Abstract by Anna Bell
Physics and Astronomy
Constructing conceptual models of electric potentials and fields
Research has shown that there is a disconnect between conceptual and quantitative understanding among
physics students. To address this, we are creating a laboratory experience that involves students in
the construction of conceptual models that describe quantitative measurements. I will discuss a
conceptual model building activity that we are creating to address the abstract concepts of electric
potentials and fields. In this activity, students use a 3-D gravitational model to take measurements
and explore fields. The students then work out the similarities and differences between the
gravitational analogue they have been exploring to the 2-D electric field and potential lab completed
previously. We expect that the cognitive effort required to identify correlations between two seemingly
unrelated experiments will improve both quantitative and qualitative ability.
L. C. McDermott and P. S. Shaffer, "Research as a guide for curriculum development: An example from introductory electricity. Part I: Investigation of student understanding," AJP. 60, 994-1003 (November 1992).