Representational Format, Student Choice, and ProblemSolving in Physics

Patrick B. Kohl and Noah D. Finkelstein
Department of Physics, University of Colorado, Campus Box 390Boulder, CO 80309

Student problem-solving ability appears to be tied to the representational format of the problem(mathematical, pictorial, graphical, verbal).1 In a study of a 367-student algebra-based physics class, we examine student problem solving ability on homework problems given in four different representational formats, with problemsas close to isomorphic as possible. In addition, we examine students’ capacity for representational self-assessment by giving follow-up quizzes in which they can choose between various problem formats, and look for factors that mayinfluence their ability or choices. As a control, part of the class was assigned a random-format follow-up quiz. We find that there are statistically significant performance differences between isomorphic problems. We also find that allowingstudents to choose which representational form they use improves student performance under some circumstances and degrades it in others.

full paper