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i

The Patterns of Physics Problem-Solving from the Perspective of


Metacognition

This thesis entitled above is submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by the
author below.

Fatin Aliah Phang binti Abdullah


New Hall (Murray Edwards College ) /Faculty of Education
University of Cambridge

22nd May 2009

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


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Declaration of Originality

I hereby declare that my doctoral thesis entitled:

The Patterns of Physics Problem-Solving From the Perspective of Metacognition

is:
Is the result of my own work and includes nothing which is the outcome of work done in
collaboration except as declared in the Preface and specified in the text
Is not substantially the same as any that I have submitted or will be submitting for a
degree or diploma or other qualification at this or any other University, except as
specified in the text
Does not exceed the prescribed word limit of 80,000 words

I have also:
resided in Cambridge for at least three terms
undertaken the minimum requirement of research terms
submitted this thesis by my submission date or requested leave to defer it
formally applied for examiners to be appointed

I will also keep my contact details up to date using my self-service pages throughout the
examination process.

Date: 22nd May 2009 Signed:


Name: Fatin Aliah Phang binti Abdullah
College: New Hall (Murray Edwards)
Department: Faculty of Education
Supervisor: Dr. Keith S. Taber

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Acknowledgement

In the name of The God, the Most Gracious and the Most Merciful.
All praise is due to The God, the Creator of the Universe.
Peace be upon Prophet Muhammad, the final Prophet.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to my supervisor, Dr Keith S. Taber


for his guidance, advice and help throughout the few years of my study in Cambridge,
from my MPhil in 2005 until now. For his patience, time and help, they will always be
the motivations for me to strive harder in my future academic journey. I have learnt and
grown throughout my time in Cambridge due to his continuous support and guidance in
every academic step that I took.
Special thanks to the teachers and students of the five schools in Cambridge who
have spent their precious time in taking part in this research and providing valuable
information. I want to thank my sponsor, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, for giving me
the trust in pursuing my study in the University of Cambridge. I will not forget all the
lecturers, colleagues and staff at the Faculty of Education who are always there to give a
helping hand with academic, technical and moral supports: my years at the faculty have
been inspirational.
To all the wonderful brothers and sisters in the Cambridge University Islamic
Society, as well as the local Cambridge Muslim community, my thanks for their
everlasting spiritual support throughout my ups and downs. It is worth mentioning the
University Library staff, all the people in New Hall (Murray Edwards College) and those
whom I could not mention one by one in this page, may they all be rewarded for what
they have done for me.
Last but never the least, to my beloved family and friends in Malaysia, I really
appreciate your support, patience and prayers. I promise to come back as soon as I have
completed my study.
Thank You.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


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Summary of the study

Previous studies in Physics problem-solving suggest that there are differences between
expert and novice Physics problem-solvers in terms of knowledge organisation and
application in problem-solving. However, it is arguable that many of these studies are
based on activities that should not be considered as real problem-solving. The definition
of a real problem was not taken into account when selecting the expert and novice
problem-solvers. Consequently, there is a limited body of research into fundamental
aspects of problem-solving among the so-called novices available to inform the design
of instruction to develop problem-solving ability among novices. Recent work suggests
that metacognitive skills play a vital role in problem-solving. Yet, there are only a few
studies looking specifically into the role of metacognitive skills in Physics problem-
solving, especially among secondary school students. This study attempts to investigate
the patterns of Physics problem-solving among Key Stage 4 students through the lens of
metacognition using Grounded Theory. In order to match the students with real
problems, 148 students from five schools were given a Physics Problems Test (PhyPT)
consisting of 6-8 Physics problems, followed by two questions to measure the level of
difficulty of each problem. Later, 26 students, at different stages of the research, were
selected as a theoretical sample to undergo a session of individual problem-solving using
thinking-aloud and observation, followed by retrospective semi-structured interviews.
Additional problems were constructed to match the level of difficulty and conceptual
understanding of these selected students. The analysis of the thinking-aloud protocols
was supported by the analyses of interviews, video observations and answer sheets using
constant comparative method. A general pattern of Physics problem-solving was
produced with three variations that could further describe the students patterns in detail.
A substantive theory concerning the metacognitive aspect of Physics problem-solving
among the students was also generated from this study.
.

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Table of Contents

Title i
Declaration of Originality ii
Acknowledgement iii
Summary of the study iv
Table of Contents v
List of Tables xi
List of Figures xii
List of Abbreviations and Symbols xiii
Dedication xiv

Chapter 1: Introduction
1.0 Introduction 1
1.1 Overview of research in Physics problem-solving 3
1.2 Metacognition in Physics education and problem-solving 5
1.3 Constructivism and the importance of the research 7
1.4 Statement of the problem 10
1.5 Research questions 10
1.6 Summary 10

Chapter 2: Literature Review


2.0 Introduction 11
2.1 What is a problem and problem-solving? 11
2.2 Early research in Physics problem-solving:
expert versus novice 13
2.2.1 Summary: The end of expert versus novice 19
2.3 Later research in Physics problem-solving: Another way 20
2.3.1 Summary 24
2.4 Physics problem-solving methods 25
2.5 Metacognition 30

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2.6 Measuring metacognition 38


2.7 Research using thinking-aloud:
How to observe Physics problem-solving and metacognitive skills 40
2.8 Research in metacognition and problem-solving 41
2.9 Summary 48

Chapter 3: Research Methodology


3.0 Introduction 49
3.1 Constructivism 49
3.2 Grounded theory 53
3.3 GT data analysis techniques 57
3.3.1 Constant comparative method 58
3.3.2 Open-coding 59
3.3.3 Axial-coding 59
3.3.4 Selective-coding 59
3.3.5 Verification and the trustworthiness of the theory generated 60
3.4 Selection of participants 64
3.5 Methods 65
3.5.1 Verbal reports 65
3.5.2 Retrospective semi-structured interview 72
3.5.3 Observation 72
3.5.4 Analysis of answer sheets 73
3.6 Research procedures 73
3.6.1 First phase: Pilot testing 73
3.6.2 Second phase: Selecting the theoretical sample 74
3.6.3 Third phase: In-depth investigation 77
3.6.4 Fourth phase: Data analysis 80
3.7 Ethical considerations 81
3.8 Summary 83

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Chapter 4: Data Analysis Problem-solving steps


4.0 Introduction 84
4.1 An overview of data analysis procedure 84
4.1.1 Stage 1 84
4.1.2 Stage 2 85
4.1.3 Stage 3 87
4.2 Stage 2 Problem-solving steps 88
4.2.1 Reading 90
4.2.1.1 Reading 3 90
4.2.1.2 Reading 4 92
4.2.1.3 Reading 5 95
4.2.1.4 Reading 6 96
4.2.2 Reflecting 97
4.2.3 Planning 98
4.2.3.1 Planning 1 99
4.2.3.2 Planning 2 100
4.2.3.3 Planning 3 102
4.2.3.4 Planning 4 103
4.2.3.5 Planning 5 104
4.2.3.6 Planning 6 105
4.2.4 Analysing 106
4.2.4.1 Analysing 1 106
4.2.4.2 Analysing 2 107
4.2.4.3 Analysing 3 108
4.2.4.4 Analysing 4 108
4.2.4.5 Analysing 7 109
4.2.4.6 Analysing 8 110
4.2.4.7 Analysing 9 111
4.2.4.8 Analysing 10 112
4.2.4.9 Analysing 11 112
4.2.5 Calculating 114

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4.2.5.1 Calculating 2 114


4.2.5.2 Calculating 3 115
4.2.5.3 Calculating 4 116
4.2.5.4 Calculating 5 118
4.2.6 Answering 118
4.2.7 Checking 119
4.2.7.1 Checking 1 119
4.2.7.2 Checking 2 120
4.2.7.3 Checking 3 120
4.2.7.4 Checking 4 122
4.2.7.5 Checking 5 122
4.2.7.6 Checking 6 123
4.2.7.7 Checking 7 124
4.2.7.8 Checking 8 125
4.2.7.9 Testing 1 125
4.2.8 Pattern of Stage 2 126
4.3 Problem-solving steps in Stage 3 128
4.3.1 Im stuck! 128
4.3.2 Justifying 136
4.3.3 A general pattern and sub-patterns 138
4.3.3.1 Pattern 1 141
4.3.3.2 Pattern 2 144
4.3.3.3 Pattern 3 147
4.4 Summary 150

Chapter 5: Data Analysis - Metacognition


5.0 Introduction 151
5.1 Metacognitive aspects of problem-solving 151
5.1.1 Memory and experience 151
5.1.2 Concept and knowledge 155
5.1.3 Understanding and problem representation 155

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5.1.4 Self-belief and judgement 159


5.1.5 Goal and planning 161
5.1.6 Problem-solving process 164
5.1.7 Solution and answer 168
5.2 Metacognition and problem-solving pattern 170
5.3 The story of Physics problem-solving 179
5.4 Working hypotheses 182
5.5 Summary 185

Chapter 6: Summary and Conclusions


6.0 Introduction 186
6.1 Summary of the study 186
6.2 Substantive theory and working hypotheses 193
6.3 Discussions of the findings 197
6.4 Implications of the research findings 204
6.5 Future research recommendations 212
6.6 Reflections 214
6.7 Conclusions 216

7.0 References 218 238

APPENDICES 239 - 346


A Categories created during open-coding in Stage 1 239
B Categories created during axial-coding in Stage 1 240
C Open coding for problem-solving steps in Stage 2 241
D Axial coding for problem-solving steps in Stage 2 242
E Axial coding for problem-solving steps in Stage 3 243
F Open-coding for metacognitive skills in Stage 2 244
G Axial-coding for metacognitive skills in Stage 2 245
H A combination of categories of problem-solving steps
and metacognition in Stage 3 246

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I - Preset interview questions 247


J - Questions for retrospective interview (Stage 2) 248
K - Physics Problems Test 1 (PhyPT1) & suggested solutions 249
L - Physics Problems Test 2 (PhyPT2) & suggested solutions 263
M - Additional Physics problems for Phase 3 of the research 278
N - Problem E for Stage 3 280
O Consent Form 281
P - Summary of How to solve it 282
Q - An example of interview transcript at the beginning of Stage 2 (Peter) 283
R - An example of interview transcript at the end of Stage 2 (Oscar) 286
S - Thinking-aloud protocols of the students in Stage 2 (in alphabetical order) 288
T - Thinking-aloud protocols of students at Stage 3 (Problem E) 327
U - Answer sheet of Marco (Problem 4) 342
V - Answer sheet of Wendy (Problem 6 of PhyPT2) 343
W - Answer sheet of Isaac (Problem 8 of PhyPT2) 344
X - Answer sheet of Jacob (Problem 4) 345
Y - Answer sheet of Zahra (Problem 2 & 3) 346

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List of Tables

Table 1.1: Numbers of candidates for science subjects in GCSE and A-Level
Examination from 2006 to 2008. 2
Table 2.1: Summary of early research in Physics problem-solving. 14
Table 2.2: Summary of later research in Physics problem-solving. 21
Table 2.3: Correlation matrix showing the relationships between transfer
performance and predictor variables (Robertson, 1990) 22
Table 2.4: The comparison of the models of metacognition. 37
Table 2.5: Summary of recent studies in metacognition and problem-solving. 43
Table 3.1: Criteria to establish trustworthiness. 61
Table 3.2: Theoretical sample for the third phase of the study in Stage 1. 75
Table 3.3: Theoretical sample for the third phase of the study in Stage 2. 76
Table 3.4: Details of data collection in all stages. 78
Table 3.5: Problems (see Appendix M) solved by each student in Stage 1. 78
Table 3.6: Problems (see Appendix M) recorded and solved by each student
in Stages 2 and Stage 3. 79
Table 4.1: Number of problems considered in the generation of patterns. 140
Table 5.1: Metacognitive skills in problem-solving steps. 177
Table 5.2: Total of metacognitive and non-metacognitive categories of
problem-solving steps coded in 44 real problem protocols. 178
Table 6.1: Comparison of established problem-solving models with the findings. 198
Table 6.2: Metacognitive skills in problem-solving by various researchers. 202
Table 6.3: Some metacognitive knowledge and regulated thought/action
shown by the students in this study. 211

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List of Figures

Figure 2.1: Systematic modelling method (Savage & Williams, 1990) 28


Figure 2.2: Metacognitive system proposed by Nelson and Narens (1990, 1994) 34
Figure 3.1: The data collection procedure and the timeline. 81
Figure 4.1: Pattern of Physics problem-solving of Stage 1 (Phang, 2006). 89
Figure 4.2: Pattern of Physics problem-solving of Stage 2 (after Reading,
Reflecting, Planning and Analysing had been analysed). 113
Figure 4.3: Pattern of Physics problem-solving derived from Stage 2. 127
Figure 4.4: Pattern of Physics problem-solving of Stage 3. 141
Figure 4.5: Pattern 1. 142
Figure 4.6: Pattern 2. 144
Figure 4.7: Pattern 3. 147
Figure 5.1: Pattern of Physics problem-solving with metacognitive skills. 179
Figure 6.1: Metacognition model of Physics problem-solving. 203

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List of Abbreviations and Symbols

A-Level Advanced Level


CASE Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education
CAT Computerised Adaptive Testing
GCSE General Certificate of Secondary Education
GT Grounded Theory
KS Key Stage
PEEL Project for Enhancing Effective Learning
PhyPT Physics Problems Test

Scientific measurement units: Scientific symbols:


m metres s distance
km - kilometres t time
s seconds v velocity
m/s metres per second a acceleration
m/s2 metres per second squared F force
min minutes A area
m/min metres per minute P pressure
mph miles per minute V voltage
2
m metres squared I electrical current
N Newtons R electrical resistance
Pa - Pascals

In thinking-aloud transcripts:
- pause for more than 2 seconds
- words undeciphered
In brackets () - actions while reading the line
In bold researchers speech

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In memory of my mother, Voon Mui Fah

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


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Chapter 1: Introduction

1.0 Introduction
One of the fundamental achievements of education is to enable people to utilise
their knowledge in problem-solving. In fact, many educationists and philosophers assert
this as the central goal of education. According to Pring (2000), education refers to
experiences or instructions which nurture the capacities (the concepts and skills, the
mental operations and dispositions) for subsequent problem-solving and enquiry.
Whitehead (1970) suggested that education is the acquisition of the art of knowledge
utilisation. Dewey (cited in Pring, 2000) believed that worthwhile learning enables
people to adapt successfully to new situations and to identify and deal with problems as
they arise. He said that greater emphasis should be put on the development of problem-
solving and critical thinking skills. According to Gagn (1985), cumulative learning
ultimately results in the establishment of capabilities that allow an individual to solve a
wide variety of novel problems.
In science education particularly, developing problem-solving skills is identified
as a top priority (Kyurshunov, 2005). According to Greeno (1978), a major objective of
instruction, especially in mathematics and science, is to strengthen students problem-
solving skills. Additionally, Larkin and Reif (1979) believe that Physics education must
address the crucially important task of teaching students to become proficient problem-
solvers. Bolton and Ross (1997) say that problem-solving ability is widely regarded as a
core skill in the physical sciences. This suggests that problem-solving is an essential
component of Physics education.
In Physics education, according to Bascones, Novak and Novak (1985), learning
Physics is equated with developing problem-solving abilities, and achievement is
measured by the number of problems which a student has correctly solved on a test.
(p.253). In a comparison between the 2006 and 2007 Science GCSE results, Biology and
Chemistry showed improvement but Physics remained the same (BBC News, 2006a &
2007a). In the 2005 British A-Level Examinations, while most subjects pass rates
increased, Physics was one of three subjects (with French and German) that saw a

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decrease1 (Ross, 2005, August 18). Referring to Table 1.1, it was reported that the
Science (Physics) GCSE and Physics A-Level had the least candidates relative to other
science subjects (chemistry and biology) from 2006-2008. According to Professor Alan
Smithers from the University of Buckingham (BBC News, 2006, August 11), the low
number of students taking Physics causes the students to think that Physics is a difficult
subject.

Table 1.1: Numbers of candidates for science subjects in GCSE and A-Level
Examination from 2006 to 2008.
(Reference from BBC News, 2006a, 2006b, 2007a, 2007b, 2008a & 2008b)
GCSE A-Level
2006 2007 2008 2006 2007 2008
Physics 56035 58391 75383 27368 27466 28096
Biology 60085 63208 85521 54890 54563 56010
Chemistry 56764 59219 76656 40064 40285 41680
Total Candidates 172884 180818 237560 122322 122314 125786

Indeed, according to Osborne, Simon and Collins (2003), students perceived


science, particularly physical science as a difficult subject. Bascones et al. (1985)
reported that Physics was one of the most difficult subjects in the secondary school
curriculum. Unfortunately, this is not just a phenomenon in the UK and US. When I was
working as a Physics teacher in Malaysia, there were countless times where students
expressed Physics to be the most difficult science subject. Many of them failed to solve
Physics problems but when their Physics concepts were tested, they could explain the
related concepts correctly. This situation parallels the statement below:

The task [teaching students to become proficient problem-solvers] is difficult


because most students find it considerably easier to acquire a knowledge about
science than to acquire the abilities for applying the knowledge flexibly to solve
diverse problems. (Larkin & Reif, 1979, p.191).

Acknowledging the difficulty of Physics problem-solving, a huge body of


research in this area has been carried out over several decades (section 1.1 gives an

1
There was a decrease of 2%.

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overview). Regrettably, until now, there has not been a single effective general Physics
problem-solving method that could help secondary school students to improve their
problem-solving skills (Gick, 1986; Husen & Postlethwaite, 1994; Mestre, 2001;
Reinhold & Freudenreich, 2003). The first half of Chapter 2 of this thesis will therefore
try to discern the reasons for this and seek a more concrete theoretical framework through
which we can understand Physics problem-solving and further illuminate our perception
of problem-solving itself.
With the rising importance and significance of metacognition in Physics
education and cognitive science (see section 1.2), it is crucial to investigate this issue in
the light of this relatively new yet fuzzy concept in Physics problem-solving. However,
the ambiguity of the concept raises further issues and problems in the conceptual
framework and measurement methods that could be collectively agreed by the majority of
scholars in metacognition. The second half of Chapter 2 will address such issues and
suggest some solutions that will help shape the research design of this study.
Working in a sphere of science education today that is largely shaped by the
philosophy of constructivism, the justifications for the many decisions made in this study
also conform to this paradigm. To be more specific, radical constructivism is the central
epistemological assumption that serves as the basis of this interpretive study. Sections
1.3 and 3.1 will further elaborate on this idea and how it influences the research in terms
of the selection of the research methodology (see Chapter 3) and the interpretations of the
data presented in Chapters 4 and 5. Finally Chapter 6 will highlight the main findings of
the research and provide recommendations for teaching and learning as well as future
research.

1.1 Overview of research in Physics problem-solving


Research on developing an effective general instruction for Physics problem-
solving started at least 40 years ago (Garrett, 1986) and evolved after the late 1970s with
the works of Simon and Simon (1978), Larkin and Reif (1979), Larkin, McDermott,
Simon and Simon (1980), Chi, Feltovich and Glaser (1981), Larkin (1981), Chi, Glaser
and Rees (1982), Heller and Reif (1984) and de Jong and Ferguson-Hessler (1986). Most
of the research during this period aimed to identify the differences between expert and

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novice Physics problem-solvers. Later work by Savage and Williams (1990) and Heller
and Heller (1995) sought to establish effective Physics problem-solving models.
Recently, the trend in Physics problem-solving research has shifted to identifying the
factors that can enhance problem-solving ability (Bascones et al., 1985; Amigues, 1988;
Robertson, 1990; Duke & Pritchard, 2001; Henderson, Heller, Heller, Kuo &
Yerushalmi, 2001; Kanim, 2001a, 2001b; Zou, 2001; Gerace, Dufresne & Leonard, 2002;
Kuo, 2004; Park & Lee, 2004).
Reviewing research conducted before the mid-1980s, Mestre (2001) concluded
that experts have extensive knowledge that is highly organised and used efficiently in
problem-solving. The experts also approach problem-solving differently from the
novices. The experts categorise problems qualitatively and according to major
principles whereas the novices categorise problems quantitatively and according to
superficial attributes of the problems (i.e., the objects that appear in the problem
statement) (ibid).
Later, there were two Physics problem-solving models established by Savage and
Williams (1990) and Heller and Heller (1995) in the 1990s. Savage and Williams (1990)
recommended modelling for Physics problem-solving to solve mechanics problems,
whilst Heller and Heller (1995) suggested the Logical Problem-Solving Model
comprising five stages (i.e., focusing the problem, explaining the physical principle or
law, planning the solution, executing the solution and evaluating the answer). However,
both of these models were developed using respondents from among university students.
Furthermore, Savage and Williams model is only suitable for kinematics and dynamics
problems where a lot of algebraic equations are involved. Consequently, these models
are not suitable for secondary school Physics problem-solving.
One of the earliest Physics problem-solving studies concerning metacognition
among secondary school students has been reported by Amigues (1988) to investigate
peer interactions during problem-solving process. Henderson et al. (2001) and Kuo
(2004) explored the beliefs and ideas among lecturers about their students learning of
Physics problem-solving. These three studies reported that metacognitive skills play a
role in Physics problem-solving. These studies will be discussed in detail in the next
chapter.

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1.2 Metacognition in Physics education and problem-solving


During these three decades of research, the studies of Physics problem-solving
seem to have focused on cognition and subsequently metacognition. Seroglou and
Koumaras (2001), through their framework of Physics teaching, argue that Physics
education has shifted from the dimension of cognition in the 1960s to that of
metacognition in the 1980s. It has been recommended that metacognitive skills should be
taught to the students to help them solve Physics problems (Mestre, 2001).
The word metacognition itself was introduced by Flavell in the 1970s (Flavell,
Miller & Miller, 2002) and its roles in education include the area of metamemory,
language, communication, perception, observation, understanding and problem-solving
(Flavell, 1999). Metacognition refers to knowledge and cognition about cognitive
phenomena (Flavell, 1979). It includes the knowledge of general cognitive strategies,
and knowledge about monitoring, evaluating and regulating these strategies (Jausovec,
1994). There are three main types of knowledge involved in the metacognitive processes:
declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge and conditional knowledge (Schunk,
2000). Declarative knowledge concerns the questions of what, which offers the facts.
Procedural knowledge is to answer the question of how, that provides the strategies.
Conditional knowledge concerns why and when to use the declarative and the
procedural knowledge (see the metacognitive knowledge of Pintrich, et al. (2000) in
section 2.5).
Kluwe (1982) said that the activities of metacognition can be divided into two
main categories: firstly, where the thinking subject has some knowledge about his/her
own thinking and that of other persons, and secondly, where the thinking subject may
monitor and regulate the course of his/her own thinking. An example of the first category
is an individuals knowledge about his/her shortcomings in memorisation or his/her
strengths with regard to solving dynamic and complex problems. This is the knowledge
of metacognition (Kluwe, 1982). As for the second category, it refers to an individuals
cognitive activity having as its object his/her own cognitive enterprise, aiming at efficient
and appropriate thinking. For example, the change in the speed of information
processing under time pressure or the allocation of ones processing resources in order to
focus on the relevant features of a situation. Some refer this as metacognitive strategies

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(Flavell, 1979) and others categorise it under the concept of metacognitive skills (Brown,
1978). These are some of the examples of how a person is said to apply the
metacognitive skills when he or she realises that (Flavell, 1976, p.232):
a. learning A is harder than B.
b. s/he must recheck C before accepting C as the answer or fact.
c. s/he must jot down D because s/he might forget about it.
d. s/he must ask someone else about the truth of E.

These metacognitive skills are variously listed as regulating, monitoring and


orchestrating ones thinking (Flavell, 1976); planning, monitoring, evaluating, predicting
and being aware of ones thinking (Brown, 1978); and regulating, monitoring and
evaluating ones thinking (Jausovec, 1994; Vos, 2001). This will be discussed further in
Chapter 2.
Manning and Payne (1996) highlighted the issue of various meanings and
interpretations of metacognition, and how the definitions of metacognition may differ
according to the context used, for example, in the context of memorisation (Flavell,
1979), reading and comprehension (Meijer, Veenman & van Hout-Wolters, 2006),
learning (Brown & Armbruster, 1986), teaching (Manning & Payne, 1996), problem-
solving (Kluwe, 1982; Vos, 2001) and others.
In 1976, Flavell first defined metacognition as the active monitoring and
consequent regulation and orchestration of these processes in relation to the cognitive
objects or data on which they bear, usually in the service of some concrete goal or
objective. (p.232). Later, he defined metacognition more generally as cognition about
cognition (Flavell, et al., 2002, p.164). The literature regarding metacognition is
extensive, therefore I will discuss it further in section 2.5.
The role of metacognition in problem-solving has been demonstrated by many
researchers (Kluwe, 1982; Swanson, 1990; Schoenfeld, 1992; Foong, 1993; Fernandez,
Hadaway & Wilson, 1994; DeGrave, Boshuizen & Schmidt, 1996; El Hmouz, 1998;
Stillman & Galbraith, 1998; Yeap, 1998; Nooriza, 2001; Goos, Galbraith & Renshaw,
2002; Kramarski, Mevarech & Arami, 2002; Halina, 2003), mostly in the context of
mathematical problem-solving. While there are studies in metacognition and Physics

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problem-solving, they focus mainly on university students (Heller & Heller, 1995;
Henderson et al., 2001; Kuo, 2004).
If metacognitive skills appear to be relevant in Physics problem-solving among
university students, then it seems likely that metacognitive skills may play a role in
aiding secondary school students when solving Physics problems. The present study is
an attempt to investigate the metacognitive skills of secondary school science students
(KS4) in solving Physics problems individually.

1.3 Constructivism and the importance of the research


To understand the importance of this research in Physics education, the standpoint
of constructivism will need to be explained. Constructivism is an elusive term
(Schwandt, 2001) adopted by various philosophers, educationists, sociologists,
psychologists and researchers as an ontology, epistemology, methodology or pedagogy
(Ernest, 1996). Be it a philosophy (von Glasersfeld, 1991), a paradigm (Carr et al.,
1994), a theory (Watts & Pope, 1989) or a framework (MacKinnon & Scarff-Seatter,
1997), it has certainly generated a massive impact on Physics education (Watts & Pope,
1989). Different scholars have advanced varied claims regarding their understandings
and applications of constructivism. I will elaborate on the varieties of constructivist
approaches and how constructivism as a paradigm has shaped the research methodology
in Chapter 3. As an introduction to constructivism in Physics education, constructivism
will be explained in brief here as a pedagogical theory.
Constructivism in education is said to be rooted in the Piagetian cognitive
development theory (Fox, 1996a). According to Piaget, the cognition or thinking of a
child goes through four stages of development: sensorimotor (0-18 months), pre-
operation (2-6 years), concrete operation (7-11 years) and formal operation (12 years and
above) (Schunk, 2000). Piaget views knowledge as a process rather than a state (Martin,
2000). Childrens knowledge changes as their cognitive systems develop and as their
experiences multiply. The construction of new knowledge occurs through the process of
assimilation and accommodation of previous knowledge in order to achieve cognitive
equilibrium. For Piaget, knowledge or the basic units of cognitive structure are called
schemata (Fox, 1996b). Assimilation is taking new information and fitting it into

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existing schemata, while accommodation is the opening of new schemata or the splitting
of existing schemata into new ones (Martin, 2000). This form of knowledge
construction, therefore, is considered by some researchers to be the earliest view of
constructivist in learning where knowledge is constructed actively by each person out of
the interaction of the mind with its experience of the world (Fox, 1996b).
Watts & Pope (1989) consider constructivism to be a practical theory that would
shape the Physics curriculum in school. Driver (1988) lists six features of the influence
of constructivism in teaching and learning:
a. Learners are not viewed as passive but are seen as purposive and ultimately
responsible for their own learning.
b. Learning is considered to involve an active process on the part of the learner.
c. Knowledge is not out there but is personally and socially constructed.
d. Teachers also bring their preconceptions to learning situations in their subject
area as well as in their views of teaching and learning.
e. Teaching is not the transmission of knowledge but involves the organisation
of classroom situations.
f. The curriculum is not that which is to be learned, but a programme of learning
tasks, materials and resources from which students construct their knowledge.

Thus, constructivism provides an alternative paradigm for science education (Carr et al.,
1994), from passive and teacher-centred teaching to active and student-centred learning.
Parallel to Drivers features of constructivism, Taber (2006, p.196-197) proposes seven
core principles of constructivism in science education research programme:
a. Knowledge is constructed by the learner, not received.
b. Learners come to science learning with existing ideas about many natural
phenomena.
c. The learners existing ideas have consequences for the learning of science.
d. It is possible to teach science more effectively if account is taken of the
learners existing ideas.
e. Knowledge is represented in the brain as a conceptual structure.
f. It is possible to model learners conceptual structures.

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g. Each individuals conceptual structure is unique.

From points (b) to (d) of Taber (2006) above, one of the most important elements
of a constructivist view of science education is that each student already has his/her own
prior knowledge or preconception of science before entering the classroom. Hence it is
important to explore their prior knowledge in order to achieve more effective teaching
and learning. Ernest (1996) suggested that teachers need to be sensitive towards the
students previous constructions of knowledge. In problem-solving, some students have
already had at least a set of procedures that they can utilise to solve certain types of
Physics problems. In the design of problem-solving instruction, this fundamental
preconception of the students patterns of problem-solving should not be ignored. In the
constructivist teaching of Physics concepts, the preconceptions of the students are first
elicited and then the teaching that follows will be more effective. Similarly in the
teaching of problem-solving, we need to know how students solve problems before we
can design an instruction or a problem-solving model to improve their problem-solving
skills. Many of the previous studies only designed problem-solving instruction by
modelling the experts, hoping that the novice students will be able to transform their
own problem-solving methods into those of the experts.
From this review of previous research in Physics problem-solving, undoubtedly,
we can discern that the final aim is to design a teaching method that can enhance the
problem-solving ability or skill among students. From the perspective of constructivism,
in order to teach problem-solving, it is essential to understand how these students solve
Physics problems before a more effective teaching method can be designed or selected to
achieve the goal. Therefore, this research is very important in providing a basis for
researchers and Physics teachers who are interested in improving problem-solving in
Physics among students.
There are many researchers and educationists who have suggested that problem-
solving can be used as an effective teaching method in science (Gagn, 1985; Watts,
1991, 1994a, 1994b; Kyurshunov, 2005). Watts (1991) has listed eight reasons for the
use of problem-solving in teaching and learning science. Kyurshunov (2005) says that
problem-solving is one of the best ways to involve students in the thinking operations of

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analysis, synthesis and evaluation. However, many teachers choose not to use this
strategy and one of the reasons for this is the diminishment of control over the learned
content (Alsop & Watts, 1994). It is feared that students are not learning what they are
supposed to learn after the problems are solved. In order to gain control over the learned
content, it is very important to understand how the students solve problems. This is so
that at the planning stage, the teachers can already predict which type of problems will
achieve which kind of learning.

1.4 Statement of the problem


The previous section demonstrates that there is clearly a need to understand how
students solve Physics problems. Therefore, this research will investigate the role and the
patterns of metacognitive skills in Physics problem-solving among KS4 (i.e., 14-16 years
old) students in order to generate one or more patterns of Physics problem-solving.

1.5 Research questions


To achieve the above objective, below are the two main research questions which
will be the focus of this study:
1. What is/are the pattern(s) of Physics problem-solving that can be identified
among KS4 students?
2. What is the role of metacognitive skills in each step of Physics problem-
solving among KS4 students?

1.6 Summary
It is clear that problem-solving skill is regarded as one of the fundamental aims of
Physics education. The difficulty faced by secondary school students in Physics
problem-solving has been addressed but thus far there has not been an effective problem-
solving instruction to guide the students toward more successful problem-solving
experience. I have outlined some reasons and proposed a different way of looking at this
issue from the perspective of constructivism. The key concepts of the research have been
briefly introduced and further explanations will be provided in the next chapter drawing
from more studies.

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Chapter 2: Literature Review

2.0 Introduction
If one of the aims of Physics education, as explained earlier, is to produce
proficient problem-solvers (Larkin & Reif, 1979), then Physics problem-solving research
should first identify factors that will improve problem-solving skills amongst students. In
this chapter, therefore, I will discuss some important studies in Physics problem-solving
that worked towards this aim. I will also report some studies of metacognition in general
problem-solving and point out the use of thinking-aloud in these studies. The two key
terms utilised in this thesis (problem-solving and metacognition) will be elucidated in
detail in this chapter.

2.1 What is a problem and problem-solving?


Before I present the studies in the area of Physics problem-solving, it is important
to clarify the definitions of problem and problem-solving. Ray (1955) suggested that
the problems utilised for a problem-solving research should be:
a. reasonably complex (require several responses);
b. clear (in description and classifiable as successful or unsuccessful);
c. made two or more procedures available (allow discovery and prediction);
d. scorable along a continuum.

Dewey (1910) said that a problem occurs when an individual is confronted with a
difficulty. Rowe (1985) defined problem-solving simply as the meeting of challenges. It
means answering a question for which one does not directly have an answer available
(van Someren, Barnard & Sandberg, 1994). If we know exactly how to get from point
A to point B, then reaching point B does not involve problem-solving.

problem refers to a situation in which an individual is called upon to perform


a task not previously encountered and for which externally provided instructions
do not specify completely the mode of solution. The particular task, is new to

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the individual, although processes or knowledge already available can be called


upon for solution. (Resnick & Glaser, 1976, p.209).

According to the above definitions of problem, a problem in the context of my


study should be difficult and the solution must be unfamiliar to the solver (though it
could have been encountered previously) but solvable and has at least a clear goal. An
easy task which an individual finds it straightforward and already knows how to generate
a solution will be called an exercise. Consequently, the process of finding an answer by
completing an exercise is not problem-solving.
According to Schunk (2000), not all learning activities in schools involve
problem-solving because technically, when students become so skilful in problem-
solving that they can reach the solution automatically, the actual process of problem-
solving does not occur. It is possible for a student to carry out mechanical resolution,
leading to a correct solution without any understanding (Gil-Perez, Dumas-Carre, Caillot
& Martinez-Torregrosa, 1990).
Most researchers working on problem-solving (Dewey, 1910; Newell & Simon,
1972; Mayer, 1991; to name a few) agree that a problem occurs only when someone is
confronted with a difficulty for which an immediate answer is not available. However,
difficulty is not an intrinsic characteristic of a problem because it depends upon the
solvers knowledge and experience (Elshout, 1987; Garrett, 1986; Gil-Perez et al., 1990).
Hence, a problem might be a genuine problem for one individual but might not be for
another. In short, problem-solving refers to the effort required in achieving a goal or
finding a solution when no automatic solution is available (Schunk, 2000).
Greeno (1980) listed two types of problem-solving situation:
a. When an individual has relatively specific knowledge and experience that
makes problem-solving easy.
b. When an individual must resort to more general knowledge and procedures to
solve a problem.

Technically, the second situation represents real problem-solving. However, in


most of the research prior to the mid-1980s, the informants considered as experts were

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among those who were experienced and familiar with the Physics problems and had
been studying or teaching Physics for quite some time (Simon & Simon, 1978; Larkin &
Reif, 1979; Larkin et al., 1980; Chi et al., 1981; Larkin, 1981). These studies actually
reflected the Physics knowledge of an expert in Physics, rather than an expert in Physics
problem-solving. As a result, the expert frameworks constructed by these studies failed
to produce a general procedure that would help the novice in solving Physics problems.
Nevertheless, these studies served as a foundation for Physics problem-solving research,
especially in the methods and techniques of data collection and analysis, which will be
explained in the next section.

2.2 Early research in Physics problem-solving: expert versus novice


As explained in section 1.1, most of the early studies in Physics problem-solving
focused on the differences between expert and novice problem-solvers. According to
Mestre (2001), in order to improve Physics problem-solving among students, most of
these studies attempted to understand the advantages that expert problem-solvers have,
and transformed these advantages into Physics problem-solving instructions. Researchers
assumed that by teaching the problem-solving procedures of experts to the so-called
novice students, the students would then be able to acquire the knowledge framework of
experts (Larkin & Reif, 1979).
A comparison of the differences between expert and novice solvers was the
main purpose of the studies listed in Table 2.1 below. However, these studies were not
able to identify differences in problem-solving ability as the tasks were only genuine
problems for the novices, but not for the experts. This is because, as we can observe
from the column Sample in Table 2.1, the experts in these studies were individuals
with considerable knowledge, experience and training in Physics, and consequently the
process of reaching a solution was both easy and automatic for them. In contrast, the
novices had less knowledge, experience and training in Physics which means that they
were actually facing real problems.

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Table 2.1: Summary of early research in Physics problem-solving.


Author(s) Purpose(s) Sample Procedure(s)
& year
Simon & Individual Expert: had strong mathematical Solved 25 kinematics textbook
Simon differences between background and wide experience in problems using thinking-aloud;
(1978) a more experienced solving kinematics questions analysed quantitatively and
solver and a less Novice: had taken a single course qualitatively.
experience solver in in college Physics many years
kinematics. previously and had an adequate
background in algebra.
Larkin & To produce a Physics Expert: Physics Professor who Solved five mechanics textbook
Reif problem-solving has recently taught a mechanics problems using thinking-aloud;
(1979) model of expert course. analysed qualitatively to produce
and novice each in Novice: undergraduate who has an expert and a novice model.
the topic of just completed his first university-
mechanics. level course in mechanics.
To teach an expert Ten first-year Physics course Small-scale experiment;
model to a group of volunteers: five were taught the Both groups solved three electric
students in a small- experts model and five were circuit problems using thinking-
scale experimental taught the novices model, within aloud; considered successful if
instruction to same topic and same amount of an answer was obtained within
determine the time. time limit.
success of the model.
Larkin et To investigate the Experts: ten Physics Professors Solved two dynamics problems
al. (1980) production systems and one Physics advanced graduate using thinking-aloud; four codes:
of experts and student. a) statements of principles;
novices in Novices: 11 first-year university- b) instantiations of principles;
mechanics. level Physics students. c) algebraic combinations;
d) statements of values
To build two Expert simulation used Compared with the human
computer knowledge development model models and made modification.
simulations (working forward).
representing the Novice simulation used means-
expert and ends analysis (working backward).
novice.
Chi et al. To investigate the Experts eight advanced Physics Four studies:
(1981) differences between PhD students, Physicists. 1 & 2. categorised problems
expert and novice Novices eight first-year Physics according to the solutions.
in categorisation and undergraduates, college students. 3. explained solutions to
representation of problems in 3 minutes; analysed
problems. into network depictions &
production systems.
4. talked-aloud solutions of 20
problems and explained the
features that cued the choice of
solutions.
Larkin To build computer Experts: ten Physics and one Solved five mechanics problems
(1981) simulations that Physics advanced graduate student. using thinking-aloud; analysed
represented the Novice: 11 first-year university- into solution paths.
expert and novice level Physics students.

