Across many domains, research has shown that students often fail to select and apply appropriate conceptual knowledge when solving problems. Programs designed to support monitoring skills have been successful in several domains. Critical conceptual knowledge in statics appears to be cued by paying attention to the bodies that are present in a problem, as well as to which ones are interacting and how. The research question addresses whether students can be induced to think about the bodies present, and whether focusing on bodies improves problem solving performance. Using a pre-post test design, written and verbal protocols were obtained for students solving problems before and after instruction. During instruction all students saw the same set of examples and corrected answers, but only the experimental group was asked questions designed to promote body centered talk. Solutions and protocols were coded and analyzed for frequency of body centered talk and solution quality. The experimental group showed statistically significant increases in relevant body centered talk after instruction. Both groups improved their ability to represent unknown forces in free body diagrams after instruction, with the experimental group showing a greater, but not statistically significant, improvement. However, for both groups, the error rate in representing unknown forces at an interaction was significantly lower when a student referred to the bodies in the particular interaction. Problem solving in conceptually rich domains can improve if, in addition to acquiring conceptual knowledge, students develop strategies for recognizing when and how to apply it.
Paul Steif, Jamie M Lobue, Levent Burak Kara, Anne L Fay. (2010). Improving Problem Solving Performance by Inducing Talk about Salient Problem Features. ASEE Journal of Engineering Education, Volume 99, Issue 2, Pages 135-142.