Understanding How to Teach Physics Understanding

Brian H Ross, José Mestre, Jennifer L. Docktor

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Physics courses often assess understanding in terms of problem-solving performance. However, many students who do well in a physics course do not understand the underlying concepts and principles, leading to poor retention and transfer. The students’ problem solving relies on superficial aspects of the problem and chaining of possible equations. We propose an intervention to integrate the conceptual understanding with the problem solving, forcing the problem solving to be guided by the underlying principle(s). More specifically, the approach requires students to identify the principle, justify why this principle is appropriate, plan how to solve the problem, and, finally, implement the plan in terms of equations. Initial results with this intervention in high schools are encouraging: Students gain greater understanding and also perform better on the usual problem-solving tasks. We suggest some improvements that might be made to the approach and consider its generality for other STEM disciplines.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIntegrating Cognitive Science with Innovative Teaching in STEM Disciplines
EditorsMark A McDaniel, Regina F Frey, Susan M Fitzpatrick, Henry L Roediger III
PublisherWashington University Libraries
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-941823-01-9, 978-1-941823-02-6, 978-1-941823-00-2
StatePublished - Sep 10 2014


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