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The structural role of mathematics in physical thought and implications for the teaching and learning of physics

Grant number: 10/19276-8
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate
Effective date (Start): May 01, 2011
Effective date (End): March 31, 2012
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Education - Educational Teaching and Learning
Principal Investigator:Mauricio Pietrocola Pinto de Oliveira
Grantee:Ricardo Avelar Sotomaior Karam
Host Institution: Faculdade de Educação (FE). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated research grant:08/10470-6 - Curricular innovation in physics: didactical transposition of the modern theories and the survival of knowledge, AP.TEM


Many physics teachers complain that their students don't know enough mathematics. However, it seems that the domain of basic mathematics skills doesn't guarantee success in physics, once using mathematics in physics is much more complex than the straightforward application of rules and calculation. In fact, in spite of the deep interrelations between physics and mathematics, confirmed both by historical and epistemological studies, in the context of physics education, mathematics tend to be seen as a mere tool to quantify physical entities and express the relations between them. In order to face up to this inconsistency, we consider a distinction between technical skills - the ones related to the domain of basic rules of mathematics and normally developed in math's classes - and structural skills - which are related to the capacity of recognizing the structural role of mathematics in physical thought. We believe that one of the most important abilities to deal with phenomena in physics domain is to be able to use the mathematics as a reasoning instrument. For that reason, we try to understand the physicist's use of this structural approach in a didactic context. University physics lessons given by a particular professor on Electromagnetism and Special Relativity were videotaped in order to investigate the structural approach in real classroom situations. The analysis of these lessons allowed us to identify a set of four structural skills which are defined and exemplified.

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Scientific publications
(References retrieved automatically from Web of Science and SciELO through information on FAPESP grants and their corresponding numbers as mentioned in the publications by the authors)
KARAM, RICARDO. Framing the structural role of mathematics in physics lectures: A case study on electromagnetism. Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research, v. 10, n. 1, . (10/19276-8)
Academic Publications
(References retrieved automatically from State of São Paulo Research Institutions)
KARAM, Ricardo Avelar Sotomaior. Using mathematics as a reasoning instrument in physics instruction: a theoretical tool for the analysis of didactic approaches. 2012. Doctoral Thesis - Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Faculdade de Educação (FE/SBD) São Paulo.

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