Conceptual problem solving in high school physics

Jennifer L. Docktor, Natalie E. Strand, José P. Mestre, Brian H. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Problem solving is a critical element of learning physics. However, traditional instruction often emphasizes the quantitative aspects of problem solving such as equations and mathematical procedures rather than qualitative analysis for selecting appropriate concepts and principles. This study describes the development and evaluation of an instructional approach called Conceptual Problem Solving (CPS) which guides students to identify principles, justify their use, and plan their solution in writing before solving a problem. The CPS approach was implemented by high school physics teachers at three schools for major theorems and conservation laws in mechanics and CPS-taught classes were compared to control classes taught using traditional problem solving methods. Information about the teachers' implementation of the approach was gathered from classroom observations and interviews, and the effectiveness of the approach was evaluated from a series of written assessments. Results indicated that teachers found CPS easy to integrate into their curricula, students engaged in classroom discussions and produced problem solutions of a higher quality than before, and students scored higher on conceptual and problem solving measures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number020106
JournalPhysical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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