Examining and supporting student reasoning in physics using dual-process theories

Beth Lindsey
Associate Professor of Physics
Penn State Greater Allegheny

In any given year, approximately 500,000 students, most of whom are majoring in STEM disciplines other than physics, take introductory physics courses at institutions of higher learning. As a result, the development of reasoning and critical thinking skills is possibly the most important outcome of college physics instruction, as these abilities extend to all STEM disciplines and are integral to many non-STEM professions as well. However, an emerging body of research has shown that, even after research-based instruction, students who demonstrate correct conceptual understanding and reasoning on one task often fail to use the same knowledge and skills on related tasks. Observed inconsistencies can be accounted for by dual-process theories of reasoning (DPToR), which assert that human cognition relies on two thinking processes. The first, the heuristic process, is fast, intuitive, and automatic, while the second, the analytic process, is slow, effortful, and deliberate. This collaborative project is focused on leveraging DPToR to guide the development and testing of interventions that (1) better support student reasoning skills and (2) help us identify and articulate specific mechanisms by which the interventions help students reason more productively. In this interactive workshop, we will begin by providing an overview of DPToR and discussing implications for student reasoning in STEM. Participants will then have opportunities to: (1) identify patterns in student responses to specific assessment tasks in physics, (2) explore DPToR-aligned interventions and associated performance data and student responses, and (3) gain insight into strategies that may better support student reasoning.


MacKenzie Stetzer (mackenzie.stetzer@maine.edu), Mila Kryjevskaia (mila.kryjevskaia@ndsu.edu)