Ruth Chabay (North Carolina State University)
Computation and Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics
The process of constructing and exploring computational models can offer significant support for the development of conceptual understanding of key ideas in physics. However, most students in the U.S. who take introductory physics courses in university have had no prior exposure to programming. By selecting a minimal set of computational concepts to teach, and by introducing these concepts in the context of physics activities, we have been able to engage beginning students in constructing and refining computational models of interesting physical systems. The use of VPython allows students to produce navigable real-time 3-D animations as a side effect of their physics calculations. Research on how students engage with such models has helped refine instructional strategies. Examples from mechanics and from an introductory level course on soft condensed matter will be discussed.