means of seeing just how complicated group dynamics can be. In particular, I highlight one interactional pattern through which students resolve tension emerging in group interaction by closing conversations or conversational topics. In doing so, students leave some conceptual line of reasoning unresolved. This work provides important insights into helping instructors understand and respond to group dynamics and conversational closings.

The second thread of work focuses on flexible representation use. This thread has two similar lines of research. The first focuses on how particular representations (wavefunction and external potential graphs) associated with the infinite-well and finite-well potentials can be used by students as tools to learn with. Adapting these models to new situations can lead to deeper understandings of both the model being adapted and the new situation. In some cases, the process of adaptation is not impeded by the student lacking a sophisticated understanding of the model being adapted. The second line of research on representation use focuses on the reflexiveness of student inquiry with representations. In reflexive reasoning, the student’s sensemaking shapes, and is shaped by, the representations they draw and animate. This form of inquiry stands in contrast with traditional notions of proficiency in using representations which tend to highlight reproducing standard representational forms and then reading-out information from those forms. In this work, I highlight how this non-linear, reflexive sense-making is supported by the development of coherent, coupled systems of representations and attention to particular figural features, leading to the generation of new meaning.

Thesis in PDF format.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Taking an Escape Hatch: Managing Tension in Group Discourse
  3. Learning with and about toy models in QM
  4. Designing Disruptions to Wavefunction Infrastructure for Flexible Representation Use
  5. Conclusions

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