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Ken Heller

School of Physics and Astronomy

University of Minnesota

Many faculty and graduate students of U of M Physics Department

and the U of M Physics Education Group

Details at http://groups.physics.umn.edu/physed/

Supported in part by Department of Education (FIPSE), NSF,

and the University of Minnesota

A Guide for Discussion

Problem Goals

• Why Solve Problems?

• What are Problems?

• Experts and Novices

Teaching Problem Solving?

• Modeling a Framework

• Coaching

• Supporting Real Problem Solving

Designing Problems

• What is Context-Rich?

• Why?

How Well Does It Work

Employment Private Gov’t High

Sector Labs Schools

Problem Solving

Interpersonal Skills

Technical Writing

Management Skills

Business Principles

Statistical Concepts

Knowledge of Physics

Advanced Mathematics

0 50 0 50 0 50

Percent Reporting Frequent Use

Survey of Physics Batchelors, 1994-AIP

Survey of Faculty in Majors Requiring Introductory Physics

Algebra-based Course (24 different majors) 1987

4.7 Basic principles behind all physics Highest Rated Goals

4.2 General qualitative problem solving skills scale 1 - 5

4.2 Overcome misconceptions about physical world

4.0 General quantitative problem solving skills

4.0 Apply physics topics covered to new situations

Calculus-based Course (88% engineering majors) 1993

4.5 Basic principles behind all physics

4.5 General qualitative problem solving skills

4.4 General quantitative problem solving skills

4.2 Apply physics topics covered to new situations

4.2 Use with confidence

Biology Majors Course 2003

4.9 Basic principles behind all physics

4.4 General qualitative problem solving skills

4.3 Use biological examples of physical principles

4.2 Overcome misconceptions about physical world

4.1 General quantitative problem solving skills (*3)

4.0 Real world application of mathematical concepts and techniques

4.0 Know the range of applicability of the principles of physics

Lowest Rated (Biology Faculty)

Prepare students for the MCAT 20 25 40 5 5 0 2.4

10 25 50 15 0 0 2.7

development and intellectual organization of

physics

(e.g. nuclear decay, quantum optics, 0 30 45 25 0 0 3.0

cosmology, quantum mechanics, elementary

particles,...)

context of physics

qualitative thought in the context of physics

Free Faculty Responses - Goals (Biology Faculty)

1. In your opinion, what is the primary reason your department

requires students to take this physics course?

Underlying Principles Application Problem solving/math

principles to other problems; to overcome fear of math, quantitative

approach to science.

• General understanding of how 1st & 2nd order linear differential

equations explain behavior of various physical systems (mechanics,

thermodynamics, electricity).

• Living things rely on a number of physical principles. Concepts we

cover in lecture & techniques/equipment used in the laboratory require an

understanding of physics. Physics is fundamental to many biological

processes, & develop skills in problem-solving & modeling.

• Provide basic concepts in physics as applied to biological functions; learn

how to think quantitatively about these applied physics concepts.

What Is Problem Solving?

• If you know how to do it, its not a problem.

Exercise vs Problem

Some General Purpose Tools

External Representations

pictures, diagrams, mathematics

identifying goals and subgoals

Working Backwards

step by step planning from desired result

Successive Approximations

range of applicability and evaluation

Students’ Misconceptions About Problem Solving

You need to know the right formula to solve a problem:

Memorize formulas

Memorize solution patterns

Actions that reinforce the misconception

Test requires students to remember

important equations

Allow students to bring in "crib" sheets

It's all in the mathematics:

Manipulate the equations as quickly as possible

Plug-and-chug

Numbers are easier to deal with

Plug in numbers as soon as possible

Actions that reinforce the misconception

Single step problems.

Multi-part problems.