In Simon and Simons (1978) and Larkin et al.s (1980) studies, the experts
spent less time solving problems because they, as experienced solvers of kinematics

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problems, must have undergone extensive training. According to Neves and Anderson
(1981), practice can help shorten the time used to solve problems.

If we assume that a relatively constant amount of time will be spent on problems,


then in the initial stages of practice some good solutions will not be discovered
because they involve too much search time. As the search process with a problem
becomes faster, more and more of the search tree can be explored (Neves &
Anderson, 1981, p.83).

So the experts already have all of the search trees needed to solve most of these
problems. It is more likely that experts can also solve the problems in less time as
they have developed automatic processing through a lot of practice (Shiffrin &
Schneider, 1977). Gick (1986) said that the experts in some of the studies mentioned in
Table 2.1 were facing easy questions, so the schema (problem and solution) will be
readily activated and the solution will proceed automatically (p.114).
Larkin et al. (1980) claimed that the experts combined principles, collected
necessary information and generated new information all in a single step. They explained
that,

after writing an equation, these [skilled] solvers rarely explicitly mention the
values of its variables, but simply proceed to solve the equation, using these
values. Thus apparently these solvers already know the values of the variables as
they write the equation (Larkin et al., 1980, p.338).

Another study by Larkin (1981) further strengthens my argument that the


experts in these studies were not actually performing problem-solving. Larkin (1981)
built a computer simulation programme which had the ability to store production systems
(a production is a condition-action pair of the form ifthen) that had been used to
solve problems correctly, giving the simulation a kind of learning mechanism similar to
a humans learning ability. The simulation was called ABLE and was built in a primitive
mode that only contained a list of mechanics principles and symbols. A barely ABLE
(the most primitive form) used a general algebraic means-end strategy to represent the

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workings of a novice found in previous studies (Simon & Simon, 1978; Larkin et al.,
1980). The learning mechanism of ABLE was to store all of the correct production
systems and transform them into a solution path cued by a characteristic pattern of known
quantities. The new solution path was the new information or knowledge that would be
stored and used every time the cue appeared to ensure shorter time and steps in problem-
solving. The more developed (with new knowledge) ABLE was called more ABLE.
Through this research (see Table 2.1), Larkin (1981) found that the barely ABLE
represented the working of novices and the more ABLE represented that of experts.
The more ABLE had been trained with a number of similar problems until it
was capable of building solution paths according to particular cues present in problems.
Thus, the organisation of domain-specific knowledge (e.g., Physics) associated with
problem situations was more clustered, resulting in faster execution of the solution.
Hence, this study actually inferred that a solver only becomes expert after exposure to a
wide range of training and experience in solving similar problems. This, according to
Greenos (1980) type (a) problem-solving (as in section 2.1), is not problem-solving
because the individual has relatively specific knowledge that makes problem-solving
easy.
Some studies found that experts used working-forward or knowledge
development strategy while novices used working-backward strategy or means-end
analysis (Simon & Simon, 1978; Larkin et al., 1980; Larkin, 1981). Working forward
strategy implies that the solver operates from the given in the problem (initial state) to the
goal (the desired answer) while working backward strategy operates from the goal to
the initial state (Schunk, 2000). The means-end analysis used by the novice in Simon
and Simons (1978) study was described as a more primitive approach where there is no
immediate solution. The novice created sub-goals for each problem resulting in more
time being taken to solve each problem. I contend that, by using such a procedure, the
novice was in fact solving a problem because s/he encountered problems with no
immediate solution that forced him/her to turn to means-end analysis. The situation
wherein there is no immediate solution is mentioned in section 2.1 as one of the
characteristics of a problem. Furthermore, means-end analysis is described as one of the
most popular and powerful problem-solving heuristic strategies (Mayer, 1991; Schunk,

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2000). It involves the ability to investigate a wide range of possibilities since there is no
immediate solution in mind. The experts worked forward purposefully because they
knew precisely what to look for, since they had already encountered similar problems
before. The novices, however, had to work backward in order to look for the
possibilities that might help them reach the solution. This kind of comparison only
reflected the differences of knowledge and experience in answering Physics questions,
and consequently did not help identify the skills required to solve Physics problems.
In addition, Chi et al., (1981) reported that there are also differences between the
expert and novice in terms of knowledge organisation. In Study 3 (see Table 2.1), the
network depictions of the experts are richer and are associated with basic physical
principles as well as some procedural knowledge. Hence, Chi et al. (1981) claimed that
the experts have a lot of tacit knowledge that can be used to make scientific inferences
and to select various principles that can be applied to a problem. This organisation of
knowledge among the experts is not surprising because, as explained with reference to
more ABLE (Larkin, 1981), richer production systems and solution paths can be
produced and stored through practice. It maybe appropriate to say that the categorisation
of knowledge regarding problems can imply the knowledge differences between someone
who is more experienced and has mastered Physics knowledge (e.g., professor, advanced
graduate, physicist) and someone who is not (e.g., first-year undergraduate, college
student). This, however, does not represent real problem-solving as defined previously.
Savelsbergh, de Jong and Ferguson-Hessler (1997) repeated the same method of
card-sorting of Chi et al. (1981) between 80 good and weak novices (first-year university
students, according to their high school and university examinations results) and four
experts (those who had been involved in teaching at the undergraduate level recently) to
investigate the knowledge organisation as claimed by Chi et al. (1981). In Savelsbergh et
al.s (1997) study, they defined a true problem as a problem that is not trivial from the
viewpoint of the problem solver. From the sorting of 40 electricity and magnetism
problems, 212 clusters of label indicating the concepts related to the problems were
collected and compared across these three groups. They concluded that the novice
groups basically resemble the expert clustering, which means that the cluster solutions for
the good and weak novice groups are similar to each other and to the expert solution.

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They argued that the finding of Chi et al.s study using a very small group of subjects
should be qualified to apply in particular conditions only (Savelsbergh et al., 1997,
p.20). This study shows that difference in knowledge organisation is significant in
distinguishing the experts and novices in Physics knowledge but not in Physics problem-
solving ability.
In Larkin and Reifs (1979) study, it was found that the expert had organised
his/her knowledge into coherent methods that integrated related principles in a functional
unit that could be easily executed while the novice did not demonstrate this knowledge
organisation (similar to Chi et al., 1981). After their small-scale experimental study (see
Table 2.1), it was reported that three respondents from the expert group successfully
solved all the problems while two respondents solved two problems. As for the novice
group, four respondents solved no more than one problem while one respondent solved
all the problems. It must be remembered that in their research, a problem was considered
to have been solved successfully if the respondent could give a correct answer within a
predetermined time limit. As clarified earlier using the quote from Neves and Anderson
(1981), experts (trained and experienced) will always use less time compared to
novices. Thus, the criterion of time-limitation should not be used to judge the problem-
solving ability of someone who is faced with a real problem.
According to Mestre (2001), the experts have extensive knowledge that is highly
organised and used efficiently in problem-solving (parallel with Chi et al., 1981). This
shows that it is difficult to teach the experts approaches as they depend on years of
familiarisation with the domain. Indeed, for all we know novices approaches may be
more effective for the novices. So, one clear distinction between the experts and the
novices in successfully solving the problems given in these studies is that the experts
possessed more knowledge in Physics and a deeper understanding of the knowledge
compared to the novices. This is especially true given that the samples used in these
studies as experts are Physics professors, lecturers and graduate students; whereas the
novices are first-year-university and college students. Moreover, the experts here
have a lot of experience and training in applying the Physics knowledge that they have
mastered. There is no doubt that they outperformed the novices. Ericsson (2006) in the
Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance stated the definition of an

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expert as someone who has prolonged or intense experience through practice and
education in a particular field. (p.3). So really, the experts here have extensive
experience and training in the field of Physics that allows them to answer many of the
Physics questions easily.
If the experts in Physics knowledge were seen as equal to expert problem
solvers, the only method to improve problem-solving in Physics would be to drill the
students with copious amount of Physics exercises to give them more experience and
training, so that they could master both the problem-solving steps and Physics
knowledge. But as Dewey said,

In some educational dogmas and practices, the very idea of training mind [sic]
seems to be hopelessly confused with that of a drill which hardly touches mind at
all or touches it for the worse - since it is wholly taken up with training skill in
external execution. This method reduces the training of human beings to the
level of animal training. (Dewey, 1910, p. 52).

As a Physics teacher, I do not wish to serve my students with the training


described by Dewey. I do not wish to undermine my students ability to perform well in
problem-solving though they may not be as adept as Physics professors in mastering
Physics knowledge. A lack of knowledge in Physics does not necessarily indicate that a
student is not good in Physics problem-solving. There are so many factors that influence
problem-solving (Charles & Lester, 1982) which prompted researchers after the mid-
1980s to look at factors that influence Physics problem-solving. Therefore, based on the
discussion and evidence presented in this section, it is not my interest to continue
studying the difference between experts and novices in Physics. It is more relevant to
investigate the characteristics among the novices in Physics when they encounter real
Physics problems and it may be from among them that the real experts and novices in
Physics problem-solving can be identified.

2.2.1 Summary: The end of expert versus novice


The final aim of the foregoing studies was to understand how an expert solved
Physics problems and attempt to design a general Physics problem-solving instruction

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that could be taught to students. If the problems appeared to be relatively easy for the
experts, the experts in the studies in Table 2.1 were not really solving problems.
Rather, they were answering questions or doing exercises in a domain-specific
knowledge area with which they were very familiar. The instruction would only be
drilling (as explained by Dewey, 1910) the students with more training in storing sets
of solution paths and production systems that could be retrieved whenever a cue for a
particular problem occurred. Thus, while these studies serve as good methodological
premises from which to begin my investigation, their comparison of expert and novice
solvers failed to produce a general problem-solving instruction that could be taught to
students to improve their problem-solving skills. This failure to produce a general
method of Physics problem-solving has been noted also by Husen and Postlethwaite
(1994) in their review of Physics problem-solving research before the 1990s.
Furthermore, Gil-Perez et al. (1990) suggested another way of addressing this
issue. Instead of researching the advantages of expert problem-solvers in order to
produce a problem-solving instruction, researchers can try to investigate students
difficulties in confronting real Physics problems and indicate methods to overcome
these difficulties. By researching the characteristics of students problem-solving
patterns, a general instruction guideline can be produced in order to meet the various
patterns of Physics problem-solving found among students. It may be that some novice
students have already possessed good Physics problem-solving skills that can be
examples for other novice students.

2.3 Later research in Physics problem-solving: Another way


Although there is no explicit argument found in recent literature about the
reason(s) for the failure to produce a general problem-solving instruction, most
researchers after the mid-1980s did not follow the previous research trend of comparing
the expert and novice in problem-solving. Rather, they favoured studying Physics
problem-solving among students from the same age-group and particular factors that
affected Physics problem-solving (Bascones et al., 1985; Amigues, 1988; Robertson,
1990; Henderson et al., 2001; Kuo, 2004). Robertsons (1990) study described in Table
2.2 further strengthens my argument that if a student has done a wide range of exercises

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on a specific area of Physics, s/he can subsequently generate a solution for a question that
is familiar to him/her without necessarily understanding it.

Table 2.2: Summary of later research in Physics problem-solving.


Author(s) Purpose(s) Sample Procedure(s)
& Year
Bascones To assess 76 ninth- One year of statistical experimental study of a traditional group
et al. effectiveness of grade and an Ausebelian group
(1985) Ausubelian students in a Pre- & post-tests:
instruction versus Venezuela 1. problem-solving ability (reasoning)
the traditional secondary 2. verbal comprehension
instruction. school. 3. numerical ability
4. attitude towards science
5. attitude towards problem-solving
Amigues To investigate how 58 tenth- Experimental study;
(1988) peer-interaction grade Groups Analysed errors Produce a functional
which evoked students in (three electrical electrical diagram
metacognition and France diagrams) (problem-solving)
sociocognitive Group1 Individually Individually
confrontation can Group2 Individually Pairs
help promote better Group3 Pairs Individually
problem-solving in Group4 Pairs Pairs
electrical diagrams Post-test: Individually produce a functional electrical diagram
(same problem after 15 days).
Conversations of eight pairs of students analysis of errors of
three electrical diagrams were recorded and interpreted.
Robertson To prove that deep 20 first-year Solved three problems using thinking-aloud, solved four
(1990) understanding of Physics familiar problems and three transferred problems silently;
Physics concepts course Coded the protocol into six categories:
will result in better college 1. basic description of the problem
problem-solving students 2. theoretical description of the problem
skills. (paid 3. exploratory analysis
volunteers). 4. metacognitive statements
5. problem solution
6. assessment
Performed multiple regressions to see which factor (index
(understanding); mathematics score; verbal score; Physics score
(from examinations in the course); familiar problems; gender)
best predict the performance of transfer problems.
Henderson To know what the 30 Physics Answered a goal survey questionnaire to rate two most
et al. Physics instructors lecturers important goals (out of 16 goals) of first-year Physics course;
(2001) ideas are about Interviewed six of the lecturers to understand their ideas of how
their teachings and students can learn best in Physics problem-solving and how
learning of Physics they can teach problem-solving.
problem-solving
among
undergraduates
Kuo To understand the 30 Physics In-depth interviews with the lecturers to generate concept maps
(2004) Physics instructors lecturers of how their students solve Physics problems.
conceptions about
students problem-
solving processes

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The transfer problems in Robertsons (1990) study are problems that are
structurally but not conceptually unfamiliar to the solver; s/he cannot produce standard
algorithms without an understanding of the concepts. It is clear that the transfer problem
is an unfamiliar problem which shares similar characteristics with the real problem
explained in section 2.1. Referring to Table 2.3, the near to zero correlation of transfer
problems with familiar problems (.015) indicates that the transfer problems are totally
different from familiar problems; the negative correlation between transfer problems and
Physics examinations results (-.166) infers that examinations questions are not transfer
problems; and the high correlation of familiar problems and Physics examinations
results (.409) shows that questions in examinations are familiar problems (which students
often encounter) but transfer problems are difficult problems. Thus, one can conclude
that the transfer problems used in this study channelled the students toward real problem-
solving.

Table 2.3: Correlation matrix showing the relationships between transfer


performance and predictor variables (Robertson, 1990).
Transfer problems Index Maths Scores Physics Exams Sex
Index .762**
Maths Scores -.343 -.514*
Physics Exams -.166 .032 .358
Sex .045 -.007 -.063 .207
Familiar Problems .015 -.095 .393 .409 -.321
*p<.05, **p<.001

From Table 2.2 it is clear that, in the studies undertaken after the mid-1980s, there
was no comparison between the expert and novice, but instead the purpose of the
research was to investigate particular factors like understanding (Bascones et al., 1985;
Robertson, 1990), metacognition (Amigues, 1988) and lecturers beliefs (Henderson et
al., 2001; Kuo, 2004). However, the experimental studies (Bascones et al., 1985;
Amigues, 1988) which employed statistical analysis of a small sample size failed to show
that understanding of Physics concepts is the major factor that influences Physics
problem-solving.
In Bascones et al.s (1985) study, they wanted to provide Ausubelian instruction
to the students to promote cognitive development and meaningful learning of Physics

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concepts rather than the verbatim memorisation of definitions used in traditional


instruction. The students problem-solving ability was tested using eight different
Physics problems and their reasoning patterns were measured by a rubric form (0-15
points) that assigned points for specific behaviours shown by the students. From the
ANOVA and correlation statistics generated, both groups showed improvement. The
Ausebelian group performed significantly better than the traditional group, but none of
the students in the Ausebelian group reached the mastery level of problem-solving ability
(9.00) after a one-year-long period of instruction. On average, there was only a 1.09
increase from the result of the pre-test on problem-solving ability (3.78). This post-test
result of 4.97 out of 15 does not imply a level of good problem-solving ability after the
year of instruction (the effect size should be considered in the calculation of significance
of the results difference). There could be several possible reasons: (1) the Ausebelian
instruction may not have been very effective in increasing problem-solving ability (or
was not taught as how it should be intended); (2) without an investigation to understand
the problem-solving patterns of the students, the researchers may have assumed that the
Ausebelian instruction was suitable and effective for all of the students; (3) statistical
comparison may have been too general to represent the effectiveness of the instruction
(e.g., only looking at the overall means rather than the individuals. Seven out of 36 of the
Ausebelian group scored more than 6.00 on the problem-solving ability test); or (4)
perhaps the problem-solving ability was measured by reasoning pattern while the
Ausebelian instruction was designed to improve understanding - suggesting a lack of
construct validity.
In Amigues (1988) study, the quantitative results were inconsistent across the
groups. However, it was found that the students in pairs performed better in analysing
errors in electrical diagrams, while students who worked individually performed better in
producing functional electrical diagrams. From the qualitative analyses of the
conversations, it was found that the interactions that encouraged self-monitoring, self-
regulation, evaluation and verification aided the problem-solving. These elements of
metacognition are of particular interest to my research. In Amigues (1988) study, the
conversation in a pair resembled an interpersonal interaction. In an individual case, it is
assumed that this kind of conversation or dialogue would manifest itself as an

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intrapersonal interaction within the student him/herself. Flavell (1987) explained this as
the person variable under the three subdivided categories of metacognitive knowledge
(see section 2.5 for more details). If a student can be encouraged to talk to
himself/herself during the process of problem-solving, the thinking (cognition) or the
thinking of his/her own thinking (metacognition) can be assessed.
The studies by Henderson et al. (2001) and Kuo (2004) described the importance
of metacognition in Physics problem-solving. The lecturers in Henderson et al.s (2001)
research believed that a sign of maturity was the most difficult category of problem-
solving skill that students must learn. This sign of maturity (e.g., realising that the final
result is too large; playing around to see what approaches might be valuable) was
described as metacognitive skills or reflective practice. Kuo (2004) generated two final
models (a linear and cyclical) of undergraduates Physics problem-solving perceived by
the instructors. The linear model implied that the instructors believed that the
undergraduates understand the general Physics principles and concepts of the problem
and that they do not need to backtrack while solving the problem. According to the
cyclical model, instructors believed that checking is required because the correct decision
is not always made by the undergraduates. Some elements of metacognitive skills in both
of these models were extrapolated during interviews. However, there was a lower
percentage of metacognitive elements in the linear model because in the cyclical model,
the undergraduates must intellectually retrace their steps and go back and forth before
they come to the correct answer. In this research, Kuo (2004) categorised the
metacognitive statements expressed by the instructors into three main metacognitive
skills: planning, monitoring and evaluation. Planning involves metacognition that is
related to starting a solution to a problem; monitoring involves metacognition that is
related to checking the progress of a solution to a problem; and evaluation involves
metacognition that is related to checking the reasonableness of a solution to a problem.

2.3.1 Summary
In the past three decades, the emphasis within the literature examining Physics
problem-solving has shifted away from analysis of cognitive to metacognitive skills.
This trend is consistent with the Physics teaching framework suggested by Seroglou and

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Koumaras (2001). Indeed, it was also suggested by Mestre (2001) that metacognition
should be taught to school students in order to improve their problem-solving skills.
However, it is the contention of this thesis that without an understanding of how students
use metacognitive skills in solving Physics problems, it would be difficult to design and
implement effective metacognitive instructions for Physics problem-solving among
secondary school students. Furthermore, as one of the aims of Physics education is to
inculcate better problem-solving skills, there is a need for research with an emphasis on
genuine problem-solving; as opposed to doing exercises or answering questions in
examinations. After all, when the students leave schools, they are paid to solve problems
and not to pass examinations (Jonassen, 2004).

2.4 Physics problem-solving methods


Over the past 30 years, a number of Physics problem-solving methods have been
produced by researchers to help students improve their problem-solving. As reported in
section 2.2, the methods that are produced from the comparison of expert and novice
failed to achieve significant success. Later, varied Physics problem-solving models and
methods were introduced the Logical Problem-Solving Model (Heller & Heller,1995);
systematic modelling method (Savage & Williams, 1990); collaboration method
(Harskamp & Ding, 2006); computer-assisted instruction (Bolton & Ross, 1997; Pol,
2005) and translating context-rich problem (Yerushalmi & Magen, 2006). The methods
included in this section are by no means an exhaustive one as there is a vast body of
literature globally. However, referring to Reinhold and Freudenreich (2003) that there
has yet to be a successful one thus far, I will explain the possible reasons in this section
using the examples collected above, especially in the case of secondary school Physics.
In their research among university students, Heller and Heller (1995) produced
the Logical Problem-Solving Model which suggested five steps to solve Physics
problems:
1. Focus the problem - a qualitative description of the problem is developed.
First, the events described in the problem are visualised using a sketch. A
simple statement of what to find and the Physics ideas which might be useful
in the problem are written down. The approach to be used is also described.

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2. Describe the Physics - one uses his/her qualitative understanding of the


problem to prepare for the quantitative solution. First, the problem situation is
simplified by describing it with a diagram in terms of simple physical objects
and essential physical quantities (restating what to find by naming specific
mathematical variables). Using the Physics ideas assembled in step 1,
equations are written down which specify how these physical quantities are
related according to the principles of Physics or mathematics.
3. Plan the solution - the physics description is translated into a set of equations
which represent the problem mathematically by using the equations assembled
in step 2. The student is advised to write down an outline of how s/he will
solve these equations to see if they will yield a solution, before s/he is actually
doing any mathematics.
4. Execute the plan - the student executes the planned solution. The equations
are combined as planned to first determine an algebraic solution, then all of
the known quantities are plugged into the algebraic solution to determine a
numerical value for the desired unknown (target) quantity.
5. Evaluate the answer - the work is checked to see that it is properly stated,
reasonable, and has answered the question asked.

Kyurshunov (2005) reported that Heller and Heller (1995) encountered two
dilemmas in implementing this model to their students: (1) if the problems are simple
enough to be solved moderately well using their novice strategy, then students see no
reason to abandon their novice strategy; (2) if the problems are complex enough, then the
students who are initially unsuccessful at using the model, revert back to their novice
strategy. The reluctance in following one particular model of problem-solving is also
reported in the research conducted by Bolton and Ross (1997). In their research, a
computer-assisted problem-solving protocol was introduced to long-distance study
university students in a simple model of preparation-working-checking. After a year of
implementation, the percentage of students who chose to abandon the strategy increased
from 16 per cent to 26 per cent while 8 per cent hated it from the beginning and this
percentage increased marginally during the year. The researchers explained that this

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might be due to the feeling of being unnecessarily constrained by the requirement to set
out their solutions in a rather stylized way (p.182).
This clearly shows that it is not appropriate to force students to accept a model
or strategy of problem-solving when they already have one or a few that they are familiar
with and that can be manipulated in many different types of problem situations. Probably
the best way to improve their problem-solving methods is to understand the ways in
which they work with problems and improve on what they are already comfortable to
begin with. A study by Yerushalmi and Magen (2006) which intended to teach students
to solve Physics problem by transforming context-rich problems into context-poor
problems (i.e.: using diagrams and dividing the problem into sub-problems that offer a
step-by-step guide to solving the problems) also arrived at a less successful result.
Eighteen 11th grade students in an Israeli school, with performance of above average,
were taught how to transform a context-rich problem into a context-poor problem. The
instruction includes drawing a diagram, specifying the variables and unknowns, posing
sub-problems that can lead to solving the problem and evaluating the result. At the end
of the instruction, students were to give their feedback, followed by a context-rich
problem (in the topics of motion and force) as homework. This was assessed
qualitatively by the researchers using a rubric. The feedback of the instruction and group
discussion were positive and students were enthusiastic about the method however none
of the students, after the homework was collected, showed correct and complete
transformation and solution of the problem. Many of them perceived the method to be
very difficult, yet the researchers claimed to be satisfied with this result because,
according to them, this was only the beginning.
Savage and Williams (1990) suggested a method of Physics problem-solving
using real-world problem modelling. This method is purposely designed to solve
algebraic mechanics problems at university level. The systematic modelling method is as
illustrated in Figure 2.1. The main processes in this method are preparing the model,
analysing the problem, interpreting and confirming the mathematical answer to produce a
solution. In preparing a model, all the Physics variables involved must be identified and
some assumptions upon the variables will be suggested, such as the air resistance can be
ignored, the gravity acceleration is constant and so on. Usually a simple diagram of the

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problem is illustrated and all the variables, values and assumptions are also noted clearly
in the diagram.

PROBLEM
Problem Analysis

Model preparation Mathematical Problem

Problem Analysis

Interpret & Mathematical Answer


Confirm

SOLUTION

Figure 2.1: Systematic modelling method (Savage & Williams, 1990).

In the problem-analysis stage, which is the core of the method, three detailed
steps are involved: transform the problem into a mathematical problem, analyse it
mathematically and produce an answer in mathematical form. At the end of the process,
a mathematical answer will be obtained and interpreted into the context of the problem
before it is confirmed as acceptable, taking into consideration the assumptions made
beforehand. This step will ensure that the answer fits the diagram drawn earlier.
This method is only suitable for real-world mechanics problems that involve
algebra. An example of such a problem is, how high can I throw a ball before it drops
back to the ground? Solvers have to decide the variables involved, produce a diagram,
make a few assumptions, assume the values of the variables, carry out calculations and
interpret the meaning of the answer to solve the problem. This method is only suitable
for Physics problems at university level.

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Recently, Loucks (2007) introduced a method for solving university Physics


problems, particularly when algebra is involved, which is quite similar to Savage and
Williams. For Loucks, the most important factor is to set up the problem, so that the
solver can determine which equations are appropriate. Once it is set up, the problem
becomes simply a mathematical problem. Loucks recommended five steps to effectively
solve Physics problems with algebra:
a. identify the type of problem (e.g., concept, key word, feature);
b. sort by interval and/or object (e.g., list everything, draw diagram);
c. find the equation and unknowns, try to relate the intervals;
d. outline solution or make a chain of reaction;
e. do the mathematics.

In his book, Loucks (2007) then goes on to discuss how the steps are implemented
in Physics problems with algebra for university level. Like all the methods explained
before, the main issue with all these prescribed methods is that not all the students can
accept them and are willing to abandon their own means of problem-solving. I do not
claim that all these methods are totally irrelevant to all the secondary school students if
they want to improve their problem-solving skills. However, to improve their problem-
solving in Physics we need to first understand how they go about addressing the problems
and then prescribe one or a few methods that might be more suitable to correct any
weaknesses.
Studies in group/collaboration problem-solving (Amigues, 1988; Harskamp &
Ding, 2005) and computer-assisted problem-solving (Pol, 2005) in Physics seem to be
more effective for the students. This is mainly because more resources are involved.
However, the focus of my research is on the individual solving paper-and-pencil Physics
problems in secondary school. This is worth exploring as secondary school students will
have to face examinations or homework individually without any special technological
aid, especially when they encounter difficult questions (e.g., a problem).

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2.5 Metacognition
As briefly explained in the previous chapter, metacognition is an ambiguous term
with multiple definitions and interpretations. After one decade of intensive research in
this area, Brown (1987) warned that metacognition is a many-headed monster (p.105)
whose offspring will create many problems for researchers in this field. Indeed in this
new millennium, in a symposium at the Buros Institute of Mental Measurements, Schraw
(2000) and all the contributors agreed that metacognition is a problematic area of
research because there are so many different components of metacognition and there is
no one theoretical framework that can be accepted by the majority, if not all, of the
current leading researchers in metacognition. Recently, Georghiades (2004) and
Veenman, van Hout-Wolters and Afflerbach (2006) also expressed the same concern by
posing more questions and problems rather than answers. Clearly this is an area of
research that needs to be further developed.
Metacognition in general means thinking about thinking or cognition about
cognition (Flavell, et al., 2002). Kuhn (2000) claimed that scientific thinking is a form of
higher-order thinking that is rooted in metacognition because the awareness of the source
of ones knowledge is critical for understanding evidence as distinct from and bearing on
scientific theories. The use of scientific knowledge in producing new scientific
knowledge is highly deliberate and therefore it is a metacognitively controlled process.
As the research in this area flourishes, there has not yet been a general consensus on what
metacognition really constitutes. Even the founder himself often gives different (perhaps
evolving) explanations (see section 1.2). It started with the research on metamemory by
John H. Flavell, who was heavily influenced by the works of Piaget (Georghiades, 2004).
We can see the impact of Piagets cycle of assimilation-accommodation (Flavell et al.,
2002) in research concerning memory among children in their cognitive development,
when Flavell asked, what is memory development the development of? in 1971
(Kluwe, 1982). Flavell and Wellman (as cited in Duell, 1986) divided metamemory into
two categories, and then subcategorised them as the following:
1. Sensitivity category (it addresses the need for learners to be sensitive to the most
appropriate way of approaching different learning situations):

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a. Elicited activities (consists of activities learners engage in when asked to


retrieve information from memory or to prepare for retrieval at some future
time)
b. Spontaneous activities (consists of activities learners spontaneously engage in
when they believe it may be to their advantage to attempt to retrieve some
information or to be able to retrieve information at some future time)
2. Variables category (it draws attention to several factors or variables the learner
might benefit from knowing about):
a. Personal variables (all temporary and enduring personal attributes and states
that are relevant to data retrieval in oneself or others)
b. Task variables (qualities of the task itself which influence retrieval)
c. Strategy variables (ways of going about storing and retrieving information
from memory)
d. Interaction among variables (the fact that the actions in which a learner
engages in any one setting can be a function of the combination of what s/he
knows about all three classes of variables)

Flavell (1976) introduced metacognition based on metamemory (Georghiades,


2004). Flavell (1987) suggested two key concepts for the taxonomy of metacognition,
namely, the metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experience. He converted the
variables category (above) in metamemory into metacognitive knowledge and added
subcategories for personal variables (intrapersonal, interpersonal and universal). He
defined metacognitive knowledge as the part of ones acquired world knowledge that
has to do with cognitive (or perhaps better, psychological) matters (p.21). As for
metacognitive experience, he said that it is a conscious experience that is cognitive and
effective and it can be any kind of effective or cognitive conscious experience that is
pertinent to conduct of intellectual life (p.24).
The latest definition of metacognition proposed by the founder is that
metacognition refers to metacognitive knowledge and to metacognitive monitoring and
self-regulation (Flavell et al., 2002, p.164). Metacognitive knowledge refers to the
segment of ones acquired knowledge and beliefs that have to do with cognitive matters,

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particularly human minds and their doings. It can be subdivided into knowledge about
persons, tasks and strategies. Metacognitive monitoring and self-regulation is ones
management of his/her cognitive activities during a task. These activities develop hand-
in-hand with metacognitive knowledge and can lead to new metacognitive knowledge.
Metacognitive experience is only mentioned as a part of metacognitive monitoring that
involves matters like the feeling and sense of knowing something being on the tip-of-
the-tongue (ibid) which is quite similar to the spontaneous activities in metamemory.
From memory to cognition, and then to psychology and emotion, Flavells
ambition to try to encompass metacognition in a wider field than thinking makes the
definition of metacognition more difficult to grasp. One can either see this as a
perplexity or a development of theories about metacognition. It becomes confusing when
one wishes to measure and assess metacognition (as a whole) quantitatively because
construct validity needs to be established first (Pintrich, Wolters & Baxter, 2000) through
at least a reliable and strong model or theory. However, if a researcher wishes to gain
more understanding with an open mind (see point (d) in section 3.2), all these different
theories suggested can serve as a foundation for further exploration.
Flooded with empirical and theoretical information about metamemory and
metacognition spanning four decades, I can only selectively illustrate a few prominent
metacognitive theories. Brown (1987) has always asserted that there are two
significantly distinctive parts to metacognition which are the knowledge about cognition
and the regulation of cognition (or the executive process suggested by Kluwe (1982)).
The first concerns what we know about our own thinking and the second relates to how
we control it through thinking processes. The former is relatively stable and the person is
conscious about it while the latter can be carried out in a subconscious manner. This
theoretical framework of metacognition parallels with Flavells latest version (Flavell et
al., 2002) and seems acceptable, but very few attempts have been made to translate the
framework into operational models that enable researchers to investigate systematically
(Schraw, 2000). Thus, when it comes to empirical work, it is the measurement of
metacognitive knowledge and skills or strategies that makes this framework inconclusive.
This is because, in order to accept that the metacognitive processes involved in storing
and retrieving metacognitive knowledge, and in monitoring and regulating ones

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thinking, can happen in an automatic or less conscious manner, it implies that some
metacognitive processes might not be observable or made accessible (Rowe, 1991;
Schraw, Wise & Roos, 2000). Therefore, it is difficult to prove and report the occurrence
of metacognitive processes without making inferences (Schraw, 2000). Kentridge and
Heywood (2000) argued that the metacognitive process does not necessarily evoke
awareness because substitution of one automatic process by another as a result of the
inadequacy of the former as circumstances change does, however, clearly involve
metacognitive and executive processes of error correction and schema selection (p.308).
On the other hand, if one is to accept that metacognitive processes can only
happen under conscious awareness, any automatic thinking processes or subconscious
metacognitive knowledge will be disregarded. For Veenman et al. (2006) this is
problematic because many regulatory good habits (e.g., the activity of checking oneself
subconsciously) are considered as metacognitive activities which usually run in the
background of the cognitive processes. They argued that only after an error is
detected, rightfully or not, the system becomes alerted (p.6), then overt metacognitive
activities can be observed. However, one possibility in which metacognitive activities
may happen without consciousness is when an expert is so skilful in a particular area of
problem-solving that s/he does not require attention and awareness in executing the
metacognitive process (e.g., error detection, monitoring, controlling, etc.). Gick (1986)
said that in the research by Larkin et al. (1980), there were indications that the novices
engaged in more conscious reflections on their problem-solving process compared to the
experts. In short, Georghiades (2004) points out that the relationship between
metacognition and consciousness is a complex one.
Building on the works of Flavell and Brown, Nelson and Narens (1990, 1994)
proposed a model of metacognition which is analogous to a telephone handset. There are
an object-level and a meta-level in a metacognitive system (see the dotted-box in Figure
2.2). The object-level is usually the cognitive level that provides information and
receives commands while the meta-level gives commands based on the information
gathered from object-level. Information flows from the object-level to meta-level
through the monitoring process but commands are given to the object-level through the
control process. As the monitoring process continues to look at the meta-level or the

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relationship between object-level and meta-level, another higher level than the existing
meta-level will be created, turning the existing one into an object-level as illustrated in
Figure 2.2 above the dotted-box. This may continue to escalate if the person keeps on
using the information generated by meta-levels. All these processes can operate
simultaneously (Nelson & Narens, 1994) and there is no concept of whether it should
start from object-level to meta-level (monitoring process) or vice versa (control process).

Can keep on evolving If Level 3 is


to create the next level evolved, Meta-
level2 will be the
Object-level3
Meta-level 2

Flow of
Control Monitoring information
for Level 2

Object-level2
=
Meta-level1
Control Monitoring Flow of
information
for Level 1

Object-level1

Basic metacognitive system

Figure 2.2: Metacognitive system proposed by Nelson and Narens (1990, 1994).

One important emphasis of Nelson and Narens metamemory processes (1990,


1994) is the clear distinction between monitoring and control, that the control process
changes the state of the object-level and usually will produce an action (initiate, continue
or terminate); while the monitoring process changes the state of the meta-level and may
involve four activities:
a. Ease of learning (EOL)

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b. Judgement of learning (JOL)


c. Feeling of knowing (FOK)
d. Confidence in retrieved answers

Following Nelson and Narens (1990, 1994) more sophisticated model of


metamemory, Pintrich et al. (2000, p.47) assimilated the work of self-regulation by
Zimmerman (1989, 1994) thereby producing a model of metacognition that consists of
three components: metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive judgement and monitoring,
and self-regulation and control of cognition:
1. Metacognitive knowledge:
a. Knowledge of cognition and cognitive strategies knowledge about the
universals of cognition:
i. Declarative knowledge of what different types of strategies are available for
memory, thinking, problem-solving, etc.
ii. Procedural knowledge of how to use and enact different cognitive strategies.
iii. Conditional knowledge of when and why to use different cognitive
strategies.
b. Knowledge of tasks and contexts and how they can influence cognition.
c. Knowledge of self comparative knowledge of intra-individual and inter-
individual strengths and weakness as a learner or thinker; better seen as
motivational not metacognitive self-knowledge.
2. Metacognitive judgement and monitoring:
a. Task difficulty or ease of learning judgements (EOL) making an assessment of
how easy or difficult a learning task will be to perform.
b. Learning and comprehension monitoring or judgement of learning (JOL)
monitoring comprehension of learning.
c. Feeling of knowing (FOK) having the experience of awareness of knowing
something, but being unable to recall it completely.
d. Confidence judgements making a judgement of the correctness or
appropriateness of the response.

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3. Self-regulation and control:


a. Planning activities setting goal for learning, time use and performance.
b. Strategy selection and use making decisions about which strategies to use for a
task, or when to changing strategies while performing a task.
c. Allocation of resources control and regulation of time use, effort, pace of
learning and performance.
d. Volitional control control and regulation of motivation, emotion and
environment.

The component of metacognitive knowledge remains the same as that composed


by Flavell (1987), except for the strategy variables which are clearly subdivided into
declarative, procedural and conditional knowledge, first proposed by Kluwe (1982) as
metacognitive knowledge. The second component is identical to Nelson and Narens
monitoring activities except that the definitions are modified to cover more areas than
just metamemory. As the title of this model is Three general components of
Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning, Pintrich et al. (2000) have considered the
issue of the position of self-regulation in metacognition, that is, whether self-regulation is
the subordinate of metacognition or the other way (Veenman et al., 2006) since
Zimmerman (1994) believed that self-regulation is more than metacognition while
Borkowski and Thorpe (1994) claimed that self-regulation is the heart of metacognition.
There is no clear boundary between metacognition and self-regulation (Baker & Cerro,
2000). If one is to accept that metacognition is only the monitoring and regulation of
thinking and thinking does not include motivation, belief, emotion and psychology
(which Flavell (1987) would like to include), then it is clear that metacognition is the
subordinate of self-regulation. As the majority of the researchers in metacognition have
accepted the definition of metacognitive knowledge championed by Flavell, the
introduction of self-regulation seems to overlap the metacognitive strategies of planning,
monitoring and regulating which are widely accepted and highly correlated empirically
(Gracia & Pintrich, 1994). At the same time, self-regulation also suffers the same fate as
metacognition in trying to establish an operational framework that can be accepted
generally and is distinct from other phenomena (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1994). Probably

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the solution would be to accept both as different phenomena but acknowledge the
overlapping attributes between them and apply them according to the context of the study
(i.e., learning, comprehension, problem-solving, etc.) because, as Borkowski, Chan and
Muthukrishna (2000) suggested, the components of metacognition are interrelated.
To summarise, Table 2.4 provides a comparison of the above models of
metacognition. This shows that metacognition can simply be divided into metacognitive
knowledge and metacognitive monitoring and control in which some of the models
overlap in the concept of self-regulation.

