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Reflection on Problem Solving in Introductory and Advanced Physics

Mason, Andrew Joseph (2009) Reflection on Problem Solving in Introductory and Advanced Physics. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.

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    Abstract

    Reflection is essential in order to learn from problem solving. This thesis explores issues related to how reflective students are and how we can improve their capacity for reflection on problem solving. We investigate how students naturally reflect in their physics courses about problem solving and evaluate strategies that may teach them reflection as an integral component of problem-solving. Problem categorization based upon similarity of solution is a strategy to help them reflect about the deep features of the problems related to the physics principles involved. We find that there is a large overlap between the introductory and graduate students in their ability to categorize. Moreover, introductory students in the calculus-based courses performed better categorization than those in the algebra-based courses even though the categorization task is conceptual. Other investigations involved exploring if reflection could be taught as a skill on individual and group levels. Explicit self-diagnosis in recitation investigated how effectively students could diagnose their own errors on difficult problems, how much scaffolding was necessary for this purpose, and how effective transfer was to other problems employing similar principles. Difficulty in applying physical principles and difference between the self-diagnosed and transfer problems affected performance. We concluded that a sustained intervention is required to learn effective problem-solving strategies. Another study involving reflection on problem solving with peers suggests that those who reflected with peers drew more diagrams and had a larger gain from the midterm to final exam. Another study in quantum mechanics involved giving common problems in midterm and final exams and suggested that advanced students do not automatically reflect on their mistakes. Interviews revealed that even advanced students often focus mostly on exams rather than learning and building a robust knowledge structure. A survey was developed to further evaluate students' attitudes and approaches towards problem solving. The survey responses suggest that introductory students and even graduate students have different attitudes and approaches to problem solving on several important measures compared to physics faculty members. Furthermore, responses to individual survey questions suggest that expert and novice attitudes and approaches to problem solving may be more complex than naively considered.


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    Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
    ETD Committee:
    ETD Committee TypeCommittee MemberEmailORCID
    Committee ChairSingh, Chandralekhaclsingh@pitt.edu
    Committee MemberLeibovich, Adamakl2@pitt.edu
    Committee MemberSchunn, Christianschunn@pitt.edu
    Committee MemberKoehler, Peter F. M.koehler@pitt.edu
    Committee MemberDevaty, Robert P.devaty@pitt.edu
    Title: Reflection on Problem Solving in Introductory and Advanced Physics
    Status: Unpublished
    Abstract: Reflection is essential in order to learn from problem solving. This thesis explores issues related to how reflective students are and how we can improve their capacity for reflection on problem solving. We investigate how students naturally reflect in their physics courses about problem solving and evaluate strategies that may teach them reflection as an integral component of problem-solving. Problem categorization based upon similarity of solution is a strategy to help them reflect about the deep features of the problems related to the physics principles involved. We find that there is a large overlap between the introductory and graduate students in their ability to categorize. Moreover, introductory students in the calculus-based courses performed better categorization than those in the algebra-based courses even though the categorization task is conceptual. Other investigations involved exploring if reflection could be taught as a skill on individual and group levels. Explicit self-diagnosis in recitation investigated how effectively students could diagnose their own errors on difficult problems, how much scaffolding was necessary for this purpose, and how effective transfer was to other problems employing similar principles. Difficulty in applying physical principles and difference between the self-diagnosed and transfer problems affected performance. We concluded that a sustained intervention is required to learn effective problem-solving strategies. Another study involving reflection on problem solving with peers suggests that those who reflected with peers drew more diagrams and had a larger gain from the midterm to final exam. Another study in quantum mechanics involved giving common problems in midterm and final exams and suggested that advanced students do not automatically reflect on their mistakes. Interviews revealed that even advanced students often focus mostly on exams rather than learning and building a robust knowledge structure. A survey was developed to further evaluate students' attitudes and approaches towards problem solving. The survey responses suggest that introductory students and even graduate students have different attitudes and approaches to problem solving on several important measures compared to physics faculty members. Furthermore, responses to individual survey questions suggest that expert and novice attitudes and approaches to problem solving may be more complex than naively considered.
    Date: 30 September 2009
    Date Type: Completion
    Defense Date: 07 July 2009
    Approval Date: 30 September 2009
    Submission Date: 12 June 2009
    Access Restriction: No restriction; The work is available for access worldwide immediately.
    Patent pending: No
    Institution: University of Pittsburgh
    Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
    Refereed: Yes
    Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
    URN: etd-06122009-182506
    Uncontrolled Keywords: physics education research; problem solving
    Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Physics
    Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 14:47
    Last Modified: 13 Jun 2012 16:10
    Other ID: http://etd.library.pitt.edu/ETD/available/etd-06122009-182506/, etd-06122009-182506

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