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Research group „Teaching and Learning at the Junction of Physics and Mathematics“

Mathematics is often called the “language of science”. Such role is most prominent with respect to physics. Relations and theories in physics can be precisely formulated and effectively communicated by means of mathematics. For example, motions are described by equations, and changes in position, velocity and acceleration can be connected to each other through applying the mathematical derivative concept. And concepts from group theory are, for instance, applied in solid state or particle physics. From the perspective of science education research, mathematizing is thus a central element for developing scientific literacy. In physics education, consensus is emerging about mathematizing be increased successively across middle school to not overburden students. In high school, students should develop the foundations for a potential study of physics at university, in scope of which mathematizing is particularly present. Despite the distinguished role of mathematics for the scientific discipline of physics, there are some open questions from the physics education view, such as: Which role does mathematics play within the learning of physics, and which understanding of the mathematizing in physics is needed by the end of high school to successfully start a physics study at the university?

These questions are approached by the group Teaching and learning at the junction of physics and mathematics in scope of three central research projects:

  • On the one hand, mathematizing in physics is explored by investigating the role of an adequate epistemological understanding physics concepts may help students to learn these concepts (PhD project of Hanno Michel). Using the example of the energy concept, students are taught about the abstract, mathematical nature of energy; and the influence of such teaching on students’ development of a scientifically adequate understanding of energy is explored.
  • On the other hand, a Delphi-study shall shed light onto the question, which mathematical learning requirements are STEM (and thus physics) freshmen expected to have from the perspective of university teachers (PhD project of Christoph Pigge).
  • Finally, the International Physics Olympiad provides a fruitful instance to investigate the role of mathematizing in physics, as Olympiads are confronted with physically and mathematically challenging tasks (PhD project of Eva Treiber). In this respect, it is an open question, to what extent do students attribute their success or failure to their physics or rather to their mathematics abilities, and to what extent do such attributions diminish potential negative effects on, e.g. students’ interest in physics or in a physics study.

In the medium term, this group’s research shall lead to recommendations on a systematic increase of mathematizing in school physics. In particular, these recommendations shall cover, which prerequisite abilities on mathematizing can be developed in students already in middle school physics education, and how mathematizing shall be implemented in high school physics education to interest in and prepare for a physics study.


Leader: Dr. Irene Neumann

Group members: Hanno Michel, Christoph Pigge, Eva Treiber

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