Table 2.4: The comparison of the models of metacognition.


Author(s) & Metacognitive Metacognitive monitoring Overlapping with self-
Year knowledge & control regulation
Flavell et al. Metacognitive Metacognitive monitoring Self-regulation
(2002) knowledge
Kluwe (1982) Knowledge of Monitoring and control -
metacognition
Brown (1987) Knowledge about Regulation of cognition -
cognition
Nelson & Meta-level Monitoring and control -
Narens (1990)
Pintrich et al. Metacognitive Metacognitive judgement Self-regulation and
(2000) knowledge and monitoring control

After all the efforts invested into the establishment of the concept of
metacognition in psychology and education, there remain more problems than certainties.
Veenman et al. (2006), in the first issue of a journal entitled Metacognition and
Learning, pointed out the following ambiguities:
a. Definition of metacognition
b. Components of metacognition
c. Relationship between cognition and metacognition
d. Consciousness and automatic metacognitive processes
e. General and domain-specificity
f. Developmental processes in metacognition
g. Assessment of metacognition
h. Teaching and learning of metacognition
i. Individual differences

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2.6 Measuring metacognition


Considering the vagueness of the definition and theory of metacognition, more
difficulty is created in measuring metacognition an inner behaviour like cognition
which used to be perceived as impossible to observe by behaviourists (Mayer, 1991).
According to Tobias and Everson (2000), metacognition is usually assessed in two
principal ways: observations of students performance or by self-report inventories.
There are a few popular techniques used in measuring metacognitive knowledge and
processes: self-report, error detection, interview and thinking-aloud (Pintrich et al., 2000;
Baker & Cerro, 2000).
The general forms of self-report are questionnaires designed according to the
operational framework of metacognition and self-report judgements that are designed to
measure monitoring activities such as JOL, EOL and FOK (Pintrich et al., 2000).
Questionnaires are suitable to measure metacognitive knowledge (not metacognitive
processes) which is static and can be stated, but it is not suitable for young students
below high school (ibid) because it is highly unreliable since the younger students may
not fully understand the questions and may not be able to describe the metacognitive
processes used (Tobias & Everson, 2000). The self-report judgement is a reliable
technique but it is only useful for measuring monitoring processes. The error detection
technique is used when a person is asked to read a text that contains embedded mistakes
in order to determine if the person monitors or checks his/her cognitive process (Baker &
Cerro, 2000). Again, this technique is only useful for measuring monitoring processes
(Pintrich et al., 2000). Furthermore, it has been criticised for its lack of ecological
validity (Baker & Cerro, 2000) or artificiality and remoteness from its context.
Interviews can be conducted in different formats, for example: structured, semi-
structured, unstructured, open-ended, closed, introspective and retrospective. Many
studies in metacognition among young children used interview (Baker & Cerro, 2000)
especially highly structured interviews with questions similar to questionnaires because
young children may not be able to understand the questions written in questionnaires.
The researcher has the opportunity to explain the questions during interview. Interview is
also useful in retrieving and clarifying mental actions that cannot be observed (Phang,

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2006). However, it is time-consuming both in data collection and analysis because


usually it generates qualitative data.
Thinking-aloud also shares the same disadvantages of being time-consuming and
difficult to analyse (Baker & Cerro, 2000). There is also the issue of the reliability of this
technique which will be further discussed in section 3.5.1. Interestingly, throughout the
whole symposium on metacognitive assessment in Buros, Lincoln, the method used by
Pressley and Afflerbach (as cited in Pressley, 2000) a grounded theory study using
thinking-aloud to develop the metacognitive aspect of reading and comprehension
received the most praise from the contributors to this symposium (Pintrich et al.; Baker &
Cerro; Schraw et al.; Schraw, 2000). Schraw et al. (2000) recognised that thinking-aloud
is the only way to study control processes because it allows the students to demonstrate
overtly in a directly observable manner (p.232). Nevertheless, the foremost reason for
many researchers to avoid using thinking-aloud is because it is extremely labour
intensive (Tobias & Everson, 2000).
There is a large body of experimental research in metacognition which usually
picks on specific attributes to be examined, especially those parts which are easier to
measure (Schraw et al., 2000). According to Borkowski et al. (2000), it may be
impossible or at least theoretically nave to study the components of metacognition in
isolation (p.26) because they are related and interdependent. Metacognition is a rather
large domain of knowledge (Pintrich et al., 2000). If it is to be studied as a whole, it will
be extremely labour intensive to design and pilot questionnaires, if quantitative data is
favoured by the researcher. Hence, thinking-aloud and grounded theory, though
requiring more time and effort, are preferable because of the advantages listed below by
Pressley (2000):
a. they provide comprehensive analysis of metacognition as a whole;
b. they generate fine-grained categorisations;
c. they are more realistic than the assessments of the past (e.g., thinking-aloud is
much more driven by what is in the head of the informants than by what is in
the head of the researcher constructing questionnaires or measurement
instruments);

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d. qualitative analysis of complex metacognitive processes makes a great deal of


sense before even attempting quantitative analysis.

Having stated my preference for using thinking-aloud and grounded theory in


investigating metacognition as a whole, I agree with the notion that there is no one
perfect (Pintrich et al., 2000) and no one-size-fits-all measure of metacognition
(Schraw, 2000). Multimethod or method triangulation is a bonus in covering the
weaknesses of certain methods (Rowe, 1991). The justification for the methods selection
in my study will be further discussed in the next section and also the next chapter.

2.7 Research using thinking-aloud: How to observe Physics problem-solving and


metacognitive skills
In this section, I will discuss the methods used by some researchers in observing
Physics problem-solving and metacognitive skills in their studies. From the summary of
Science problem-solving research by Garrett (1986), there have been four methods used
to investigate Physics problem-solving between the 1950s and 1980s. These are
experimental/statistical research (four studies), case study (one study), individual
interview (one study) and protocol analysis (seven studies). With the exception of one
study that used statistical measurement (Bascones et al., 1985) and two that used
interviews (Henderson et al., 2001; Kuo, 2004), most of the studies reported in section
2.2 and 2.3 produced thinking-aloud protocols (Simon & Simon, 1978; Larkin & Reif,
1979; Larkin et al., 1980; Chi et al., 1981; Larkin, 1981; Amigues, 1988; Robertson,
1990).
While the thinking-aloud method is a useful method in observing problem-solving
(van Someren et al., 1994; Gilhooly & Green, 2002), it is also a very useful method for
research in metacognition (Rowe, 1991; Royer, Cisero & Carlo, 1993). This is
demonstrated by some recent studies shown in section 2.8 which applied thinking-aloud
to observe metacognitive behaviours (Yeap, 1998; Stillman & Galbraith, 1998; Goos et
al., 2002). In some studies on metacognitive skills, the use of thinking-aloud protocol
generated more categories of metacognitive skills in addition to the two that were
introduced by Flavell (1976) (monitoring and regulating). For instance, studies in

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mathematical problem-solving carried out by Garofalo and Lester (1985) and Stillman
and Galbraith (1998) generated four categories of metacognitive behaviours: (1)
orientation (strategic behaviour to assess and understand a problem); (2) organisation
(planning of behaviour and choice of actions); (3) execution (regulation of behaviour to
conform to plans); and (4) verification (evaluation of decisions made and of outcomes of
executed plans). Science problem-solving studies conducted by Mettes (1987) and
Veenman and Spaans (2005) established four categories of metacognitive skills in
learning and problem-solving: (1) orientation (preparing for the task, analysing problem,
constructing goals, building mental model); (2) planning/systematic orderliness; (3)
evaluation (regulation and control of the process, monitoring and checking); and (4)
elaboration (connecting existing knowledge with incoming information, linking process).
An important aspect of the above studies is that their use of thinking-aloud is not
limited to a certain age-group. The theoretical explanation of the use of thinking-aloud
has been reported by Ericsson and Simon (1980, 1993) and Gilhooly and Green (2002).
Among adults, spontaneous thinking-aloud can be observed when they are on their own
or in a noisy environment; whereas among children, it can be observed when they
encounter difficulties in problem-solving or understanding (Gilhooly & Green, 2002). It
has also been used in assessing teachers problem-solving and metacognition (Swanson,
OConnor & Cooney, 1990). Thus, the use of thinking-aloud protocol is an appropriate
method for observing both Physics problem-solving and metacognitive skills in my study.
The validity of this method will be further explained in section 3.5.1.

2.8 Research in metacognition and problem-solving


A number of studies have addressed metacognition and problem-solving in
general and specific subject areas (see section 1.2). As mentioned earlier that there is a
very limited number of studies in metacognition and individual Physics problem-solving
at secondary school level. There are a few conceptual papers arguing and suggesting that
metacognitive skills should be taught to secondary school students in order to improve
their Physics and science problem-solving (Mestre, 2001; Georghiades, 2004; Schraw,
Crippen & Hartley, 2006).

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Probably Meijer et al. (2006) is the only published empirical paper in the area of
research mentioned above. The purpose of their study was to build taxonomy of
metacognitive activities in text-reading and problem-solving. History text-reading and
Physics problem-solving were chosen in order to discount the issue of domain-specific,
so that both natural science and humanity subjects were taken into account. Sixteen
students (13 years old) in Netherlands completed four assignments that followed a
Physics text involving motion using thinking-aloud so that thinking-aloud protocols
could be generated and analysed. As a result, six main metacognitive activities were
identified orientating, planning, executing, monitoring, evaluation and elaboration.
Unfortunately, a detailed taxonomy could not be produced from this extensive research
because the researchers restrained themselves in a too objective paradigm (the desire to
establish a higher reliability among the researchers markings of the protocols). The use
of statistical correlation and the high expectation of reliability in the researchers coding
of the thinking-aloud protocol forced the researchers to reduce the level of detail of the
taxonomy. According to the researchers (2006), this loses sight of the exact nature of
the (metacognitive) activities involved (p.231).
Amigues (1988) and Anderson and Nashon (2006) reported studies in group
problem-solving at secondary school level. The latter conducted an interpretive study in
investigating the influence of metacognition in knowledge construction through Physics
problem-solving (kinematics) at an amusement park among Years 11 and 12 students
(aged 16-18) in Canada. Through protocols analysis of the conversation between three
students in a group, it was discovered that the student with higher metacognitive profile
(i.e., control, monitoring, awareness, evaluation, planning and self-efficacy) can easily
influence and change (or in the term the authors used - killed) the knowledge construct
of other students with lower metacognitive profile (especially in metacognitive
awareness) even if the knowledge construct of the student with high metacognitive
profile was wrong.
Due to the lack of this kind of literature in Physics problem-solving, attention is
directed to mathematics problem-solving which shares some similarity with Physics in
term of the nature of the subjects (i.e., the use of mathematics in Physics). Table 2.5
shows some studies that use real problems among secondary school students. In Yeaps

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(1998) and Stillman and Galbraiths (1998) studies, the problems are unfamiliar and new
to the students (according to Park and Lee (2004), real-world problems are unfamiliar and
difficult for secondary school students); in Goos et al.s (2002) study, the problem-
solving activities took place after the students had been taught a new topic, hence the
problems used were new to them; and in Kramarski et al.s (2002) study, an authentic
task is defined as a problem where no ready-made algorithms are available to solve the
problem whereas a standard task has ready-made algorithms. Thus, real problem-
solving was being observed in these studies using quantitative and qualitative methods.
All these studies reported the importance of metacognition in assisting secondary school
students in solving mathematical problems (refer to the column Finding(s) in Table
2.5). This opens up the possibility of exploring, in a similar manner, the metacognitive
aspect of problem-solving in Physics among secondary school students, which remains
under-investigated.

Table 2.5: Summary of recent studies in metacognition and problem-solving.


Author(s) Purpose(s) Sample Procedure(s) Finding(s)
& Year
Yeap To observe the patterns Ten Year- Solved a mathematical Metacognitive experiences
(1998) and metacognitive 7 students problem using thinking- are more important in
behaviours in in aloud while being observed determining the success of
mathematical problem- Singapore by the researcher and the problem-solving.
solving. interviewed later.
Stillman To understand 22 Year- Solved mathematical Students spent less time in
& metacognitive 11 female problems in pairs using orientation activities but
Galbraith behaviours of students students in thinking-aloud, followed by more time in organisation,
(1998) in solving real world a school interviews to elaborate their execution and verification
mathematical in problem-solving processes. activities.
problems. Australia
Goos et To investigate the Pairs of Naturalistic longitudal Transactive discussion of
al. (2002) metacognitive students in study. Video- & audio-taped metacognitive new ideas
activities of students in five targeted pairs of students in and assessment appears to
solving mathematical different classrooms during problem- be a significant factor in
problems. schools in solving activities, followed successful collaborative
Australia by interviews. problem-solving.
Kramarski To compare the 91 Experimental study (six Cooperative-metacognitive
et al. cooperative- seventh- weeks); two metacognitive instructional students
(2002) metacognitive grade instruction groups & one significantly outperformed
instruction on solving students in non-metacognitive the cooperative instructional
authentic mathematical Israel instruction group; individual students for both authentic
problems pre- & post-tests (one and standard tasks.
authentic task & some
standard tasks).

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In order to widen the literature of metacognition and Physics problem-solving, the


literature in the field of metacognition and science education was sought. There were
two major studies in science education that incorporate the concept of metacognition
The Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (CASE) project (Adey & Shayer,
1994) and the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL) (Baird & Mitchell,
1986). These projects will be described briefly in the following paragraphs focusing only
on the metacognitive aspect of the projects (refer to the literature suggested for further
reading).
The CASE project was initiated in 1982 in the UK to promote KS3 students
thinking from concrete stage to formal stage (abstract thinking) according to the cognitive
development theory of Piaget (Adey, 1999) and this project has expanded outside the UK
to be adapted in other countries including Korea and Indonesia (Adey & Shayer, 1994).
There are five pillars in the CASE project:
a. Concrete preparation (to establish the terms of a problem to set the scene);
b. Cognitive conflict (thinking develops in response to cognitive challenge);
c. Metacognition (reflection on the problem-solving process);
d. Construction (the students construct their own reasoning);
e. Bridging (linking the new way of thinking developed to other context such as
mathematics and daily applications).

The teaching of metacognition was conducted through 30 lessons of Thinking


Science (Raw, 1999). In the lessons, students were asked to talk about and explain the
difficulties and success of a problem with the teacher and each other so that they would
be accustomed to the reflection of their problem-solving process consciously (Adey &
Shayer, 1993). Ten classes from seven schools in the UK were chosen to undergo CASE
teaching and learning and a pre-test to assess their cognitive development (Piagetian
Reasoning Tasks) in 1985. The experimental classes were given 60-80 minutes of
Thinking Science lessons every two weeks over a period of two years (Adey & Shayer,
1990) while the control classes underwent normal science lessons. Each intervention
lesson focused on one formal operations schemata (e.g., control and exclusion of
variables, ratio and proportionality, etc.) so that when the students were familiar

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(concrete preparation) with the new terminology (e.g., variables, relationships between
variables), they were given practical problems which required the use of the schemata for
their solution (cognitive conflict). Through classroom talk and discussion
(metacognition), they built their own schemata to more abstract understanding of the
concept (construction) and then applied in problem-solving (bridging).
Later, they were given a post-test to assess their cognitive development
(significant difference between experimental and control classes only for boys) and
science achievement (no significant difference between experimental and control
classes). The next year, similar tests were given to the students (no significant
difference) and their results in GCSE Science were taken as data (experimental classes
showed better results). From the reports cited in this thesis, there was no explicit
assessment of the metacognitive skills gained by the students hence it is unsure if
metacognition had helped the students in their science achievement. In a similar project
conducted among KS1 students by Larkin (2002) CASE@KS1 by analysing the
metacognitive aspect of classrooms conversations, she reported that KS1 teachers
encountered difficulty in providing metacognitive experience for young children because
of the barrier of language to communicate between the teachers and the students, and also
the lack of time in achieving meaningful reflections.
PEEL was started in 1985 in Australia as an action research (collaboration
between university researchers and school science teachers) to train students to take
greater responsibility for, and informed control over, their own learning by enhancing
students metacognition through various methods (Baird, Mitchell & Northfield, 1987).
Initially, students were asked to record in their PEEL diaries their thoughts of the lesson
and anything that puzzled them at the end of every lesson (Mitchell & Baird, 1986). This
technique was unsuccessful because the students did not understand the reason of
recording their thoughts. Through collaborative discussion among the teachers and
researchers, they shifted to a questioning technique that has the similar content as the
diary and then to more active learning in the classroom aiming at identifying and
correcting errors in learning, concept mapping, categorising knowledge, etc. (Fensham,
1989). After more than two decades, the PEEL has established the seven poor learning

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tendencies and six good learning behaviours that are rooted in metacognition
(Loughran, 2002). The seven poor learning tendencies are:
a. Impulsive attention some parts of the information are thought about, other
parts are ignored
b. Superficial attention skimming over or scanning the information without
making an effort to process and understand it
c. Inappropriate application applying remembered procedures blindly, in the
hope that they will give the correct answer
d. Inadequate monitoring often seen as the learner getting stuck in a problem,
and being unable to get unstuck without help
e. Premature closure not checking to ensure that work done has complied with
the task set, leading to an incorrect or inadequate answer
f. Ineffective restructuring comprehending an alternative idea after recognising
ones misconception but later reverting back to the original misconception
g. Lack of reflective thinking information learned is in little boxes relatively
unrelated to each other

The six good learning behaviours are:


a. Seek assistance tell the teacher what they do not understand
b. Check progress refers to earlier work before asking for help
c. Plans work anticipates and predicts possible outcomes
d. Reflects on work makes links between activities and ideas
e. Links ideas and experiences offers relevant and personal examples
f. Develops a view justifies opinions

PEEL has been carried out in other subjects and other countries following the
success of the first two-year of implementation at Monash (Fensham, 1989). Baird,
Fensham, Gunstone and White (1991) carried out a six-month phenomenological study
into the reflection in science learning of 13 student science teachers, 14 novice and
experienced science teachers and 64 secondary school science students. Through the

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analysis of classroom observations, interviews and self-report, they found that both
teachers and students benefited from PEEL in two aspects:
a. the research generated significant gains in the levels of satisfaction and
performance of both teachers and students because the teachers and students
worked together to explore and devise ways of changing science teaching and
learning in the classroom to develop desirable cognitive, metacognitive and
affective outcomes.
b. the students changed to be more accountable and responsible for their own
learning while the teachers became more perceptive, resourceful and
purposeful in the classroom.

All the studies reported in this section show that metacognition plays an important
role in determining the success of problem-solving and learning, both individually and in
group (as reported also by Schoenfeld, 1983). It is acknowledged that there is this social-
psychological aspect of teaching and learning among the students rooted in Vygotskys
theory of cognitive development (Mercer & Edwards, 1981). However, there are these
intramental (individual) and intermental (social) processes (Mercer, 2000) that are
involved in many aspects of learning. Both of these processes are important in problem-
solving but in this research, the focus is on the individual mental process in problem-
solving because in the conventional Physics examination, students have to solve the
problems individually.
Moreover, Barten (1991a, 1991b, 1992), who believes that Vygotskys theory was
the precursor to metacognitive theory, states that the cognitive development theory of
Vygotsky involved development toward increasing control or mastery of own cognitive
processes (1991b, p.308) which becomes the basis of self-regulation. Barten (1991b)
quoted an example of planning in problem-solving: when a child is appealing to another
person for help in problem-solving, s/he has formulated a sort of plan to solve the
problem but is unable to perform all the necessary operations. Through this, s/he may
formulate a more adequate plan independently through self-regulatory verbal planning
and s/he may turn to another person and explain the plan before s/he performs it. Barten
(1991b) said that this is a clear transition from interpersonal to intrapersonal

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communication in planning a solution for a problem. Hence, it is my interest to explore


the individual aspect of metacognitive problem-solving in Physics.

2.9 Summary
In this chapter, I have explained the limitations of the studies on Physics problem-
solving conducted before the mid-1980s. With the recent development of research about
metacognitive skills in problem-solving, some researchers in Physics problem-solving
have also turned their attention to this factor, which may help to shed light on the
production of a general problem-solving instruction. I have also demonstrated how
metacognitive skills help secondary school students in solving problems in other
knowledge domains and have suggested that thinking-aloud is a method that is suitable
for my research. However, the problematic and the premature development of
metacognition challenge the researcher to carefully consider the methods which are
suitable for observing metacognition comprehensively.

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Chapter 3: Research Methodology

3.0 Introduction
In the previous chapters, I have explained clearly my reasons for conducting this
research and also the formulation of my research questions. In this chapter, I will discuss
the methodology selection that generates a suitable research design to answer my
research questions.

3.1 Constructivism
As stated in section 1.3, constructivism is a concept defined variously by different
people. According to Ernest (1996), it can be represented as:
a. an ontology to explain the status of the world
b. an epistemology to explain the nature of knowledge
c. a methodology to explain the methods to acquire knowledge
d. a pedagogy to explain the means to facilitate teaching and learning

It is clear that constructivism (in terms of pedagogical theory) has influenced the
conceptualisation of my research questions and justified the importance of my research
(see section 1.3). In this section, I will elaborate on constructivism as the ontology and
epistemology of my research methodology.
Before I introduce the constructivism that I refer to in this research, I would like
to clarify the contrast between constructivism and constructionism. These two terms
have been used interchangeably by many researchers (Rodwell, 1998). While both
emphasise on the construction of knowledge, according to Gergen and Gergen (1991)
constructivism is concerned with the cognitive basis of language (cognitive scheme) but
constructionism is concerned with language and social interchange (linguistic
negotiation). Constructivists restructure cognitive meaning through their experience
while constructionists socially construct meaning upon negotiation and agreement
between individuals who judge and correct (Franklin, 1995).
Raskin (2002) divided constructivism into three main streams: personal construct
psychology or constructive alternativism (Kelly, 1955, 1991); radical constructivism (von

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Glasersfeld, 1995); and social constructionism (Gergen, 1985). In social constructionism


knowledge is a product of the linguistic activity of a community of observers while in
constructive alternativism and radical constructivism knowledge is a compilation of
internalised human-made constructions through their experience with the external world.
In my study, I am interested in making sense of the cognitive and metacognitive
structures of individual students Physics problem-solving through various methods of
data collection. It would not be within the capacity of my research to investigate social
elements of Physics problem-solving. Therefore, in this research, I would position
myself in the realm of constructivism that emphasises on the construction of cognitive
meanings for individuals.
Both constructive alternativism and radical constructivism share many similarities
in the construction of knowledge in the individual and they have the same epistemology
(Raskin, 2002). Both Kelly (1955, 1991) and von Glasersfeld (1995) believe that
knowledge is constructed through sense-making or interpretation and it is tentative or
tangible. For Kelly, humans are scientists who are constantly testing out their
constructions and predictions and then acting upon it, while for von Glasersfeld, humans
try to construct their own reality of the world in order to survive. Since they do not
contradict with each other and it is not my intention to compare them, both can be used to
justify the foundation of my methodology. However, radical constructivism is preferable
in this research due to the following strengths.
The history of constructivism as a philosophy can be traced back to the 18th
century. Immanuel Kant said that scientific knowledge is actively constructed from our
observational experience (Hawkins, 1994). According to von Glasersfeld (1995),
Giambattista Vico in the year 1710 described that epistemic agents (people who know)
can know nothing but the cognitive structure they themselves have put together.
Furthermore, Vico said that only God alone can know the real world because He knows
how and of what He has created it. The human knower, can know only what humans
have constructed. Von Glasersfeld (1991) said:

What matters is not to match the world, but to fit into it in spite of whatever
obstacles or traps it might present. Applied to cognition, this means that to know

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is not to process true representations of reality, but rather to possess ways and
means of acting and thinking that allow one to attain the goals one happens to
have chosen. (von Glasersfeld, 1991, p.16).

This brings us to the epistemology of constructivism. Constructivism is anti-


objectivist (Ernest, 1996) but not to the extreme of absolute relativism. This is because it
does not reject the One Truth (as in objectivism) but only that we cannot be absolutely
sure that we can and have known the One Truth. Therefore, the knowledge we construct
is tangible and may change over time: it has the status of a working hypothesis (von
Glasersfeld, 2000).
Applied to educational research, the knowledge we came to know through the
construction of our reality that we experienced may or may not be the One Truth. It is for
the readers to accept the reality that we constructed, if it fits the reality they
constructed. Hence the generalisability of the findings of our research is as described by
Schofield (1993) that, Generalisability is best thought of as a matter of the fit between
the situation studied and others to which one might be interested in applying the concepts
and conclusions of that study (p.221).
According to von Glasersfeld (1991), there can be generalisation in
constructivism. He phrased it as:

If a prediction, made on the basis of imputing to another person a scheme of


acting or thinking that one has found to be viable for oneself, turns out to be
correct, then that scheme and the conceptual structures it involves achieve a level
of experiential reality (von Glasersfeld, 1991, p.21).

For a more radical view of validation of generalisability of scientific knowledge,


consider the following argument by Matura (1991):

The use of the criterion of validation of scientific explanations defines and


constitutes scientific explanations. The use of scientific explanations to validate a
statement makes that statement a scientific statement. The use of scientific

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explanations by the members of a community of standard defines and constitutes


science as a cognitive domain that defines as a scientific community the
community of those observers that use it. Therefore, ontologically, in its manner
of constitution as a cognitive domain, science is no different from other domains
are, namely, as a domain of actions defined by a criterion of validations or
acceptability used by an observer or by the members of a community of observers
to accept those actions as valid in a domain of actions defined by that very same
criterion of acceptability. (Matura, 1991, p.39).

In short, the results generated from the so-called qualitative, ungeneralisable,


interpretive or subjective paradigm can become scientific knowledge if there is a
general agreement among a group of educationists or researchers in accepting the
criterion to validate the results. Even some scientific knowledge in the past, observed
through an empirical method, could only provide a tangible explanation of reality. For
example, the nature of light: before the 11th century, most of the scientists at that time
accepted that light came from the eyes (OConnor & Robertson, 2002). Through
scientific observations and mathematical calculations, none of the scientists of that time
(e.g., Euclid, Empedocles, Heron, Ptolemy, etc.) could prove this piece of scientific
knowledge was wrong until al-Haytham in year 1000 demonstrated the truth that we
accept today, that sight does not result from the light coming from the eyes but light
originating from the sun or other external source of light.
Therefore, according to von Glasersfeld (2000), what matters in the end is that the
constructs of knowledge actually work and do not involve contradictions. Having
extensively analysed Piagets original writing in French, von Glasersfeld (1995) claimed
that many have misunderstood Piagets key concepts of assimilation, accommodation,
equilibrium, scheme, reflective abstraction, etc. thus he presented his construction of
what Piaget meant through interpretation saying:

There is no way of discovering what he [Piaget] had in mind not even by


reading him in French. All I or anyone could do, is interpret, which is to say,
construct and reconstruct until a satisfactory degree of coherence is achieved

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among the conceptual structures one has built up on the basis of the read text.
(von Glasersfeld, 1995, p.109).

Von Glasersfeld (2000) said that he never claims knowledge is This is how it is!
but rather it is This may be how it functions (p.4). The functional fit demands the
knowledge constructed to fit and work functionally (von Glasersfeld, 1991). This is the
essence of radical constructivism that will be the foundation of my research
methodology. It is radical because it never rejects one truth but only that we cannot
claim that we have found it. It is through fit-and-work and agreement in the criteria to
validate the truth that a piece of knowledge can be accepted as the truth. In my own
research, I am building a model (or set of models) that are grounded in, and tested
against, empirical data, but which are considered to be conjectural, provisional
knowledge suitable for further testing as well as for tentative acceptance.

3.2 Grounded theory


According to Glaser and Strauss (1967), the founders of Grounded Theory
(hereafter GT), GT is one that will fit a situation being researched, and will work
when put into use. By fit, they meant that the categories generated through research
must be readily (not forcibly) applicable to and indicated by the data under study. By
work they meant that those categories must be meaningfully relevant to and be able to
explain the behaviour under study. This is parallel with (1) the radical constructivism
explained above and (2) the generalisation suggested by Schofield (1993).
GT is a research methodology that opposed the trend of verification of the grand
social theories that was popular at that time when positivism was widely accepted (Glaser
& Strauss, 1967). GT is suggested as an alternative that could strengthen the mandate for
generating theory. According to Denscombe (1998), there are five premises underlying
GT:
a. The analysis of data is, broadly speaking, a pragmatic one. GT gives
guidelines and rules of thumb, not methodological rules to be followed on all
occasions.

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b. The analysis of data should be geared towards generating new concepts and
theories. The key word is analysis, where the GT approach is directly
concerned with how the researchers organise, code and make sense of the
research material.
c. Theories should be grounded in empirical reality. According to the
principles of GT, research involves a constant checking of the analysis
(theories, concepts) against the findings and a constant refinement of the
theories and concepts during the process of research (the constant
comparative method).
d. Researchers should start out with an open-mind, rather than bring an
established conceptual/analytical framework to the research.
e. The selection of people, instances, etc. reflects the developing nature of the
research and cannot be predicted at the start (an emergent design, following
theoretical sampling, i.e. sampling indicated by the need to test and develop
emergent concepts). Hence, the researcher will not be able to specify at the
outset exactly how large the sample will be.

The process of research will involve the continual selection of units until the
research arrives at the point of theoretical saturation. It is only when new data seems to
fit the analysis without further modifications of the emerging theory, rather than add
anything new, that the theory is saturated and the sample size is enough.
Strauss and Corbin (1990) explained that GT is action- or interaction-oriented.
The researcher attempts to derive a general, abstract theory of a process, action, or
interaction grounded in the views of participants in a study (Creswell, 2003). The
essence of GT is whether the data under study can explain the behaviour under study.
GT is thus derived from, rather than preceding, data (as opposed to conventional inquiry).
It is not deductive but patterned. Furthermore, it is open-ended and can be extended
indefinitely (Guba & Lincoln, 1985).
Taking from the points explained above, GT appears to be the best method to
answer my research questions and to generate pattern(s) of Physics problem-solving
among KS4 students. This is because the research questions are open-ended. It is also

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action-oriented, where problem-solving process can be observed and analysed as a series


of actions. GT provides a foundation for researchers to explore the unknowns or areas
where little is already known (Goulding, 1999). GT generates new theories rather than
testing existing theories or hypotheses (Denscombe, 2003). This method opens up the
possibility for generating more patterns of Physics problem-solving among KS4 students
in a similar manner to how Pressley (2000) used GT to generate codes for reading from
verbal protocols (see section 2.6).
In addition, by looking at the research question, it is clear that this research is not
to test preformed hypotheses. Therefore, the methods in the confirmatory perspective
(Biddle & Anderson, 1986) such as experimental or highly statistical survey methods are
not appropriate. This is not a confirmatory study with a priori that the researcher can
anticipate before the data collection. According to Biddle and Anderson (1986),
contrasting the confirmatory perspective is the discovery perspective. The discovery
methods (e.g., ethnography, phenomenology, ethnomethodology and so fourth) obviously
are sufficient to answer open-ended type research questions. Unfortunately, most of them
are unable to provide a more rigorous mechanism to verify the theory generated
(Litchman, 2006). GT stands out from the discovery perspective in educational research
which not only allows open-ended exploration, but also has a built-in constant
verification mechanism (Glaser, 1998) to ensure that the theory generated has passed
through rigorous steps of self-checking during the process of data analysis, without
having the necessity to design separate tests in order to test the theory (see section 3.3.5).
GT has a built-in mandate to strive toward verification through the process of category
saturation, which means staying in the field until no further evidence emerges (Goulding,
1999). According to Glaser (1978), GT offers a method that is a rigorous, orderly guide
to theory development (p.2). The constant comparative method and the system of
coding stages outlined in GT force the researchers to self-check the theory with the data
constantly. This will be explained in more detail in the next sections.
GT holds a lot of advantages in terms of generating in-depth findings and can
possibly deliver a generalised theory as the end-product of educational research, but it
may not be the most popular research method in the discovery perspective. This is
mainly because, as admitted by both the founders, GT takes time and may delay the

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research process until the point of theoretical saturation (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Glaser,
1978). Another factor is that it is difficult to meet some requirements of GT, such as
theoretical sensitivity which can only be developed through practice, the rigorous data
analysis process (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), the researchers creativity in devising
different categories for analysing data and the ability to conceptualise and summarise.
Glaser (1978) said that GT is painstaking.
The above paragraph is not intended to describe the disadvantages of GT, but to
demonstrate that I am aware of the difficulties. As such, it is my hope that the training
during my MPhil research has provided me with sufficient practice and experience to
anticipate the obstacles that might arrive and to plan a realistic schedule for my research.
It is ambitious to try and achieve theoretical saturation for these two research questions,
but it would be more ambitious to set out more research questions but be unable to
answer them completely within the timeframe given. Therefore, by focusing on just two
research questions, it is the quality of the findings and the ability to conduct the whole
cycle of GT which are the main concerns of my study.
Clearly GT is an open-ended commitment as the research design cannot be fully
elaborated at the start, and data collection is only completed once saturation is reached.
This presents a potential problem for any researcher working within a fixed timeframe
(e.g., a doctoral project). The need to complete the doctoral study in the time available is
recognised as a priority in this study, and the status of the developing model in relation to
the available time is closely monitored. To solve this problem, it may be necessary to
restrict some aspects of the project to ensure completion. For example, it is intended that
the research will offer a general model of Physics problem-solving. However, if
theoretical sampling across topic areas suggests levels of complexity that cannot be
saturated within the available time it may be necessary to restrict the focus (e.g. to
Physics problem-solving in only the topic of mechanics). This actually illustrates that GT
is a flexible methodology because in the case of a constrained timeframe, limitations are
helpful to ensure completion without sacrificing the quality of the data collection and
analysis; while in the case of an adequate timeframe, wider research questions can be
explored without the limitations.

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3.3 GT data analysis techniques


GT involves multiple stages of data collection, refinement and interrelationship of
categories of information. Two primary characteristics of this methodology are: constant
comparison of data with emerging categories, and theoretical sampling of different
groups to maximise the similarities and the differences of information. It is important for
me to introduce the data analysis procedure of GT before I proceed to the research design
because the process of data analysis is embedded in the research procedure itself where
the cycles of collecting-analysing data continue from the beginning to the end.
According to Guba and Lincoln (1985), in GT, data analysis is open-ended and
the issue is to find the best means to make sense of the data in ways that will facilitate
the continual unfolding of the inquiry and lead to a maximal understanding of the
phenomenon being studied within its context. In the early stages of the research, a rough
definition and explanation of the particular phenomenon is developed and then examined
in the light of the data that is being collected throughout the study (Cohen, Manion &
Morrison, 2000). The process of redefinition and reformulation is repeated until the best
explanation is reached that embraces all the data, and until a generalised relationship has
been established that embraces the negative cases.
This research also follows the coding systems (open-coding, axial-coding and
selective-coding) suggested by Strauss and Corbin (1990) and the constant comparative
method by Glaser and Strauss (1967), before the emergence and saturation of a theory or
pattern that may be sufficient to explain the role of metacognitive skills in Physics
problem-solving in the context of the KS4 students under study. According to Strauss
and Corbin (1990), it is difficult for a beginner in GT to conduct the coding and constant
comparative method because of the lack of practice and theoretical sensitivity. The latter
refers to a personal quality of the researcher and is developed through experience and
reading in a relevant area (ibid). Hence, it can only be developed over many years
(Glaser & Strauss, 1967). So, as a beginner in GT, it may be a challenge to perform the
characteristics of GT completely, but every effort has been made to understand the
procedures through reading and practice, particularly that conducted during the course of
my MPhil research last year.

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3.3.1 Constant comparative method


Constant comparative method is the comparing of (Glaser, 1978):
a. different people;
b. data from the same individuals with themselves at different points in time;
c. incident with incident;
d. data with category;
e. a category with other categories.

Glaser and Strauss (1967) have outlined the constant comparative method in four
stages (p.105), which are: (1) comparing incidents applicable to each category; (2)
integrating categories and their properties; (3) delimiting the theory; and (4) writing the
theory. This method unfolds in all stages of data analysis to compare categories, either to
merge them (if similar), separate them (if different) or rearrange them (if it is a
subcategory). While performing constant comparison, the property, dimension and
condition will be compared to redefine the category which will be recorded on a memo.
The more similarities encountered, the more consistency within a category may be
confirmed, thus providing confidence for the researcher that a substantive theory has
been saturated (Strauss, 1987). If more differences are encountered, then the emerging
theory needs to be modified, and then a further theoretical sample is needed to test out the
elaborated versions of the theory. It is these rigorous steps of constant comparison of the
data and categories generated that ensures that the theory emerging is grounded in the
data itself. This will strengthen the validity of the theory at the end of the research.
In GT, substantive theory can only explain a phenomenon in one particular
context, while formal theory can be generalised into a wider context (Strauss & Corbin,
1990). One must reach the saturation of substantive theory before proceeding to the
development of a formal theory. This initial substantive theory is similar to the working
hypothesis suggested by von Glasersfeld (2000). The end goal is to generate a formal
theory but if this is not possible, at least a substantive theory can be produced at the end
of every stage of data analysis before undertaking another stage of data collection using
the theoretical sample identified from the previous stage.

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3.3.2 Open-coding
According to Strauss and Corbin (1990), open-coding is the process of breaking
down, examining, comparing, conceptualising and categorising data. This is the first step
of the analysis where actions or interactions are labelled using the researchers own
phrases into as many categories as possible (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). This is to ensure
the openness of the analysis, which will lead to the discovery of more categories. The
names of the categories can be provisional and can change after axial-coding and
selective-coding (Strauss, 1987). As GT is action-oriented, in order for the researcher to
be sensitised to the processes and patterns, the label assigned should be a gerund (i.e., in
-ing form) in this stage of coding (Andriopoulos, 1999). See Appendix C for an
example of a list of codes in open-coding generated from this research. Although there
seems to be a systematic flow of different types of coding in GT, in practice, they can
happen at the same time as the researcher is constantly making comparisons by creating,
dividing and merging the categories.

3.3.3 Axial-coding
After a variety of categories have been created in open-coding, in axial-coding,
connections are made between categories by using the constant comparative method
(Strauss & Corbin, 1990). During this stage, researchers may be able to hypothesise and
develop denser categories (Strauss, 1987). See Appendix D for an example of a list of
axial-coding generated from this research.

3.3.4 Selective-coding
Selective-coding refers to the process of selecting the core category,
systematically relating it to other categories, validating those relationships and filling in
categories that need further refinement and development (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). It is
usually undertaken after stages of theoretical sampling. Through the integration of
categories and relating them with a core category, a story line can be generated (ibid). In
this research, a model reveals the story line after the selective-coding (see sections 4.3.3,
5.2 and 5.3).

