Nick publishes paper characterizing mathematical problem solving in physics-related workplaces

  • Sep 24, 2019
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Nick Young and colleagues published Characterizing mathematical problem solving in physics-related workplaces using epistemic games in Physical Review Physics Education Research.

Abstract: In order to support physics students in their future careers, there is a need to understand the relationship between undergraduate education and professional practice in physics-related fields. This study investigated high-level goal driven mathematical problem-solving activities that are found within two disciplinary cultures: physical science research labs in academia and photonics workplaces in industry. We conducted semistructured interviews with 10 Ph.D. students and 22 engineers and technicians. Math use in professional workplaces was characterized through an adaptation of epistemic games framework, which revealed six common epistemic games in these workplaces: conceptual math modeling, analytical-numerical math modeling, design-oriented math modeling, fabrication, improving processes, and making meaning out of data games. The workplace-specific epistemic games capture the goals, starting and ending conditions, constraints and contextual features, moves, tools, and representations. The games involve a broad spectrum of math that ranges from arithmetic to computational modeling. The games reveal how goals and particular contextual features impact approaches to mathematical problem solving. The findings extend prior work on mathematical problem solving in physics to a new population of professional researchers, engineers, and technicians in their workplaces. The research may guide new approaches for developing problems and explicitly teaching problem solving in diverse physics contexts, which may additionally benefit undergraduate students’ preparation for their future careers.

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