Enhancing cognitive development through Physics problem solving: example of a thinking-skills Curriculum
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Numerous research studies in the last thirty years have highlighted the inadequacy of the traditional introductory physics course. It has been shown that students who leave such courses tend to have incoherent physics knowledge and mediocre problem-solving skills. Moreover, they have difficulties when engaging in higher-level thinking and their understanding of the scientific process improves little. At the George Washington University (GW), we designed a thinking-skills curriculum that trades “breadth for depth” by reducing content while emphasizing skill building. We used parallel conceptual and procedural learning progressions that have been created based on a taxonomy of physics problems being developed by Teodorescu et al. (TIPP: Taxonomy of Introductory Physics Problems). Our course emphasizes concept formation in various procedural contexts fostered by different curricular units. This approach allows us to explicitly link physics problems and exercises to the higher-order thinking skills we want students to develop while addressing the common student complaint that the various course elements, such as textbook readings, lecture materials, homework problems and lab exercises, appear disjointed and unrelated to each other. Our framework can be adapted to many curricular settings and can be continuously adjusted throughout the semester. We present our methodology and our preliminary results from the initial phase of testing.