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3.3.5 Verification and the trustworthiness of the theory generated


There are a few issues that need to be discussed in this section involving the
verification and trustworthiness of the theory generated as well as the issue of forcing or
emerging the theory. Onwuegbuzie and Daniel (2003) made the criticism that most
researchers in qualitative research fail to provide evidence for judging the dependability
(i.e., reliability) and credibility (i.e., validity) of findings. It is assumed that these criteria
are only applicable for quantitative research. However, Maxwell (1992) said that validity
is one of the key issues in the legitimacy of qualitative research. Verification is the
activity of determining whether a statement or claim is true or accurate while validity
means having confidence in ones statements or knowledge claims (Schwandt, 2001).
Both of them inquire the truth of the theory developed. Schwandt (2001) criticised them
as the criteria demanded by the objectivists.
However, verification and validity are applicable in my constructivist research
because the constructivism that I advocate does not reject the truth (i.e., it is not
extremely relativist). As explained in section 3.1, a piece of knowledge will become
scientific knowledge if there is a set of criteria to validate the findings. It depends on
the readers to accept the criteria constructed by the researcher. As the truth that is
constructed by the researcher and readers is not necessarily the same, the term self-
check might be more appropriate to describe the mechanism used to establish the
validity or verification or even trustworthiness (perceived by most qualitative researchers
as having the same degree as validity (Guba & Lincoln, 1985; Erlandson, Harris, Skipper
& Allen, 1993)) of the theory. Guba and Lincoln (1985) suggested that the conventional
criteria used to evaluate internal validity, external validity, reliability and objectivity are
replaced by the criteria of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability, or
in short, trustworthiness. Guba and Lincoln (1985) and Erlandson et al. (1993) went as
far to establish the trustworthiness for qualitative research using the techniques identified
in Table 3.1.
If the readers can accept the criteria that I used to verify the theory and secure the
trustworthiness of my research, this section should give confidence to the reader in
accepting the findings. In order to establish dependability and confirmability, all the
recordings, codings, answer sheets and transcripts (which are not included in the

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appendices) are made available for auditing. To establish transferability, a thick


description (within the word-limitation) of the findings will be reported in Chapters 4
and 5. Finally, in establishing credibility or internal validity, triangulation was used (see
the next three paragraphs).

Table 3.1: Criteria to establish trustworthiness.


Criterion Technique Procedure
Credibility Prolonged engagement Spending enough time in the context
Persistent observation Focusing on an issue in detail
Triangulation Using multiple methods, sources, researchers or theories
Peer debriefing Exposing oneself to a disinterested peer in a manner
paralleling an analytic session
Negative case analysis Process of revising hypotheses with hindsight
Referential adequacy Collecting holistic data (i.e., videotaping) to enable
interpretation being tested for adequacy
Member-check Checking the analyses, interpretations and conclusions
with the respondents of the research (stakeholders)
Transferability Thick description Bringing the readers to the context
Dependability Audit Enabling auditing when required
Confirmability Audit Enabling auditing when required

GT itself has already established a self-check system to ensure that the theory
generated which is grounded in the data itself fits and works in the context of the research
area. The criterion of fits and works is seen as the most important element of GT from
its first publication in 1967 (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) until now (Charmaz, 2005). The GT
data analysis techniques explained in sections 3.3.1 to 3.3.4 are rigorous and systematic
(Glaser, 1978; Glaser, 1998; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Extra care is taken in the coding
and constant comparative method to ensure that the data is checked time and time again.
Glaser (1978) said that, open coding carries with it verification, correction and
saturation (p.60). Strauss and Corbin (1990) emphasised that the selective coding is
used to validate the relationships between categories.
Furthermore, referring to section 3.3.1, the constant comparative method is clearly
a built-in mechanism to ensure that researchers continuously check the data, categories
and incidents to induce a theory. It is notable that the categories generated need to be
compared with a variety of possibilities to find similarities and differences. By
challenging the theory with the data collected, it is less likely for the researchers to make

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claims without solid evidence. Referring to the first paragraph of section 3.3.1, points (b)
and (c), the constant comparative method includes a very popular technique to assure the
validity of a research triangulation (Schostak, 2002). Triangulation involves the use of
different methods and sources to extend or check the integrity of inferences drawn from
the data (Ritchie, 2003). The idea is that if a number of different methods or sources of
information are used to tackle one question, the resulting answer is more likely to be
accurate (Smith, 1996). Denzin (1989) presented four types of triangulation: data,
investigator, theory and method.
Data triangulation refers to the use of different data sources (ibid). It is to collect
the same data at different times, places and persons (Flick, 2002). This is similar to the
elements in the constant comparative method as pointed out in the previous paragraph.
Investigator triangulation employs different observers to detect or minimise biases that
derive from the researcher as a person (Denzin, 1989). This is inapplicable to this
research that only has one researcher. Finally, method triangulation is achieved by
employing different means to collect the same data from the same person. In my research
thinking-aloud, retrospective semi-structured interview, observation and analysis of
answer sheets were conducted. The employment of triangulation often led to
contradictory evidence which reflected back on the research process where resolution of
these contradictions further strengthened the trustworthiness of the findings (Bauer &
Gaskell, 2000). This paralleled with the constant comparative method in GT (see section
3.3.1) where contradiction led to further theoretical sampling, data collection or data
analysis.
In GT, there is an issue that separated its two founders (refer to Goulding, 1999,
2002; Charmaz, 2003, 2005 for extensive debates on the issues between the Glaserian
camp and the Straussian camp), which is the forcing (creating) or emergence (discovery)
of the theory. In the Glaserian camp, theory is claimed to emerge from the data only
through constant comparative method (Glaser, 1992), while Glaser (1992) argued that
Strauss and Corbin in their book published in 1990, suggested that the theory is being
forced through preconceptions, analytic questions, hypotheses and methodological
techniques. This is due to the detailed description of step-by-step techniques (especially
in the coding) to generate a theory introduced by Strauss and Corbin (1990). Although

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there can be no final judgement of who has the real GT (Charmaz, 2003), GT remains
as a strong research methodology to generate new theory.
Therefore, I would like to clarify my position in terms of the version of GT that I
applied in my study. Regarding the issue of forced or emerging theory (refer Glaser
(1992) for further debates), to avoid bias, I believe that theory should emerge from the
data analysis rather than being forced. The data analysis techniques explained above are
designed with a view towards the emergence of theory because theory is only derived
from data collected, not through preconceptions. In my research, I do not force the
emergence of the theory, it is rather the questions that emerged from the data analysis
that prompt me to focus my analysis on certain aspects of problem-solving. Moreover, as
the research is emphasising metacognition, it will of course receive more attention than
other possible aspects (e.g., emotion, volition, motivation, etc.). It may be more
appropriate to say that at least a pattern of Physics problem-solving and metacognition
will be constructed from the data but how and what will be included in the pattern and
theory will be discovered.
Although Strauss and Corbin (1990) in their book (Basic of Qualitative
Research) never claimed that a theory is forced in GT, it was Glaser (1992) who labelled
their detailed data analysis technique as forcing the theory. The detailed account of the
whole process of GT written by Strauss and Corbin (1990) is intended to assist the first-
time users of GT. Strauss and Corbin (1998) in the preface of the second edition of the
book explained its objective as Its intent is to provide the basic knowledge and
procedures needed by persons who are about to embark on their first qualitative research
projects and who want to build theory at the substantive level. (p.x).
Thus, the theory generated should emerge from the data in GT. It is important to
stress the element of emergence in GT because if it is accepted that theory has emerged
from data, then, as Goulding (1999) states:

Verification is done throughout the course of the research project, rather than
assuming that this is only possible through follow up quantitative data. The
developed theory should also be true to the data, it should be parsimonious.
(Goulding, 1999, p.7).

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Therefore, it is clear that GT offers a strong mechanism to ensure that the claims of the
research are valid and the theory developed is verified through sophisticated data analysis
techniques.
Having outlined the measures to secure the reliability and validity of the data
collection and analysis, I also realise that subjectivity and values are a necessary part of
human interaction and therefore cannot be eliminated or controlled (Auerbach &
Silverstein, 2003). What is required instead is for me to acknowledge them and reflect on
them in a systematic and disciplined way. I acknowledge my personal experience and
models in solving Physics problems as well as knowledge of the many problem-solving
models introduced in Chapter 2. However, as GT is fully grounded in the data, all my
interpretations and justifications will need to be supported solely from the data itself.
When I present my analysis in Chapters 4 and 5, I will accompany the results with as
much data as possible. Certainly, they are open to interpretations from the readers but
ultimately, this is how I construct my understanding of how the students I met solved
Physics problems based on the data collected and theoretical sensitivity developed
through my interaction with the data and students involved in this research.

3.4 Selection of participants


The population of the research is KS4 students in the Cambridge area and
participants will be drawn from it. These students are chosen because this is the final
stage of secondary education before they opt to either continue their study or enter the
field of employment. Since problem-solving is an essential aim of education, at the final
stage of secondary education, it is assumed that the students should have gained some
adequate skills in problem-solving.
As explained earlier, the sample size cannot be specified until the research has
already been undertaken (refer section 3.6 for the actual sample size). The theoretical
sampling in GT is also directed by the evolving theory; it is a sampling of incidents,
events, activities, populations, etc. (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Theoretical sampling is
selecting participants on the basis of concepts that have proven theoretical relevance to
the evolving theory. To ascertain the proven theoretical relevance, the concepts are

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repeatedly present or notably absent when comparing incident after incident (Strauss &
Corbin, 1990). The different incidents provide the differences in time, places and
persons. Thus, the data collected can be compared and contrasted, offering the data
triangulation and further strengthening the validity of the research.
All sampling in GT is done with some purpose in mind (Guba & Lincoln, 1985).
The selection of a sample is based on theoretical assumption. In this study, there are two
means of forming theoretical sampling: from literature and from data. According to
Strauss and Corbin (1990), in GT, technical literature (i.e., reports or articles from
previous research) can direct theoretical sampling. It can give ideas about which might
be the direction to proceed in order to uncover phenomena that are important to the
development of a theory. Hence, there are two criteria in selecting a theoretical sample
(as discussed in the previous chapter): students who encounter (1) real problems, and
(2) which are difficult and have no immediate solutions. As the research evolved, sample
was drawn from those who could solve certain kind of problem using a particular
strategy. This will further be reported in section 4.3.1.

3.5 Methods
GT focuses strongly on the interpretation of data no matter how it is collected
(Flick, 2002). Here, the question of which method should be used to collect data
becomes secondary. It is open for the researcher to design and choose a variety of
methods and techniques in collecting the data in order to construct the reality of the
Physics problem-solving of the students. In my study, I chose thinking-aloud method,
retrospective semi-structured interview, field observation and analysis of answer sheets.
Thinking-aloud is the core method, supported by the retrospective semi-structured
interview, observation and analysis of answer sheets to ensure that the data is grounded
and to strengthen the validity of the research using triangulation (see section 3.3.5).

3.5.1 Verbal reports


There are three main types of verbal reports that may be used to collect data about
the process of an individual performing a task: introspective, concurrent and retrospective
(Ericsson & Simon, 1980, 1993). The introspective method requires the informant (at

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intermediate points) to stop and report on internal processes as they occur; while the
retrospective method requires the informant to complete a task totally or partially, and
then describe the strategies used (Rowe, 1985). The concurrent method requires the
informant to verbalise spontaneously their cognitive processes while doing a task without
any prior questions to answer (Ericsson & Simon, 1980).
The first two types of verbal reports require the informant to make reports that
answer some specific questions set before or after the task. According to Nisbett and
Wilson (1977), this will not give reliable data as the informant needs to reflect upon the
questions in order to verbalise the answers while doing the task. In the introspective
method, the informant is constantly being interrupted while performing the task as s/he
needs to remind him/herself of the questions and report the answers about what s/he is
doing. This also increases the burden on the informants working memory while
performing the task, thus making the process of completing the task slower or less
efficient. In the retrospective method, the informant has time to reflect on what s/he is
doing before reporting the process, thus giving rise to unreliable reports (ibid). This
method also, if involving a substantial delay, can cause the informant to forget the
process of the task that s/he has done, resulting in an invalid report.
On the other hand, the concurrent verbal report is a method introduced by
Ericsson and Simon (1980) to address the doubts about the reliability of introspective and
retrospective verbal reports (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). To overcome the limitations of
those reports, Ericsson and Simon (1980) used the framework of information processing
theory in problem-solving in order to suggest that the concurrent verbal report does not
burden the informants working memory and does not report more than what is
happening in the informants mind (as this is one of the criticisms Nisbett and Wilson
made about verbal data). This is possible if s/he is given sufficient training in verbalising
cognitive processes spontaneously.
The framework of information processing theory in problem-solving can be
closely likened to the operation of a computer. Newell and Simon (1972) postulated that
human thinking in problem-solving operates as an information processing system of a
computer. A commonly used model in cognitive science involves three major
components: sensory register, working memory (short-term memory) and long-term

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memory (Schunk, 2000). In this model, the sensory register maintains very briefly a
stimulus event, providing time for recognition, classification and either storing or
ignoring the event (Frederiksen, 1984). The working memory holds the input and output
of the thinking process (Newell & Simon, 1972). It operates under the consciousness of
an individual and has limited duration and capacity (Schunk, 2000). It can only hold
around seven units of meaningful or chunked items (Miller, 1956). The inputs in
working memory that are rehearsed will be stored in the long-term memory, or otherwise
will be lost. The long-term memory is a repository of permanent knowledge skills
(Frederiksen, 1984) and is considered to have no limitation in storing information
(Ericsson & Simon, 1980). Information is stored in the form of inactive nodes
representing an item or a chunk of related items in the long-term memory. Only
activated nodes are contained in the working memory (Frederiksen, 1984).
When solving a problem, the sensory register will register the attentive
information into the working memory. Through controlled processing (Schneider &
Shiffrin, 1977), one or more related nodes of information in the long-term memory will
be activated and executed in the working memory in order to work out the solution
(Frederiksen, 1984). According to Shiffrin and Schneider (1977), besides controlled
processing, one can also execute automatic processing where the activation of a set of
nodes is controlled by a particular input configuration without the informants attention.
For example, a person can sing or hum his favourite song while driving in a busy street.
However, for a person to be able to verbalise his/her thoughts automatically while
making the effort to solve a problem requires training. Therefore, the aim of training in
thinking-aloud before the data collection is to make the verbalisation of the cognitive
process an automatic process. This will ensure that the working memory of the informant
is not burdened with another task besides the problem-solving task (Gilhooly & Green,
2002). In introspective method, training can also help the informant to familiarise
him/herself with the specific questions a researcher asks the informant to answer during
the cognitive process. However, introspective method requires more training than
thinking-aloud because thinking-aloud aims to verbalise what is already in the mind
spontaneously, while introspective method aims to ensure that the questions are

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registered into the working memory and answered automatically during the cognitive
process.
Furthermore, in contrast to retrospective method, thinking-aloud does not give the
informant time to make interpretations or reflections on his/her thinking (Chi, 2000). As
such, it is more natural. The reliability and validity of the thinking-aloud method are
more secure compared to the other types of verbal reporting methods. In addition, the
reliability and validity of this method have been extensively discussed and proven by
Ericsson and Simon (1993), Green (1998) and recently, Crisp (2008) through empirical
research. Their conclusion is that research has shown there to be close correspondences
between behaviour and verbalisations if the technique is implemented under appropriate
instruction (e.g., ask the informant not to describe what s/he is thinking but verbalise the
thought, prompt the informant if s/he paused for a long while, provide adequate training
before the recording, etc.)
With the foregoing considerations in mind, for the purpose of my study, thinking-
aloud is the best method of collecting verbal reports aimed at observing the problem-
solving process among KS4 students. Thinking-aloud has been used by some researchers
in Physics problem-solving and metacognition (as in Chapter 2). This is a useful method
for making inferences concerning the cognitive process (Rowe, 1991) and can provide
some information about learning and problem-solving (Newell & Simon, 1972). Chi
(2000) said that thinking-aloud requires the informant merely to state the objects and
operators that s/he is thinking of at that moment of the solution process. The informant
says out aloud everything that comes into his/her mind while working on a task.
In this research, some exercises were given to the students to familiarise
themselves with thinking-aloud before their statements were recorded to ensure that the
process of verbalisation could be executed automatically (van Someren et al., 1994).
This training is usually given to informants before the study begins so that during
problem-solving they can think-aloud in an ongoing manner (Rowe, 1985). According to
van Someren et al. (1994), the training takes, at most, 15 minutes, and if after that the
informant still finds it hard to verbalise, it is better to stop because s/he is unlikely to
provide useful protocol. This is because s/he cannot execute verbalisation automatically
and this will affect the process of problem-solving (i.e., it becomes unnatural). In this

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study, the students were instructed to talk-aloud about anything that came to their minds:
feelings, questions, self-conversations or any sayings when solving the problems. Two of
the 26 students selected to do thinking-aloud were not recorded due to the inability to
verbalise their thoughts automatically after more than ten minutes of training. Students
were reminded not to explain what they were doing as this would burden the working
memory (Ericsson & Simon, 1993) and whenever there was a long pause (more than five
seconds), they were reminded to do thinking-aloud so that the sequence of thought could
be recorded.
Another important factor that a researcher needs to consider when applying the
thinking-aloud method is the selection of problems. The problems chosen for the purpose
of thinking-aloud should not be so difficult that the informant cannot give a complete
protocol of the problem-solving process. At the same time, the problems should not too
easy that they can be solved in an automated manner (van Someren et al., 1994). This is
because an automatic process usually will not be reported as the informant does not pay
attention to it (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). Hence, it is essential to determine that the
problems given are real problems. To do this, van Someren et al. (1994) recommended
that, after the completion of the problem-solving process, the researchers ask the
informants to describe the difficulties of the problems (through a retrospective interview,
which was adopted in my study).
Special attention also has to be given to the selection of problems because this can
determine if certain metacognitive elements will be verbalised or not (Nunes, Nunes &
Davis, 2003). In order to increase the opportunity to elicit and observe metacognitive
skills, the problems given should be unfamiliar to the students because, according to
Murphy & McCormick (1997) when the students are facing problems that are outside
their familiarity, they will call upon metacognitive skills. Hence, it is important to ensure
that the problems given match the students level of difficulty and familiarity.
According to Rowe (1991), metacognitive skills are difficult to measure. Various
kinds of instruments and methods are needed to ensure more reliable results. Therefore,
in my study, retrospective semi-structured interviews, observation and analysis of answer
sheets were used, in addition to thinking-aloud, in order to observe the metacognitive
skills in problem-solving. Thinking-aloud allows observation during the task

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performance while the retrospective method can elicit more information on fragments of
the thinking-aloud that sounded incomprehensible, incomplete or odd (van Someren et
al., 1994). In my research, the retrospective semi-structured interview was conducted
immediately after the problem-solving to ensure that the students could give direct
information about the problem-solving processes from their short-term memory (Rowe,
1991). Some questions about the thinking process and the solution given were asked to
clarify the thinking and behaviour of the students when they were solving the problems.
The retrospective semi-structured interviews and thinking-aloud were recorded using a
digital recorder.
Another issue that is surrounding the thinking-aloud and retrospective semi-
structured interview is the process of transcribing and interpreting the raw data recorded.
As Ericsson and Simon (1993) stated that analysing thinking-aloud protocols required the
researcher working with transcripts to enable the researcher divides the protocols into
episodes of thinking process or unit of analysis (Edwards, 1993). Therefore, it is very
important to secure the accuracy and adequacy of the raw data recorded because a good
transcription should have the basics (e.g., layout, symbols) needed to answer the research
questions, yet should not be too detailed that it is difficult to assess (Ochs, 1979).
Different researchers used different sets of symbols to transcribe both verbal and non-
verbal data (Ochs, 1979; Halliday, 1985; Du Bois, Schuetze-Coburn, Cumming &
Paolino, 1993; Ehlich, 1993; Ericsson & Simon, 1993). As the aim of the use of symbols
in transcripts is to facilitate the researcher and readers in studying selective data to
answer the research questions (Ochs, 1979; Jovchelovitch & Bauer, 2000), not all the
symbols introduced by these researchers were used in the transcription of the data
collected.
The most important aspect of the transcription in this study is to make possible the
assessment of problem-solving processes and thinking processes. Verbal reports uttered
by the students were transcribed into texts in normal typeface while researchers speech
was in bold. In the thinking-aloud protocols, each line (numbered from 1) was separated
when the students were taking a breath. For a longer pause (more than two seconds), the
symbol of was used. This was necessary because there could be a possibility that the
students executed thinking processes during the silence. This was helpful for interpreting

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and inferring the data during the analysis of metacognitive aspects of problem-solving.
During the pauses, non-verbal data such as actions (e.g., writing, underlining, circling,
drawing) and eye movements (either looking at the problem statement or their working
on the answer sheets) were transcribed in round brackets using italicised fonts (see
Appendix S for all the symbols used in the transcripts). The non-verbal data here helped
the interpretation and inference of the students thinking processes. They were further
strengthened through the retrospective semi-structured interviews. In Stage 3 of the
research, more non-verbal data was transcribed because the students were working with
electrical components. Therefore, another column of non-verbal data was created to
transcribe this data (see Appendix T) as suggested by Ochs (1979).
Whenever the speech uttered by the students was undeciphered, was used.
This was kept to as minimal as possible by listening to the recording of that line for many
times in order to determine the words. From 4231 lines of protocols, there were 36 lines
of undeciphered words found, mainly when they were making calculation or rereading
the problem statement. In the incident where the students were referring to an object or
problem by using pronouns such as this and that, square brackets [ ] were used to
provide clearer picture of the situation. As emotion was not important in this research,
the only symbol used for intonation (see all the symbols for intonation in Ochs, 1979,
p.64) was question marks. This was especially important for the analysis of self-
questioning in metacognition.
Another problem raised by Kvale (1996) about transcribing interviews was when
the recording was transcribed, these transcripts became secondary source of data, it was
no more a set of raw data. This form of translation from an oral format to a written
format posed the danger of decontextualised the thinking-aloud and interviews. This was
because by just reading the transcripts (even though it was transcribed with as many
symbols and notations), it would never be the same as be present at the thinking-aloud or
interview session. Bearing in mind the possibility of this problem, therefore, to ensure
that the interpretation and analysis of the data were more accurate, I adopted the
following procedures in transcribing and analysing the data:
a. I, as the researcher who collected the data and was present at the thinking-
aloud and interview sessions, transcribed all the recording into text.

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b. Played the recording at least once before transcribing it to remind myself the
context and situation during the recording.
c. Coding the data once using the transcripts and later played the recording a few
times to check the coding and categories for each line.
d. Whenever there was uncertainty about the coding, the original recording was
referred rather than trying to make sense only from the transcripts.

3.5.2 Retrospective semi-structured interview


In semi-structured interviews, questions are normally specified, but the
interviewer is free to probe beyond the answers to seek clarification and elaboration
(May, 1997). It is called retrospective semi-structured interview because the interview is
carried out immediately after the informant has finished solving a problem thus ensuring
that s/he remembers the rationale behind his/her procedure (Rowe, 1991). According to
Erlandson et al. (1993), the questions can range from being predetermined to very open-
ended. The purpose of the interview is not just to understand the problem-solving
behaviour but also to strengthen the trustworthiness of this research. In this study, a set
of questions specified by Charles, Lester & ODaffer (1993) was used (Appendix I).
However, some questions raised from observations were asked to clarify students actions
and to ensure that my interpretations based on my observations were confirmed by the
students. The questions asked evolved gradually from the beginning of Stage 2 (more
diverse and random) to the end of Stage 2 (more precise and specific) due to the
development of theoretical sensitivity to focus on the aspects that were directly related to
the generation of the Physics problem-solving pattern. Appendices Q and R show
examples of interview transcripts at different times. The theoretical aspect of this
interview has been extensively discussed in the previous section.

3.5.3 Observation
This is a non-participant observation where the behaviour and interaction continue
as they would without the presence or interruption of a researcher (Adler & Adler, 1998).
As metacognition cannot be observed explicitly through behaviour, the main purpose of
observation in this study is to prepare questions for interview aimed at clarifying

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students specific steps in problem-solving. Questions and short field notes were taken to
help provide information to clarify some aspects of the thinking-aloud protocols such as
when students said the words this and that (which cannot be determined through
protocols). In the later stages of data-collection, digital video recording was used to help
me in focusing on the questions to ask and observations that needed to be clarified rather
than concentrating on taking field notes.

3.5.4 Analysis of answer sheets


The analysis of answer sheets in my study does not employ the documentary
research proposed by Hodder (1998) where the writer cannot be observed or interviewed.
The answer sheets were analysed and compared to the recordings of the thinking-aloud,
enabling the study of the problem-solving visually. Therefore, it supports the
interpretations of the thinking-aloud protocol. It also shows the paths that the student
took and the key information that the student has written down, especially when the
problem is transformed into a diagram (see Appendices U-Y for examples).

3.6 Research procedures


There were six phases in this study which started with pilot testing of the tool,
followed by selection of participants, data collection, data analysis, refining the research
design and writing-up. The middle two phases were alternated according to GT
procedure. These phases were repeated in the same order for three times which formed
three stages of this study, except at Stage 3 where the research started from Phase 3. A
stage ended when the data analysis was sufficient to suggest more specific research
design and theoretical sampling to further develop the Physics problem-solving pattern.
Stage 1 was from October 2005 until July 2006 (MPhil study); Stage 2 was from
September 2006 until April 2007; and Stage 3 was from April 2007 until January 2009.

3.6.1 First phase: Pilot testing


The aim of this phase is not to ensure that I have the appropriate tool for selecting
the theoretical sample. In this phase, all the Physics questions used were pilot-tested to
ensure that they were understood by KS4 students. The Physics problems were

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constructed in an open-ended format by referring to the National Curriculum of KS3 and


KS4 (DfEE & QCA, 1999b). This was done to ensure that all of the students in KS4
could understand and potentially solve the problems in KS3s syllabus if not that of
KS4s. This was because the problems were not intended to test the students knowledge
of Physics. Following each problem was a set of structured questions about the
perceptions of the problem solved by the student. The questions posted were intended to
confirm the characteristics of the problems as in section 2.1 (i.e., the problem appears to
be difficult for the student and the solution is not familiar to him/her). The following are
the questions posed after each Physics problems:
a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.
b. Do you have any immediate solution for this?

This set of Physics problems was named PhyPT (Physics Problem Test) and was
piloted among some KS4 students individually. Interviews were carried out after the
completion of the problems to examine the appropriateness of the problems and
questions. In order to ensure that the students were engaging in the process of problem-
solving, there was no time-limitation placed on this test.
In the first stage of pilot-testing, there were ten Physics problems focusing only
on the topic of linear motion and each was followed by six questions. After the pilot-
testing, six problems and two questions were selected for PhyPT1 (see Appendix K).
Later, in the second stage of the research, in order to widen the Physics topics, more
problems were constructed on the topics of waves, optics, pressure and electricity. This
was because the pattern of the problem-solving on that single topic in the first stage was
quite consistent (Phang, 2006) and there was a need to cover more topics to determine if
this pattern persisted. This produced the second version called PhyPT2 which consisted
of eight Physics problems and each followed by two questions (see Appendix L).

3.6.2 Second phase: Selecting the theoretical sample


To have a variety of students, as promoted in GT (Strauss & Corbin, 1990), I
wrote to all the secondary state schools in Cambridge (14 schools), at different stages of
the research, to ask their permission to conduct this research in their schools. After the

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pilot-testing, the second phase of the study was to select the theoretical sample. This was
done by giving the PhyPT (PhyPT 1 for students in Stage 1 and PhyPT2 for students in
Stage 2) to a class of students to match their level of difficulty with the problems.
Through this test, students who matched the criteria as explained in section 3.4 (the
students are encountering real problems which are difficult and have no immediate
solutions, are interested in engaging problem-solving) were selected for the third phase.
At Stage 1, this research started with a very specific topic and purposive sampling
because I did not have enough knowledge about the field of secondary school students
Physics problem-solving in UK as explained in Chapter 2. So, in starting with a small
scope in terms of topic and sample, I would be able to grasp the field faster and more
easily. Two schools in Cambridge (Schools C and V) were contacted in January 2006.
The first visit to School C was on February 10, 2006 where the PhyPT1 was solved by a
class of 26 Year-11 students (12 males and 14 females). As there was no time limitation,
the students finished the test in between 15 and 49 minutes. The first visit to School V
was on March 3, 2006 where the PhyPT1 was conducted in a class of 28 Year-10
students (12 males and 16 females). They completed the test in between 24 and 46
minutes. Most of the students could solve the first three problems. Problems that
involved acceleration (Problems 4 to 6 as in Appendix K) were abandoned by the
majority of the students. Hence, Problem 3 was used as the benchmark for the selection
of the theoretical sample in the first stage. A student was selected for the third phase of
the study if s/he was interested in Physics and could solve Problem 3 correctly, but
perceived the problem as difficult and having no immediate solution (as indicated from
the retrospective questions). Table 3.2 shows the six students selected for the third phase
of the study.

Table 3.2: Theoretical sample for the third phase of the study in Stage 1.
Student Name (Assumed) School Year Gender
A Angie C 11 Female
B Betty C 11 Female
C Colin C 11 Male
D Diane C 11 Female
E Eddie V 10 Male
F Fiona V 10 Female

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In Stage 2, another three schools (Schools X, Y and Z) agreed to participate in


this research, starting January 2007. PhyPT2 was administrated at School X on January
24, 2007 on two Year-11 classes (top and bottom classes of Year-11). 41 students (22
males and 18 females, one unidentified) completed the test in between 30 and 50 minutes.
On January 25, 2007, School Y was visited and 23 of Year-10 students (11 males & 12
females) completed the PhyPT2 in between 32 and 49 minutes. On January 26, 2007, 30
Year-10 students from School Z solved the PhyPT2 in between 26 and 52 minutes. From
among 94 students, 20 students (as given in Table 3.3) were selected for the third phase
of the study after analysing their answer sheets.

Table 3.3: Theoretical sample for the third phase of the study in Stage 2.
Student Name (Assumed) School Year Gender
G Grace X 11 Female
H Helen X 11 Female
I Isaac X 11 Male
J Jacob X 11 Male
K Kamal X 11 Male
L Larry X 11 Male
M Marco X 11 Male
N Nancy X 11 Female
O Oscar X 11 Male
P Peter Y 10 Male
Q Quinn Y 10 Male
R Rosie Y 10 Female
S Susan Y 10 Female
T Tanya Y 10 Female
U Usher Y 10 Male
V Vince Y 10 Male
W Wendy Z 10 Female
X Xenna Z 10 Female
Y Yonah Z 10 Male
Z Zahra Z 10 Female

The third stage of the research started in April 2007 after the data from the second
stage had been analysed. Twelve students (Helen, Isaac, Jacob, Larry, Nancy, Peter,
Rosie, Vince, Wendy, Xenna, Yonah, Zahra) were selected from the same pool of
students in the second stage to further clarify their patterns through more data collections.
From all the 26 students selected for phase three, two students were unable to think-aloud

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automatically after 15 minutes of training (see section 3.5.1 regarding the reliability of
the thinking-aloud), thus data collected from Diane and Quinn was not analysed.

3.6.3 Third phase: In-depth investigation


In the third phase of the research, an in-depth investigation was carried out using
the thinking-aloud method, retrospective semi-structured interviews and observation,
individually to identify the patterns and the role of metacognitive skills in the process of
Physics problem-solving among KS4 students. The students were asked to solve some
Physics problems that have a similar level of difficulty as shown through the second
phase of the research. The level of difficulty of the problem was important to ensure that
the problem was difficult enough to engage the student with real problem-solving but not
so difficult that complete protocols cannot be obtained (as explained in section 3.5.1).
The students who were willing to participate in the study were asked to fill in a
consent form (Appendix O) for their problem-solving process being recorded and shown
only for academic purposes. They were then given two to three problems, as in PhyPT as
an exercise for thinking-aloud and to see if the students could remember the problem
(metacognition that is concerned with regulation of ones memory). More problems were
designed after the analysis of the second phase (see Appendix M), according to the
practice of GT in which the methods and tools change according to the ongoing data
analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). As data collection and data
analysis alternated throughout the research, Table 3.4 explains when and how much data
was collected in the three different stages of the research.
In Stage 1, after the first visit, an initial analysis of the data led to two emergent
patterns for each of the student and a general pattern. This helped me to be more focused
on what to observe and ask as theoretical sensitivity was built-up slowly. Hence, in the
second and third visit, the time taken for each student was shorter. As this was the first
time I had undertaken data analysis according to GT practice, I only managed to
complete it in May 2006. The delay was also due to the time used to transcribe all the
thinking-aloud protocols.

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Table 3.4: Details of data collection in all stages.


Stage Visit Date School Student
Stage 1 1 February 24, 2006 C Angie, Betty
2 March 3, 2006 C Colin, Diane
3 March 9, 2006 V Eddie, Fiona
Stage 2 4 March 1, 2007 Y Peter, Quinn, Susan, Tanya, Vince
5 March 8, 2007 Y Rosie, Usher
6 March 14, 2007 X Jacob, Kamal, Larry, Marco
7 March 15, 2007 Z Wendy, Xenna
8 March 16, 2007 Z Yonah, Zahra
9 March 19, 2007 X Grace, Helen, Isaac, Nancy, Oscar
Stage 3 10 May 4, 2007 Y Peter, Rosie, Vince
11 May 9, 2007 X Isaac, Larry, Nancy
12 May 14, 2007 X Helen, Jacob
13 June 29, 2007 Z Wendy, Xenna, Yonah, Zahra

Therefore, in Stage 2, I did not transcribe the protocols for initial data analysis so
that the initial findings from the analysis could inform the next data collection faster. In
addition, a technical report was prepared for each school in Stage 1 as a part of the
agreement for them to participate in this research, hence the delay in data analysis. I
could not revisit School C because the students were preparing for GCSE examination
and as the school-year approached the end, School V declined to continue participating in
this research but the data analysis was sufficient to give me a consistent pattern. Table
3.5 shows the data collected in Stage 1.

Table 3.5: Problems (see Appendix M) solved by each student in Stage 1.


Student Problems Total problems solved
1 (exercise) 2 3 4 5 by each student
Angie 5
Betty 4
Colin 4
Diane (2) 4
Eddie 4
Fiona 4
*Notes: shaded box indicates one problem each solved by the students except the column marked
with (2) which indicates that it has been solved twice.

In Stage 2, after the 20 students were identified through Phase 2, they were
invited to participate in Phase 3. It is similar to the Phase 3 in Stage 1, only this time, a

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digital video recorder was used to help the researcher to focus less on taking notes of
what the students were doing but more on formulating questions for retrospective
interviews that followed. In the fourth visit, one of the five students, Quinn solved two
problems but failed to think-aloud automatically, so his data was not analysed. After the
fifth visit, the data was analysed without making the transcript and a list of important
questions for retrospective interviews was produced (see Appendix J). Visits seven and
eight were the two dates in which School Z allowed me to meet the students. I did not
have time to analyse data from School X. I transcribed all 72 protocols of these 19
students (discarding Quinn) and analysed them according to the GT procedure. Table 3.6
shows the number of thinking-aloud protocols collected and analysed for each student in
Stage 2.

Table 3.6: Problems (see Appendix M and N) recorded and solved by each student
in Stage 2 and Stage 3
Student Problems Total
1 2 3 4 5 6 78 9 10 11 E protocols
Grace # 3
Helen # 4+1
Isaac # 3+1
Jacob # 5+1
Kamal # 3
Larry # 3+1
Marco # 4
Nancy 1+1
Oscar # 3
Peter # 5+1
Quinn #(2) 2
Rosie # 5+1
Susan # 4
Tanya # 3
Usher # 5
Vince # 4+1
Wendy # 4+1
Xenna # 4+1
Yonah # 5+1
Zahra # 4+1
*Notes: = solved & recorded; # = as exercise for thinking-aloud; E = Problem for Stage 3

As I did not want the same problem of the previous year to recur, I contacted the
schools for another session starting in May 2007 to conduct Stage 3. This time, I wanted
to further understand the problem-solving processes of a few students which could help

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clarify the patterns (theoretical sampling). I revisited the 12 students after the schools
asked me to ensure that this would be the last session as the students had been sacrificing
about one hour each for two sessions. All the students were asked to do a practical
electricity problem where all the necessary electrical components borrowed from the
Science Learning Centre, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. While
analysing the data from these students, I thought that I had enough to arrive at theoretical
saturation. However, some of the protocols were not complete and to avoid loosing the
opportunity to meet the students again, as experienced in Stage 1, I requested to visit
School Z.

3.6.4 Fourth phase: Data analysis


The first data analysis was carried out after the second phase to select a theoretical
sample. Immediately after the data collection in the third phase, another data analysis
was performed as the first step of the GT data analysis. The result of this data analysis
would determine the procedure in the third phase, which was repeated to collect more
data. The procedure was as illustrated in the curved arrow circling Phase 3 and Phase 4
in Figure 3.1. This was as promoted by GT practice where data analysis is an ongoing
process and is alternated with data collection until the data is saturated (Strauss & Corbin,
1990).
All the data was coded and compared (see section 3.3) manually and the codes
were keyed in Microsoft Word programme so that the search function could be used to
assist the data analysis (especially to compare cases, incidents and codes). This resulted
in the alteration of the research design, modification of Physics problems, number of
participants, selection of schools, timeframe of the research and the method of data
analysis. The research procedure was repeated (see the dotted lines in Figure 3.1) due to:
a. the lack of data (in all three stages): went to Phase 3 to collect more data by
selecting more students within the pool of students that had gone through the
second phase.
b. the lack of variation of students that represent all the KS4 students in
Cambridge (in Stage 2): the second phase was repeated in other schools in
Cambridge which were happy to participate.

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c. the insufficiency of the Physics problems to guide the selection of a


theoretical sample (in Stages 2 & 3): the first phase was repeated.

The details of the alterations and data analysis will be explained in Chapters 4 and 5 in
thick descriptions as promoted by GT.

Timeline
(c)+ Phase 1
* Literature emergent theoretical sampling Oct 05 Jan 06
* Design tool (PhyPT) to select theoretical sample Dec 05 Nov 06
* Pilot testing some KS4 students solved the test individually Dec 06
- followed by interview
Jan 06
- make corrections
Jan 06
Contact schools
(b)+ Phase 2

* Visit schools to administrate the PhyPT. Jan 06 Apr 07


* Analysed to select theoretical sample. Jan 06 Apr 07

Contact schools Feb 06 June 07


(a) + Phase 3
* Thinking-aloud, observation & interview for selected sample. Feb 06 June 07
* Reflect/redesign/modify the research procedure. Feb 06 June 07

continuous Phase 4
Analysis Mar 06 Dec 07
Phase 5
Phase 6 Writing & Literature Review
Sept 07 Mar 09

Notes: Timeline The period between Oct 2005 and June 2006 was a part of my MPhil training.
+ The (a), (b) and (c) are circumstances as explained in the section below this figure.

