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Inducing Students To Contemplate Concept Eliciting Questions And The Effect On Problem Solving Performance

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Cognitive and Motivational Issues in Student Performance I

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.885.1 - 12.885.10



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Paper Authors


Paul Steif Carnegie Mellon University

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Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa
Degrees: Sc. B. 1979, Brown University; M.S. 1980, Ph.D. 1982, Harvard University.
Research area: engineering mechanics and education.

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Jamie LoBue Carnegie Mellon University

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Undergraduate Student, Mechanical Engineering

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Anne Fay Carnegie Mellon University

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Director of Assessment, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Degrees: B.A. 1983, York University; Ph. D. 1990, University of California, Santa Barbara.
Research area: Reasoning and problem solving; applications of cognitive psychology to educational practice

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Burak Kara Carnegie Mellon University

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Post-doctoral research associate, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Degrees: B.S. 1998, Middle East Technical University; M.S. 2000, Ph.D. 2004, Carnegie Mellon University.
Research area: engineering design, computational geometry, sketch-based interfaces.

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Steve Spencer Carnegie Mellon University

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Undergraduate student in Departments of Psychology and Industrial Design

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Inducing Students to Contemplate Concept-Eliciting Questions and the Effect on Problem Solving Performance


In many engineering subjects students learn to solve problems. Problem solving demands the transfer of knowledge from one context to another1. This requires that one’s knowledge be suitably organized in meaningful patterns, and that one be able to retrieve that knowledge, recognizing its relevance in the context of the problem solving process. This is linked to one widely appreciated dimension of expertise: metacognition or the ability to monitor one’s progress in approaching a task and to determine when understanding is inadequate2-4.

A number of researchers have successfully developed and implemented programs to support students’ metacognitive skills to improve learning and problem solving. Examples include reading comprehension5, writing6, mathematics7-8, physics9-10, statistics11 and computer program debugging12. For example, in Brown & Palinscar’s Reciprocal Teaching method, which is used to support text comprehension4, instruction is structured around encouraging students to implement four strategies: summarizing, question generating, clarifying, and predicting. The teacher initially models these comprehension strategies, asking students to summarize, predict, etc., and then students take turns assuming the role of teacher in leading this dialogue with each other. Although these instructional programs are domain dependent, each focuses on procedures or features that are generally applicable to a wide range of problems within the domain, rather than specific problem solution algorithms. This paper investigates a domain-specific metacognitive strategy that may broadly benefit problem- solving in statics.

Conceptual Framework for Statics and Origin of Metacognitive Strategy

In several branches of engineering, including mechanical and civil engineering, statics forms an important foundation to subsequent courses, such as strength of materials and dynamics. In addition, to the extent that design activities draw upon engineering science knowledge, statics can play a key role in design. Indeed, instructors in design courses lament the inability of students to use knowledge from prior courses, such as statics, for practical design purposes13. Several potential flaws in traditional statics instruction have been catalogued recently14. It was argued that students need to learn statics in the context of physical artifacts, and that the concepts of statics need to be presented so they build systematically upon each other. A conceptual framework for statics has been proposed15, and this has led to the development of a now widely used Statics Concept Inventory16-17. Three of the four concept clusters involve bodies and the relations between bodies and forces. This point is quite critical – students and instructors often treat statics as largely an exercise in vectors (long ago statics was taught by mathematicians). This mathematical, rather than physical, approach impedes students in ultimately applying statics to real systems. The centrality of bodies in the concepts of statics is one origin for the metacognitive strategy proposed below.

The second origin is the observation of the first author as a long time instructor in statics. When students come for help in solving statics problems, certain questions posed by the instructor very often appear to provoke productive thought in the student. Such questions include: “Precisely what bodies from the original system are you including in your free body

Steif, P., & LoBue, J., & Fay, A., & Kara, B., & Spencer, S. (2007, June), Inducing Students To Contemplate Concept Eliciting Questions And The Effect On Problem Solving Performance Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1673

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