Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Publication Date

Winter 2018


Research-based materials developed by the physics education research community have helped improve student conceptual understanding in introductory physics courses. A growing body of work, however, suggests that poor student performance on certain physics tasks, even after research-based instruction, may result from the nature of student reasoning itself than from conceptual difficulties. Drawing upon dual-process theories of reasoning, it has been argued that some of the poor performance from the presence of salient distracting features (SDFs) in physics problems, which may cue an incorrect first-available mental model and effectively preclude the student from drawing upon relevant knowledge.

In this study, we explored the relationship between students' initial impressions of how to approach a given physics problem and their subsequent performance on the problem. We accomplished this by employing a novel two-stage methodology in which students were first given a problem, provided with reasoning elements, and asked to categorize these elements as being useful or not useful for solving the problem. Students were subsequently asked to use these elements to construct a reasoning chain in order to arrive at an answer. Three problems were administered to students in introductory calculus-based physics.

We found that there was a relationship between students' sorting of the elements and students' final answers. Specifically, students who initially rejected relevant reasoning elements in favor of elements related to a problem's SDF were more likely to settle upon an incorrect, SDF-cued answer than students who initially endorsed the relevant elements and rejected the SDF-related elements.

Included in

Physics Commons