Figure 3.1: The data collection procedure and timeline.

3.7 Ethical considerations


As my research involves school students individually, ethical considerations were
made following the guidelines provided by the British Educational Research Association
(BERA, 2004). Permission to conduct the research was requested from the school
principals through formal letters. To reduce discomfort to the schools and students
involved (BERA, 2004, paragraph 18) the schools were given full authority in deciding
the time to conduct this research. A thorough criminal background check by the Criminal

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Records Bureau, United Kingdom, was carried out in order to obtain an Enhanced
Criminal Record Certificate (disclosure no.: 001127087243) providing evidence that I do
not have a criminal record. This is required for the third phase of my research where I
met the students individually without the supervision of a teacher.
There are two crucial ethical issues confidentiality and informed consent
(Erlandson et al., 1993). The issue of informed consent has been explained partly in the
previous paragraph. Parallel with the voluntary informed consent criterion in paragraphs
10 and 11 of BERA (2004), the students involved in the third phase of the study were
given a brief explanation of the research before its commencement. They were informed
about the recording of the thinking-aloud and who may be listening to it. They were also
informed about what they should do, how long it would take and finally, they were given
the option of withdrawing if they thought that leaving the class for 30 minutes would be a
disadvantage for them. They were asked to fill in a consent form if they agreed to
participate (see Appendix O).
As for confidentiality, the schools and students names were not reported in the
thesis (BERA, 2004, paragraph 23). Initials and assumed names were used for the
schools and the students as in Table 3.2 and 3.3. However, a separate technical report
was prepared for each school so as to inform the school of the performance of their
students particularly. This was a form of courtesy to the schools that were willing to
participate in this research and was also intended to help the schools in assessing the
problem-solving ability of their students in Physics. The school teachers welcome this
initiative and found it useful for understanding the performance of their students in
solving Physics problems.
After completing the PhyPT, all the students were reminded that the problems
presented were particularly difficult. This is because the aim of my study is to select
students that match with difficult problems. Hence, most of the problems had to be more
difficult than those the students usually encountered in school and during examinations.
This is important because I did not intend to harm the confidence and self-esteem of the
students in solving Physics problems and cause more students to think that Physics is a
difficult subject (see the issue addressed in the beginning of Chapter 1). As for the

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individual students who took part in Phase 3 of the research, they were given feedback of
their performances in solving Physics problems but this was not audio recorded.

3.8 Summary
Working within the perspective of radical constructivism, GT is employed to
construct the pattern of Physics problem-solving among KS4 students. To give the
confidence to the readers to accept the data collected and analysed, a set of criteria to
secure the validity, reliability and trustworthiness of the research methodology,
techniques, procedures and findings were explained in detail throughout the chapter.
Justifications were made clearly in this chapter on the selection of philosophical
assumptions, methodology, techniques and decisions made during the data collection in
accordance with ethical considerations. The next chapter is a thick description (as
required in the practice of reporting a GT study) of the data analysis and findings which
built on the strong research foundation outlined in the present chapter.

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Chapter 4: Data Analysis Problem-solving steps

4.0 Introduction
This chapter will describe how the categories of problem-solving processes were
being constructed through the coding system outlined in GT. This chapter will also
provide a thick description (see Table 3.1) of the formation of Physics problem-solving
patterns as they unfolded from all 24 students through three stages of data collection
and analysis. This will also include the justifications and rationale behind the decisions
made in all phases of the research based on the analysis of the data. This aims to address
the first research question to generate Physics problem-solving patterns (see section 1.5)
while Chapter 5 will answer the second research question to identify the roles of
metacognitive skills in Physics problem-solving.

4.1 An overview of data analysis procedure


After the thinking-aloud and interviews were transcribed into word processing
documents, they were read through together with the recordings to help generate some
categories that might be relevant to each sentence of the protocol prior to the beginning
of the coding. This was also carried out to check the accuracy of the transcripts and add
some non-verbal indications that are important for interpreting the problem-solving
process, for example, when the student was looking at the problem but did not verbalise
it.

4.1.1 Stage 1
In the first stage of the data analysis, for each set of the protocol, I coded twice
separately (open-coding) and then I made a comparison of the two sets of categories.
Wherever there were different categories for the same line, I replayed the recordings and
chose the category which was more relevant. As a result, a set of categories was
constructed, as in Appendix A. After that, for each set of the protocol, I combined the
categories through similarities in their attributes in order to generate a more general
category or a subcategory (axial-coding), as in Appendix B. In this way, I was able to see
emerging patterns for the problem-solving process of the student for each problem.

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A comparison within the students own protocols was made to generate a general
pattern for each individual. The patterns were then rechecked by comparing the coding
between the problems of a student to generate an individual pattern. The final step was to
compare the patterns between the students. An overall pattern of Physics problem-
solving among these six students in Stage 1 was being generated through the integration
of the categories (refer Figure 4.1 in section 4.2). This was reported in my MPhil
dissertation (Phang, 2006) as Stage 1 of this research. The recommendations to improve
the research design at the end of Stage 1 were considered as Phase 5 of the research that
brought the research to Stage 2.
As explained in section 3.6.1, all the Physics problems used in Stage 1 were
quantitative and limited to the topic of linear motion. This was because I only had
limited knowledge, experience and theoretical sensitivity in knowing how students in the
UK solve Physics problems as all of my teaching experience was in Malaysia.
Furthermore, in order to reach the point of theoretical saturation in a nine-month MPhil
course, it was easier by limiting the scope of the research. Since the overall pattern
generated in Stage 1 could represent all the six students in a macro scale, in Stage 2, the
Physics problems covered more topics (see section 3.6.1), including some qualitative
problems, and more students were selected to undergo the PhyPT and then Phase 3 of the
research.

4.1.2 Stage 2
In Stage 2, for each set of the thinking-aloud protocol (transcript of a problem), I
coded three times separately (open-coding) and then I made a comparison of these three
sets of categories using the same method as in Stage 1. There were 20 students (Table
3.3) who solved 75 problems (Table 3.6). I had to ensure that I was consistent in coding
the protocols in order to maintain the reliability of my data analysis, so I coded all the
students once and repeated the process after a short gap (one week) twice. At this stage, I
had to focus only on the problem-solving steps because of the amount of data. I
undertook the same coding process for the metacognitive skills later.
I used the axial-coding of Stage 1 (Appendix B) as the foundation for constructing
categories from the data in Stage 2 while keeping myself open-minded to the possibility

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for adding or eliminating categories. This produced a list of exhaustive categories (see
Appendix C) including some that did not have properly defined descriptions, for example
the categories of Analysing 5 and Analysing 6. Numbers were used to represent the
long descriptions of the categories which helped in coding the thinking-aloud protocols.
There were few differences between the core categories of Stage 1 and Stage 2, e.g.,
Reading, Planning, Calculating, Interpreting, Checking, etc.
Next, I went through the protocols twice in the axial-coding level and rearranged
the categories and subcategories. For example, Analysing 9 and Arranging 1 (refer to
Appendix D) were merged into Analysing 9 because initially Arranging 1 referred to
the process in which the students wrote the key information on the answer sheet while
Analysing 9 referred to the process where students analysed the problem by
underlining, circling or writing down the key information in another format. However,
due to the similar nature of these two categories (i.e., to analysed the key information in
the problem and arranged it into a more meaningful and accessible fashion), they were
merged into Analysing 9 to avoid making more parent-categories as they represented
the same instance (i.e., when the student listed the key information from the problem in
analysing the problem). In merging the categories, some categories were eliminated,
such as Arranging 1 and Reading 3. From axial-coding too, I generated some new
categories, for example, the category of Justifying 1. Further explanation of the
analysis of the problem-solving steps in Stage 2 can be found in section 4.2.
In coding the metacognitive skills, Appendix F was generated as the open-coding.
It was more difficult to code the protocols because I had to refer to the interview
transcripts, recordings and answer sheets more often to decide the best category that
represented a metacognitive incident. During the axial-coding, similar categories were
combined or arranged into subcategories. A rearrangement of the categories according to
the object-level (refer to Nelson and Narens (1990) in section 2.5) was made, thereby
producing a list of metacognitive skills (Appendix G). Refer to Chapter 5 for further
discussion on the formulation of the metacognitive skills coding.
From the interviews, many students perceived that most of the problems with
numbers appeared to be similar to mathematical problems rather than Physics problems.
Since the research questions did not limit the investigation only to the patterns of

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quantitative Physics problem-solving, there was a need to widen the scope of the study.
Furthermore, from the analysis at that point, I had already found some patterns among the
students and decided to compare them with purely qualitative Physics problems. This
brought me into Phase 5 of the research to design more Physics problems for Stage 3 of
the research (refer to section 4.3.1 for further explanation).
However, it was difficult to design a qualitative Physics problem because
problems like this tended to be testing students concepts in Physics rather than
investigating students problem-solving skills. An attempt had been made in designing
PhyPT2 to cover qualitative problems such as Problems 1 and 7 (see Appendix L). In
Problem 1, the concept of the nearer an object from a mirror, the bigger the object will
be was stated at the beginning of the problem. This gave hint to the students on how to
solve the problem. In Problem 7, no hint like parallel and series circuits were given, and
many students commented in the questions following the problem that they did not know
about circuits and some said they could not remember the topic even though it is in the
KS3 Science syllabus.
After all these factors were taken into consideration and with the advice and
guidance provided by my supervisor, a hands-on electrical problem was designed, similar
to that of Problem 7 (see Appendix N). This problem was considered as suitable at Stage
3 for further investigation of the students Physics problem-solving patterns because it
was not a numerical problem but could be solved using an equation if the students wished
to (using V=IR and P=IV to determine the brightness of the bulbs in different types of
circuit). There was, therefore, more than one way to reach the goal. As for the students
who had learnt about the different types of circuit in KS3 but may not be able to recall the
concepts (as mentioned in the previous paragraph), the hands-on problem-solving would
enable them to check their understanding and recall the concept to solve the problem. In
addition, hands-on problem-solving experience is also an important part of Physics
education.

4.1.3 Stage 3
The process of transcribing the thinking-aloud in Stage 3 was more difficult and
time-consuming than the previous two stages because there was a need to describe the

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students actions, especially when the students were turning the switch on and off to
check the circuit but there was no verbal report of that type of action. Axial-coding of
Stage 2 (Appendix D) was used as the foundation for coding the protocols to produce the
axial-coding of Stage 3 (Appendix E) while keeping an open mind regarding any
indicated alteration of the categories. There was only one change made during the
analysis of Stage 3 where the arrangement of electrical components was equated to
arranging the information as in the paper-and-pencil problem (Analysing 9 in Appendix
E). Later, the final version of the list of categories for problem-solving steps (as in
Appendix E) and for metacognitive skills (as in Appendix G) were combined (as in
Appendix H) to provide a clearer role of metacognitive skills in problem-solving steps.
By using this latest coding, all the thinking-aloud protocols from Stages 1 to 3
were coded again to ensure that the categories fitted and worked. There were no
additional categories found in the data and all the categories generated were sufficient to
code the incidents. A general pattern and three sub-patterns were generated at the end of
the analysis of problem-solving steps (see section 4.3.3). Later, these categories were
used in the process of writing up the story-line. During the process of writing, a list of
questions (see section 5.4) was triggered as a result of writing the story-line of the
emergence of the categories.
The subsequence sections were written when the above analyses were completed.
However, as writing in GT is also part of analysis, there had been reanalysis and
alteration in the final results. Some of the following reports were derived from initial
analysis, analysis while writing and memos that I have kept since the beginning of the
analysis as a part of GT practice.

4.2 Stage 2 Problem-solving steps


Stage 2 built on the work of Stage 1 which was my MPhil research project that
had limited scope in terms of the topic and number of students. Figure 4.1 briefly
summarises the pattern of all the six students in Stage 1. All the students followed the
steps of Reading and then Planning and finally Calculating (denoted by double-lined
arrows). If the problems appeared to be very easy or familiar to the students, the step of
Planning would not occur. This happened to two students where the problems given

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did not match their level of difficulty. However, as pointed out clearly in Chapter 2, this
kind of problem is not within the scope of the research.

Reading

Memory Interpreting

Planning

Arranging Information Arranging Equation

Calculating

Interpreting Checking

Random
Sequence &
Repetitive
Planning Reflecting

Calculating

Checking Interpreting

Figure 4.1: Pattern of Physics problem-solving of Stage 1 (Phang, 2006).

The dotted boxes indicated the steps that were not demonstrated consistently by
all the students but they were consistent within some students individually across all the
problems that s/he solved. The dotted box in the middle showed that the steps were
carried out in different sequence and some were repeated without a clear pattern. These
are the areas that needed further research to determine whether there would be separate
patterns or if some steps can be merged with others or eliminated. However, all these
were open to modification as I began the data analysis of Stage 2. Each protocol of a

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problem was coded as a whole process. For better understanding of the categories rather
than the process of coding (which has been explained in section 4.1), I will explain how
each category was constructed in the following sub-sections.

4.2.1 Reading
Reading was initially coded for incidents where the student was reading the
question at the beginning and in the middle of problem-solving as Read back (Appendix
B). These were coded as Reading 1 and Reading 2 respectively (Appendix C). When
I used the technique of self-questioning and microanalysis, as suggested by Strauss &
Corbin (2008) to further understand the condition of Reading 2, more subcategories
emerged from the data.
Before I proceed to the explanation of the data analysis, to avoid confusion,
Problem is used to refer to the Physics questions given to the students as in Appendices
K to N and as labelled in the thinking-aloud protocols in Appendix S. Q refers to
questions and answers (e.g., Q35) recorded during the retrospective interviews (see
examples in Appendices Q-R). The brackets with numbers only indicate the line
numbers of a Problem (e.g., (45) or (46-55)) in the thinking-aloud protocols as in
Appendix S. For the first paragraph in section 4.2.1.1, line(s) is used to familiarise the
readers with the format.

4.2.1.1 Reading 3
Reading 3 emerged when I was coding for Helen in Problem 4. After she had
calculated the answer, she went back and read the problem, And so to beat 0.1 seconds
(Problem 4, lines 137-138). She acknowledged doing so when she was asked during the
retrospective interview immediately after the completion of Problem 4. When she was
asked why she read the problem at that point (line 138), she said:

Just to make sure that Im it was sort of vaguely on the right line. I was just sort
of checking the numbers are all right. I just sort of checking if Ive done all of it
cause I could have made a lot of mistakes and also like at the end I forgot to do
the 0.1. Cause at the end I done, I had that [19.9 seconds], and then I just sort

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of thought that, cause its so precise, cause its like 0.1 seconds, I thought I
havent included that so thats going to make quite a difference. So I came back
and checked those and added them in. (Helen, Q35 & Q36).

The category Reading 2 was not sufficient to highlight the reason for a student
to read the problem more than once. For this reason, I decided to code the motive for
Reading 2 as for further understanding and to find some clues while Reading 3 was
to check the answer, to find out if the answer had fulfilled the goal of the problem.
Later, I found more incidents indicating Reading 3, for example, in the case of Zahra in
Problem 2. After she had obtained the answer (45), she ended the problem-solving
process by reading the problem thoroughly (46-55) and then confirmed that the answer
was correct. Since I had gained some experience (or theoretical sensitivity) from the
students before Zahra in Reading 3, I asked how she checked her answer at the end of
the problem-solving. She said, I read the question again, I made sure that Ive
understood it, made sure that Ive answered the question (Q12).
She also did this in Problem 3 (53-56) and 4 (37-44). I found the same pattern in
the cases of Rosie (Problem 3, 44), Helen (Problem 1, 34), Larry (Problem 1, 43-44) and
Peter (Problem 1, 43; Problem 3, 45; Problem 4, 104). I then checked through the
protocols of Stage 1 under the category Reading 2 to find similar incidents. I only
found Betty in Problem 2 who did Reading 3 at the end to check her answer. It was not
self-evident through the protocol when she said:
95 Thats how fast I need to run
96 Oh no, wait
97 I dont because I have to beat 0.1 seconds
98 So I have to run 5.14 m/s squared
99 To beat, 0.1 seconds record faster

It was when I checked the interview that I found that I had asked her the following:

Q21: Did you go back and read the question after you had finished reading
the first time?
I didnt read the whole question again but I, like, looked again to find a bit, like
for example I looked at the last bit again, like at the end.

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Q22: Why?
To reassure, to check that Im doing the right thing and to check that Im finding
out the right thing and to check out the right numbers.

Since I did not make any video recordings in Stage 1 (only audio recordings), I
could not have noticed this by reading the protocol or listening to the recoding only. As
the interview was a source of supporting data, I did not code the interviews as how I
coded the thinking-aloud protocols. It went unnoticed until I paid attention to it later.
However, in Stage 2, I had the opportunity to observe the problem-solving processes
again through the video recordings and could notice when the students looked at the
problems. This was very useful for coding Reading 6 (section 4.2.1.4). Since Reading
3 placed more emphasis on checking than reading, I replaced Reading 3 with
Checking 4 (see section 4.2.7.4) after performing axial-coding.

4.2.1.2 Reading 4
As self-questioning is one of the practices of data analysis in GT, I began to ask
myself what the students were thinking or doing when they were reading the problems
and what they do after they read the problems. Categories Reading 4, Reading 5 and
Reading 6 emerged as a result of comparing the ways and reasons (the property of a
category as in GT data analysis) behind the reading of the problems, either at the
beginning or in the middle of the problem-solving process. Reading 4 indicated that the
students read the problems while making their own mental representations of the
problems using different words or diagrams. For example, Rosie read Problem 5 for the
first time and then she read it again but not all the problem word-by-word, rather she
reworded the problem in a way that she could understand,
1 You may cycle 800 miles
2 In 2 minutes
3 Your friend can cycle 900 miles in 3 minutes
4 In a 9 km race you want to finish at the same time
5 At the same time as your friend
6 If your friend starts cycling at 8.30am
7 What time would you start cycling to finish the race
8 Finishing line together?
9 So

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10 You cycle 800 miles in 2 minutes


11 Your friend cycles 900 miles in 3 minutes
12 In a race
13 9 km race
14 You want to finish at the same time as your friend

Lines 1 to 8 were the problem that she read word-by-word while the other were
her own mental representation of the problem using different words that made more sense
to her and could help her grasp the important information. When I asked her how many
times she read a problem (Q3), she said, One time I read it through properly, the second
time I scanned it but I sort of underlined the key numbers. The reason for this, she said,
was to helps me to get it into my mind. So that I know that is what I need to look at
(Q4).
When Susan, in Problem 3, had doubts about her plan and answer, she reread the
problem. When she was reading, The best record of the 100 m times 4 relay (89), she
said, So it would be 400 m, a 100 m times 4 relay (90-91) and continued to read the
problem. She had tried a few different ways to approach the problem but failed to reach a
solution that she was satisfied with. Therefore, she read the problem carefully by
building her own understanding and tried to find information or clues that she might have
missed.
Another way to represent the problems was by using diagrams. Jacob drew a
diagram upon reading Problem 4,
14 A submarine ship can
15 Okay
16 So if I just do a diagram here
17 Submarine number one
18 Reading the ship, okay
19 So
20 The speed of the ultrasound is 1500 milliseconds
21 Do you think it will be hit?
22 So if I draw like that

However, he did not systematically use diagrams to help him in organising the
information. It was only two squares linked by a dotted line without any label or value
(as in his answer sheet in Appendix X). This was in contrast with Zahra who drew
diagrams by clearly labelling the objects and values (Appendix Y). Zahra actively

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reconstructed her own understanding of the problems by using diagrams and rewording.
She made diagrams in Problems 2 (14-19) and Problem 3 (4-6) while rewording in
Problem 4 (9-20). Upon noticing this (through observation), I asked her during the
interview for her reasons for drawing diagrams. She said:

Um, well it just makes more sense in my mind, because that was what I think of
the ship and the submarine. (Zahra, Q9, referring Problem 2).

its easier to see whats going on. (Zahra, Q10).

It makes more sense cause they are all just words and they always confused me.
(Zahra, Q30).

Zahra knew that the best way for her to understand Physics problems was through
pictures rather than words. It is worth noting that she always turned back to reread the
problems immediately after the first reading. She admitted that it was her habit to read a
problem at least twice (Q8) usually right after the first time (Q41) because she could
seldom understand the problem fully at the first time (Q42). Another reason was that by
reading the second time, she said, it makes clearer to you in your mind whats going on
(Q8). Rereading a problem (Reading 2) applied to almost all the students when they
encountered real, difficult, problems. Sometimes it had become just a habit of some
students to reread a problem even though the question was easy to understand. For
example, Jacob reread all the problems after the first reading despite Problems 1 and 2
being perceived as easy for him. He said that primarily the reason was to check that he
was not missing anything. He continued to say that:

I always got told to read it twice, just to make sure. I read it as a piece of text first,
the first time; the second time, I highlight mentally the numbers and the names.
Ill only write it down if its very long, obviously. (Jacob, Q30).

He said (Q31) that it was his primary school teacher who made him read questions at
least twice and he maintained this habit since then.

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4.2.1.3 Reading 5
The category Reading 5 referred to an incident where the student made a plan
while reading a problem. This was not spotted through protocols but from the interview.
In the case of Wendy, after solving the last problem, I asked her if she had planned how
to solve the problem (Q27). She said:

Yeah, briefly in my mind as I was reading the question, I was thinking, right,
okay, Ill do maybe a table here, if I have their names and how fast they are
running and what, and how many metres they run and then, oh yeah okay, then I
read the question like, okay, I add them together, once I write the table down, add
them together, find out how fast that has to be, and then, take away how fast that
has to be and thats what I got left. (Wendy, Q27).

It prompted me to compare all the video recordings of Wendy at the beginning of


all the problem-solving process (Reading) to see if she was reading the problems in the
same manner. This would show whether she always planned during the process of
reading. From the video observation, she was seen reading the problems in the same
manner. She underlined the key words as she was reading all the problems and
immediately after reading the problems, she organised the information that she had
gathered from the underlined texts. There was no evidence suggesting that she had also
planned while reading the rest of the problems but there was a big possibility as she
demonstrated the same pattern of problem-solving processes during and after the first
reading.
Peter, however, was very certain that he made plans while reading problems. In
Problem 3, after reading the problem, he immediately came out with a plan (14-22). I
then asked if he planned after reading the problem (Q39), he said, Um, usually reading it
I think of the way to solve it but otherwise Ill read it maybe over again. Since he did
not reread all the problems, it seemed that he planned while reading the problems. Thus,
he knew what to do after finishing reading the problems except for Problems 2 and 4
which were difficult for him. However, there was insufficient evidence to support this
interpretation in all of Peters protocols.

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4.2.1.4 Reading 6
The category Reading 6 referred to incidents where the students arranged the
information (Analysing 9) while reading the problems. This was evident among many
of the students and was seen as a strategy frequently used by them. There were different
ways to keep track of the information. Some preferred to underline the information (e.g.,
Grace, Rosie, Susan, Wendy), some circled it (e.g., Susan) and some wrote it down (e.g.,
Larry). There were a number of reasons for doing so.
First, it was to help them to remember the important information and to lessen the
burden on their short-term memories. Rosie said, It just helps me to get it into my
mind (Q4) while Grace said, I like to put it in my mind but then I cant concentrate if
there is too much (Q23). Second, it was to help them to focus on the relevant
information. Rosie said, So that I know that is what I need to look at (Q4). Susan said,
I think circling all the little bits that are, like, really important, which I knew I would
keep going back to find out (Q1) and then she said, I just found it kind of really helpful
cause I can kind of it sort of draws my mind to it, so I can see (Q2). Third, it was
a habit. For Larry, he said, I think thats the way I always do it cause it makes it easy to
see. So when I need the key information I can just get it quickly (Q16).
Finally, it was interesting to learn about Wendys reason. She underlined the key
information when she read the problems at the first time. Later, when she was doing the
calculation, she crossed them one-by-one. When she was asked for the reason of doing
so, she said:

So that once I used them I know Im not going back to use them, Okay, Ive used
that, used that, used that one so now used that one so then they are all gone. I
always scribble all over the question cause that way I know I got, like, all the
answers in my head. If I dont scribble Ill probably miss out things, like really
important things. (Wendy, Q6).

Reading 6 showed how much the students had thought about their strategy to
read problems and understand how they could remember and focus on the key
information that would lead them to the right solution. This aspect of metacognition will

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further be discussed in the next chapter. Thus far, I have described six different ways for
the students to read the problems, either at the beginning, in the middle or at the end.
Almost all of the students began with Reading 1, which was consistent with the
beginning of the pattern in Figure 4.1.

4.2.2 Reflecting
Referring to Figure 4.1, Reflecting was coded in between making calculations.
It was initially defined as assessing ones situation (Appendix B) and has a subcategory
which was reflecting on oneself. It was closely related to metacognitive skill. More
discussion on the category will be presented in section 5.1.4. To briefly explain this
category, assessing ones situation could be divided into ones memory (Reflecting 1),
mistakes (Reflecting 2), the task (Reflecting 3) and oneself (Reflecting 4). An
example of Reflecting 1 is when Rosie was solving Problem 4 - after she read the
problem and analysed the concept, she said:
16 I remember doing this question before
17 Last time I thought its more complicated
18 With the pressure equation which I have forgotten

Reflecting 1 was coded during planning, for example Larry in Problem 2. During the
planning he said, How did I do that again? (53). This category was also coded after
calculation, for example Susan in Problem 3 said, But I dont know how I got the
previous answer cause its really exact (128).
Reflecting 2 referred to the instances where the students realised their own
mistakes and made corrections. For example Helen in Problem 4, after checking the
answer, said:
142 Ive missed out the decimal places
143 So I have to do it again

Another example is that of Peter in Problem 4. After failing to find out the reason for his
unsuccessful attempts, he finally realised his mistake and said, Im doing it again, like
there (71). When the students were reflecting on the tasks in relation to themselves, it
was coded as Reflecting 3. When Jacob was analysing Problem 5, he said, Thats

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quite complicated (29). After Helen had read Problem 3, she said, This one is more
difficult cause got to think about like (13).
Finally, Reflecting 4 was coded when the students made a remark about
themselves. For example, after Usher had read Problem 2, he said, I have to read it
again (13), realising that the problem was difficult and he had not understood the
problem. Susan in Problem 3, after she checked her answer, she said, Oh, I cant figure
out what I did wrong repeatedly (52). Another example is when Grace was planning to
solve Problem 3, she said, Do I have to add all these numbers or do I have to work them
out first? (27).
This section highlighted only a few of many examples of the students in
Reflecting as more will be presented in the next chapter. It is clear that Reflecting can
be found mainly during Reading, Analysing, Planning and Checking.

4.2.3 Planning
Planning was referred to in Stage 1 as what the students wanted to do next
(Appendix B) and can be subdivided into Arranging equation and Arranging
information. When I revised the coding at Stage 2, I realised that after the students
finished reading the problem, some of them did not partake in any explicit planning
although they were working toward a plan. For example, after Reading Problem 3,
Rosie said:
16 So this is pressure because
17 Talking about pressure
18 And
19 The smaller the area
20 The smaller the area
21 The more pressure is put on the ground
22 So it sinks deeper
23 So the high heel shoes
24 Will make a bigger impression cause they got smaller areas on them
25 This one is a smaller area
26 Put them from the deepest to the shallowest

Lines 16-24 were not any kind of planning as defined in Appendix B. Planning
only came in lines 25-26 when she decided to start from the smallest area in order to
arrange the answers from the deepest to the shallowest depth. There was a step of

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analysis missing in between Reading and Planning. Thus, I defined Planning as


deciding what needed to be done, and Analysing as what could be done. Although
Analysing could be a subcategory within Planning, there was a necessity to divide
them into different categories because Planning could be divided into many other
subcategories.
I asked fifteen of the students if they planned before they solved the problems.
Ten of them replied, Yes (i.e., Wendy (Q27), Susan (Q33), Larry (Q24), Peter (Q39),
Zahra (Q45), Isaac (Q34), Yonah (Q4), Xenna (Q26), Helen (Q37), Jacob (Q16)), whilst
five of them replied, No (i.e., Nancy (Q3), Tanya (Q18), Grace (Q13), Vince (Q4 &
Q28), Usher (Q13)). Among those who said that they made some kind of plan, Larry and
Yonah reported that they did not do it explicitly but only in the head. On the other
hand, among the second group, Nancy, Tanya, Vince and Usher were correctly reported
about themselves during the interviews. However, Vince and Usher made a little plan but
it was more of performing Analysing, for example Vince in Problem 4 (11-16). As for
Grace, although she claimed that she did not plan, in Problem 3 she said, So I have to
add all those up (12), I have to divide them, who run fast (29-30) and What do I have
to do next? (49). This clearly showed that Grace planned. However, she might not have
been aware of it or it may be that her definition of planning was more likely to be making
a formal or detailed plan. However, it was interesting to find that all the students
engaged either in Analysing or Planning or both.

4.2.3.1 Planning 1
Planning 1 indicated events where the students explicitly verbalised the goal
they intended to achieve. For example Helen, in Problem 3, said:
18 But I think Im going to try to work out
19 The how fast they are running per second

And in Problem 4, she said:


19 First of all Im going to work out how long it takes
20 Jenny Sophia and Cynthia to do it
21 Because then I need to know how much I need to do

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Marco also often determined a goal at the Planning step. For example in
Problem 1, after reading the problem, he said, I want to look at how many km in how
many metres (6) and in Problem 2, he said, I want to work out how theyhow many
m/s they are doing (26-27). This was also the case with Isaac who made a very clear
plan to reach the goal in Problem 2:
11 To have 3 bulbs dimly they will have to be in series
12 And I want to have 3 bulbs brightly
13 They have to be in parallel

Other students who demonstrated Planning 1 were Grace, Jacob, Oscar, Peter,
Rosie, Susan, Wendy and Yonah.

4.2.3.2 Planning 2
When the students showed a form of planning by determining the equation to use,
I coded it as Planning 2. For example, Helen in Problem 3, said:
20 Like metre per second and I can use that
21 Um
22 Speed equals distance divided by time
23 So Im just going to write that out

Susan demonstrated similar planning in Problem 4:


12 Im gonna use that speed equals distance over time
13 Speed equals distance over time

In most of the problems that required calculation, the students would undertake
Planning 2. It could only be observed if they did it explicitly. It was interesting to find
that some students were so used to associating Physics problems with equations or
formulae that even in some problems that did not need any calculations, they would
perform Planning 2. For example Oscar, after he had read Problem 1, said:
12 First of all Ill work out the pressure
13 (looking for pressure formula)
14 Well, um, you are actually given their force
15 But thats okay because I know that, um
16 Um
17 The actual equation
18 Um, um...
19 Is force over area

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Noticing the tendency to depend on formulae, I asked him what was the first thing
that came into his mind after he had read the problem (Q14), he said the formula
(P=F/A). I asked the reason for him to want to use a formula in solving the problem, he
said, Thats probably just because you were told if you want an extra marks you need to
show your working.
Rosie, in solving the same problem (Problem 4), also demonstrated the tendency
to want to use the same formula. She wanted to use the formula but at the end she
decided to just think logically rather than to make a calculation. However, when she had
solved the problem, she said, I keep on thinking about that formula whether to use it or
not (60). I asked her for the reason (Q27) and she answered:

Well, if you use the formula you work out the force, and then you work out the
pressure with each of the shoes, and then you make the pressure all the same. If
you do it like that, if you use the area of the heels with the weight, but you make
them all the same pressure, but it will be really complicated and it probably be
simpler than it actually is. I dont know. (Rosie, Q27).

Sensing her preference to use formulae in solving Physics problems, I asked her if
that was true (Q32), she said, I think about whether, the formula, you need it cause
normally you start doing maths sort of things, but then I was thinking logically as well.
Peter and Larry also showed the same pattern (Problem 2) of behaviour when facing
Physics problems. Larry insisted that a Physics problem is always linked to a formula
(Q26) and would always try to use one formula if possible because it was quite reliable
(Q25). Peter preferred using formulae (Q31) and claimed that it would be easier to use a
formula. It was only in easy problems that he would think logically to find the answer
rather than using a formula. This was the same in Zahras case (Q48 & Q49).
This type of pattern in Physics problem-solving among these students was
opposite to some others like Helen who said that she would try her best to avoid using
formulae in solving Physics problem (Q11), as did Susan (Q34) and Grace (Q19). In the
case of Helen (Problem 3, 54-74), when she was trying to work out the time for a runner,
who ran 800 m in 144 s, she decided to divide it by 8 to find out the time for the

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runner to run 100 m. She then tried to apply a similar strategy to the runner who ran
1500 m. She did not use any Physics formulae, only simple mathematical logic. One
clear distinction between these two groups of students was that the former group
perceived that they performed well in mathematics while the later did not. This
information was obtained during the interviews.

4.2.3.3 Planning 3
The category Planning 3 was used initially to indicate any type of planning other
than Planning 1 and Planning 2. This was because there were not many incidents
related to planning that were different from either Planning 1 or Planning 2.
However, when I tried to compare all the incidents coded as Planning 3, I started to
divide them into Planning 4 to Planning 7. Those that I could not categorise in those
categories remained as Planning 3. That was the reason for me to define Planning 3
as stating a plan knowing exactly what to do next. Below are some examples of
Planning 3:
120 I have to make that into a 100
121 So I have to do the same for each of them
(Susan, Problem 3)

104 So in order to do 100 metres


105 You have to find out how many 100 there are

114 So Im gonna add Jennys, Sophias and Cynthias


115 Times up and work out how much I have to do
(Helen, Problem 4)

18 So if I add them all together


(Wendy, Problem 4)

8 Okay, so I read that again just to make sure its in my head


(Jacob, Problem 2)

13 So I got to do Jenny first


(Xenna, Problem 2)

47 So Ill work out the difference between these two


(Oscar, Problem 3)

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4.2.3.4 Planning 4
Planning 4 meant making a plan in an unsure manner and most of the time it
was to find out if the plan worked (trial-and-error). This kind of planning only
happened when the students encountered very difficult problems. For example, Jacob in
Problem 3:
52 I dont know whether I should divide it back to 100 so that then I can
times it by
53 Times it by 15 to get the answer
54 But I dont know
55 Alright, Ill try it anyway

And also Helen in Problem 4:


32 So I got to see how many times 5.4 goes into 100
33 And then
34 That will tell me how much time she would take to do her 100
35 I think
36 Why not?
37 Okay
38 Im not really sure how to do that
39 So Im going to do trial-and-error

Another example by Marco in Problem 3:


26 Im trying to look at how long would it take
27 Um, each one of these guys to run 100 metres

It was very interesting to find that students resorted to trial-and-error strategy


when solving Physics problems (see section 4.3.1 for more details). Students only used
this approach when they faced (what they perceived as) extremely difficult problems as
they did not have enough experience and knowledge to solve the problem. They could
only try. One common technique of trial-and-error among the students was using a
calculator to try and manipulate the numbers. For example, Helen in trying Problem 4,
after the utterance quoted above (Problem 4, 32-39), used her calculator to randomly
manipulate (multiply and divide) the numbers of 5.4 and 100 to find the time for
Jenny (a runner in the problem). She was trying to find a pattern that could give a logical
answer and then duplicate the pattern for the next two runners (Sophia and Cynthia).
This was also the case with Susan and Peter who multiplied 5.4 by 100 and decided

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that the answer did not make sense (Susan, Problem 3, 53-54; Peter, Problem 4, 37-39).
Similarly, Grace used a calculator in Problem 3 (36) to try to find the best fitting answer.
She reported that one way to determine if the trial was correct was by using the following
reason:

Because when I did all three of them the other way, the numbers werent near the
same, they were all different but when I was doing this way they were like all
near the same, close to the range. (Grace, Q20).

Marco showed a very systematic way of employing trial-and-error. In Problem


3, he made a provisional plan, tried it out and then checked it. In solving Problem 4, he
tried to find a pattern that could match the boxes although there was no patterned answer
when I designed this problem. He said:
44 See if there is a pattern in these numbers
45 So like, 100 to 30
46 30 to 70
47 There isnt really a good pattern
48 30, 20, 20, so
49 Um
50 These have to do with 3 as well
51 Like maybe
52 Do I like arrange it, um, like?
53 So I think I know relatively where I put them

This prompted me to ask what the students would do when they were stuck. I was
also interested to further understand the trial-and-error strategy of the students.
Therefore, I designed a practical problem in Stage 3 where making trials and checks were
easier to observe (see section 4.3.1 for details).

4.2.3.5 Planning 5
Planning 5 was concerned with determining sub-goals. It was initially coded as
any kind of brief planning in between the first and the following calculations as in the
repetitive area of Figure 4.1. It usually started with so then... or and then... to plan
what to do next. Planning 7 was originally used to code incidents whereby the students

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were making explicit planning on sub-goals at the beginning of the problem-solving


process. However, since only one student (Susan, Problem 1, 14: So first I have to find
the person who wants to look the shortest) clearly stated a sub-goal during the initial
planning, I decided not to make Planning 7 an exclusive category but merge it into
Planning 5. An example of Planning 5 could be seen when Susan solved Problem 4.
After she had completed the first calculation and checked the answers of the speed of the
two cyclists, she then continued to plan what to do next (32-42). After she had found out
how long it took the cyclists to complete a 9 km race, she checked her answers and
planned how to find the time for the cyclists to start cycling (92-93). This demonstrated a
systematic way of solving a difficult problem by breaking the problem into different
phases. Similar patterns could also be found in Grace, Helen, Isaac, Jacob, Larry, Marco,
Oscar, Peter, Xenna and Yonah.

4.2.3.6 Planning 6
Planning 6 referred to incidents where the students made a modification to
improve the previous plan. For example, Helen in Problem 3:
39 So maybe I should divide
40 No
41 I probably should just keep it the same
42 Okay
43 Ill do it the same
44 Ill leave it the same cause
45 Okay

In Problem 4, she also said, Okay, its a different way of doing it now (55), and
continued to make a new plan. Susan (Problem 3, 26) and Marco (Problem 4, 36-41) also
demonstrated an effort to improve their plans when the former plan did not work. During
the interview, I asked if they tried to search for a different method to solve the problem,
either at the beginning or in the middle, all of them reported - No at the beginning. It
was only during the problem-solving process that a different idea came up (e.g., Isaac -
They pop-up sometimes (Q20)) or if the method that they were using could not solve
the problem (e.g., Usher - Use one way and see if its correct, but if it doesnt, Ill think
of another way, sometimes (Q24)) that they would think of a different method.
However, there were a few students who used other methods (different to calculation) to

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check their answers but this will be discussed under the category Checking 8 in section
4.2.7.8. When I asked them how they decided which method was more accurate, they
would choose based on two different criteria. The first set was based on it being the
easier option (e.g., Wendy, Q40) or more comfortable (e.g., Isaac, Q37) and another
set was based on making sense or being logical (e.g., Marco, Q25 & Q34).

