Students' abilities to solve RC circuits with cognitive scaffolding activities

Genaro Zavala, Carlos Eduardo Martinez-Torteya

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


There are many examples of research-based instructional materials that have been shown to help increase students' conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills for most topics covered in introductory undergraduate and some graduate-level Physics courses. The typical Electricity and Magnetism courses often spend little time solving non-trivial quantitative circuits with resistances and capacitances (RC circuits) using calculus and differential equations. Furthermore, the Ordinary Differential Equations (ODE) courses taught to Engineering students focus on mathematical techniques, not on the conceptual understanding of the physical phenomena being modeled nor whether the solution makes physical sense. A recent study indicated that even students with a firm understanding of all relevant concepts struggle when trying to apply those ideas to solve non-trivial RC circuit problems analytically. Building on that work, we designed a team-structured classroom activity based on conceptual cognitive scaffolding to help students construct a mathematical model for an RC circuit starting from the conceptual ideas and solving the differential equation obtained. At the end of the course, we gave the designed RC diagnostic test to the students and compared the results with those obtained from students who had participated in the same class one year before but without the class activity. In this report, we present the analysis of the diagnostic results and compare the similarities and differences between the results of the previous-year students (who had no intervention) and those of the current-year students who had the cognitive scaffolding activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1292
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2020
Event2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: 22 Jun 202026 Jun 2020


  • Cognitive scaffolding activities
  • Educational innovation
  • Higher education
  • Mathematical modeling
  • RC circuits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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