In our pilot studies, we found that many introductory physics textbook illustrations with supporting text for sound standing waves of air columns in open-open, open-closed, and closed-closed pipes inhibit student understanding of sound standing wave phenomena due to student misunderstanding of how air molecules move within these pipes. Based on the construct of meaningful learning from cognitive psychology and semiotics, a quasiexperimental study was conducted to investigate the comparative effectiveness of two alternative approaches to student understanding: a traditional textbook illustration approach versus a newly designed air molecule motion illustration approach. Thirty volunteer students from introductory physics classes were randomly assigned to two groups of 15 each. Both groups were administered a presurvey. Then, group A read the air molecule motion illustration handout, and group B read a traditional textbook illustration handout; both groups were administered postsurveys. Subsequently, the procedure was reversed: group B read the air molecule motion illustration handout and group A read the traditional textbook illustration handout. This was followed by a second postsurvey along with an exit research questionnaire. The study found that the majority of students experienced meaningful learning and stated that they understood sound standing wave phenomena significantly better using the air molecule motion illustration approach. This finding provides a method for physics education researchers to design illustrations for abstract sound standing wave concepts, for publishers to improve their illustrations with supporting text, and for instructors to facilitate deeper learning in their students on sound standing waves.
Zeng, Liang; Smith, Chris; Poelzer, G. Herold; Rodriguez, Jennifer; Corpuz, Edgar; and Yanev, George, "Illustrations and supporting texts for sound standing waves of air columns in pipes in introductory physics textbooks" (2014). Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Faculty Publications and Presentations. 40.
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Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research