The impact on students’ self-efficacy and attainment of the explicit teaching of cognitive and metacognitive problem solving strategies in post -16 physics. The case for a GCE A-level physics course in an inner London Academy

UCL Institute of Education, University College London, United Kingdom

Supervisor: Professor Michael Reiss

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Problem solving plays a pivotal role in the physics curriculum at all levels, as a summative assessment tool or a pedagogic barometer to gauge transfer of acquired physics knowledge and skills. However, evidence shows that students’ performance in problem solving remains limited to basic routine problems, with evidence of poor performance in solving problems that go beyond basic equation retrieval and substitution. Research into physics problem solving, with very little literature existent for the UK, has advocated for explicit teaching of problem-solving strategies but with little impact of these studies on the actual learning-teaching process of physics.

In heeding the call by most researchers to extend research on physics problem to real classrooms situations, an action research methodology, consisting of two cycles, was adopted. This action research study attempted to bridge the `research-practical divide´ by explicitly teaching physics problem-solving strategies through collaborative group problem-solving sessions embedded within the curriculum.

The target group was a GCE-A level cohort in the AS course, the only course cohort at this inner London academy. The objective was to trigger the generative mechanisms identified within the information processing, sociocultural theory and social cognitive theories. These mechanisms were viewed as possessing causal powers to enable an improvement in physics problem-solving competence. Data were collected using external assessments and video recordings of individual and collaborative group problem-solving sessions.

The data analysis revealed a general positive shift in the students’ problem-solving patterns, both at group and individual level. All four students demonstrated a deliberate, well-planned deployment of the taught strategies. The marked positive shifts in collaborative competences, cognitive competences, metacognitive processing and increased self-efficacy are positively correlated with attainment in problem solving in physics. However, this shift proved to be due to different mechanisms triggered in the different students.


Ronald Mazorodze

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UCL Institute of Education

University College London

20 Bedford Way

LondonWC1H 0AL

United Kingdom

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