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Abstract Title: Disentangling Student Reasoning from Conceptual Understanding
Abstract: Improving student reasoning skills is a goal of many physics courses. Students in majors other than physics are frequently required to take physics not for specific course content, but rather for the problem solving and reasoning skills they are expected to develop. To solve qualitative and quantitative problems in physics, students must be able to chain together a succession of ideas leading to a prediction or inference. A recent report [NRC 2013] describes the promotion of reasoning abilities as a longstanding focus of PER that remains an important area of inquiry. In many cases, however, the assessment of student ability to construct reasoning chains is closely tied to the investigation of students' conceptual understanding of a specific topic. This session will present three talks that focus on emerging research methods and theoretical constructs used to investigate student reasoning in a way that transcends the understanding of specific physics content.
Abstract Type: Parallel session: Talk Symposium

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Beth Lindsey
Penn State Greater Allegheny
4000 University Drive
McKeesport, PA 15132
Phone: 412-675-9148

Symposium Specific Information

Discussant: Beth Lindsey
Presentation 1 Title: Using a possibilities framework to understand student deductive reasoning attempts
Presentation 1 Authors: Jon Gaffney
Presentation 1 Abstract: Students in physics courses often struggle to use or even follow formal reasoning when solving problems or analyzing physical situations. Instead, they tend to rely on "intuition" or temporarily salient thoughts that may be irrelevant to the situation at hand. Understanding what makes those ideas salient and why students make decisions based on them is necessary for improving communication with our students and helping them develop intuition based on proper reasoning. We approach this problem by assuming that students are authentically trying to reason, but they make subtle, nearly unconscious errors. Psychology research in deductive reasoning informs us that novice reasoners err by failing to consider all possibilities afforded by a given situation, either by failing to "see" them or by prematurely striking them down. We discuss how such errors may arise in physical situations and implications for instruction.
Presentation 2 Title: The Contours that Influence Reasoning
Presentation 2 Authors: Andrew Heckler
Presentation 2 Abstract: One goal of science instruction is, at least implicitly, to improve students' ability to reason logically about physical phenomena, data, and scientific concepts and models. Here I discuss a way of describing the origins of student difficulties with reasoning using the analogy of a contoured terrain or boundary. Specifically, reasoning and decision making is often constrained by strong tendencies to, for example, reply quickly, use the most available information, and make unwitting assumptions and observations aligned with beliefs and experience. I will provide some data on several examples in the context of physics education. In one of the cases studied the results provide tantalizing implications on how to "reshape the contours" and generally improve some reasoning skills. However, in most cases it is not clear if or how one might be able to improve reasoning skills beyond the specific contexts in which the skills are practiced.
Presentation 3 Title: Analyzing Inconsistencies in Student Reasoning Using Dual Process Theory
Presentation 3 Authors: Mila Kryjevskaia
Presentation 3 Abstract: A set of theoretical ideas, referred to broadly as dual process theory, asserts that human cognition relies on two largely independent thinking systems. The first is fast and intuitive, while the second is slow, logically deliberate, and effortful. A common, and particularly puzzling phenomenon has been a focus of an ongoing, collaborative investigation: introductory students often demonstrate competent reasoning on one task, but not on other, closely related tasks. In some cases, students may simply not possess the formal knowledge and skills necessary to arrive at a correct answer. In other cases, however, students may switch their cognitive mode, seeming to abandon the formal knowledge and skills in favor of (perhaps more appealing) intuitive ideas. In order to probe the nature of such inconsistencies, we developed a paired-question methodology that allows us to disentangle reasoning approaches from conceptual understanding and use dual process theory to account for the observed inconsistencies. *This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. DUE-1245999, DUE-1245993, DUE-1245313 and DUE-1245699.