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2011 AAPT Summer Meeting
July 30-August 3, 2011
Omaha, Nebraska

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Student Understanding of Taylor Series Expansions in Statistical Mechanics
  Location: KFC Courts
  Date: Tuesday, Aug.2
  Time: 6:00 PM -6:45 PM
  Author: Trevor Smith, University of Maine
  Co-Author(s): John R. Thompson , Donald B. Mountcastle
  Abstract: One goal of physics instruction is to have students learn to make physical meaning of specific mathematical ideas, concepts, and procedures in different physical settings. As part of research investigating student learning in statistical physics, we are developing curriculum materials that guide students through a derivation of the Boltzmann factor, using a Taylor series expansion of entropy. Using results from written surveys, classroom observations, and both individual think-aloud and teaching interviews, we present evidence that, while many students can recognize and interpret series expansions, they often lack fluency with the Taylor series, despite previous exposures in both calculus and physics courses. We present students' successes and failures both using and interpreting Taylor series expansions in a variety of physical contexts.
  Footnotes: None
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