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Utilizing Constraint Graphs In High School Physics

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1268.1 - 8.1268.16



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Paper Authors

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Fredrick Cowan

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Alan Gravitt

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Donna Llewellyn

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Marion Usselman

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1168


F. Scott Cowan 1, Marion Usselman2, Donna Llewellyn3, and Alan Gravitt4 1 G. W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering 2 Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) 3 Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL)

Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, Georgia 30332 4 Westlake High School 2370 Union Road SW Atlanta, Georgia 30331


Memorizing equations, recalling them, and then plugging numbers into those equations to obtain answers for test questions. This characterizes in part how novices approach problem solving in a content area such as physics. However, a novice’s preoccupation with the mathematics of physics leaves little attention or consideration directed toward the underlying laws and principles. In this paper, we present both an instructional and problem-solving approach in the realm of physics that employs constraint graphs – i.e., a representational convention in which a multitude of variables are combined into a network of mathematical relationships. Specifically, constraint graphs serve to organize and structure the mathematics of physics in such a way that more easily renders tasks of problem-solving and learning. Our hope is that high school students’ use of constraint graphs eases the burden associated with mathematics and provides an opportunity to understand better the laws and principles of both physics and engineering.

Keywords: physics, mathematics, constraint graphs, high school outreach, engineering


Solving physics problems is a difficult, intellectual endeavor for novice students at the high school level. For many of them, solving such problems is merely a process of memorizing equations, evoking the equations, and then plugging numbers into those equations to obtain “the answer.” Moreover, their problem-solving strategy is based on the principle of trial-and-error, epitomized by confusion as to where to begin, countless false starts, cursory manipulations of mathematical

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Cowan, F., & Gravitt, A., & Llewellyn, D., & Usselman, M. (2003, June), Utilizing Constraint Graphs In High School Physics Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11470

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