Physicality, modeling, and agency in a computational physics class

A. M. Phillips, E. J. Gouvea, B. E. Gravel, P. H. Beachemin, T. J. Atherton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Computation is intertwined with essentially all aspects of physics research and is invaluable for physicists' careers. Despite its disciplinary importance, integration of computation into physics education remains a challenge and, moreover, has tended to be constructed narrowly as a route to solving physics problems. Here, we broaden Physics Education Research's conception of computation by constructing a metamodel - a model of modeling - incorporating insights on computational modeling from the philosophy of science and prior work. The metamodel is formulated in terms of practices, things physicists do, and how these inform one another. We operationalize this metamodel in an educational environment that incorporates making, the creation of shared physical and digital artifacts, intended to promote students' agency, creativity, and self-expression alongside doing physics. We present a content analysis of student work from initial implementations of this approach to illustrate the very complex epistemic maneuvers students make as they engaged in computational modeling. We demonstrate how our metamodel can be used to understand student practices and conclude with implications of the metamodel for instruction and future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number010121
Number of pages27
JournalPhysical Review Physics Education Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2023

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