Physics Difficulty and Problem-solving: Exploring the Role of Mathematics and Mathematical Symbols

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Education Research


Reports of difficulty in physics has been documented over the years, especially at the senior secondary level. The application of mathematics as a tool for understanding physical phenomena and problem-solving is well-established. The use of symbols and mathematical rigour is essential for effective problem-solving in physics. However, the teaching and learning of physics have encountered barriers, as highlighted in the literature on competencies in this field. This study focuses on exploring the interlink, context, and associated barriers in the teaching and learning of physics by reviewing existing literature on the application of mathematics and mathematical symbols. Through a theory synthesis design, the study examined the current state of literature on mathematical problem-solving in physics, as well as the differences between mathematising and the application of mathematics in physics. The competencies required of teachers and students were also highlighted in order to better equip physical sciences teachers to address the challenges faced by students in learning physics. The literature suggests that a well-sequenced approach to topics by both mathematics and physics teachers can facilitate knowledge transfer among students. Teachers are encouraged to provide step-by-step guidance to address students' mathematical deficiencies, particularly in the physics aspect of the physical sciences curriculum at the further education and training (FET) phase. It is recommended that topics between physics and mathematics be aligned and mathematical concepts be pre-teach to enhance students' contextual knowledge transfer.




Badmus, O. T., & Jita, L. C. (2024). Physics difficulty and problem-solving: Exploring the role of mathematics and mathematical symbols. Interdisciplinary Journal of Education Research, 6, 1-14.