September 1, 2019 at 7:15 pm

Physics Colloquium | Highlights from Studies on Student Learning, Reasoning, and Understanding in Physics, Sept. 20

The Physics & Astronomy Colloquium Series presents Andrew Heckler of Ohio State University, on “Highlights from Studies on Student Learning, Reasoning, and Understanding in Physics”, on Friday, Sept. 20, at 4:10 p.m. in Clippinger Labs 194.

Andrew Heckler Photo

Andrew Heckler

Abstract: An overview of results from several physics education research studies will be presented.

First, how do student responses evolve over the term of a physics course? By randomly sampling students throughout the term, we have found clear patterns of rapid learning, forgetting, and interference between related topics. Furthermore, learning was found to correspond only to relevant homework assignments rather than relevant traditional lectures or midterms.

Next, we investigate student solutions to “synthesis problems” that involve at least two distinct physics concepts. We find the even simple synthesis problems require qualitatively different solution methods compared to single-concept problems, and factors such as mathematical complexity can interfere with recognition of the need for multiple concepts and hinder their joint application. Further, we find that employing carefully designed worked examples and guiding students through self-explanations and analogical comparisons of the structure can significantly improve performance.

Finally, we cue into decades of cognitive psychology research demonstrating that reasoning and decision-making is often influenced by strong tendencies for people to reply quickly, use the most available information, and make unwitting assumptions and observations aligned with beliefs and experience. I show interesting empirical examples in the context of physics content commonly seen in classrooms. To address this inescapable interaction between rapid intuitions and slower, deliberate reasoning, we successfully undertook a project to improve student fluency in some of these basic skills via the implementation of carefully designed, spaced, and interleaved mastery practice course assignments online. But open questions remain as to which skills to improve and the precise role that fluency with basic skills plays in success with scientific reasoning or problem solving.

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