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Abstract Title: Facilitating thinking and learning in physics classrooms
Abstract: Learning physics is challenging because there are only a few fundamental principles in physics that are condensed in compact mathematical forms. Learning physics requires unpacking these fundamental principles and understanding their applicability in a variety of contexts. Cognitive theory can be used to design instruction and facilitate thinking and learning in the physics classrooms. In this poster gallery and discussionl session, we will showcase research-based strategies that can be effective in improving students' problem solving and meta-cognitive skills. These approaches include helping students use different representations of knowledge and helping them learn to categorize physics problems appropriately. Improved cognitive abilities can make learning physics a positive experience for students.
Abstract Type: Poster Symposium

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Andrew Mason
University of Central Arkansas
Department of Physics & Astronomy University of Central Arkansas 201 Donaghey Avenue Lewis Science Center, Rm 171 Conway, AR 72035
Arkansas, PA 72035
Phone: 4126249045
Fax: 4126246381
and Co-Presenter(s)
Chandralekha Singh

Symposium Specific Information

Discussant: Chandralekha Singh
Moderator: Chandralekha Singh
Presentation 1 Title: Problem Solving and Motivation – Getting our Students in Flow
Presentation 1 Authors: N. Sanjay Rebello, Kansas State University
Presentation 1 Abstract: Csíkszentmihályi proposed the psychological concept of flow as signifying a state of complete involvement and enjoyment in an activity.  When learners are in flow they are motivated, engaged, and completely focused on the task at hand, resulting in effortful learning.  In this poster we explore the connections between the concept of flow and our model of transfer of learning as applied to problem solving.  Our model of transfer purports two cognitive mechanisms – horizontal and vertical – that learners use to construct knowledge.  Further, it proposes that carefully designed sequences of horizontal and vertical learning which provide scaffolding within a learner's zone of proximal development can facilitate learners to navigate an optimal adaptability corridor and foster progress toward adaptive expertise as characterized by Bransford & Schwartz.  By exploring the connections between flow and our model of transfer, we hope to gain insights into what can motivate learners to become better problem solvers.
Presentation 2 Title: Using categorization task to improve expertise in introductory physics
Presentation 2 Authors: Andrew Mason, University of Central Arkansas and Chandralekha Singh, University of Pittsburgh
Presentation 2 Abstract: The ability to categorize problems based upon underlying principles, rather than surface features or contexts, is considered one of several proxy predictors of expertise. Giving students categorization task and then discussing experts' ways of categorizing problems can be used to help students develop expertise in physics and help them focus on deep features of problems. Inspired by the classic study of Chi, Feltovich, and Glaser [1], we revisited categorization study in large introductory physics classes.  Some problems in the categorization task posed to students included those available from the prior study by Chi et al. Our findings, which contrast from those of Chi et al., suggest that there is a much wider distribution of expertise in mechanics among introductory students than previously believed.  Implications for pedagogical interventions will be discussed.
[1] M.T.H. Chi, P. J. Feltovich, and R. Glaser, Categorization and representation of physics knowledge by experts and novices. Cognitive Science, 5, 121-152 (1981).
Presentation 3 Title: Teaching problem categorization using computer-based feedback
Presentation 3 Authors: Jennifer Docktor, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse,
Jose Mestre, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
Brian Ross, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Presentation 3 Abstract: Categorization tasks are commonly used as a measure of problem solving expertise, but they might also be useful pedagogical tools for highlighting the concepts and principles needed to solve problems. In this study, introductory physics students viewed several pairs of problems on a computer screen and were asked to judge whether the problems would be solved similarly. We found that students who received elaborate principle-based feedback on their answer then increased their use of physics principles when explaining their choices, whereas students who did not receive detailed feedback continued to make decisions based on quantities and surface-level problem features. Additional study findings will be discussed and instructional implications will be proposed.
Presentation 4 Title: The role of representations in research-based instructional practice in physics
Presentation 4 Authors: David E. Meltzer, Arizona State University
Presentation 4 Abstract: Decades of physics education research and of research-based instructional practice have demonstrated convincingly the crucial role played by multiple representations in the learning of physics. Conceptual understanding is both reflected in and promoted by facility in the use of graphical, mathematical, diagrammatic, and verbal representations as well as in the ability to translate between and among different representations. Similarly, familiarity with topic-specific representations such as PV diagrams, free-body diagrams, motion graphs, and field-vector and potential-line diagrams is virtually indispensable for thorough understanding of particular concepts. I will review examples of research that illustrate some of the learning issues that arise with use of multiple representations, and will present examples of instructional strategies that have proved effective in guiding students to deeper understanding through use of representations in different contexts.

*Supported in part by NSF DUE #0817282 and DUE #1256333
Presentation 5 Title: Challenges in developing effective scaffolding supports to help introductory students learn physics
Presentation 5 Authors: Alex Maries and Chandralekha Singh, University of Pittsburgh
Presentation 5 Abstract: Helping students develop facility with problem representation is a major goal of many introductory physics courses. We discuss two studies related to representations in which we investigated strategies for improving students' performance on problem solving. In one study, we investigated students' difficulties in translating between mathematical and graphical representations and the effect of scaffolding on students' performance. Analysis of the student performance with different levels of scaffolding reveals that the appropriate level of scaffolding is not necessarily the one that involves lots of guidance and support from an expert's perspective and that the optimal level of support for a given student population can only be determined by research. In another study, we investigated whether students perform better when a diagram is provided with the problem or when they are explicitly asked to draw a diagram. We find that students who draw a good diagram perform better regardless of whether they use a diagrammatic approach to problem solving or mainly use a mathematical approach to problem solving. Instructional implications will be discussed.