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Reflection on Problem Solving in Introductory and Advanced Physics Documents

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Reflection on Problem Solving in Introductory and Advanced Physics 

written by Andrew J. Mason

Reflection is essential to learn from problem solving. This thesis explores issues related to how reflective physics students are about problem solving and how to improve their capacity for reflection on problem solving. We evaluate strategies that teach reflection as an integral component of problem-solving. We find a large overlap between introductory and graduate students in their ability to categorize based upon similarity of solution. Introductory students in calculus-based courses performed better categorization than those in algebra-based courses. Other investigations explored 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 applying physical principles and differences between self-diagnosed and transfer problems affected performance. We concluded a sustained intervention is required to learn effective problem-solving strategies. Another study suggests those who reflected with peers on problem solving drew more diagrams and had a larger gain from the midterm to final exam. Another study involved giving common problems in quantum mechanics midterm and final exams and suggested advanced students do not automatically reflect on mistakes. Interviews revealed even advanced students often focus mostly on exams rather than their knowledge structure. A survey was developed to evaluate students' attitudes and approaches towards problem solving. The survey responses suggest introductory and graduate students have different attitudes and approaches to problem solving on several important measures compared to faculty. Responses to individual questions suggest expert and novice attitudes and approaches to problem solving may be more complex than naively considered.

Published July 7, 2009
Last Modified May 9, 2012

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