4.2.4 Analysing
Planning and Analysing were quite similar and in fact Analysing could be
seen as the subcategory of Planning. This was because Analysing was usually more
implicit while Planning was more explicit in deciding what needed to be done to solve a
problem. However, Analysing in my thesis referred to thinking of what could be done
while Planning referred to thinking of what needed to be done. When it comes to
explaining the problem-solving steps in the pattern at the end of this chapter, Analysing
and Planning will be merged into a single step. But, in order to provide clear discussion
of the subcategories in Analysing, it has to be separated from Planning. There were
12 categories for Analysing but eventually three categories were eliminated after axial-
coding (i.e., Analysing 5, 6 & 10).

4.2.4.1 Analysing 1
Analysing 1 referred to the students efforts in finding or relating relevant
concepts to a problem. There were a few concepts that the students could easily
recognise from the problems even though they were not stated in the problems at all, such
as pressure and speed - including the variables involved like area, force, time and
distance. For Rosie, after reading Problem 3, she said, So this is pressure because
(16) and in Problem 4, she said, So again, its about pressure (12). For these two
problems, the word pressure was not mentioned in the problem, only the area and
weight. When I asked why she thought so, she said:

Because its on the beach and we always talk about sand and they make like if
its high heels its pointed so it goes into the sand and then, but if you wear
trainers you just go across okay, cause its not pointed. (Rosie, Q22).

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She said that she related her experience of walking on the beach to the problems. This is
similar to Wendy (Q5), Helen in Problem 2, Tanya and Grace in Problem 1. Grace could
still remember the analogy that her teacher gave during the lesson last year, she said:

They said something about a high heel and an elephant and a stick that goes into
your hand, something like that, I dont know. Dont really understand much detail
but its common sense anyway. (Grace, Q5).

For Grace and Helen (Q5), it was common sense. Tanya said that she related the
context of the problem with a documentary that she watched on television about Eskimos
walking on snow. Peter always tried to think through the concept first before he planned.
For example, he took a while figuring out the concepts (Problem 2, 18-27; Problem 5, 18-
22) and in Problem 4, he talked about speed although it was not mentioned in the
problem.

4.2.4.2 Analysing 2
Analysing 2 is related to Reading 4 where the students tried to make sense of
the problems by presenting them in different ways, words, symbols and diagrams (see
section 4.2.1.2 for the elaboration of each different representation). This showed that the
students understood the problems. The students performed Analysing 2 especially for
problems with long text. For example, Usher in solving Problem 3, read the problem
then simplified it into his own words, saying:
10 So it has to be 2500 m underneath the surface of the ocean
11 To avoid a missile
12 And
13 The marine ship detects an echo
14 Back in 4 seconds
15 So
16 And it
17 Speed of the ultrasound in the water
18 1500 m/s
19 And it goes
20 Comes back in 4 seconds

During the interview, he said that he imagined the situation as, A picture, like a
submarine passed by and a marine ship above firing a missile (Q28). Another example

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is that of Marco in Problem 4, he reworded and wrote the problem statement (see the
answer sheet in Appendix U):
24 So they want Cin to be the tallest
25 So write that down the tallest there
26 Bob is the shortest
27 And these two want to be the same

They applied this strategy to make sure that they could better understand the
problem and to avoid going back and reading the whole problem again, which would be
complicated and time-consuming (as explained in section 4.2.1.2).

4.2.4.3 Analysing 3
Analysing 3 referred to the thinking process in choosing a possible formula by
matching the variables found in the problem. For example, Susan in Problem 4 said:
76 How long would it take me to do 9000 m
77 Um
78 So I can do 400 m in 1 min
79 Um
80 I can use that triangle thing again cant I
81 So I want to work out the time
82 It has to be speed times distance

Susan tried to think of a formula by analysing the variables found in Problem 4.


Analysing 3 is related to Planning 2 where the former is the thinking process used to
consider a formula by looking at the variables while the latter is the decision to solve the
problem using a formula. As noted in section 4.2.2, it was not explicitly clear whether
the students analysed the problems before Planning 2. Not all of the episodes in the
transcripts that I have coded Planning 2 would be preceded by Analysing 3. It is only
in more difficult problems that Analysing 3 was demonstrated, such as in the case of
Yonah with problems that involved calculation (Problem 1, 11-15; Problem 5, 23-32).
Rosie, Susan, Marco, Isaac and Grace showed Analysing 3 explicitly before making
Planning 2.

4.2.4.4 Analysing 4
When the student was analysing his/her current situation by looking at the
variables s/he obtained from the problem and calculation, I coded it as Analysing 4.

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There is only one incident in Stage 2 that I coded as Analysing 4, which is the case of
Helen in Problem 4:
25 Ive got how fast they run
26 Ive got formula m/s

I did not eliminate this category because I found another two incidents in Stage 3
and later when I went back to the data of Stage 1, I found another four incidents. This
problem-solving step is important for explaining the metacognitive behaviour of the
students, which will be discussed in Chapter 5 (see section 5.1.6).

4.2.4.5 Analysing 7
Analysing 7 refers to the students analysis of the goal of a problem. It is when
the student clearly stated the goal of a problem after reading the problem or while making
a calculation. This is especially when the goal was not explicitly mentioned in the
problem. For example, Susan in Problem 3, after she had made some calculations, reread
the problem and tried to analyse what was the goal of the problem:
100 Does that mean that it would have to be lower or the same as 89.9?
101 Yeah

She showed the same pattern in Problem 4:


94 So I would be finished at
95 If I started at the same time so I want
96 I want to finish at 9 oclock as well

Larry, in Problem 2, also demonstrated Analysing 7 after he finished reading the


problem:
13 So you want the
14 Same depth
15 So you want the
16 Heaviest person with the smallest area

Analysing 7 usually occurred after the students had read the problems and
before Planning 1. There were many incidents of Planning 1 but not of Analysing 7.
This is because Planning 1 was more explicit while Analysing 7 was quite implicit
and it may or may not happen at all. For example, Oscar in Problem 3, after he had
finished Reading 1, he carried out Reflecting 1 commenting on the task and then he

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said, Im going to work out the speed of each of them (16). It was clearly a case of
Planning 1 but Analysing 7 could not be observed or it could have happened either
unconsciously or without being verbalised. It should be noted that Oscar commented that
this problem was difficult (Q25). In this case, it was more likely that Analysing 7
happened unconsciously because when I asked him why he mentioned speed, he said it
was because fast is speed (Q27) immediately.
Another example - Helen in Problem 4 (a difficult one for her) - maybe helpful to
understand Planning 1 without (or with unobservable) Analysing 7. After Reading 2
she said, First of all Im going to work out how long it takes Jenny, Sophia and Cynthia
to do it because then I need to know how much I need to do (19-21). This was clearly
Planning 1 but from lines 1 to 18 (when she was reading the problem), there was no
Analysing 7 that could be observed.

4.2.4.6 Analysing 8
Analysing 8 was coded when the student realised that s/he made a mistake and
tried to find or understand the mistake and how to make a correction. For a student to
realise that s/he had made a mistake, it was usually through Checking which will be
explained in section 4.2.7. When a mistake was spotted, s/he would either make an
immediate correction or undertake Analysing 8. Only one of them chose to give up
(Jacob). Not all of the students had the ability to realise their own mistakes or make an
effort to check. Those who did so and came to Analysing 8 would arrive at the correct
solution.
When students realised a mistake had been made and did not know exactly where
the mistake came from, the common method they employed was to search for the source
of the mistake was by checking their calculation steps (Checking 6, see section 4.2.7).
For example, Xenna in Problem 3, after realising her mistake (in line 61), said:
62 No, hang on
63 100 over 20.113

She then went on to check her calculation. Another way was by employing Reading 2
to see if any clues had been missed. An example is that of Susan in Problem 1:
40 Oh, Ive done it wrong

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41 Wait
42 Ali and Dia
43 Ali and Dia want to look the same height
44 So Ali needs to be a lot further back than Dia
45 Um
46 Alis height is 170cm
47 Dias height is 100

In some cases, the student performed self-questioning to identify the root of the
mistake and appropriate correction (Reflecting 2 and Reflecting 4, see section 5.1.4).
For example, Susan in Problem 3, after trying to make a correction (32-54), still could not
come to a sensible answer, so she said:
55 I cant figure out what Ive done wrong
56 Um
57 I cant figure out what Ive done wrong
58 Cause I have done something
59 Cause it has to be less than 89.9

And then she went on to carry out Reading 2 and said, Oh, I think I get what I did
wrong (71).
Finally, the student could first guess or suggest the reason behind the mistake and
a possible correction then justify it. They used the words maybe or probably and
reflected on the mistake and themselves. For instance, when Zahra realised a mistake had
been made in Problem 3 (39-40), she said:
41 Maybe I should put them into metres
42 That will be better
43 Ill do that
44 3000 metres
45 Oh yeah, cause thats in metres

When Susan was analysing her mistake in Problem 1, she said, Dia probably needs to be
a lot further forward (48) and in Problem 3, she revealed the same pattern as Zahra
above (47-51).

4.2.4.7 Analysing 9
Analysing 9 referred to an explicit action where the student listed or arranged
the key information of a problem in analysing the problem; they either circled it,
underlined it, jotted it down or arranged it neatly as a table. All the above examples have

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been given in Reading 6 (see section 4.2.1.4) except the last one where Wendy used a
table to arrange the information. Appendix V shows the answer sheet of Wendy in which
she arranged the information from the problem into a table. She said that using a table
was not only good for representing the problem but also helped her to solve the problem
by making it easier for her to see what the missing variables were (Q27). In some
problems, she did not draw a table but simply drew some arrows and lined up the
information neatly.
Many students would perform Analysing 9 but not all of them verbalised it.
This might be because it did not need a lot of effort. They underlined or circled the key
information while reading the problem either at the first reading or the second one. It
was only through the video recording and the answer sheets that I could find out that the
students were doing so.

4.2.4.8 Analysing 10
Analysing 10 was concerned with the thinking process used to identify the
importance of a piece of information in finding a solution. This was coded only in the
case of Yonah in Problem 5:
13 90
14 Um
15 Well, Im thinking
16 90 seconds and that needs to be split out into 4
17 Because then you realise how much each one will have to run

He commented during the interview that he needed to divide 90 seconds by 4 runners to


find a benchmark to make sure that the time for each runner to run 100 m would not go
too far from the average time (Q47 & Q48). However, after the emergence of the
category Justifying 1 (section 4.3.2), this was treated as an incident to justify Planning
1. Hence, Analysing 10 was eliminated.

4.2.4.9 Analysing 11
As for Analysing 11, it was initially defined as analysing the representation of
the problem after it had been understood and reworded (Analysing 2). After examining
all five instances of Analysing 11 Rosie in Problem 1 (26-27), Problem 5 (15-16);
Jacob in Problem 5 (15-16); Vince in Problem 1 (16-22); Susan in Problem 4 (35-37) I

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redefined Analysing 11 as converting the representation into something easier to


comprehend while making the analysis, rather than during calculation.
From the analysis put forward in sections 4.2.1 to 4.2.4, it is clear that the pattern
of problem-solving changed to that represented in Figure 4.2 (the grey area is the updated
part). After Reading, the students would go on to either Planning or Analysing.
Since, as explained earlier, Analysing is more implicit than Planning and is a part of
Planning, it is nested in the step of Planning as shown in Figure 4.2. Reflecting,
Arranging Information and Interpreting were carried out during Reading (i.e.,
Reading 4 & 6) and also in Analysing (i.e., Analysing 1, 2, 4 & 9), so they were
placed in between these two categories but related more to Analysing than Reading.

Reading

Reflecting Arranging Interpreting


Information

Planning
Analysing

Calculating

Interpreting Checking

Random
Sequence &
Repetitive
Planning Reflecting

Calculating

Checking Interpreting

Figure 4.2: Pattern of Physics problem-solving of Stage 2 (after Reading,


Reflecting, Planning and Analysing had been analysed).

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4.2.5 Calculating
In Stage 1, the category Calculating was defined as verbalising mathematical
calculations. In Stage 2, since the problems were no longer focusing on mathematical-
based Physics problems, Calculating encompassed problem-solving steps that involved
mathematical computation as well as implementing a plan. Calculating 1 is simply
making a calculation or computation without involving other thinking process. There are
many examples that fall within this category (for instance Rosie in Problem 3, 31-41).

4.2.5.1 Calculating 2
When I further investigated the different ways of calculating, I could divide it into
four categories. Calculating 2 referred to calculating and checking. Susan in Problem
3, after she had planned what to do, made a calculation:
122 So 5.5 to make
123 Wait, for Sophia
124 5.5 to make that into a 100
125 It has to times that by 20
126 Wait
127 Probably less than 20 cause its 5.5

She explicitly checked the steps and answers while calculating. This is similar to
Grace in Problem 3 (31-46), Helen in Problem 4 (74-77; 101-102), Marco in Problem 4
(45-48), Wendy in Problem 1 (15-23) and Problem 2 (37-54), Xenna in Problem 2 (14-
31), and Peter in Problem 3 (41-44) and Problem 3 (37-42). In the case of Wendy, as
mentioned in the final parts of section 4.2.1, she crossed out the variables one by one
while making calculations. Beside what she said in Q6, she also admitted that she
checked while crossing out the variables during the calculation (Q8). Her pattern was
quite consistent and unique. Others also made similar attempts to calculate and check at
the same time but only to check if the formula and unknown variables were correctly
written down or if the answer made sense (like Susan above). Marco undertook
Calculating 2 to facilitate him in performing trial-and-error. He was alternating
between calculating and checking to find a suitable pattern for Problem 4.

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4.2.5.2 Calculating 3
Calculating 3 was coded when the students were calculating and at the same
time gave the reason for doing so (Reasoning 3, see next paragraph). This shows that
the students were aware of what they were doing. For instance, Usher in Problem 1 (28-
48), was constantly justifying his decision to position the four friends in front of a camera
by giving reasons using the word because and engaging in self-debate like using the
word but. The same pattern could be seen throughout all his protocols. This was also
the case for Rosie, Helen and Wendy. Wendy in Problem 3 said:
29 So 1500 divided by
30 Right
31 So if I divided by 15
32 Then I get 100 metres for the 1500
33 So if I do it by
34 500.0 divided by 15
35 Equals 33.3 recurring seconds divided by 15

Reasoning was initially coded in three different ways. Reasoning 3 indicated


the instances where the students gave reasons for making such a decision, mainly during
Calculating 3. An example is that of Wendy above and also Usher in Problem 4. When
he was calculating, he said:
14 So 144 divided by 8
15 Because you want to get it back down to 100 metres

Reasoning 3 could also happen in other categories, such as in Analysing 9.


Marco, after he had read Problem 4, said, Cause it just makes it easier just to see
exactly, not have to keep going back (18-19), giving the reason why he was arranging
the information from the problem.
Reasoning 1 referred to making justifications for how a certain concept was
related to the problem. For example, Rosie in Problem 3, after she had calculated the
answers, she said:
42 Cause she has the biggest surface area so the weight spreads out
43 So she doesnt make much impression on the sand

She tried to justify her calculation and answers through the concept of pressure. This was
similar to Usher in Problem 2. Before he started to calculate, he justified that:
19 Cause they all run 400 metres

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20 You have to times


21 Cause thats 100 metres
22 You have to times 19.4 times 4 which is

Reasoning 2 referred to reasoning using the conditional sentence structure of


ifthen to make a decision. For example, Rosie in Problem 2, after the calculation,
tried to answer the question by reasoning that because if thats [2500 m] how far the
ultrasounds away, its much more than the minimum far [6000 m] (24-26). However,
this is the only case found among the students in Stage 2. There were two students in
Stage 1 who showed such behaviour during the step of Planning. Betty in Problem 3
said:
21 If I work out my velocity then I can, um
22 Then I can work out how long it would take for me to do 9 km

This was also noted in Eddies approach to Problem 3. He said in an unsure


manner:
10 If I find out
11 How long each of them takes to run their 100 m
12 Ill be able to find out the remaining time which is the time I have to run
13 And then go 0.1 faster to beat it

It was unclear at this stage if Reasoning 2 should have its own category; or
could be merged into Checking 3 (see section 4.2.7) for the case of Rosie; or merged
into Planning 4 which may include making a decision about whether to carry out a plan
which was uncertain (referring to the last two cases). It was in Stage 3 that I decided to
make Reasoning 1-3 a single category (see section 4.3.2).

4.2.5.3 Calculating 4
Calculating 4 referred to an action where the student was doing mathematical
algebra to arrange a formula into a format that facilitated problem-solving. For example,
Zahra in Problem 3:
12 Um, initial velocity
13 Velocity equals
14 Velocity equals speed over time
15 So weve got the distance

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16 And weve got the velocity


17 We want to find out the time
18 Um
19 Velocity equals speed over time

Calculating 4 was initially coded as Arranging 2 because it appeared to be


arranging the variables of a formula. However, after more data was collected and
analysed, the algebra performed by the students was a part of the calculating process
before they substituted the variables with appropriate numbers. I did not find many
incidents of Calculating 4. There were only six including the above (others were Susan
in Problem 4, Grace in Problem 2, Larry in Problem 2, Rosie in Problem 4 and Xenna in
Problem 2). They were all different problems, suggesting that conducting Calculating 4
was not restricted to one particular problem, although they were mathematical problems
where a simple Physics formula would be applicable but not essential to solve the
problem.
There were also those who used the speed-distance-time triangle, such as Peter,
Grace, Xenna and Zahra. They claimed that this was what their school teachers had
taught them (note that they are from different schools). However, not all of them could
use the triangle effectively. For example Peter in Problem 3, after he had drawn the
triangle, he multiplied distance by time to obtain speed by referring to the triangle
(14-25). He repeated the same mistake in Problem 4 (32-38). Grace also made the same
error in Problem 2. All four of them said that they always remembered the triangle and
had been taught many times in Physics and mathematics lessons at schools.
Some students did not need to do Calculating 4 to solve similar type of
problems. Isaac used graphs to solve Problem 3 (see Appendix W). When I asked him if
he knew of any formula that could solve the problem, he agreed that there was but he
could not remember it. For him, using graphs was easier and more comfortable. He said
that he had better visual memory and could see things easily. He also said that it was
useful and allows him to see what he was doing in a clearer way (Q33).
There were a number of students who did not use formulae explicitly to solve
problems, but instead used logical reasoning in Physics and proportional thinking. Usher
in Problem 2 (19-34) reasoned that since the race was 400 m multiplied by 4, so each

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runner had to run 400 m. The time of each runner was given at different distances
100 m, 200 m and 800 m. So, all he had to do was to find the time for them to run
400 m by multiplying 100 by 4, 200 by 2 and 800 divided by 2. There were
more students who chose to solve Physics problems using this method in proportion.
They were Helen, Jacob, Wendy, Marco, Usher, Yonah and Vince.

4.2.5.4 Calculating 5
The last type of calculating is Calculating 5 in which the students put emphasis
on the units. This is a variant of Calculating 2 where the students checked their answer
while calculating. Inserting the units every time the student made a calculation,
suggested that s/he was trying to check the answer by interpreting the meaning of the
answer. Xenna in Problem 3 said:
23 So 100 metres over 5.405 equals
24 100 5.405
25 Is 18.501
26 Um
27 What you call?
28 Seconds

And she continued with the following calculation by making sure that she put s in the
answer. Noticing the preference, I asked her the reason and she replied, Because since I
was very little, we were always being told off for not putting the units cause they would
ask what does that 5 mean. (Q49). For Zahra, using the units helped her to avoid
confusion (Q37). However, this was not a very popular pattern among the students.

4.2.6 Answering
Initially the category of Answering was not presented in Stage 1. The incidents
where the student gave a solution (final answer) were coded in Calculating if it was
simply a mathematical or short answer. However, if it was answered with additional
information, interpretation or justification, it was coded as Checking. To distinguish
these two different steps, this category was created.
Answering 1 was coded when the student arrived at an answer at the end of the
problem-solving steps (e.g., Grace in Problem 1 (61-62)) or before they made a final

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check (e.g., Helen in Problem 3 (55-60)). This was coded in nearly every problem except
those that the students chose to abandon before they reached a solution (e.g., Jacob in
Problem 3, 4 and 5; Usher in Problem 5; Tanya in Problem 2; Kamal in Problem 1 and
Vince in Problem 2).

4.2.7 Checking
In Stage 1, Checking was divided into four categories (see Appendix B). After
more data was obtained later in Stage 2, it became clear that there were many ways of
confirming the acceptance of an answer, including those categories listed in Appendix B.

4.2.7.1 Checking 1
Checking 1 referred to simply looking back at the answer, more to a recap than
to perform a thorough check. For example, Larry in Problem 3, after completing the
calculation, looked through the answer sheet to make sure that all the sub-goals were
reached (40-41). There were many incidents where the students were conducting
Checking 1 and it was usually at the end of the calculation at which point the students
were quite confident with their answer.
From the interview, five of the students (Grace, Kamal, Tanya, Xenna and Yonah)
claimed that they did not carry out any checking during or at the end of problem-solving.
This was consistent except for Grace who appeared to be checking her steps and answers
during calculation. For example, in Problem 1 she said, Is that right? (22), in Problem
2 she said, Hold on a minute (16) and checked her plan and at the end of Problem 3,
she repeatedly checked her addition of the time taken by the runners (56-64).
From the interview, it was also found that many students only became serious
about carrying out the Checking step under two conditions if it was an examination
(i.e., was viewed as important) and if they had the time. When I asked Usher if he
usually checked his answer, he said, If I got the time, yeah. If its an exam, Ill go back
and do it again. (Q11). This was similar to the process demonstrated by Peter, Susan,
Tanya, Vince and Jacob. Jacob showed this behaviour when he was solving Problem 4.
As he was having difficulty to find the solution and was considering whether to just make

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a guess rather than try to find a solution, he asked me during the problem-solving, Is this
going to be taken for exams? (30). When I replied, No, he guessed the answer.

4.2.7.2 Checking 2
Checking 2 is to make sure that the formula is arranged correctly after
Calculating 4. This only applied to Zahra in Problem 3 (30-35) after she had conducted
Calculating 4. She was very cautious about checking her work and said that she would
always try to check the whole problem-solving process at the end (Q11). She believed
that she might make mistakes if she did not check (Q58). Referring to section 4.2.5, there
were another four students who performed Calculating 4 but did not carry out
Checking 2. They did not check their formula arrangement.

4.2.7.3 Checking 3
Checking 3 referred to checking the answer by making an interpretation or
determining the meaning of the answer. This was one of the most popular ways to check
answers. Initially, in Stage 1, referring to the third dotted-box in Figure 4.1, I was not
sure how the students ended their problem-solving because there appeared to be two
consistent patterns at the end (i.e., Checking and Interpreting). I coded Interpreting
separately from Checking because in Stage 1 I was not able to discover that making an
interpretation of an answer obtained was a means of checking the answer. I coded two
types of Interpreting 1 and 2 where the former referred to interpreting the meaning
of an answer and the latter was to determine if the answer was logical or not according to
the students interpretation. Afterwards, when these two categories appeared together in
the same step (see Helen Problem 4 (77-79) below as an example), I merged them as a
single category - Interpreting 1.
In Stage 2, when I asked Tanya if she always checked her answers (Q17), she
replied, Um, if it is in the test, Ill do all the questions and come back and think more
logically. Since Tanya did not perform any checking, I decided to examine other
students who mentioned about checking their answers using logical thinking or by
making sense. Helen in Problem 4, after making a calculation, said:
63 Which means it will take her

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64 Exactly 18 seconds
65 Which seems about right
66 Cause Jenny only
67 0.1 m/s slower than her
(coded as Interpreting 1 initially)

She checked her answer by interpreting the meaning of the answer. Then she continued
to do so after each calculation in the same problem,
77 Okay, that does not make any sense
78 Cause
79 She obviously took more than 0.3 seconds to do that
(coded as Interpreting 1 & 2 initially)

90 No, that doesnt make any sense either


(coded as Interpreting 2 initially)

117 Which seems a lot longer than everyone else does


(coded as Interpreting 1 initially)

She tried to understand the meanings of her answers and checked if the answers were
correct.
This was also the case with Zahra in Problem 3. After a calculation she said,
That doesnt make sense, thats wrong (39-40). Clearly, she was checking the answer
by making sense of it. She checked after each calculation (30-35; 53-58; 70-75). In the
interview (Q33), she said that she always tried to make sense of the answer. Jacob in
Problem 3 (37-38) and Susan in Problem 3 (30-31; 66-67) also used a similar method.
Before I proceeded to merge the category of Interpreting into Checking 3, I checked
the protocols in Stage 1 by revising the category of Interpreting and the interviews. I
found that Betty (Q32) and Colin (Q6) said that they tried to make sense of their
answers to check if they were correct. Furthermore, Bettys statement on finding the
meaning and making sense of the answer strengthened my earlier belief that Interpreting
1 and 2 should be merged into one category. When I asked her if she usually thought of
the meaning of each number (Q25), she answered, Yes, cause otherwise it would not
make sense. A number is just a number. It doesnt mean anything unless you make sense
of it.
So, finding out the meaning of an answer in relation to the problem was to make
sense of the answer obtained from the problem-solving steps. This process was also

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intended to check if the answer was correct and had achieved the goal of the problem.
Therefore, interpreting the meaning of an answer was a form of checking. From this,
referring to Figure 4.1, it is clear that the final step of most of the students was
Checking although there were five students (i.e., Eddie, Kamal, Tanya, Xenna and
Yonah) who did not do so at the end of their problem-solving and confirmed this during
the interviews.

4.2.7.4 Checking 4
Checking 4 is similar to Reading 3 which is related to a conscious effort to
look at or read the problem again at the end of the problem-solving process to check if
the goal had been achieved (refer to section 4.2.1.1 for more extensive report on this
category). This was another way for the students to confirm their answer. For example,
Helen in Problem 4, after she had found the answer she looked at the problem again and
said, And so, to beat 0.1 seconds (137-138). Noticing that, I asked her during the
interview why she read the question again after solving the problem, and she said:

I was just sort of checking if Ive done all of it cause I could have made a lot
of mistakes and also like at the end, I forgot to do the 0.1 So I came back and
checked those, added them in. (Q35 & Q36).

Clearly, her motive for reading the problem at the end was to check her answer. This was
also the case with Larry in Problem 1 (43-44); Peter in Problem 1 (42-44), Problem 3
(45) and Problem 4 (105-106); Rosie in Problem 3 (44-46); Zahra in Problem 2 (46-59),
Problem 3 (53-58) and Problem 4 (37-50). Zahra admitted that the way that she usually
used to check her answer was to read the question again to make sure Ive answered the
question (Q12). Susan, at the end of the problem-solving, said, Is that all? (Problem
1, 54) and read the problem to check if she had missed anything. When Jacob was
solving Problem 2, he went back to the problem to check if he had all the shoes (31-40).

4.2.7.5 Checking 5
Checking 5 referred to the effort made to check a plan. This was seldom done
by the students. They sometimes carried out this when they were trying to use a trial-

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and-error strategy and were unsure if the plan would work. For example, Helen in
Problem 4:
27 So I should do 5.4 metres
28 Um
29 Times a 100
30 No, wait
31 Every second Jenny would do 5.4 metres
32 So I got to see how to times 5.4 into 100
33 And then
34 That will tell me how much time she would take to do her 100
35 I think
36 Why not?

She was not confident with the plan and went on to check it before she tried out the plan.
Larry in Problem 1, after he came out with the idea of using a formula to solve the
problem, checked the plan (28-30) and decided not to use it. This is similar to Oscar in
Problem 1 (14-15). Wendy in Problem 3 (26-27) checked her plan to calculate the time
of the runners for 100 m. Grace, in Problem 3, planned to add all the speeds of the
runners but decided to check the initial plan by reading the problem again. After that she
decided not to carry out the initial plan (13-26).

4.2.7.6 Checking 6
Checking 6 was performed when the students checked their problem-solving
steps or tried to repeat the calculation to confirm whether the answer or step was correct.
Similar to Checking 5, the students rarely carried out Checking 6. The following are
only a few incidents identified. Susan in Problem 4 (46-74) repeatedly made the same
calculation to check if she had the time correctly calculated. Larry in Problem 2 (85-90)
checked the last calculation before confirming the answers. Marco in Problem 3 (40)
said, Right, so go back and check and checked his calculation steps. Grace said that
Problem 3 was confusing (Q36) and that she needed to check the calculation steps (56-
58).
Checking 6 was not popular, maybe because the students perceived that there
was no need to do so as they were quite confident with their calculations or because it
was a step that they did not pay much attention to. Another possible reason might be

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that, as mentioned earlier, many of the students did not want to invest more time in
checking the answer unless the problem-solving was a part of an examination or
important for their studies. Finally, it could also be that since some of them had been
performing different kinds of Checking at various points in the problem-solving process
(especially Checking 7 in the next section), so Checking 6 was unnecessary.

4.2.7.7 Checking 7
Checking 7 happened spontaneously when the students sensed or felt that they
had made a mistake or were unsure if they were correct during the Calculating,
Planning or Analysing steps (this will be further explored in section 5.1.6). This
happened to all the students in almost all the problems. For example, Helen in Problem
4, during the calculation, suddenly said:
139 Oh, wait a second
140 Wait
141 Oh
142 Ive missed out the decimal places

Vince in Problem 4 (44) said, Hold on while making a calculation. I asked him
the reason for this during the interview (Q15-Q19), he said that he was checking his steps
by reading the problem again. When I asked him why he felt that there was a need to
stop and check, he said (Q20), I dont know, it just crept out. When you are reading the
question, you feel am I right? I just go back to read again to make sure. He could not
explain why he stopped and checked or how the doubt came into his mind.
This was similar to Peter who could not explain why he suddenly shouted out,
No, that cant be right in Problem 3 (31). He said, I knew its probably wrong (Q37)
but no further explanation was offered for how he knew. Probably the best explanation
for performing Checking 7 was given by Yonah (Q38) when he said that he suddenly
remembered that the number that he wrote was not the same as he had read (Problem 4,
17). When Xenna was solving Problem 3 (68-70), she conducted Checking 7 and
realised that she did not take away the record time by 0.1 seconds before she calculated
her speed. She explained that she suddenly remembered the problem was not to find

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the same time but a shorter one to solve the problem (Q36). However, it is unclear why
these students remembered but others did not.

4.2.7.8 Checking 8
Checking 8 is a very interesting way of checking the answer by using a different
method. They put extra effort into checking the answer to ensure the same outcome
derived from different ways. For examples, Rosie in Problem 1 (40-42) and Grace in
Problem 3 (62-64) did their calculation in their heads and later checked it using a
calculator. Another way of checking was to carry out the calculation in a reverse format.
For example, Susan in Problem 3 after she had obtained the speed of Jenny (which was
5.4 m/s, by dividing 100 m by 18.5 s), she said:
144 So I have to times 5.4 by 18.5 and I should get 100
145 5.4 times 18.5 equals
146 Yeah 99.9

This was similar to Zahra in Problem 3 (71-75). Zahra said that working
backwards was a way that she used to check her answer but she did not know how the
idea came to her (Q34-Q36). A more complicated type of Checking 8 was when they
tried to use a different approach to solve the same problem after they had successfully
obtained an answer. Larry in Problem 2 (70-84), after he had solved the problem by
matching shoes and persons in the problem, decided to use the pressure formula
(P=F/A) to calculate the first and the last sets of shoe-person. His justification was
that if he obtained the same amount of pressure for these two sets, it would prove that
all the other sets of shoe-person must be correctly matched because of the ascending
order of the force and descending order of the area that he had arranged in the process
of solving the problem.

4.2.7.9 Testing 1
There was another form of checking which involved testing the plan before it was
used to solve the remaining part of the problem. I did not categorise it under Checking
but under a new category of Testing. This was because the process did not just include
checking the plan and answer but also calculating and deciding if the plan would work.

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This was more sophisticated than just checking. When the students did not have any way
in which they were confident to solve a problem, they resolved to a kind of trial-and-
error (see section 4.3.1).
A simple way of Testing was to use a calculator to manipulate the numbers and
predict the outcomes (see section 4.2.3.4 for more details). Marco in Problem 3 (24-39)
was testing out his plan using a calculator and after he had obtained the answers, he
checked the steps (40-41). He said that he usually employed trial-and-error (Q21) and
sort of worked it out (Q23). For him, as long as the answer made sense and worked for
the rest of the problem-solving, he would consider the method to be correct. In Problem
4, he used the trial-and-error strategy (see section 4.3.1). Peter in Problem 4 tried to
multiply speed and distance to find the time (37-43). He was unsure of the
arrangement of the formula (28-36), so he tested the initial plan (which was incorrect)
twice and realised that it was wrong. This prompted him to reflect and reanalyse the
problem and strategy.

4.2.8 Pattern of Stage 2


Up to this stage of analysis, the pattern of Physics problem-solving among KS4
students is as illustrated in Figure 4.3. The core problem-solving steps are Reading >
Planning (Analysing) > Calculating. Referring to the dotted box at the bottom of the
Figure 4.2, Interpreting and Checking were merged together following the evidences
and explanations presented in the discussion of Checking 3 in section 4.2.7.3.
However, not all of the students checked their answer at the end but merely stated the
answer Answering (see section 4.2.6). The dotted-arrow in Figure 4.3 indicates that
after Answering, not all of the students would proceed to Checking but most of them
did so at the end (I have explained the reasons for this in section 4.2.7.1).
The grey area in Figure 4.3 shows a series of problem-solving steps taken when
the students continued to the next cycle of planning, usually because they were uncertain
if their initial plans would work or when they found errors in the process. After the first
calculation to try out the initial planning, they would check the answer. By merging
Checking and Interpreting as a category, it produced the dotted box in the middle of
Figure 4.2 as a clearer sequence. Hence, the sequence is as shown in Figure 4.3. The

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students might reflect on the answer and move on to either (a) the same planning
(Planning 3); (b) reanalyse the information to generate a new planning (Planning 4) or
improve the planning (Planning 6); or (c) reread the problem (Reading 2) to improve
their understanding of the problem. Situation (a) would direct the solver working
downwards with the flow of the pattern; situation (b) would bring the solver to
Planning; and situation (c) would move the solvers to the beginning of the problem-
solving process. The dotted boxes of Reflecting designates the process is not fully
analysed and will be explained in the next chapter.

Reading If (c)

Reflecting Arranging Information

Planning
If (b)
Analysing

Calculating

Checking

Reflecting

Planning
If (a)

Calculating

Answering

Checking

Figure 4.3: Pattern of Physics problem-solving derived from Stage 2.

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4.3 Problem-solving steps in Stage 3


As mentioned in section 4.1.3, in Stage 3 there were not many changes to the
codes in Stage 2. There was only one modification where Analysing 9 was redefined so
as to include electrical components as a part of important information (see Appendix E).
For example, Helen, after reading Problem E, said:
6 So 4 batteries and 4 bulbs
7 And
8 And 1 switch

She arranged each of them while looking at the problem, and then continued to read the
problem again to determine the goal.
The decisions made to eliminate or merge categories (Reading 3, Analysing 5,
6, 10 & 12, Planning 7, 8 & 9, Arranging 1, 2, Interpreting 1, 2 and Checking 9)
in Stage 2 were further strengthened in Stage 3. For example, that Interpreting as a
form of Checking was further confirmed after Peter had obtained a solution in Problem
E. He interpreted the meaning of his answer (69-72) as being to check if his answer had
reached the goal of the problem. Peter was also among those in Pattern 3 (see section
4.3.3.3) who ended his problem-solving with Checking. So, what he did at the end of
Problem E was also another way of Checking.
All the categories generated during Stage 2 were sufficient to code the problem-
solving steps in Stage 3. The analysis of Stage 3 was also to clarify the ambiguities
which occurred during Stage 2 as to how Stage 2 had solved a few issues concerning the
coding and pattern of Stage 1. One of the main issues of concern in Stage 2 was the
category of Reasoning (see section 4.2.5.2). After reconsidering this category, it was
concluded that a new category (see section 4.3.2) should replace it to indicate more
specific meaning to the students actions. Another issue that required attention was
Planning 4 (see section 4.2.3.4) where there was no clear pattern as to how the students
made trial-and-error, although Testing 1 (see section 4.2.7.9) provided some insight.

