June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Educational Research and Methods
14.712.1 - 14.712.17
Improving Students’ Ability to Model during Problem-Solving in Statics
In this paper, we report the results of an educational intervention designed to improve students’ ability to create models as part of the engineering problem-solving process in Statics. Statics was selected for this study because it is often the first course in which students learn to apply an engineering problem-solving method. In this study, we focus on the early steps in problem- solving when students model the system being studied to create a set of equations describing the system. The overall goal of the current study was to design and test an intervention to help students better understand the concepts involved in solving these problems.
The intervention we describe here was developed as part of an on-going program of research designed to better understand the major difficulties that students encounter as they learn to develop and apply models to solve Statics problems. In the first phase of this research,1 more than 300 students completed three inventories - math skills, spatial reasoning and statics concepts. The results from the inventories were used to identify clusters of students with common characteristics, and therefore, presumably common deficiencies in their problem-solving in Statics. Students from each cluster were invited to participate in think-aloud problem-solving sessions to identify the weaknesses in their problem-solving. Although the think-aloud analyses did not reveal differences among the clusters of students, it did uncover differences in the problem-solving processes used by separate groups of successful and unsuccessful students.2 Most notably, successful students were far more likely to generate self-explanations during problem-solving in comparison to unsuccessful students. A self-explanation is strategy that helps the learner to access prior knowledge3 and connect this knowledge to new instances.4 The findings of our think-aloud study are consistent with other research, which has shown that college students who self-explain acquire more knowledge of a problem-solving procedure5 and generate better problem solutions6 than do students who do not generate explanations.
Based on these findings, the research team developed an intervention in which students were prompted to generate self-explanations when solving problems from Statics. The version of the intervention tested in this study was developed using an iterative process in which the interventions were tested, refined to enhance their effectiveness, and then re-tested.2 The interventions focused on having students reason through, or self-explain, the reaction forces and couples present at a given connection and then apply this reasoning to select the correct model of a particular support or the overall free-body diagram of the system. In addition, a pre/post- assessment was developed to test the effectiveness of the interventions. This paper reports results from the initial full-scale testing of the effectiveness of the intervention.
Relationship to Previous Work
This study has been influenced by a number of studies of problem-solving in general and of problem-solving in engineering specifically. The relationship to past work was discussed at some length in a previous paper7 and therefore it is only briefly summarized here. Three subsets of the literature have had the most influence on our work: problem-solving processes, translations between symbol systems, and domain knowledge.
Litzinger, T., & Van Meter, P., & Firetto, C., & Passmore, L., & Masters, C. B., & Turns, S., & Zappe, S. (2009, June), Improving Students’ Ability To Model During Problem Solving In Statics Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4709
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