Improving student performance through use of spacetime diagrams during special relativity instruction
Toh, Heng Kuan
Date of Issue2016-05-30
School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences
The Special Theory of Relativity (STR) established by Einstein in 1905 is a difficult subject to teach in schools. STR has always been taught through the use of Thought Experiments, as objects do not normally travel under near-light velocities. Misconceptions can arise from thought experiments as a result, which hinders the learning process of the students. In particular, the concept of simultaneity is difficult to understand. The observation that, simultaneity is not absolute between reference frames of different velocities, is not an apparent one to make. This misconception can roll over and affect the students’ understanding of later concept such as Time Dilation and Length Contraction. In this project, a method to circumvent these misconceptions was investigated for its effectiveness. Space time diagrams were used to see if it is able to improve students’ performance in solving kinematics questions near light speed in STR. The assessment of student performance was done and measured through the use of a pre-course concept survey that was newly constructed for the purpose of this project, and a mid-term quiz to evaluate the students’ level of understanding in the subject. The results of the quiz showed that the use of space time diagram for teaching STR enhances student performance in problem solving. Students were able to achieve higher scores in examinations when using the space time diagram to solve the questions, compared to students who did not. These results may even allow questions that requires higher deeper understanding to be examined, such as paradoxes.
Final Year Project (FYP)