Differences in the problem solving of stronger and weaker novices in physics: Knowledge, strategies, or knowledge structure?



This study investigates the extent to which differences in the problem-solving performance of stronger and weaker novices in physics arise from: (a) differences in amount of domain knowledge, (b) differences in how domain knowledge is organized, and (c) differences in the strategic application of domain knowledge. Ten first-year university physics students attempted to solve one easy and one difficult problem involving Newton's second law. Clear differences in the protocols of stronger and weaker students for the difficult problem, combined with successful performance by all students on the easy problem, were interpreted as evidence for differences in the organization of relevant knowledge held by more versus less successful first-year physics students. Some differences in procedural knowledge were also observed, but all students used the working forward strategy that had been presented to them in lectures.