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ERIC Number: EJ1057122
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 9
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 16
ISBN: N/A
ISSN: EISSN-1554-9178
Upper-Division Student Difficulties with the Dirac Delta Function
Wilcox, Bethany R.; Pollock, Steven J.
Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, v11 n1 p010108-1-010108-9 Jan-Jun 2015
The Dirac delta function is a standard mathematical tool that appears repeatedly in the undergraduate physics curriculum in multiple topical areas including electrostatics, and quantum mechanics. While Dirac delta functions are often introduced in order to simplify a problem mathematically, students still struggle to manipulate and interpret them. To characterize student difficulties with the delta function at the upper-division level, we examined students' responses to traditional exam questions and a standardized conceptual assessment, and conducted think-aloud interviews. Our analysis was guided by an analytical framework that focuses on how students activate, construct, execute, and reflect on the Dirac delta function in the context of problem solving in physics. Here, we focus on student difficulties using the delta function to express charge distributions in the context of junior-level electrostatics. Common challenges included invoking the delta function spontaneously, translating a description of a charge distribution into a mathematical expression using delta functions, integrating 3D or non-Cartesian delta function expressions, and recognizing that the delta function can have units. We also briefly discuss implications of these difficulties for instruction.
American Physical Society. One Physics Ellipse 4th Floor, College Park, MD 20740-3844. Tel: 301-209-3200; Fax: 301-209-0865; e-mail: assocpub@aps.org; Web site: http://prst-per.aps.org
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Colorado
Grant or Contract Numbers: DUE-1023028|DGE 1144083