NSF Directorate for Undergraduate Education (DUE) Transforming Undergraduate Educaiton in STEM (TUES) #1045250, 2011-2014, $65,216


PIs and Collaborators

  • Suzanne Brahmia (Principal Investigator), Rutgers
  • Kathleen Scott (Co-PI), Rutgers
  • Eugenia Etkina (Co-PI), Rutgers
  • Andrew Boudreaux (Collaborator and Co-PI), Western Washington University, #1045227, $67,23
  • Stephen Kanim (Collaborator and Co-PI), New Mexico State University, #1045231, $66,182


Workers in science and technology-related fields use proportional reasoning extensively when making sense of quantitative data. Mathematics instruction in middle school and high school often places a corresponding emphasis on ratios and proportions, however many students still have difficulty reasoning about product and ratio quantities in introductory physics classes. This project is developing curricular materials to strengthen the ability of students to reason in the context of the topics regularly covered in introductory physics. These materials employ "invention instruction," an approach shown to be effective in facilitating mathematical reasoning. In an invention task, students are given a "job" that they complete by inventing a quantity to characterize a set of physical situations and make meaningful comparisons. The tasks are sequenced so students can start by reasoning about ratios and proportions in a familiar, everyday context, and they progress toward more abstract physical quantities for which physicists commonly use the same type of reasoning. These invention sequences are designed to highlight the similarity of the reasoning required. The project workers are developing invention sequences for use in both high school and introductory college classes and are measuring their effectiveness in developing students' content knowledge and reasoning ability with more abstract quantities. In parallel, they are also conducting basic research into how students are actually using proportions in various settings. This work is contributing to our understanding of how and why students struggle with reasoning about abstract quantities in introductory physics and provides instructional approaches that more efficiently develop reasoning skills for maturing students of science.