Heckler and colleagues explore, address student reasoning inconsistencies

Institute for Teaching and Learning Senior Researcher and Physics Professor Andrew Heckler and his colleagues recently published an article in Physics Today focusing on student reasoning inconsistencies that “can be puzzling and frustrating to both instructors and students,” but which are also “normal, expected, and inevitable.” 

They suggest instructors can “anticipate and address inconsistencies in student thinking in a manner that encourages further learning and reduces frustration.”

The team explores automatic responses and deliberate processing (dual-process theories) and the role of intuition and reflection to promote “cognitive frugality,” which allows for increased attention to more complex tasks. 

“We argue that some processes need to be automated for introductory physics, such as crucial math skills like trigonometric, algebraic, and vector operations. Improving students’ fluency with essential skills enables their cognitive frugality on the basic steps needed for more complex reasoning. That, in turn, frees up their cognitive resources so they can engage in more computationally expensive analytic processes, such as reflection, the search for alternatives, and error detection.”

Techniques for doing so include increased practice, making processes transparent, creating a learning context “that emphasizes … careful examination and possible rejection of an intuitive response … a natural part of reasoning.”

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