4.3.1 Im stuck!
After the first analysis of the data colleted in this research, it interested me to
understand how students would proceed when they encountered difficulty such that they

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did not know what to do precisely or in another words, when they were stuck. Out of 108
transcripts of thinking-aloud protocols (including exercises) of all three stages, 30 of
them showed the situation that I was looking for. Ten of them would perform Reading
2. For example, Susan in Problem 3 said, I cant figure out what Ive done wrong
twice (55 & 57) and decided to read the problem again (61-64) and then checked her
answer while questioning herself. This continued until she decided to try the problem
again from the beginning when she said, Ill just like start it again, cause Ive just done
something really wrong but I dont know what it is (87-88).
This was also the case for Grace in Problem 2 (25-34) and Marco in Problem 4
(54-58), where they also decided to restart the problem-solving process from Reading 2
when they encountered an impasse in their problem-solving processes. They did not
choose to give up as Jacob (Problems 3 & 5), Usher (Problem 5) and Vince (Problem 2)
did when they encountered difficulty. It may be argued that students in high-performance
classes (as determined by schools that divide students into different classes according to
their examinations results) would have higher motivation compared to those from low-
performance classes. However, among these five students, Grace and Jacob (there were
three including Kamal) were from a low-performance class yet Grace did not give up
when she faced difficulties in problem-solving. On the other hand, Usher did not want to
try Problem 5 after reading it, rather he simply said, I have no idea (7). During the
interview, he said that he did not know how circuits work although he had learnt about
them in school (Q38-Q41). For Vince, it was because he thought that there was not
enough information to solve the problem. Although Jacob abandoned the problems at the
end, he actually tried to solve it by rereading the problems and through trial-and-error
(as will be explained in the following paragraphs). In Problem 4, when Jacob was having
difficulty to solve it, he decided to guess the answer. This was also the case with Xenna
in Problem 1.
Up to this point, there appeared to be a number of ways in which the students
overcame difficulty restart the problem-solving; give-up; guessing; and reread the
problem (Reading 2). In the latter case, the most common approach after Reading 2
was to implement trial-and-error. There were 24 cases of trial-and-error found in the
whole study. According to Butterworth & Thwaites (2005), trial-and-error is a heuristic

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approach of problem-solving which was introduced by Polya. In systematic trial-and-


error, one tries all the possible solutions. It is the most reliable method but the slowest.
A more experienced solver will use trial-and-error, informed by previous experience,
thinking carefully about what are less successful ways of finding the solution and
approach those that are more successful. There is also a random method of trial-and-
error or guess-and-check. Trial-and-error is used when one has little knowledge or
experience in an area and does not know how to proceed.
An example of trial-and-error could be found in Marcos approach to Problem 4.
He did not know how to find a correct solution and he started to try different methods.
He first tried to count the boxes to see if this had any relevance to the total height of the
students (36-41). He tried to find a pattern for the boxes and the heights (44). Then, he
tried to put the numbers in the boxes (45-46) and checked again (47). He continued to
look for patterns by trying different numbers (48-51). Although he failed to find any
pattern (he believed that the solution was related to a pattern (Q30)), he managed to
arrive at the conclusion, I think I know relatively where to put them but I cant work out
how to arrange them into exact accurate (53-55). He then changed his strategy to
restart the problem-solving process. When I asked him for his reason for switching to
another strategy, he said it was because he thought that it was more logical (Q34) but I
did not ask any further questions because we had spent nearly 30 minutes on the session.
When I decided to come back to ask him the question and to try Problem E, he had
moved from that school. However, during the interview, he mentioned about guess-and-
check and trial-and-error when I asked him if he would use the same method to answer
similar problems (Q21: I just sort of guess-and-check, like I would just try different
ways, trial-and-error.). In this example, he produced a series of test-and-check
although not strictly trial-and-error where answers were guessed and the solution was
checked. Hence, in this study, test-and-check will be used to refer to the students
attempts to find the answer by testing and trying various methods and then checking their
answers.
The following is another example of test-and-check. Helen in Problem 4
wanted to find out the time for a runner to run 100 m but she was not sure how to do it
when the speed (5.4 m/s) given. She said, So I got to see how many times 5.4 goes

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into 100? (32). She thought for a while and said, Im not really sure how to do that, so
Im going to do trial-and-error (38-39). After trying out with a calculator, she checked
her answer and said that the answer was not good (40). Then, she decided to use a
Physics formula (What is the formula? she said in line 41). She tried to find the
variables for the formula by looking back at the previous problem. This series of test-
and-check showed that these students would not easily give up when they encountered
difficulties.
Grace in Problems 2 and 3, showed a similar attitude. She used a calculator to
test the correct method to find the speed and time. Although the formula was given,
she could not manipulate and arrange the formula into the variables that she desired but
she knew that she either had to divide or multiply the numbers given. In Problem 2, she
said:
35 I dont know what way to do it
36 144 divided by 800 or is it the other way
37 I think its that way
38 I dont know if I should divide the second by the metre or the metre by the
second

The calculator method has been extensively explained in section 4.2.3.4, for
example, Jacob performed test-and-check before he abandoned Problem 3. First, he
tried to find the time for the first two runners (they ran 100 m and 800 m
respectively) to run 800 m by multiplying the time of the first runner by eight. He
checked the answer by comparing the difference between the two numbers (in a similar
way to Graces method). Since the two numbers were not too varied in range, he decided
that the solution was correct, hence he said, So Sophia is faster than Jenny, established
that, okay (37-38). Then he tried to do the same for the last runner (given the time for
the runner to run 1500 m) but could not find a time that could be equalised to 800 m.
However, he continued to try and test out his idea:
52 I dont know whether I should divide it back to 100 that so then I can time
it by
53 Times it by 15 to get the answer
54 But I dont know
55 Alright, Ill try it anyway

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As he checked his answer and found out that it was significantly different from
the first two runners, he said, Its too hard (60) and he decided to give up but said that
he had at least solved a part of the problem (62). He commented that the problem was
too mathematical (Q26).
The consideration of these few examples and other cases where the students were
facing difficulty in deciding what to do next made me reflect on the research design for
Stage 3 where the problem should be (a) not mathematical; (b) very difficult yet offering
the possibility to try various ideas; (c) based on a topic that the students have content
knowledge of; (d) not to test conceptual understanding of a Physics concept; (e) one
where there is an explicit mechanism to check the answer/idea. Following a discussion
with my supervisor, we decided to try a hands-on electrical problem (Problem E - see
Appendix N) based on KS3 Physics (i.e., one in which the students should have the
required Physics concepts to solve the problem as they should have studied it during the
KS3 years).
The theoretical sampling for Stage 3 was done by narrowing down the students
who used test-and-check and perceived that the electrical problem in PhyPT2 was
difficult. Among those who met the first criterion were some students from Stage 1
(Angie (Problem 3), Betty (Problem 3), Colin (Problems 1 & 4), Eddie (Problem 4) and
Fiona (Problem 3)), however I was not able to contact them because they had left their
schools at the time that I was conducting Stage 3. From among the students in Stage 2,
there were Grace (Problems 2 & 3), Helen (Problems 3 & 4), Jacob (Problems 3 & 5),
Zahra (Problem 4), Marco (Problems 3 & 4), Peter (Problem 4) and Yonah (Problem 2).
Marco could not participate in Stage 3 as he had left the country and Grace declined to
participate in Stage 3 without giving any reason. Among these remaining five students
who solve Problem E in Stage 3, Jacob gave up after two trials and Yonah did not
provide satisfactory thinking-aloud protocol because he did not verbalise most of his
problem-solving. I decided to conduct the same study with another six students (Wendy,
Nancy, Isaac, Xenna, Rosie and Larry) who were easily accessible from among those
who participated in Stage 2. Wendy and Nancy did not complete the problem-solving
process because it was too difficult for them to approach a hands-on problem compared
with a paper-and-pencil problem. Isaac did not have any difficulty (QE2 & QE18). He

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said that he was quite familiar with the electrical components saying that, Theyre just
bulbs, batteries, push-buttoned switch (QE5) and it was clear to him how to solve it
(QE16). He claimed that he started to plan the circuit in his head (QE18) and he could
explain in detail how the circuit worked (QE8). His pattern was simply Reading 1 >
Planning 3 > Calculating 1 > Checking 1.
Jacob, unlike Isaac who was familiar and excelled in this topic, said, Im not
doing too well in electricity but I can draw (QE2) and that he did not pay much
attention to the lesson on electricity at school (QE5). He attempted to test-and-check
in Problem E but did not complete it because he encountered a problem in connecting the
batteries with the correct terminals. Nevertheless, he said at the beginning:
12 Alright, so first of all I need to experiment
13 Test it
14 So what Im trying to do is
15 I want to just experiment
16 Just to see if I can
17 Get 3 batteries for 2 bulbs and 1 battery for 2 bulbs
18 Just to see if that works
19 Probably wont but never mind

He tried to solve this problem by experimenting and testing the idea that he
thought was the most logical guess (QE4). However, his failure to connect the
batteries and the lack of confidence made him gave up after four-and-a-half minutes of
test-and-check. He was not confident with the guesses and kept saying phrases similar
to that of line 19 above (e.g., in lines 23, 24, 27 & 28). Even after he gave up and I asked
him to draw a diagram (QE2) then questioned him if he thought the circuit would work,
he said, No. He exhibited a more complicated pattern compared to Isaacs Reading
1 > Reading 2 > Analysing 9 > Planning 4 > Testing 1 > Calculating 3
(Reflecting 4) > Checking 1 > Planning 3 > Calculating 1 > Analysing 4 >
Calculating 3 > Checking 1 > give up.
In the case of Larry, during the interview, he said, I did the trial-and-error to
remind myself how it works (QE10) when he was asked if he planned how to solve the
problem. At the beginning of Problem E, he said, Um, Im gonna try and make it
myself (14) and started to connect two batteries and said, Wait (20) because he was
not sure which type of circuit would give the outcomes desired. After deciding to try a

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series circuit, he assembled three bulbs and two batteries but the bulbs did not light (21-
30). He believed that the problem was that there was not enough energy so he decided to
add more batteries. He checked the circuit and then said, Ill try series [he meant
parallel], see what Id get from that (36-37). He disconnected the circuit and tried a new
circuit then checked and said, Yeah, okay, I need the 3 bright ones in parallel, no,
series (40-43). Based on the tests, he drew a diagram and then assembled it to solve the
problem successfully. He said that he knew there were two types of circuit and he was
not sure which one would make the bulbs brighter hence he did the trial-and-error. For
Larry, all his trials were successful as he had predicted.
In the case of Peter, he brainstormed a few options to be considered when he
planned the solution. He also gave reasons for the ideas. For example, he said, Whether
you take three off here, cause then these three will be brighter than those three, or not
necessarily, um, whether you join one of here, or one of there, one of there, no (46-50).
He then came to the decision that he would Ill try joining in three onto here, but Im not
entirely sure (51-52). He tested the idea, checked the outcome and tested yet another
two ideas (61 & 65). He finally managed to light all bulbs in different levels of
brightness but he argued that he had roughly (70) achieved the goal of the problem by
justifying his answer (71-72).
Helen provided a clearer picture of how test-and-check was performed. Like
Jacob, after reading the problem twice repeatedly, she could not devise a plan to proceed
with, so she said, So Im gonna do some little experiments to see if it works (15). She
was thinking of making a parallel circuit with two bulbs in each row and see if the result
would achieve the goal of the problem. She explained the reason for doing so (22-24).
To be more careful, she decided to make a simple series circuit with two bulbs. She then
checked the brightness of the bulbs and said, Um, I dont really understand why its not
bright (34). She tried to find the reason by looking at the connections of the wires
(assuming that the reason had to do with the connections). After seeing her spending
nearly half-a-minute, after which she could not continue, I pointed out that the terminals
of the batteries were not properly connected. I did not want to lose a complete protocol
in the same way that I lost Jacobs, because I was aware that this was the last session the
school teacher gave me to meet the students. She corrected her mistake and checked

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again. The bulbs went off suddenly after they lit for a second. Again, she thought of the
possible reason (So maybe theres too much power (49)) and corrected the circuit
according to the possible reason by taking out one battery. She found out that the reason
was due to the loosely attached bulb to the holder and connected the battery back.
She was satisfied by the first trial and decided to go ahead with her initial plan.
This was the same strategy that she used in Problem 4 to find the correct solution for one
case before she duplicated the method for other cases in the same problem (see section
4.2.3.4). When she had completed the circuit and checked the answer, she did not
achieve the goal and tried to think of the reason again but failed to come to a conclusion.
She said, So no idea why it didnt work out so well (64). She decided to do Reading
2 and came out with an idea, saying, I can add a switch so that these are off and that
ones are on (68). However, she argued with herself that this was not a plan that would
lead to a correct solution but she tried to realise the plan. She started to give reasons for
the outcome when the switch was connected (76-88). She generated another idea of
taking a battery out and connecting it to the second loop of the parallel circuit, in between
the bulbs, in order to replace the switch. She tested the circuit and decided to change the
terminal of the battery. She again justified the failure (105-112) and came to the
conclusion that she might need to attach the switch somewhere in the circuit. The same
cycle of Planning 6 > Calculating 2 > Checking 3 > Analysing 8 happened for the
next two trials before she came to the solution that she had not expected.
A similar pattern of testing out various ideas by giving reasons and justifications
for the ideas, and also for the failure of the ideas can be found in Rosie, Peter, Zahra and
Xenna in solving Problem E. For instance, Zahra in Problem E produced a similar idea to
Helen and she wanted to test the first part of her plan. She said:
52 So Im gonna do a parallel circuit first
53 And then see how it goes
54 I might get a very bright bulb
55 And I realise what Im doing
56 I dont want a short circuit

She justified why she should test the plan, namely to avoid short circuit. Xenna
also had a similar concern when she was going to try to add more battery to the circuit
(46-49). This made me pay more attention to the category of Reasoning where I drew a

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conclusion (see the end of section 4.2.5.2) that there should be another category that
could represent this process more clearly (see next section).

4.3.2 Justifying
Justifying is a very important category. It emerged at a later point of analysis in
Stage 3. Initially, Reasoning was used to code incidents where the students explained
the reasons for doing an action or choosing a concept to solve a problem (see section
4.2.5.2). Reasoning 2 was closely related to Reasoning 3, where they were to provide
the reason for taking certain actions or decisions in calculation. Reasoning 1 provided
the reason or justification for choosing certain concepts in analysing and planning the
solution. Like Reflecting (see section 4.2.2), it did not occur in just one or two steps
but was scattered across the whole problem-solving process. It is difficult to distinguish
the step in which they gave reasons or justification because it happened in almost all the
steps:
a. after Reading - Jacob after reading Problem 4, said, Im gonna avoid
reading that again cause its quite long, so I just (12-13) and he decided to
skim through the problem to find the keywords before he drew a diagram that
could easily summarise the problem;
b. in Analysing When Helen was analysing Problem 3, she said, This one is
more difficult cause got to think about likeif its different energy compared
to the short race, you have to run really fast to pace up with the longer one. So
its slightly more difficult (13-17);
c. in Planning Angie in planning how to solve Problem 1, said, This has
something to do with speed. I know this because we have both time and
distance. So speed equals distance over time (10-12);
d. in Calculating 3 see section 4.2.5.2;
e. in Checking Betty in Problem 1, checked her answer and said, So Cynthia
is the fastest because she took the least time to travel 3 m/s2 for each one,
because its how long it took to travel that distance (59-63). Peter in
Problem E, he checked his answer and tried to justify it (76).

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The students tried to justify the motives for them to read, analyse, plan, calculate
and check their problem-solving process in their own ways. Hence, it is more appropriate
to use Justifying to sum up Reasoning 1-3 as to justify their decision-making. After
the category of Justifying emerged from Stage 3s analysis, I reviewed all the protocols
from the previous stages and came to realise that the ability to make a justifications (from
experience and knowledge) and then make the right decision was a very important
element in Physics problem-solving. This was particularly crucial in the Planning step.
For example, Betty, in Problem 1, gave justifications for every planned step that she
decided to choose:
27 Need to find the equation to work it out
28 So I can see who is the fastest
29 And I can see that
30 Cause they are different distances
31 So I need to, um
32 Work it out in proportion
33 So it
34 Um
35 I need to work out the velocity
36 Because its how fast that is
37 And that so
38 Velocity equals speed over time
39 Because I got the speed and I got the time

Following are just a few examples of instances where I identified the pattern of
justification-decision:
a. Tanya, Problem 1, 13-17
b. Oscar, Problem 3, 23-26
c. Zahra, Problem E, 75-80
d. Helen, Problem E, 57-59

The keyword for this category in the protocol is because/cause. They used
various reasons to justify their decision. The reasons could be merely a hunch (Angie,
Problem 3, 73-77), according to their own logic (Zahra, Problem E, 116-119), something
from their experience (Helen, Problem 4, 117-121) or from what they have previously
learnt (Rosie, Problem 3, 16-22). The quality of the solution depended on the
justification. If the students possessed more experience, easily accessible knowledge and

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deeper understanding in a certain topics of Physics or types of problem, they were more
likely to give a more accurate justification, thereby giving a correct solution to the
problem. This was evidenced in Problem E. Jacob who was unfamiliar with the
electrical components was unable to reach the solution. This was also true for Wendy
(QE3) and Nancy (QE5 & QE6).
On the other hand, Larry who was familiar with the components and enjoyed
doing the practical work (QE8) could come to a correct solution after test-and-check.
He also had sufficient understanding on this topic such that he claimed that knowing the
circuits had become second nature to him (QE5). One example of how he justified his
decision was when he knew that he had assembled a complete circuit and the bulbs were
not lit, he reasoned that it was because there was not enough power hence he decided to
add more batteries to the circuit (30-34). In contrast to Larry, when Wendy faced a
similar problem, she justified that it was because she did not connect the bulb to the
correct terminals (10-13), then she decided to switch the wires. She later reasoned that it
might have been the batterys terminals, so she switched in between them (19-23). She
could not come to a solution at the end because she could not give a correct reason due to
her lack of experience and knowledge in this topic, although she confirmed that she had
learnt about electricity (QE4).
However, not all the students gave a justification when they made a decision.
Although it was important to give justification, there was no evidence to prove that if
they explicitly justified their reasons when they made a decision they would arrive at a
better decision and therefore a solution. There were other factors, such as knowledge and
experience, which could influence the quality of the decision. Nonetheless, providing
justifications was one important aspect of Physics problem-solving among these students.

4.3.3 A general pattern and sub-patterns


In this section, the pattern of each individual will be compared and contrasted by
relating it to the pattern in Figure 4.3. From the general pattern, there were at least three
variations represented by a number of students in this study. Only the patterns of
complete protocols (i.e., until a solution was reached) that the students perceived to be
difficult would be compared because the pattern of those that were perceived as easy

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could be represented by a simple flow of Reading > Calculating > Answering.


Checking usually did not happen at the end unless it had become a habit and Planning
did not always occur or could not be observed through the protocols (i.e., Planning was
not explicit and only Analysing could be observed see section 4.2.3 for the
explanation). A few examples could be found in Fionas approach to Problem 1
(technically it should be called Question due to the easiness of the task to the student
but to not to be confused with the interview questions (as explained in section 4.2.1),
therefore it remains as Problem); Isaac Problem E; Larry Problem 1 and others.
Table 4.1 shows the problems that were referred to in the formation of the
patterns in this section. The protocols of Diane, Nancy, Quinn and Tanya will not be
taken into consideration in the patterns because there was either no difficult problem
solved/given or the protocols were incomplete. This was because the question given did
not match their level of difficulty it became easy to solve if it was below the students
level of difficulty; while they could not complete the problem-solving if it was far above
the level of difficulty of each individual. Out of 108 protocols collected, there were only
44 protocols that matched the criteria of the study for the purpose of pattern analysis. All
the protocols were used during the coding to ensure that an exhaustive and saturated list
of categories was created.
From the analysis of these two sections, the problem-solving pattern could be
further improved to that shown in Figure 4.4. The pattern took into account the test-and-
check strategy and the category of Justifying that could be embedded within several
individual processes as explained in the previous section. Similar to Justifying,
Reflecting also can be found in several individual processes (see section 4.2.2). Hence,
it does not stand alone as a process but is embedded within Reading, Planning,
Analysing and Checking. The doubled-lined boxes show steps that contain
Justifying and Reflecting. Calculating also contains Justifying but since
Calculating 3 is not performed by many of the students, it is not included in the general
pattern. Reading contains Reflecting but again it is not performed by all the students.

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Table 4.1: Number of problems considered in the generation of patterns.


Students Total questions given Easy Incomplete Difficult (Total problems)
Angie 4 3 0 1
Betty 3 0 0 3
Colin 4 0 0 4
Diane 4 2 2 0
Eddie 4 1 0 3
Fiona 4 2 0 2
Grace 3 2 0 1
Helen 5 2 0 3
Isaac 4 2 0 2
Jacob 6 2 3 1
Kamal 3 1 1 1
Larry 5 2 0 3
Marco 4 2 0 2
Nancy 2 1 1 0
Oscar 3 2 0 1
Peter 6 3 0 3
Quinn 2 1 1 0
Rosie 6 4 1 1
Susan 4 1 1 2
Tanya 3 2 1 0
Usher 5 2 1 2
Vince 4 2 1 1
Wendy 5 2 1 2
Xenna 4 3 0 1
Yonah 6 2 1 3
Zahra 5 2 1 2
Total 108 48 16 44

The students started with 'Reading followed by Planning and Analysing. In


many of the situations, they would perform Arranging Information or Analysing 9.
Since it was a very common step for the majority of the students, it was highlighted as a
separate process in the general pattern. This was followed by Calculating and the
repetition of Calculating if there were more sub-goals to reach in the same problem
denoted as (b). If there were no further variables that needed to be derived and the
students did not think that Checking was necessary or was not a part of their usual
routine, they might end the problem-solving with Answering denoted as (a). This
would be described in Pattern 1. If however, after Calculating, they carried out
Checking before Answering and exited after that, this would be considered as Pattern
2 (hence the dotted-line across Checking next to Calculating). Finally, if Checking

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came after Answering, this would be categorised as Pattern 3 (hence the dotted-lined
arrow after Answering to accommodate all three patterns). For these two patterns, the
students might repeat Calculating-Checking or just Calculating for other sub-goals
before they reached Answering.

(d)
Reading

Arranging Information

Planning (c)

Analysing

(b)

Calculating Checking

(a)
Answering

Checking

Notes: (a) if there is no need to make further planning or test-and-check


(b) the next sub-goal without Planning
(c) if further planning or test-and-check is required
(d) if restarting the problem-solving is required due to the difficulty of the problem

Figure 4.4: Pattern of Physics problem-solving of Stage 3.

4.3.3.1 Pattern 1
In this pattern, the students showed the simplest pattern of problem-solving. The
pattern can be easily summarised as in Figure 4.5. This is the pattern of Jacob, Kamal,
Oscar, Usher and Yonah, interestingly all boys. They started with Reading without
Reflecting. It was only Jacob who tried to read the problem twice at the beginning.

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After doing Reading 1, he did Reading 4 and improved his understanding by


representing the problem in a diagram (Jacob, Problem 4, 14-21).
The students then proceeded to Planning. Oscar (Problem 3, 15-16), Yonah
(Problem 5, 11-17) and Usher (Problem 1, 12-27) tried to set goals for the problems
while Jacob (Problem 4, 23-24) and Yonah (Problem 2, 13-14) planned to guess the
answer. Usher (Problem 2, 18-22) and Yonah (Problem 1, 4-19) tried to analyse the
problems before they proceeded to Calculating. On the other hand, Kamal would do
Arranging information (Problem 3, 9-15) and continued to do Calculating 1. All of
them did Calculating 1 except Usher and Oscar (at the beginning) who did Calculating
3.

Reading

Planning
(c)
Analysing

(b)

Calculating
(a)

Answering

Notes: (a) if there is no need to make further planning (i.e., Kamal &Usher)
(b) the next sub-goal without Planning
(c) if further planning is required (i.e., Oscar & Yonah)

Figure 4.5: Pattern 1.

As shown by the doubled-lined arrows, most of them arrived at Answering after


Reading, Planning/Analysing and Calculating, and none of them did Checking.
Oscar and Yonah continued to Planning and Analysing after the first Calculating
because there were more sub-goals to achieve before they could come to a final solution.
The cycle of Planning-Calculating (c) continued until they reached Answering.

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There were a few reasons for them not to carry out Checking either in the
middle or the end of the problem-solving. The two main reasons have been discussed
elsewhere (section 4.2.7) and furthermore, Jacob said that he wanted to move on (Q15)
and end the problem-solving as soon as possible. Oscar admitted that he checked his
answer but in a very discreet way as he said, Ill just check if I have neck-aching feeling
like oh, this is wrong, what are you doing?, then Ill check (Q22). Hence, it was
unclear at which point he checked his answer or step, except when he made it explicit
that he had spotted a mistake as in Problem 3, when he said, Actually no, Ive done that
wrong (23). However, this was the only case of checking that could be found among
these five students.
When Kamal faced a difficult problem, he did not show any kind of problem-
solving strategy. There was no Planning, Checking, Analysing (although he did
Analysing 9), Reflecting or Justifying. His pattern was Reading 1 > Analysing 9
> Calculating 1 > Answering 1. It was when I asked him if he usually checked his
answer that he started to do checking (Q12). He performed poorly in this problem. This
might be because he did not have any idea on how to solve the problem as he did not
have adequate understanding of the topic related to the problem. This was shown when I
questioned him about his understanding of the concept of speed (Q22-Q29). He did not
know what 2 m/s meant (Q22) and thought that 3 m/s was faster than 5.5 m/s (Q27)
because 3 m/s for him, meant every metre you go in 3 seconds (Q28). However, he
could clearly understand speed in miles-per-hour (Q23-Q25). When I asked for the
meaning of 3 mph, he explained that was 3 miles in every hour (Q29).
In comparison to Jacob who was also quite weak in the topic of speed (he could
not explain what 5 m/s meant (Q41)), Jacob showed better problem-solving skills
because he possessed a few strategies that were not used by Kamal such as reading twice,
Justifying, Planning, Reflecting and representing the problem in a diagram. For
Kamal, it was as if he was using the easy-problem pattern (see section 4.3.3) for solving a
difficult problem.

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4.3.3.2 Pattern 2
There were nine students whose processes of problem-solving could be illustrated
by Pattern 2 (Figure 4.6) Angie, Eddie, Fiona, Isaac, Larry, Marco, Vince, Wendy and
Xenna. The doubled-lined boxes show both Reflecting and Justifying occurred in
these processes. This will be further explained in the following paragraphs.

(d)
Reading

Arranging Information

Planning (c)

Analysing

(b)

Calculating

Checking

(a)

Answering

Notes: (a) if there is no need to make further planning or test-and-check (e.g., Vince & Wendy)
(b) the next sub-goal without Planning
(c) if further planning or test-and-check is required (e.g., Eddie & Fiona)
(d) if restarting the problem-solving is required due to the difficulty of the problem
(e.g., Angie & Marco)

Figure 4.6: Pattern 2.

Most of the students started with Reading 1. Larry and Wendy started with
Reading 6 together with Analysing 9 by writing down the important information
(Larry) and underlining it (Wendy). Eddie, Marco and Xenna did Analysing 9 after
Reading 1. Angie was the only one who carried out Reflecting when reading Problem
3. Then, they all performed Analysing and Planning. As in Pattern 1, most of the
students did Planning 1 after Analysing 9. For examples, Isaac in Problem 3 said that

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he would find the stopping distance (11) and Eddie in Problem 2 said that he wanted to
find out how fast they all run per metre (13). There were also some students who
preferred to use formulae to solve Physics problems (see section 4.2.3.2) and proceeded
to do Planning 2, such as Fiona in Problem 3 (11-17) and Larry in Problem 2 (30-32).
During Planning, Angie, Eddie and Larry demonstrated a lot of Reflecting and
some Justifying. For examples, Angie in Problem 3, during Planning, would say,
Because I do not have too much idea of how I can do this (17); So I can subtract
stuff off, use some mathematical equations to get mine (49); Can I find the sheet back,
the one I did before [Problem 2]?I prefer working out things myself (55-59);
Because Im not too sure how to do this, so Ill do whatever I know how to do it to reach
my right answer (75-77); while Larry, in Problem E, would say, Let me think about
this, so I need, um (21-22); Not surewell, I could try, Im just gonna try (25).
These few reflections and self-justifications made while Planning showed how much
they thought about their decisions and own thinking. This was very different from those
students represented by Pattern 1.
After that, these nine students continued to Calculating 1. It was only Wendy
who did Calculating 2 & 3 in the first cycle of calculation because she said that she
liked to do two steps at a time. This was evidenced when she did Reading 6 together
with Analysing 9 and Calculating 2 & 3 together with Checking 7 and Checking 9.
She underlined each important keyword and when she had used the information to obtain
an answer, she immediately crossed out the underlined information and proceeded to the
next calculation using other underlined information (Q6 & Q7). She was very
systematic, careful and always checked her steps and answers before she gave the final
answer and completed the problem-solving. Vince also was constantly doing Checking
during Calculating 2 (Problem 4, 31-32, 44-48, 49-50). By doing so, there was no need
to check the answer after Answering.
Other than Wendy, Vince and Isaac (Problem 2), the protocols of the other six
students showed further planning due to one of the following reasons:
a. the length of the problem;
b. the plan to divide the problem to be solved into a few instances; or
c. it was a test-and-check strategy application.

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After the first Calculating 1, the majority of them would proceed to Checking
and then made one or more cycles of route (c) as in Figure 4.6 before they finally arrived
at Answering. For example, Fiona in Problem 3, after the first Calculating 1, checked
her answer (41-43) and followed it by another Planning 3 (44-45) because she worked
from one sub-goal to another. She then checked the answers (55-80) and continued
through three more (c) cycles (81-119 (test-and-check); 120-127 (no Checking); 128-
136) before she did Answering (137-138). Marco (Problem 3) and Larry (Problem E)
exhibited the same pattern as Fiona while Eddie in Problem 4 presented a similar pattern
with five cycles (32-38; 43-58; 59-99; 100-128; 129-148) where the first two cycles were
test-and-check after the first Checking 3 (29-30). Larry in Problem 4 and Xenna also
demonstrated a similar pattern but they did not perform test-and-check.
Angie (Problem 3) and Marco (Problem 4) not only performed a few similar
cycles as those mentioned in the preceding paragraph, they also restarted the problem-
solving from Reading (route (d) in Figure 4.6) because they wanted to make sure that
they had understood the problem (Angie) and wanted to find more clues or thought that
they might have missed something from the first Reading (Marco). After Angie
obtained a part of the answer, she went back to read the problem (41-46) and made
another plan using the information she read and calculated. She did Checking 3 in
every cycle until she did Answering. Marco decided to read the problem again because
he did not know what to do and hoped that he might find some clues to help him
continued with the problem-solving (58).
Since all these students had done Checking during the problem-solving,
Checking at the end was not necessary for them, except for Larry who decided to do
Checking 8 for Problem 2 after Answering even though he had checked constantly
during the first two cycles of calculations. He might have wanted to be extra careful in
solving Physics problems. Larry was quite thoughtful when he carried out Checking.
For example, in Problem 2, he said, I think thats right, just check it again (84-85).
Similar to that, there were a few instances of Calculating 3 among the students (e.g.,
Angie, Problem 3, 111-118; Eddie, Problem 3, 27-43; Marco, Problem 4, 63-80).
Nonetheless, it was not a majority, so it was not included in the pattern.

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4.3.3.3 Pattern 3
Pattern 3 represented a more thoughtful problem-solving process. This pattern
was similar to Pattern 2 but it ended with Checking after Answering. Checking did
not always precede Answering although many students in this pattern did so and the
students carried out more Justifying and Reflecting in some of the problem-solving
steps. Figure 4.7 illustrates Pattern 3 which represents Betty, Colin, Grace, Helen, Peter,
Rosie, Susan and Zahra. All the symbols in the figure remain the same as Figure 4.4
while the shaded box represents Reflecting and the bold box represents Justifying in
the steps.

(d)
Reading

Arranging Information

Planning (c)

Analysing

(b)

Calculating

Checking

(a)

Answering

Checking

Notes: (a) if there is no need to make further planning or test-and-check (e.g., Colin & Peter in
Problem 2)
(b) the next sub-goal without Planning
(c) if further planning or test-and-check is required (e.g., Helen (Problem E) & Zahra)
(d) if restarting the problem-solving is required due to the difficulty of the problem (Betty
(Problem 3) & Peter (Problem E))

Figure 4.7: Pattern 3.

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Pattern 3 had a similar beginning to Pattern 2. Like Angie in Pattern 2, Betty


(Problem 3, 5-6) and Helen (Problem 3, 11-13; Problem 4, 3-4) also undertook
Reflecting during Reading. Zahra, on the other hand, performed Reading 1 followed
by Reading 4 to ensure that she understood the problems. From Reading, all of them
moved to Analysing/Planning and akin to Pattern 2, most of them would do
Analysing 9 after Reading. For instance, Colin and Helen had been consistently
proceeding in this way in all their protocols while others, such as Betty (only in Problem
1) and Peter (only in Problem 4) were not consistent. Rosie, like Wendy and Larry in
Pattern 2, did Reading 6 by underlining the important information. As explained in
Pattern 2, those who felt strongly about using formulae in solving Physics problems
would do Planning 2 and Analysing 3 at this stage. For example, Rosie (Problem 4,
13-37), while Colin (Problem 1, 14-19; Problem 3, 19-26; Problem 4, 14-25) and Peter
(Problem 4, 28-36) did so after Analysing 9.
There were some students who performed Analysing 1 (see section 4.2.4.1) to
determine the concept involved in the problem. Rosie in Problem 4 (12), Helen in
Problem 2 (10-15), Peter in Problem 2 (18-27) and Susan in Problem 1 (10-13)
mentioned and explained the concept related to the problem after Reading. None of the
students in Pattern 1 and 2 did Analysing 1 although it might be that they did not
explicitly think aloud. For other students, Analysing 1 appeared in the protocols that
were not considered to be problems, such as Tanya in Problem 1 (12-16), which was not
a problem for her.
Betty, Helen (Problem 4, 19-21) and Rosie (Problem 4, 29-31) did Justifying in
their initial steps of Planning and Analysing. Betty, in Problem 1, said:
27 Need to find the equation to work it out
28 So I can see who is the fastest

She justified her decision to use a formula to find the speed. In Problem 3, again, she
used the similar strategy to plan, saying,
21 If I work out my velocity then I can, um
22 Then I can work out how long it would take for me to do 9 km

This was to ensure that they chose the right decision before they proceeded to
Calculating. There was also some Reflecting in these two steps. For examples, Helen

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in Problem 4 (38-43) and Problem E (15-20); Zahra in Problem 3 (11) and Peter in
Problem E (17 & 22).
After that, the majority carried out Calculating 1. Peter and Helen both in
Problem 4 and Problem E carried out Calculating 2, as well as Grace in Problem 3 (31-
46). They were quite careful in their first attempt because they were performing test-
and-check. There was a group of students who performed Calculating 3 to justify their
decision to compute the solution in a certain way. This included Helen in Problem 2 (24-
29), Peter in Problem 2 (30-61), Rosie in Problem 4 (40-56) and Susan in Problem 1 (26-
27).
For those in situation (a) (as in Figure 4.7), most of them did not check before
Answering but performed Checking after that. The Checking at the end was to
make sure that they had achieved what was required by the problem (e.g., Colin in
Problem 2 and Helen in Problem 2). Betty undertook Justifying when she checked her
answer at the end of Problem 1 while Rosie performed Reflecting at the end of Problem
4. This was the same in situation (b) where they kept doing more calculations to reach
other sub-goals.
However, if they were in situation (c), they would perform exactly like Pattern 2
where Checking would come before Answering, but at the end they would carry out
another final Checking after Answering. For example, Susan in Problem 4, after the
first Checking (27-28), proceeded to Analysing 7 and Planning 5 and then
Calculating 1 before she did Checking 6 (46-74). After this cycle, she made the
second cycle (75-105) and the final cycle where she performed Answering in lines 140-
141. She then tried to make sure that she had answered the problem properly and
checked that she had the correct answer. Helen in Problem E showed a similar pattern
but she made six cycles because she kept doing test-and-check and refused to give up
until she reached a solution that met the goal of the problem. This was similar to Grace
in Problem 3 (she made one cycle only) and to Zahra in Problem 3 (she made two cycles)
and ended-up with Checking 8 to give her more confidence in her answer.
As for those who were in situation (d), there was no difference in repeating the
cycle. Peter did one Testing in Problem E and decided to restart the problem-solving by
undertaking Reading 2 (23-25) and another Testing followed by Calculating 2 and

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Checking 1. He then proceeded to two more cycles (45-54; 55-80) and carried out
Answering (81-82) and the final Checking (83-86). As for Betty, in Problem 3, she
did two cycles before she realised that she could not continue because she could not make
sense of her answer since she had made a mistake in converting the time from minutes
to seconds. She decided to return to Reading (102) before she realised her mistake.
She then continued with three cycles until she reached the answer.
During Checking, some of the students performed Reflecting and Justifying
to make sure that they had obtained a correct solution. For instance, Peter in Problem E
(68-86), Helen in Problem 4 (Justifying - 78-79; 117-119; Reflecting - 132-136; 152-
153), Rosie in Problem 4 (Reflecting - 58-60) and a few others. This pattern of careful
and thoughtful Checking in the middle and at the end of the problem-solving
demonstrated the effort and strategy they used to obtain the solution.

4.4 Summary
This chapter functions to answer the first research question. In this chapter, the
process of coding the problem-solving steps as it unfolded from Stage 1 to 3, from a
fuzzy set of open-coding to a systematic and well-defined set of categories and properties
has been extensively reported with clear evidence quoted directly from the thinking-aloud
protocols and interviews, supported by answer sheets and video observation. The
justifications for theoretical sampling and the modification of the research design from
Stage 1 to Stage 3 have also been detailed in this chapter, being informed by in-depth
data analysis, following the practice of GT. Finally, a general pattern of Physics
problem-solving among all the students involved in the research has been illustrated and
described, including the variances that can represent three different groups of students.
The next chapter will report the analysis of the metacognitive aspect of problem-solving
identified in this study, so as to answer my second research question.

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Chapter 5: Data Analysis Metacognition

5.0 Introduction
This chapter will answer the second research question, namely, to identify the
metacognitive skills in Physics problem-solving among the students (see section 1.5). As
mentioned in the previous chapter, the process of coding metacognition was a continuous
endeavour from Stage 1 and extensive efforts were put into coding the metacognitive
elements in the problem-solving steps. In Stage 1, metacognition was coded when the
students were talking about themselves, especially using I or me. In the later stages,
details of which aspects of cognition were being monitored, regulated, reflected and
evaluated were coded to provide a more in-depth understanding of how metacognition
affected each step of problem-solving.

5.1 Metacognitive aspects of problem-solving


As metacognition is thinking about ones thoughts, there were several areas of
cognitive activity in Physics problem-solving that were considered in the coding of
metacognition in problem-solving: memory and experience, concept and knowledge,
understanding of problems and problems representation, self-belief and judgement, goal
and planning, problem-solving process and solution.

