Effect of scaffolding on helping introductory physics students solve quantitative problems involving strong alternative conceptions

Shih-Yin Lin, Chandralekha Singh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

It is well known that introductory physics students often have alternative conceptions that are inconsistent with established physical principles and concepts. Invoking alternative conceptions in the quantitative problem-solving process can derail the entire process. In order to help students solve quantitative problems involving strong alternative conceptions correctly, appropriate scaffolding support can be helpful. The goal of this study is to examine how different scaffolding supports involving analogical problem-solving influence introductory physics students' performance on a target quantitative problem in a situation where many students' solution process is derailed due to alternative conceptions. Three different scaffolding supports were designed and implemented in calculus-based and algebra-based introductory physics courses involving 410 students to evaluate the level of scaffolding needed to help students learn from an analogical problem that is similar in the underlying principles involved but for which the problem-solving process is not derailed by alternative conceptions. We found that for the quantitative problem involving strong alternative conceptions, simply guiding students to work through the solution of the analogical problem first was not enough to help most students discern the similarity between the two problems. However, if additional scaffolding supports that directly helped students examine and repair their knowledge elements involving alternative conceptions were provided, e.g., by guiding students to contemplate related issues and asking them to solve the targeted problem on their own first before learning from the analogical problem provided, students were more likely to discern the underlying similarities between the problems and avoid getting derailed by alternative conceptions when solving the targeted problem. We also found that some scaffolding supports were more effective in the calculus-based course than in the algebra-based course. This finding emphasizes the fact that appropriate scaffolding support which is commensurate with students' prior knowledge and skills must be determined via research in order to be effective.

Original languageEnglish
Article number020105
JournalPhysical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research
Volume11
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jul 18

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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