Research

Research Summary:
 
My area is Physics Education Research (PER).  I study the ways physics is taught by instructors and learned by students using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative techniques.

I am particularly interested in the ways algebra is used in introductory physics.  While many of the rules and symbols used in algebra classes are the same as those used in physics classes, there are important differences that lead to confusion.  I am interested in identifying these differences and developing recommendations for physics instructors as well as students.

For my dissertation I performed multiple studies that compared performance on analogous numeric and purely symbolic physics problems.  I show why students often perform far better on numeric problems than on otherwise equivalent symbolic problems.  I also show that performance on symbolic problems are more strongly correlated to overall success than numeric problems.
 
Eugene Torigoe's Disseration

I am currently working on methods and instructional materials that will help students gain confidence solving problems with only symbols.  My current focus is the design of numeric then symbolic problem pairs that can be used to help students make the transition to purely symbolic problem solving, as well as to highlight the advantages of solving problems symbolically rather than numerically.  Below are some advantages of symbolic that are meant to be highlighted by these problem pairs:
  1. Alternate Solution Path - Symbolic results can give students hints on other (perhaps more efficient) ways a problem could be solved.
  2. Variable Dependence - Symbolic result shows what quantities change the target quantity.
  3. Conceptual Connection - If the symbolic result is similar to a familiar equation, then the connection between concepts is easy to see.
  4. Precision (No Rounding Error) - Numbers plugged in at the end lead to more precise answers.
  5. False Generalization with Numbers - Coincidental equivalence can lead to false generalizations.
  6. Less Work - Sometimes doing calculations is a lot of work, especially if large numbers are involved.

You can find my first attempt at this link.  I've interviewed some students with these questions.  The aspects with the most impact have been when symbols cancel, and when the final symbolic solution is similar to a familiar equation.  An example of the latter would be when solving a problem using kinematics you find that PE = mgh, which highlights the idea that you could have solved the problem with energy.  If you are interested in this research and want to collaborate, then contact me at etorigoe@gmail.com.


arXiv Pre-prints:
  1. 1E. Torigoe, "How Numbers Help Students Solve Physics Problems." arXiv:1112.3229v2

Published Research:
  1. E. Torigoe, "Representing Circular Polarization with a Box of Cereal," The Physics Teacher, 50(3), p. 188 (2012).  [PDF] (The model template can be found at the end of the PDF) 
  2. E. Torigoe and G. Gladding, “Connecting Symbolic Difficulties with Success in Physics.” American Journal of Physics, 79(1), pp.133-140 (2011).  [PDF] [Supplementary Material]
  3. E. Torigoe and G. Gladding, “Symbols: Weapons of Math Destruction.” Physics Education Research Conference, AIP Conference Proceedings, 2007.     [PDF]
  4. E. Torigoe and G. Gladding, “Same to Us, Different to Them: Numeric Computation Versus Symbolic Representation.” Physics Education Research Conference, AIP Conference Proceedings, 2006.  [PDF]

Posters:
  1. Designing Around Plug-and-Chug.  2013 AAPT Summer Meeting in Portland, OR.
  2. Highlighting the Advantages of Symbolic Problem Solving with Paired Questions. 2013 PERC Conference in Portland, OR.

Talks:
  1. Creating a Community of Nerds with Facebook Groups.  2013 AAPT Summer Meeting in Portland, OR.