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Exploring the role of conceptual scaffolding in solving synthesis problems 

written by Lin Ding, Neville W. Reay, Albert Lee, and Lei Bao

It is well documented that when solving problems experts first search for underlying concepts while students tend to look for equations and previously worked examples. The overwhelming majority of end-of-chapter (EOC) problems in most introductory physics textbooks contain only material and examples discussed in a single chapter, rarely requiring a solver to conduct a general search for underlying concepts. Hypothesizing that complete reliance on EOC problems trains students to rely on a nonexpert approach, we designed and implemented "synthesis" problems, each combining two major concepts that are broadly separated in the teaching timeline. To provide students with guided conceptual scaffolding, we encapsulated each synthesis problem into a sequence with two preceding conceptually based multiple-choice questions. Each question contained one of the major concepts covered in the subsequent synthesis problem. Results from a small-scale interview study and two large-scale written tests showed that the scaffolding encouraged students to search for and apply appropriate fundamental principles in solving synthesis problems, and that repeated training using scaffolded synthesis problems also helped students to make cross-topic transfers.

This article is published by the American Physical Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. The citation is: L. Ding, N. Reay, A. Lee, and L. Bao, Exploring the role of conceptual scaffolding in solving synthesis problems, PRST-PER 7 (2), 020109 (2011), 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.7.020109.

Published October 14, 2011
Last Modified May 15, 2012

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