Remembering

311941483526616430678538799514282739 random

106614921620177618121860194120002006 pattern

Student Difficulties Solving Problems

• Lack of an Organizational Framework that links previous

experiences, knowledge, and procedures

• Physics Misknowledge

– Incomplete (lack of a concept)

– Misunderstanding (weak misknowledge)

– Misconceptions (strong misknowledge)

– Always True

– True under a broad range of well-defined circumstances

– True in very special cases

– True in this situation

why, asking skeptical questions about their actions)

Students need instructional support to solve problems

of Table Rock. Table Rock has a

flat horizontal top, vertical sides,

and is 500 meters high. A band of

outlaws is at the base of Table

Rock 100 meters from the side

wall. Cowboy Bob decides to roll a

large boulder over the edge and

onto the outlaws. Determine how

fast Bob will have to roll the

boulder to reach the outlaws.

Algebra-based Physics

(second of four tests - 1989)

Circled statements

from evaluator

Components of Course

– Emphasize decisions using physics

– Rule-based mathematics

• Use Problems that Require

– An organized framework

– Physics conceptual knowledge

– Connection to existing knowledge

• Use Existing Course Structure

– Lectures (given by Professors) MODELING

– Discussion Sections (run by TAs) COACHING

– Labs (run by TAs) COACHING

General Problem Solving Skills (i.e. Polya 1957)

What's going on?

terms of physics Used by experts in all fields

What does this have

to do with physics ? Chi, M., Glaser, R., & Rees, E. (1982)

Plan a solution

Can I use what I know

to get an answer?

Get an answer

Can this be true?

Problem Solving Worksheet used at the beginning of the course

Focus the Problem Plan the Solution Execute the Plan

Construct Specific Solve the Equations

Picture and Given Information

Equations

Question:

Approach:

Diagram and Define Quantities

Does it answer the question?

Target Quantity(s):

Does it have correct units?

Quantitative Relationships:

Is it unreasonable?

Page 1 Page 2

Teaching Students to Solve Physics Problems

Solving Problems Requires Conceptual Knowledge:

From Situations to Decisions using internal knowledge

• Visualize situation

• Determine goal

• Choose applicable principles

• Choose relevant information

• Construct a plan

• Arrive at an answer

• Evaluate the solution

framework that does this explicitly

The Dilemma

learn expert-like framework.

Success using novice strategies.

Why change?

so novice strategy fails

Difficulty using new framework.

Why change?

What Using Cooperative Groups

Does for Teaching Problem Solving

1. Following a logical problem

solving framework seems too

long and complex for most

students.

Cooperative-group problem

solving allows practice until the

framework becomes more

natural.

Groups can successfully solve them so students see the

advantage of a logical problem-solving framework

early in the course.

What Using Cooperative Groups

Does for Teaching Problem Solving

3. The group interactions externalize the planning,

connection, and monitoring skills needed to solve

problems allowing students to observe them in others.

"talking physics“, and explicitly connecting it to

their existing knowledge base.

External clues of group difficulties

Group processing of instructor input

Having Students Work Together in Structured Groups

Cooperative Groups

Email 8/24/05

I was reading through your

'typical objections'. Another

good reason for cooperative

group methods: this is how we

Positive Interdependence solve all kinds of problems in

the real world - the real

Face-to-Face Interaction academic world and the real

business world. I wish they'd

Individual Accountability had this when I was in school.

Keep up the great work.

Explicit Collaborative Skills Rick Roesler Vice President,

Handhelds Hewlett Packard

Group Functioning Assessment

Student Reaction to Learning Problem Solving

Changing a deep held way of thinking is traumatic

Death of your beloved ideas and way of doing something.

Death of a loved-one (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)

• denial

• anger

• bargaining

• depression

• acceptance

5 stages to a common traumatic event : Problem Solving!

DENIAL --- I don’t really have to do all that? Try it again my own way! And

again. Read the book or ask someone and then..., try again.

ANGER --- "%$@^##& professor!", "I shouldn’t have to take this course. I

should wait until someone else teaches it. This has nothing to do with what I

need." Crumple up the paper and throw it away! “These problems are tricky,

unclear, and just weird."

BARGAINING --- "Oh please help me pass. Can I do extra work for extra credit.

Just for once give us enough time to solve the problems.”

DEPRESSION --- “What am I going to do. I'm going to fail. I give up. I’ll never be

able to pass the course with this rotten professor. What's the use".

