Toward a Unified Theory of Problem Solving: Views from the Content Domains

By Mike U. Smith | Go to book overview

6
A VIEW FROM PHYSICS

Klaus Schultz Jack Lochhead University of Massachusetts


INTRODUCTION

Of the many possible perspectives on physics problem solving, one that has received so much attention from researchers that it can justifiably be called fashionable makes use of comparisons of experts and novices in problem-solving situations. By definition, experts "know how" to solve problems, but what exactly is it that they know? Can we name it, bottle it, and sell it? More seriously, from the standpoint of learning and teaching, can we help novices become experts more efficiently than by having them spend years (or decades) of apprenticeship with an expert? In the realm of cognitive development, Piaget playfully dismissed this kind of question about speeding-up, referring to it as the "American question." However, here we are referring at least in part to development of skills and habits rather than to cognitive development. Perhaps the question ought to be phrased in this way: Can we help students avoid years of failure in physics problem solving-by some means other than telling them to give up because they don't have the talent? And (to connect with the theme of this volume) if the answer to the previous question is at least a partial "yes," what can we learn in the process that is useful beyond the learning of physics?

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