Beginning physics students were constrained to analyze mechanics problems according to a hierarchical scheme that integrated concepts, principles, and procedures. After five 1‐hour sessions students increased their reliance on the use of principles in categorizing problems according to similarity of solution and in writing qualitative explanations of physical situations. In contrast, no consistent shift toward these expert‐like competencies was observed using control treatments in which subjects spent the same amount of time solving problems using traditional approaches. In addition, when successful at performing the qualitative analyses, novices showed significant improvements in problem‐solving performance in comparison to novices who directed their own problem‐solving activities. The implications of this research are discussed in terms of instructional strategies aimed at promoting a deeper understanding of physics.
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