A qualitative approach to teaching problem solving in college physics



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Problem and Purpose. Most physics courses are taught in a mathematically oriented, quantitative manner. Though students often show concept achievement, they have great difficulty in applying these concepts to higher lever, application-type problems. An undue emphasis on the mathematical aspect of problem solving often obscures the qualitative, conceptual foundations of the subject and leaves the students with little procedural knowledge to guide them as to when and how to use basic concepts and principles. This study sought to emphasize the qualitative aspects of physics in problem solving in order to determine if such an approach were as good as (or better than) the traditional quantitative method in preparing students to solve application level problems. Procedures. An instructional program was developed covering topics of forces, work and energy, using symbols rather than numbers, drilling on the functional relationship of parameters, employing verbal solutions or solution outlines in a flow diagram form, and promoting generalization of results. Four sections of first-semester, calculus-based physics were used in this study for the experimental and control groups. Following four weeks of instruction, an hour exam consisting of complex, application-type problems and qualitative questions was administered. [...]



Physics--Study and teaching (Higher), Problem solving