There are many examples of research-based instructional materials that have been shown to help increase students’ conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills for most topics covered in introductory undergraduate and some graduate-level Physics courses. The typical Electricity and Magnetism courses often spend little time solving non-trivial quantitative circuits with resistances and capacitances (RC circuits) using calculus and differential equations. Furthermore, the Ordinary Differential Equations (ODE) courses taught to Engineering students focus on mathematical techniques, not on the conceptual understanding of the physical phenomena being modeled nor whether the solution makes physical sense. A recent study indicated that even students with a firm understanding of all relevant concepts struggle when trying to apply those ideas to solve non-trivial RC circuit problems analytically. Building on that work, we designed a team-structured classroom activity based on conceptual cognitive scaffolding to help students construct a mathematical model for an RC circuit starting from the conceptual ideas and solving the differential equation obtained. At the end of the course, we gave the designed RC diagnostic test to the students and compared the results with those obtained from students who had participated in the same class one year before but without the class activity. In this report, we present the analysis of the diagnostic results and compare the similarities and differences between the results of the previous-year students (who had no intervention) and those of the current-year students who had the cognitive scaffolding activity.
Genaro Zavala is a Full Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School of Engineering and Science at Tecnologico de Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico. He collaborates with the Faculty of Engineering of the Universidad Andres Bello in Santiago, Chile. Professor Zavala is National Researcher Level 1 of the National System of Researchers of Mexico. He works with the following research lines: conceptual understanding, active learning, development of assessment tools, faculty development and studies in STEM. Genaro Zavala was appointed to the editorial board of the Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research journal of the American Physical Society for the period 2015 to 2018, vice president of the Latin American Physics Education Network (LAPEN) for the period 2013-2015 and is currently the coordinator of the Topical Group: Evaluation of Learning and Instruction of the International Group for Research and Teaching of Physics (GIREP by its French acronym). Dr. Zavala is a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) where he was vice president candidate, a member of the Committee on Research in Physics Education (RIPE) a member and chair of the International Education Committee and elected member of Leadership Organizing Physics Education Research Council (PERLOC) in the period 2015-2018.
Carlos Martinez-Torteya is the Associate Director of Undergraduate Programs at the School of Engineering and Sciences at Tecnologico de Monterrey, where he also teaches undergraduate Physics ranging from freshmen courses to upper-level electives in Particle Physics and General Relativity. Carlos holds a B.Sc. in Physics Engineering from Tecnologico de Monterrey, and a M.A. in Physics from SUNY Stony Brook, where he focused in Theoretical Particle Physics. Currently, his research interests are in Physics Education. Carlos is a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), and the ASEE.
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