While physics education researchers have investigated student conceptual understanding of specific topics in physics for over thirty years, much less is known about the ability of students to construct qualitative inferential reasoning chains. Such reasoning chains are ubiquitous in scaffolded, research-based instructional materials. As part of a multi-institutional effort to develop instruments to probe student reasoning skills, this thesis describes an investigation into whether the direction of a question can influence the ability of the students to construct correct reasoning chains. Reasoning reversal tasks were administered to introductory calculus-based physics students at the University of Maine. Students were randomly presented with one of two versions, where one version involves students determining how a variable changed to create the observed outcome, and the other version presents the students with the changed variable and asks for the outcome due to the change. In this study, student data from four different semesters were collected and analyzed, including data from modified versions of the original reasoning reversal tasks. The results from this study suggest that in certain contexts, students could be more successful in constructing correct reasoning chains in one direction than in the other. In other contexts, these results were not found to be true where the difference in reasoning chains was primarily due to the constraints associated with the question’s answer options.
Johnson, William S., "Examining Student Reasoning in Introductory Physics: Reversing the Chain" (2017). Honors College. 442.