Using an isomorphic problem pair to learn introductory physics: Transferring from a two-step problem to a three-step problem

Shih Yin Lin, Chandralekha Singh

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29 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In this study, we examine introductory physics students' ability to perform analogical reasoning between two isomorphic problems which employ the same underlying physics principles but have different surface features. 382 students from a calculus-based and an algebra-based introductory physics course were administered a quiz in the recitation in which they had to learn from a solved problem provided and take advantage of what they learned from it to solve another isomorphic problem (which we call the quiz problem). The solved problem provided has two subproblems while the quiz problem has three subproblems, which is known from previous research to be challenging for introductory students. In addition to the solved problem, students also received extra scaffolding supports that were intended to help them discern and exploit the underlying similarities of the isomorphic solved and quiz problems. The data analysis suggests that students had great difficulty in transferring what they learned from a two-step problem to a three-step problem. Although most students were able to learn from the solved problem to some extent with the scaffolding provided and invoke the relevant principles in the quiz problem, they were not necessarily able to apply the principles correctly. We also conducted think-aloud interviews with six introductory students in order to understand in depth the difficulties they had and explore strategies to provide better scaffolding. The interviews suggest that students often superficially mapped the principles employed in the solved problem to the quiz problem without necessarily understanding the governing conditions underlying each principle and examining the applicability of the principle in the new situation in an in-depth manner. Findings suggest that more scaffolding is needed to help students in transferring from a two-step problem to a three-step problem and applying the physics principles appropriately. We outline a few possible strategies for future investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number020114
JournalPhysical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research
Volume9
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Oct 10

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students
physics
quiz
student
calculus
algebra
interview
data analysis

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

Cite this

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