ACCEPTANCE --- "Ok. I really need to have a logical and organized process to

solve these problems. These problems really are the kind of thing I need to be able

to solve. I can actually use this technique in my other classes."

Why Group

Problem Solving

May

Not Work

1. Inappropriate Tasks

2. Inappropriate Grading

3. Poor structure and management of Groups

The Monotillation of Traxoline

(attributed to Judy Lanier)

It is very important that you learn about traxoline.

Traxoline is a new form of zionter. It is montilled in

Ceristanna. The Ceristannians gristerlate large

amounts of fevon and then brachter it to quasel

traxoline. Traxoline may well be one of our most

lukized snezlaus in the future because of our zionter

lescelidge.

Answer the following questions.

1. What is traxoline?

2. Where is traxoline montilled?

3. How is traxoline quasselled?

4. Why is it important to know about traxoline?

A Complex Process

The procedure is quite simple but you may have to go somewhere else if the

facilities are not adequate. Before the process begins, you form different

groups. Of course, one group may be sufficient depending on how much

there is to do.

Next you get started. Be careful, a mistake can be costly. It is important not

to overdo things. It is usually better to do too few things than too many. This

is especially important when issues of compatibility arise. At first, the whole

procedure might seem complicated since timing can be crucial. With

practice, it can all become routine.

After the procedure is completed, form groups again to complete the

process. This whole cycle will need to be repeated often.

1. What is the process being discussed?

2. What facilities are needed? Laundry

3. What are some compatibility issues?

4. Why is it important to form groups?

Appropriate Problems for Problem Solving

advantage to using a problem solving framework.

enough so the best student in the

class is not certain how to solve it.

The problem must be simple enough

so that the solution, once arrived

at, can be understood and

appreciated.

2. The task must be designed so that

• the major problem solving heuristics are required

(e.g. physics understood, a situation requiring an

external representation);

• there are several decisions to make in order to do the

task (e.g. several different quantities that could be

calculated to answer the question; several ways to

approach the problem);

• the task cannot be resolved in a few steps by copying

a pattern.

3. The task problem must connect to each student’s

mental processes

• the situation is real to the student so other

information is connected;

• there is a reasonable goal on which to base decision

making.

The Form of the Question

Your task is to design an artificial joint to replace arthritic elbow joints in

patients. After healing, the patient should be able to hold at least a gallon of

milk (3.76 liters) while lower arm is horizontal. The biceps muscle is attached to

the bone at the distance 1/6 of the bone length from the elbow joint, and makes

an angle of 80o with the horizontal bone. For how strong a force should you

design the artificial joint? (The weight of the bone is negligible.)

• Gives a realistic situation – allows some students to visualize the situation.

• Does not give a picture – students must practice visualization.

• Uses the character “you” – allows some students to visualize the situation.

• Cannot be solved in one step by plugging numbers into an equation – students

must practice organized quantitative decision making and use mathematical skills.

Context-rich Problems

• Each problem is a short story in which the major

character is the student. That is, each problem

statement uses the personal pronoun "you."

• The problem statement includes a plausible

motivation or reason for "you" to calculate

something.

• The objects in the problems are real (or can be

imagined) -- the idealization process occurs

explicitly.

• No pictures or diagrams are given with the

problems. Students must visualize the situation by

using their own experiences.

• The problem requires the student to make

decisions. It can not be solved in one step by

plugging numbers into a formula.

Grading

“If you don’t grade it, they don’t learn it!”

• Always write physics principles and a logical,

organized problem solving procedure.

• Only basic equations given on test are allowed .

• Small, but significant part of grades is for group

problem solving.

• During lecture, answers to questions are occasionally

collected and graded (can be done electronically).

• Predictions for lab problems are graded.

ABSOLUTE SCALE

“If you win, I do NOT lose.” X

Scaffolding 4 Grading Rubric for Students

PHYSICS 1201.200 Final Exam December 19, 2005

This is a closed book, closed notes quiz. Calculators are permitted. The ONLY

formulas that may be used are those given below. Define all symbols and justify all

mathematical expressions used. Make sure to state all of the assumptions used to solve

a problem. Credit will be given only for a logical and complete solution that is clearly

communicated with correct units. Partial credit will be given for a well communicated

problem solving strategy based on correct physics. MAKE SURE YOUR NAME, ID

#, SECTION #, and TAs NAME ARE ON EACH PAGE!! START EACH

PROBLEM ON A NEW PAGE. Each problem is worth 25 points: In the context

of a unified solution, partial credit will be awarded as follows: a useful picture,

defining the question, and giving your approach is worth 6 points; a complete

physics diagram defining the relevant quantities, identifying the target quantity,

and specifying the relevant equations with reasons is worth 6 points; planning the

solution by constructing the mathematics leading to an algebraic answer and

checking the units of that answer is worth 7 points; calculating a numerical value

with correct units is worth 3 points; and evaluating the validity of the answer is

worth 3 points. The 30 multiple choice questions are each worth 1.5 points.

Scaffolding 5 Control of Equations that are Allowed

Structure and Management of Groups

• three (or occasionally four)

composition of cooperative groups?

• heterogeneous groups based on past test

performance. :

- one from top third

- one from middle third

- one from bottom third

• two women with one man, or same-gender groups

Structure and Management of Groups

For most groups:

• stay together long enough to be successful

• enough change so students know that success is

due to them, not to a "magic" group.

• about four times first semester, twice second

semester

Structure and Management of Groups

4. How can problems of dominance by one student and

conflict avoidance within a group be addressed?

- Manager

- Skeptic

- Checker/Recorder

- Summarizer

Structure and

Management

of Groups

• assign and rotate roles, group functioning;

• seat arrangement -- eye-to-eye, knee-to-knee;

• individual students randomly called on to present group results;

• group work is practice for individual tests;

• each student submits an individual lab report.

Course Structure

Four hours each week, sometimes with

LECTURES informal cooperative groups. Model

constructing knowledge, model

problem solving framework.

RECITATION

groups practice using problem-solving

SECTION

framework to solve context-rich

problems. Peer coaching, TA coaching.

Two hours each week -- same groups

LABORATORY practice using framework to solve

concrete experimental problems. Same

TA. Peer coaching, TA coaching.

Friday lecture -- problem-solving quiz &

TESTS conceptual questions (2 problems, 10

multiple choice) (1 group problem in

previous discussion section) every 3 weeks.

Cognitive

Apprenticeship

existing

ideas Instruction

ideas of expert practice

• Why it is important

sights • How it is used

and • How is it related a person’s

sounds existing knowledge

model

coach

fade

Collins, Brown, & Newman (1990)

Scaffolding

Additional structure used to support the

construction of a complex structure.

Removed as the structure is built

• A worksheet that structures the framework

• Cooperative group structure that encourages productive group interactions

Grouping rules

Group roles

Group reflection

• Limit use of formulas by giving an equation sheet (only allowed equations)

• Explicit grading rubric for problem solutions to encourage expert-like behavior

• Problems that discourage novice problem solving

• Explicit grading rubric for lab problems to encourage expert-like behavior

Math pre vs FCI pre – Biology Students

30

25

20

R2 = 0.14

math pre

15

10

0

0 5 10 15 fci pre 20 25 30

General test taking (preparation, IQ, …)

FCI pre vs Math pre – Engineering students

30

25

R2 = 0.20

20

FCI pre

15

10

0

0 5 10 15 20 25

Math pre

General test taking (preparation, IQ, …)

Problem-Solving vs. Math pre – Engineering Students

100

90

80

70

PS grade (final)

60

50

40

30

20 R2 = 0.1173

10

0

0 5 10 15 20 25

Math pre

Problem-Solving vs. Math pre – Biology Students

120

100

R2 = 0.09

80

final problems

60

40

20

0

0 5 10 15 20 25 30

math test pre

PS vs FCI pre – Engineering students

120

100

80

Problem Score

R2 = 0.2966

60

40

20

0

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35

FCI Pre

PS vs FCI pre – Biology Students

100

90

80

R2 = 0.0453

70

Problem Score

60

50

40

30

20

10

0

0 5 10 15 20 25 30

FCI pre

The End

for more information:

http://groups.physics.umn.edu/physed/

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