5.1.1 Memory and experience


In this aspect of cognitive activity, students monitored, reflected and evaluated
their own memory and experience to relate a problem that they were facing to one that
they had encountered before. This category was similar to Reflecting 1 (see section
4.2.2). Reflecting memory could be defined as considering which part of the memory or
experience was relevant to the problem. Evaluating memory meant that after recollection
of a certain memory or experience, it was examined to determine if it was useful for
aiding the problem-solving. Monitoring memory referred to consciously comparing the
present problem with previous problems that might be the same or similar. This usually
happened at the step of Reading, either when the students scanned the problem before
reading, while reading the problem or after that. For example, Larry in Problem 3, at the

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first scan of the problem said, Oh, I dont like this one, I got confused when I did it last
time (1-2).
In the thinking-aloud sessions, all of the students were given at least one problem
which they had solved before in PhyPT, used in Phase 2 of the research (see section
3.6.1) to identify if they monitored their memory and retrieved the correct memory.
Grace tried to recall similar problems from her memory before she started the problem-
solving process. This was evident when she said in Problem 2, Oh, I did this one as
well (1) at the first scan and in Problem 1 she tried to regulate her memory to try to
remember the way she had solved the similar problem (10). The reason for them to
monitor and regulate their memory and previous problem-solving experience was to
determine the level of difficulty of the problem. This was so that they could decide if the
problem was difficult or could be solved using a similar method to that they had used
before. They also monitored their memory and experience to search for the concept,
knowledge and successful problem-solving approach that was similar to the present
problem. They were trying to search for resources in their memory that could help them
to solve the same kind of problem.
When Angie was given Problem 3, she immediately monitored her memory and
said, Oh, I think I know the question because I remember it, I think I have done it (1-2).
While she was saying that, she reflected on the memory and evaluated it, then she
realised that she was wrong, so she instantly said, Oh, oh no, not this one but it has
something to do with cycling (3). The real life feature of cycling reminded her of a past
problem where she thought that she could import the approach to solve this problem.
After she finished reading the problem she said, Right, this isnt in the paper (referring
to PhyPT) (11-12). She felt that the problem was difficult and was therefore
indecisive about how she could solve it (14-17). Additionally, there appeared to be a few
times (75-77; 107; 115) when she said that she was uncertain if her planning was correct.
Similarly, Rosie in Problem 4 said:
16 I remember doing this question before
17 Last time I thought its more complicated
18 With the pressure equation which I have forgotten
19 Something like force over area

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She continued to reflect on her memory and evaluate her previous experience in light of
the present situation (22-23) until she decided to solve the problem using a different
method from the one she initially thought of (using a formula):
22 But then
23 I thought that this question is probably simpler than that

At the end, when she had obtained a solution, she was still considering her initial idea
(59-60). Clearly, she was trying to use a problem-solving approach that was suitable for
solving this kind of problem. She said that she would usually remember the method used
to solve a problem but not the question or answer specifically (Q12, Q34 & Q35).
Wendy also said that she would only remember the method of the questions that she had
solved correctly (Q14).
In the case of Jacob, after reading the first sentence of Problem 4, he said, I
remember doing this one, I dont know how to do this (3-4). Acknowledging that the
problem was very difficult for him, he tried to solve it until he found out that the task was
not an examination (30-31). He then decided to give up and just guess the answer.
Usher, in Problem 5, also used his memory to decide how he would tackle the problem.
He decided not to pursue the problem after reading it because he remembered that he had
encountered a similar problem before and that he did not have any successful experience
or resources to solve this but was merely guessing.
However, not all of the students presented a correct judgement of the approach
they used to solve a problem based on their memory and experience or retrieved the
relevant resources. Susan in Problem 3 believed that she could solve the problem
because she could remember that she had successfully solved a similar problem before.
When she was stuck, she requested to refer to the PhyPT2 that she had done in Phase 2 of
the research a month ago (79-80) which she knew that she had solved correctly. She said
to herself, I dont know how did I get 18.5 (110) and she kept referring back to the
PhyPT2. She perceived that the problem was too difficult for her.
There were also some who did not retrieve the correct memory and therefore
failed to determine the difficulty of the problem and retrieve the accurate problem-
solving approach to solve it. After reading Problem 3, Zahra said, Um, we did this last
week (11) though this problem was not in the PhyPT2, but a similar problem might have

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occurred in her class when she was learning about velocity. She quickly decided to use
the velocity formula but did not expect that she needed to change the distance in km to
m if the velocity of 5 m/s was to be used to find out the time for a distance of 9 km.
At line 38 she was going to accept 0.6 s as the answer because she thought that was the
correct way to solve the problem according to her previous experience. Further thought
about making sense of the answer prompted her to correct the method and answer (this
will be explained in section 5.1.7).
Not many of the students monitored their memory and experience when solving
problems. One of the reasons for this was that not many of them could remember the
method that they had used. When they were asked if they could remember a problem that
they had solved, most of them gave a positive answer. However, they could not
remember the method they used to solve the problem. This was reported during the
interviews with Helen (Q10), Isaac (Q11), Kamal (Q21), Larry (Q20), Marco (Q33),
Oscar (Q29), Peter (Q27), Vince (Q26) and Xenna (Q44). For some of them, it did not
matter if they could remember the way that they used to solve the problem because they
said that they would most probably repeat the same method unconsciously to solve the
same problem. Helen said, I think Ill probably end up in a similar sort of way, vaguely
worked it out as I went along. (Q34) and Isaac believed that he would use the same logic
and thinking to solve the same problem (Q11). This was also the case for Larry (Q14),
Marco (Q21) and Vince (Q26). For Oscar, trying to remember a similar past experience
might not be a helpful method in problem-solving because he said that I honestly think
if I try to think the way I did it, I wont be able to focus on the answer that Im working
on. (Q30).
This aspect of metacognitive skill, that is to monitor, regulate, reflect and evaluate
their memory and experience in solving a related or similar problem, was only helpful if
they could retrieve the correct memory and link the relevant experience and mental
resources to the present situation. However, the effort of monitoring memory was
demonstrated by only a few of the students while regulating memory was only
demonstrated by Grace and Susan.

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5.1.2 Concept and knowledge


When the students were reading the problem, some of them monitored the
concepts that might be related or could help them to understand or solve the problem.
When Angie was reading Problem 1, she seemed to monitor the Physics concepts that
might be related to the problem because after reading the problem she immediately said,
This has something to do with speed (10) and she further evaluated her thoughts about
the concept by justifying her reason for saying that (11). Then, she planned to solve the
problem using a speed formula (12). I did not ask her any questions concerning this
because this was the first thinking-aloud session where I had not yet acquired sufficient
experience and theoretical sensitivity in this area of research to prompt me to ask her any
questions related to the metacognitive aspect of concept and knowledge.
In Stage 2, however, similar incidents occurred with Rosie in Problem 3, Zahra in
Problem 1 and Yonah in Problem 3 where they thought aloud the concept of pressure
after they had finished reading the problem (Rosie, 16-17; Zahra, 11; Yonah, 9-13).
When I asked them the reason for retrieving this concept when it was not mentioned in
the problem, Rosie gave a more surface explanation (similar to that of Chi, et al., 1981)
by relating the features of the problem, in this case, the sand, beach and shoes with
the concept (Q22) while Zahra gave a deeper explanation saying that I just thought it is
like putting it in the surface area and the weight. (Q2). Yonah also linked the area to
pressure (Q26) and he said, I generally know (Q27) the concept already and learned
more about it in science lessons. He also said that he was prompted not by the sand and
beach (surface features which Rosie connected to the concept) (Q29) but the variables
(area and weight) that appeared in the problem.

5.1.3 Understanding and problem representation


When they were reading the problems, some of the students would monitor their
understanding of the problem and form some representations of the problems in their own
unique ways. Monitoring understanding meant constantly keeping track of the
understanding of a problem situation and building a representation of the problem.
Reflecting understanding referred to considering the meaning or interpretation of
information from the problem. Regulating understanding was related to deciding which

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piece of information from the problem was relevant to solve the problem, what other
information was needed and how to improve the understanding of the problem.
Evaluating understanding was checking if the understanding and problem representation
were correct when compared to the problem statement.
The metacognitive aspect of understanding and problem representation was
usually detected at the beginning of the problem-solving in Reading, Analysing and
Planning. For example, when Rosie, in Problem 3, was reading she underlined
information that she considered to be important (5-7). She was monitoring her
understanding of the problem and linking it to the concept that she had learnt (see section
5.1.2). She repeated the same approach in Problem 4 where she monitored her
understanding while reading the problem (4-7) and then thought aloud the corresponding
concept (11-12). Zahra built her own problem representation every time she finished
reading a problem. In Problems 2, 3 and E, she made diagrams to represent the situation
and referred to the diagrams during the problem-solving process. Diagrams were needed
to solve these problems because the words confused her (Q30) and she could not imagine
the situation. Diagrams also made more sense to her (Q9), particularly when the
problems were difficult. In Problems 1 and 4, she did not draw any diagrams but simply
arranged the key information onto the answer sheets because these problems were easy
for her.
Wendy also constantly monitored her understanding at the step of Reading by
underlining the key information as she read the problems for the first time. After she had
finished reading the problem, she would perform Analysing 9 (arranging information).
In Problem 2 she said, Right, so Ive got 44 cm squared (10-11) after reading the
problem and followed it with Analysing 9 (11-23). In Problem 3, while she was
carrying out Analysing 9, she crossed out the underlined keywords as she wrote them
down one-by-one on the answer sheet (10-13). As explained before in Q6 (see section
4.2.1.4), she did so because she knew that this was how she monitored her own
understanding. She feared that she would miss out important information if she did not
cross out the keywords as she wrote them down. Similarly, Susan in Problem 3 also
underlined key information during Reading and she said that it was so that she did not
need to keep going back (7).

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On the other hand, Jacob did not consciously monitor his understanding in the
first reading but rather in the second reading (of all the problems). He usually did not
carry out the second reading word-by-word but in a shorter fashion where only the
important information was read aloud. For example in Problem 3 (refer to Appendix L
Problem 5 for the full text of the problem), he said:
10 They all claim that they are the fastest runners in the school
11 Jenny used, um
12 18.5 seconds to finish the race
13 144 seconds Sophia
14 500 seconds
15 So you tell me who is the fastest
16 Alright, I see

He was more reflective and metacognitively aware in the second reading in order to
understand the problems. I asked his reason for reading the problems twice, he replied, I
read it as a piece of text first the first time, the second time, I highlight mentally the
numbers and the names. (Q30). Evidently, he only started to consciously monitor,
reflect, evaluate and regulate his understanding of the problem during the second reading.
If after the second reading he still could not understand the problem, he would reread the
problem to regulate his understanding of the problem. This occurred in Problem 4 where
he not only read the problem more than twice but also drew a diagram to build a
representation of the problem.
Most of the students would monitor, reflect and evaluate their understanding of
the problem in the first reading and if they failed to build a problem representation, they
would regulate their understanding in the second reading. For example, Usher in
Problem 2, after he had read the problem, said, I have to read that again (13) and reread
in a shorter fashion as in Jacobs second reading. For a more complicated problem, more
evidence of metacognition could be observed, especially when the text was long. Most of
the students did not just read the problem more than once and actively monitor, reflect,
evaluate and regulate their understanding and problem representation, but they also used
other means like drawing a diagram, making a table, reading at a slower pace or
underlining, circling or writing down the key information to assist their understanding
and building of their own representation of the problem (see section 4.2.1.2 for the

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examples). To mention one example, Marco, in Problem 4, listed the key information in
his own words (16-27). He explained that:
18 Cause it just makes it easier just to see exactly
19 Not have to keep going back
20 And I guess my memory cant remember all the things so
21 While Im thinking of other things as well

He realised that it was easier to put the information on the answer sheet in a simpler form
so that he could refer back to it conveniently. He was also aware that he could not
remember all the information from such a wordy problem when he was solving a
problem. This prompted him to arrange the information in such a way that would not
burden his problem-solving process.
This aspect of metacognition can also be observed in the Analysing step. For
example, whilst Analysing Problem 4, Colin said:
8 800 m, 2 minutes
9 900 m, 3 minutes
10 And then 9
11 9 km race
12 8.30 am
13 Okay
14 So then
15 Youve got distance
16 Distance and time

After arranging the information found in the problem statement (Analysing 9), he
monitored what he understood and tried to reflect on the information and whether it could
help him in finding the answer. So he regulated his understanding by sorting out the
information (15-16) that could be linked to a formula that he knew in order to find out
something that was meaningful to him. He said during the interview that he usually tried
to find out information and link everything together to ascertain the answer (Q35).
In the Planning step, Helen demonstrated this aspect of metacognition in
Problem 4 by monitoring the information that she could find in the problem and
regulating the information that she needed to obtain a specific answer. After she had
generated a plan (18-21), she looked at the question and said, Ive got how fast they run,

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Ive got the formula, m/s, so I should do 5.4 metres (25-27). This type of
metacognition will be further discussed in section 5.1.6.

5.1.4 Self-belief and judgement


This aspect of metacognition is related to Reflecting (see section 4.2.2) and
Justifying (see section 4.3.2). This was when the students were reflecting on their own
ability to solve a problem, the task and the difficulty of the problem or situation.
Sometimes they would give reasons for making such a judgement. For instance, Helen in
Problem 3 reflected on the difficulty of the problem and tried to regulate her ability to
overcome that difficulty. She said after reading the problem:
13 This one is more difficult cause got to think about like
14 If its
15 Different energy compared to the short race
16 You have to run really fast to pace up with the longer one
17 So its slightly more difficult
18 But I think Im going to try to work out

She gave justification for her reflection on the difficulty of the problem and thought of a
way that she could try to solve it. Another example was when Betty could not determine
how to make a calculation in Problem 3, she said, Okay, I dont know, Im stuck, dont
know what to do (90-92) then after a while she said, because I dont know what the 30
means, I dont know if Im supposed to do with 9000 divided by 300 (98-101).
As can be seen in these two examples, students reflected upon themselves and the
tasks when they were faced with difficulty. This rarely happened in tasks that were
perceived as easy except in the following two cases: Yonah in Problem 3, after reading
the problem, said, This question is quite easy cause its basically the amount of pressure
on the smallest surface area cause (9-13); and Grace in Problem 2, said, I know how
to do this (13).
Making the correct judgement and having the correct self-belief were important in
the success of problem-solving. Although it might not be generalised to all the students,
at least two students exhibited incorrect judgement prior to their planning and failed to
arrive at a correct answer. In the case of Grace above, because she had wrongly judged
the problem as easy and thought that she remembered the method, and when she failed to

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retrieve the correct memory, she failed to solve the problem in the beginning. As a result,
she was stuck and had to restart the problem-solving from Reading (27). In the end, she
obtained a wrong answer although she had been correct when she was solving the same
problem in the PhyPT2. Another example can be found in Jacob in Problem 3. When he
was writing the information onto the answer sheet, he suddenly said, so really, its quite
mathematical (25) as there were many numbers in the problem. This was the same in
Problem 5 (17). He perceived that the problems were like mathematical problems
because he could not identify any Physics concepts in the problem (Q26), in this case
speed, time and distance. Hence, he tried to solve Problem 3 using mathematical
principles by trying to find the time for all the runners to complete 400 m rather than
finding the speeds. Again, he failed to solve these problems.
Another way to observe the metacognitive skill of reflecting on ones belief was
through the students self-questioning. This could be seen when the students were
performing Analysing 8. For example, when Zahra was analysing the error and tried to
make a correction in Problem E, she said, Its not working, why is it not working? See
if that worked (66-68). Helen in Problem E also showed a similar pattern. She said,
So, no idea why it didnt work out so well, um, lets read the question again (64-66).
Fiona (Problem 3, 41-43, 72-87) and Helen (Problem 4, 40-45) also exhibited the same
pattern of self-questioning.
Self-questioning could also be observed during Planning 4 when the students
were unsure how to proceed. For example, Peter in Problem E said, Whether you join
them 2, 3 like that [in series] together or like this [in parallel] (20-21). Jacob (Problem
3, 50-55), Larry (Problem 2, 52-53) and Zahra (Problem E, 36-42) asked themselves
questions during Planning 4. A very interesting series of self-questioning and
answering could be found in Graces approach to Problem 2 (21-27) and Problem 3 (27-
52).
From the examples of Planning 4 and Analysing 8, after each self-questioning,
there would be an answer or action. Not many students performed self-questioning in
these two steps (see sections 4.2.3.4 and 4.2.4.6 for other actions the students exhibited in
these steps) and among those who did, not all of them provided correct answers to their

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self-questions that would lead to the success of problem-solving like Grace in Problem 3
(27-30), Jacob in Problem 3 and Peter in Problem E.
During the problem-solving process, questions like Is it? (Betty, Problem 3,
69); Is that all? (Susan, Problem 1, 54); and Is that right? (Grace, Problem 1, 22;
Larry, Problem 2, 35; Rosie, Problem 1, 40; Susan, Problem 4, 46; Zahra, Problem 3, 32)
prompted the students to check their steps and answers. Only a few students who
questioned themselves and most of the time it was when they had doubts about the
answer. For example, Larry asked that question because he obtained a numerical answer
which had three decimal points (0.875 in line 34) while Rosie and Susan in Problem 4
obtained 600 seconds (39) and 3000 minutes (45) respectively, which seemed too big to
be acceptable. Betty was in the mode of test-and-check her method. However, it was
unclear why some students, when they were in doubt, did not display the similar
behaviour. Perhaps they did not verbalise the questions or it was performed in a
subconscious manner.

5.1.5 Goal and planning


When the students were reading problems, besides monitoring their memory,
knowledge/concepts, problem representation and self-judgement, they also monitored the
goal of problems and generated an initial plan on how to solve them. For example,
immediately after reading Problem 3 Usher said, So it has to be 2500 m underneath the
surface of the ocean to avoid a missile (10-11). He monitored the goal of the problem
while reading the problem and made clear his focus. He then performed Analysing 2
and built a representation of the problem before he devised a plan. After he had obtained
a numerical answer, he mentioned the goal, And it has to be at least 2500 m (25) and
justified his answer, So it doesnt hit because that is above that, 6000 is above 2500
(26-28) before he wrote, It wont hit the submarine on the answer sheet. He did not
write down the goal but only remembered it while focused on it during the problem-
solving process.
Yonah on the other hand, would write down the goal after he had finished reading
the problem. For instance in Problem 5, he said, So I need to get 90 (12) and he wrote
90 on the answer sheet (he made a mistake here because the correct goal should have

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been 89.8 seconds). He divided it into four (for all four runners) and said that the answer
was a benchmark by which he could check the time for each runner (Q48). This was so
that when he had obtained the time for a runner, he could be more certain that it would
be correct if it was lower or not too far from the benchmark (Q47). He said that it was a
part of his plan (Q49). Although this problem did not appear to be too difficult for him
(Q41) and he did not remember if he had solved this problem before (Q42), he
demonstrated the ability to monitor and regulate a goal and plan after reading a problem.
He also thought of a plan to evaluate his answer at the beginning of the problem-solving.
Angie also wrote the goal after reading Problem 2 (17-22). She further evaluated
her goal by reading the problem again and said, Yes, that would be right (23-24).
When she was asked about the reason for writing down the goal as 89.8 seconds instead
of 89.9 seconds (the problem statement gave the record of a relay race as 89.9 seconds
and asked the students to find the speed of the last runner, given the conditions of the
other three runners, to run faster than 0.1 seconds of the record), she said that she knew
that she might need to refer it again (Q22 & Q23) and it might be easier to write the
target as the number which was desired than to have to remind herself to change it at the
end. Wendy in Problem 1 (11) and Larry in Problem 2 (13-16) also stated the goal
immediately after reading. These few examples showed that some students knew how to
search for the goal and focused their problem-solving on the goal.
Other students, after Reading 1, would pause for a while looking back at the
problem or would perform Analysing 9 before stating the goal. A case in point is that
of Peter in Problem 1 (27-29) and Problem 4 (11-13). In Problem 1, he monitored the
goal while conducting Analysing 9 and evaluated his goal but in Problem 4, he did not
carry out Analysing 9 before searching for the goal. Like Yonah, he wrote the goal on
the answer sheet. The main reason for him to state the goal was so that he could check
his answer at the end of the problem-solving. He referred back to it at the end when he
checked his answer (Problem 1, 42-44; Problem 4, 104-107). Helen in Problem 3 (18-20)
and Problem 4 (19-21) also monitored the goals and then laid out plans to solve the
problem. She also justified the goals and plans.
Isaac, after reading Problem 2, paused for 5 seconds and looked at the problem
before he repeated the goal, three bulbs brightly, three bulbs dimly (6-7). For Isaac, it

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was not the goal that he was monitoring during or immediately after Reading 1, but
rather it was his plan because during the interview he was asked the first thing that he
thought of after he had finish reading the problem, he replied, some need to be in
parallel, some need to be in series (Q17). It could be that what he said in lines 6-7 (the
goal) was a part of his analysis in planning, or that he was evaluating his initial plan by
monitoring the goal from the problem. However, there was no clear evidence of his
motive for articulating the goal because there was an interruption of the recording process
after line 7 (changing the video cassette). Although he was asked not to look at or think
of the problem during the interruption, there was no guarantee that what came after that
was the direct thinking sequence from line 7. It was assumed that lines 8-10 were part of
Analysing while 11-13 were Planning.
Rosie in Problem 1, after Reading 2, said:
14 First thing that comes to my mind is
15 Is it referring to the school time that I have to be here?
16 Um
17 So
18 I come to school at
19 I have to be at school by 8.45

She was monitoring the goal when she was reading the problem for the second time.
Then she reflected on the goal and questioned herself to evaluate the goal of the problem.
Self-questioning was also observed during Planning. Peter in Problem E
questioned himself about which method was the correct one, saying:
45 And then I have to
46 Whether you take three off here cause then these three will be brighter than
those three
47 Or not necessarily
48 Um
49 Whether you join one of here
50 Or one of there, one of there, no
51 Ill try joining in three onto here
52 But Im not entirely sure

After he had connected three bulbs in series and tested the brightness, he proceeded to the
next step of planning. He was not sure if he should attach another three bulbs in series to
the bulbs that were assembled (46, 50) or in parallel (49). He decided to join the three

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bulbs in parallel. However, he was not certain about his decision (52) but intended to test
the outcome.
In the case of Larry in Problem E, after he had finished reading the problem, he
planned how to solve it (13-17) and when he was trying to implement his plan, he
suddenly regulated his plan because he realised that he was not sure if what he was doing
would attain the goal. He said, Wait, let me think about this (20-21) and looked at the
problem statement to ensure that he was certain about the goal. Hence, he said, So I
need, um, three bulbs bright (22-23) and evaluated his plan, then changed his plan
from assembling the batteries (actions in lines 17-19) to trying out different arrangements
of bulbs and carrying out trial-and-error (as he explained later in QE4 and QE11).

5.1.6 Problem-solving process


The metacognitive aspect of the problem-solving process includes the monitoring
of the process while solving the problem, sensing of an error during the process (related
to Checking 7), checking the error and pausing to reflect on the process. The students
consciously monitored and evaluated the problem-solving process especially when the
problem was difficult or it was a long process. In the case of the problem being difficult,
they engaged in monitoring and evaluating because they were uncertain if they were
using the correct method or if the emerging answer led to a correct solution. For
instance, Colin was facing difficulty in planning a solution for the second part of the
problem-solving (Problem 4, 20-30) which was to find out the time for the first cyclist
who was cycling at the speed of 800 m in 2 min to cover a distance of 9 km (note: it
was not difficult for him to calculate the time to cycle 9 km for the second cyclist who
was cycling at the speed of 900 m in 3 min, hence he solved it first in lines 31-36).
When he decided to make a calculation for the first cyclist, he was still not sure if it was
the correct method. So after he divided 9000 m by 800 m/s, he felt that he needed to
stop and check (whereas he did not stop and check the calculation of the second cyclist,
the easier one) and he said:
43 Im trying to work out what that means
44 Whether thats the minute
45 Um
46 9000 divided by

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47 Looking back again at what Ive done before


48 Divided by 900 metres
49 Times out by the minutes

He later realised that he missed a step of the calculation (52-53). After he had obtained a
final answer, he was still in the mode of monitoring his problem-solving process because
he checked all the calculation steps again. A similar pattern of monitoring and evaluating
ones problem-solving process due to the difficulty of the problem could also be seen in
Jacob in Problem E, which was a very difficult problem for him. He was monitoring his
problem-solving process to find out if his experiment (13) would work. Throughout
the process, he was repetitively saying to see if that works and probably wont (as
has been explained in section 4.3.1).
In the case of the problem-solving process was taking a long time, or when it
required a few sub-goals or stages of calculation, some of the students would monitor
their problem-solving process. For example, Jacob in solving Problem 2, after he had
matched two pairs of shoes with Ian and Lim, he was not sure which shoes were left
(28-32). Therefore, he regulated his process from Calculating (17-27) to Reading (33-
35) and Checking, where he said:
36 Okay, so the four shoes are
37 Um
38 High heels
39 Slippers
40 Boots
41 So the next would be boots for Kate

After that, he continued to calculate for Jane. Another example was when Angie was
solving Problem 3, she obtained the answer for a cyclist and then said, Okay So thats
my friend. So need to find now how long I would take to complete the race (71-74) and
she proceeded to plan how to find the answer. More examples could be found from Colin
in Problem 3 (42-45, 56-59) and Eddie in Problem 4 (14-16) where at the end of a
calculation, they stopped planning the next step and reviewed what they had found or
what new information that they had to proceed with.
There was a less conscious or subconscious way of monitoring problem-solving
processes observed among the students. When they were monitoring the process, if they
sensed a mistake or uncertainty in their calculation, answer, planning, judgement or

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interpretation, they would stop and review what they were performing or check the
problem, calculation, planning or answer. For example, Susan in Problem 3, when she
was calculating the time for Sophia, said:
120 I have to make that into a 100
121 So I have to do the same for each of them
122 So 5.5 to make
123 Wait, for Sophia
124 5.5 to make that into a 100
125 It has to times that by 20
126 Wait
127 Probably less than 20 cause its 5.5

She was unsure of her plan hence she monitored closely when she was calculating.
Another example from Susan was when she was certain about her plan for Problem 4, she
said:
81 So I want to work out the time
82 It has to be speed times distance
83 Right?
84 Yep
85 Um

As she was making the calculation she said:


86 So speed is 400 metres times distance
87 Wait, thats not speed
88 It is
89 400

She was less consciously or maybe subconsciously monitoring her problem-solving


process in the second example compared to the first one because she was very certain of
her planning in Problem 4 (using the words like It has to be and checking at least once
Right and Yep).
Many of the students used the phrases such as Wait, Hold on, No and
Oops whenever they sensed an error or uncertainty in their problem-solving process.
When Betty was asked why she said, Wait (Problem 2: 76, 96), she replied:

Because in my head, I kind of reflect. My mind was working, telling me I was


going the wrong path because I realised that I have to beat 0.1 seconds. But I

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dont know if thats right. But thats just the only way I could think to do it.
(Betty, Q29).

She reflected on her thought process and believed that she had made a mistake. I did not
ask her how the thought of going the wrong path occurred to her while she was
calculating because she was only the second student who underwent Phase 3.
Later, I noticed a similar pattern in the data from Fiona in Problem 4. After she
had obtained the speed of the first cyclist (13) she wrote it down as 40 m/min instead
of 400 m/min (for 800 divided by 2) and proceeded to calculate the speed of the
second cyclist (14). When she was going to make the calculation, she suddenly corrected
the answer of the first cyclist by adding another 0. I asked the reason and she said that
I just suddenly realised (Q32). I asked for further explanation but she could only say,
Um, I dont know. I just wrote it again and looked up and thought, oh, thats wrong.
(Q33). This suggested that monitoring the problem-solving process could happen
subconsciously because she could not explain why she looked up at that point but was
clearly monitoring the process.
Vince always monitored his problem-solving process. For example in Problem 4,
he said, Oh (31), Hold on (44) and No (49) throughout his calculation (read from
17-55 to understand the context of the above phrases). He said that he always tries to
check his problem-solving whenever he feels a doubt (Q19). Like Fiona, he could not
explain how the feeling of doubt came to his mind, but could only say that it just crept
out (Q20). Many students demonstrated this ability of sensing potential errors but they
could not explain how and what triggered them to react suddenly in the middle of the
problem-solving process. Viewing this from the perspective of metacognition and the
evidence gathered in this study, perhaps they were always monitoring their problem-
solving subconsciously to avoid making mistakes. This was because, in most of the
cases, they were checking if they had made a mistake in the process like Helen in
Problem 4 (24-34; 104-111; 137-144) and Susan in Problem 1 (16-19) to give a few
examples. In some cases, they found out later that the doubt was not a mistake, as in
the example of Vince above, when he said, So shes gonna have to wear the
(Problem 3, 43) and he suddenly said, Hold on (44). After a very brief pause and a

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quick scan of the problem, he said, Yeah, shes gonna have to wear the one that, 60 cm
squared (45-46). When he was asked later his reason for behaving like that, he
explained that he thought of 60 cm squared as the correct answer but doubted it, hence
he read the problem again to check if he was correct (Q15-Q18).
Those who appeared to be frequently sensing potential errors in problem-
solving were those categorised in Pattern 2 and Pattern 3 (see section 4.3.3) except
Jacob who was categorised in Pattern 1. Bearing in mind that the criteria which were
used to generate the patterns required a complete problem-solving protocol to devise a
pattern and that the problem must be a real problem. Referring to table 4.1, there was
only one problem (Problem 4) used to build a complete pattern for Jacob while three
were incomplete and two were easy (so were considered as exercises). It might be unfair
to categorise a student into a certain pattern based on one problem-solving protocol, but it
was not realistic to keep returning to the same student to collect more protocols especially
when school time (during Physics lessons) was used to conduct the research. In the case
of Jacob, he appeared to be monitoring his problem-solving process frequently in those
problems that he failed to complete because they were too difficult for him. This further
strengthens my earlier suggestion that monitoring the problem-solving process was
shown to a greater degree by those students facing more difficult problems.

5.1.7 Solution and answer


This aspect of metacognition was related to the monitoring, reflecting and
evaluating of the end of problem-solving to check if a correct solution has been obtained.
For instance, Rosie in Problem 1, after she had come to the end, said, I think thats it
(68) and she scanned the problem statement and the calculation that she had made. She
repeated this again in Problem 4 (57-60). Xenna in Problem 2 also demonstrated the
monitoring of her answer. She was calculating the speeds of the runners one by one until
the last one when she obtained 3 m/s (14-26), she frowned and said, That cant be
right (27). She looked at the problem and calculation and then decided to accept the
answer. When I asked her for the reason, she said, the other two were quite similar and
I thought its odd and didnt fit in with the others. (Q24). She accepted the answer at the

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end because she believed that she had used the correct method and there was no mistake
in her calculation (Q13-Q15).
Trying to make sense of an answer either through logic, common sense or
Interpreting (see section 4.2.7.3) was one of the strategies used to monitor, reflect and
evaluate the solution at the end. The students mentioned the words make sense and
logic in various parts of the protocols and interviews when they were checking their
answers or asked if they were confident with their answers (see some examples in
sections 4.2.1.2, 4.2.7.3, 4.2.5.1 and 4.2.7.9). When they were asked if they tried to make
sense or think of the logic of their answer at the end, 19 of them agreed that they usually
did so. For those who interpreted the meaning of the answer at the end of the problem-
solving many of them would use the justification of it makes sense or logical to
determine the acceptance of the answer. For example, Zahra in Problem 3 (see section
5.1.1) was going to accept 0.6 s (38) as the final solution which she obtained from her
calculation using a formula. However, she quickly said, That doesnt make sense, thats
wrong (39-40) when she was going to put the unit of s to give meaning and to check
her answer. She looked at the problem and the help sheet (the formulae sheet as in
PhyPT) again to justify her error. During the interview, she said, When I did it and I got
0.6, I thought I cant take 0.6 seconds (Q39). In Problem 4, after a series of
calculations, Eddie interpreted his answer and said, Its taking me longer but I cycle
quicker per hour. So it doesnt make sense (97-99). Then he decided to review the
problem-solving process from the beginning of the calculation.
This was similar to the case of Betty who asserted that making sense or
thinking logically was the way that she interpreted the meaning of her answers (Q25,
see section 4.2.7.3). When I asked how she determined if an answer was making sense,
she could not provide a good explanation (Q37) because she said that the question was
difficult to answer. She could only explain that if one did not try to make sense of a
number obtained from a calculation, it could be interpreted as anything. Some students
claimed that if an answer made sense or was logical for them at the end, then the
answer was correct (Jacob, Q5; Rosie, Q29; Oscar, Q17; Marco, Q24; Xenna, Q33).
Fiona justified (Q25) her correction in Problem 2 because the answer did not make
sense to her when she used the answers to solve Problem 3 (52-55). Colin said that if he

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did not try to make sense of what he read or obtained, he could not continue the
problem-solving process properly (Q7). Making sense or thinking logically needed to
be supported by scientific facts, at least in Physics problem-solving but not necessarily
mathematics, claimed Helen (Q14) and Rosie (Q28 & Q32). Yonah believed that
everyone had different ways of making sense out of something because he said that an
answer could make sense for him but not necessarily making sense for someone else
(Q13).
So, making sense, thinking logically or common sense was often used by the
students as a justification to determine whether a solution or answer could be accepted.
They might not have been conscious about justifying their answers using this method
(since the phrase make sense was found in only three protocols but was mentioned more
in the interviews as quoted in the previous paragraph). However, this justification was
frequently used to explain their level of confidence in judging their solutions. Hence, the
students always tried to justify their solution, either consciously or subconsciously,
before they accepted the solution and ended the problem-solving process.

5.2 Metacognition and problem-solving pattern


All the categories of problem-solving steps and metacognition in problem-solving
were mapped into one set of thinking-aloud protocols to enable the analysis of
metacognition in the problem-solving steps of each problem. Most of the problem-
solving steps were consistently related to one or two metacognitive aspects, except
Justifying and Reflecting. This was because these two steps were parts of the
metacognitive skills where students reflected on their thoughts and gave justifications
when they were evaluating the thoughts.
Reading 1 referred to reading a problem as a text without any specific strategy
and to understand the problem for the first time. It was only a cognitive process if the
step of Reading was coded as Reading 1. Although not all the incidents in Reading
1 were solely cognitive processes, there was no concrete evidence to prove otherwise.
Therefore, the first step of the majority of the students was coded as Reading 1 except
when they:
a. read the problems more than once (e.g., Reading 2)

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b. mentioned other words than the text of the problems or performed Analysing
2 while reading them (e.g., Reading 4)
c. performed other non-verbal acts while reading (e.g., Reading 6) or
d. mentioned the motives of reading the problem during interviews (e.g.,
Reading 5).

The need to perform other than Reading 1 at the beginning of the problem-
solving, in my view, was a result of the students monitoring the Physics concepts they
knew (e.g., Angie, Rosie, Yonah, Zahra in section 5.1.2), their understanding and
representation (e.g., Rosie, Zahra, Wendy, Susan, Marco in section 5.1.3), goal and plan
(e.g., Usher, Yonah, Angie, Wendy, Larry in section 5.1.5) and memory (e.g., Larry,
Grace, Angie, Rosie, Jacob in section 5.1.1) of the problems while reading, as well as
their knowledge of how would they work best in the aspect of reading, understanding and
remembering the information from the problems (see the following paragraph). From the
examples in the four sections mentioned above, it was clear how metacognition played a
role in the first step of problem-solving. A few students also reflected on the problems at
the beginning to judge the difficulty of the problems (e.g., Helen in section 5.1.4) but it
was not common among the students to perform this in the first step.
There were a few aspects of metacognitive knowledge that some students
consciously adopted to help them to understand or remember the information of a
problem when they were reading it. For Jacob, reading a problem more than once was so
that he could highlight mentally (Q30) the important information. Rosie and Larry
believed that by underlining the key information, they would be able to focus on the
important information without wasting time. Wendy feared that she might overlook one
or two pieces of important information (Q6) if she did not perform Reading 6. Susan
and Marco did so because they believed that they would not have to keep referring back
to the whole problem during the problem-solving. Additionally, Marco and Grace
believed that they did not have good memory and feared that they might not be able to
remember all the information in the problem, especially those with long texts. Zahra
believed that she would understand better if she made a diagram while reading the
problem, especially for difficult problems (Q30).

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All the above students beliefs have been extensively reported in sections 4.2.1.2-
4.2.1.4 and 5.1.3. It was interesting to discover how thoughtful the students were in the
step of Reading and how metacognitive knowledge about their own best performance in
reading affected the method of reading that they employed. Nonetheless, the above
examples only applied to a minority of the students where the evidence was apparent and
concrete.
In the step of Analysing, the students actively justified their thoughts to
determine the concept (Analysing 1), goal (Analysing 7), interpretation (Analysing 2
(similar to Reading 4) & Analysing 4), important information (Analysing 9 similar
to Reading 6) of a problem and any mistakes that they have realised (Analysing 8). In
Analysing 1, the students performed Justifying of a concept that they thought was
relevant to the problem (e.g., Rosie & Yonah in section 5.1.2). They linked the concept
to their daily experience and examples that they had learnt in schools (e.g., Tanya,
Wendy, Grace in section 4.2.4.1). In Analysing 4, the students were monitoring their
problem-solving processes. This usually happened when the problem-solving process
was taking a long time or went through a few sub-goals or stages of calculation (e.g.,
Angie, Colin, Eddie in section 5.1.6). At the point before they decided to undertake
Analysing 4, they had come to a state wherein there was too much information and new
information, such that they needed to re-analyse the situation before they could continue
with the problem-solving process.
Analysing 7 usually occurred after Reading 1 and before Planning 1. The
students monitored the goal of a problem by analysing the problem again (e.g., Angie,
Peter, Larry, Helen in section 5.1.6). Sometimes they questioned themselves about
whether the goal was correct, such as Colin in Problem 4 when he was not sure which
sub-goal he should set in order to solve the problem (20-25). The metacognitive aspect
of Analysing 8 was when the students questioned themselves regarding the root of the
mistake that they had made and tried to find a way to correct it. It was a more reflective
approach used to ascertain where the mistake stemmed from. The few examples given in
section 5.1.4 showed how the students reflected on their thoughts by asking themselves
questions or finding out the reason for their mistakes.

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Analysing could be perceived as the justification for Planning because


Analysing usually appeared together with Planning (e.g., Analysing 7 and Planning
1; Analysing 3 and Planning 2) in order to justify the decision of the students to
implement certain plans to solve a problem. Moreover, the examples mentioned in the
previous two paragraphs show that the metacognitive aspect of Analysing was
Justifying (i.e., Analysing was used to justify the plan that the students decided to
undertake). The relationship between these two steps of Analysing and Planning
could be seen as giving justification when choosing a plan. For example, Betty, in
Problem 1 (27-39), performed a series of justification-decision (see section 4.3.2).
First, she justified her decision to use a formula to solve the problem (27-28). Then she
decided to calculate the speed in proportion because the distance and time given
were different (29-32). She continued to decide that she needed to find the velocity
since the problem was asking for how fast (33-36) and she believed that the speed
formula was the best method to solve the problem based on the variables given (37-39).
Betty presented a clear thinking path in Analysing and Planning. She exhibited a
similar pattern in Problem 3 (9-29).
In the verbal protocols, it could be Analysing first, followed by Planning or
vice versa. Colin showed an example of the first case in Problem 3 where Analysing 4
(58-59) preceded Planning 1:
58 Ive got the time
59 Ive got the distance
60 So I need to work out the speed

On the other hand, Yonah stated his plan before he verbalised the justification in
Problem 5:
12 So I need to get 90
13 90
14 Um
15 Well, Im thinking
16 90 seconds and that needs to be split out into 4
17 Because then you realise how much each one will have to run

Angie always verbalised her justifications after Planning (e.g., Problem 3, 47-
49; 56-59; 74-77; Problem 4, 17-19). It was not clear from the protocols whether the

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students usually justified it first (either consciously or subconsciously) before deciding or


made the decision then checked their decision by giving a justification. However, the
majority of the students verbalised their justification in Analysing before they
proceeded to verbalise the Planning (e.g., Betty in Problem 3, 21-31, Eddie in Problem
2, 9-15; Helen in Problem 2, 10-16; Problem E, 10-21; Marco in Problem 4, 28-36; Oscar
in Problem 2, 11-25; Usher in Problem 4, 9-13; Xenna in Problem E, 41-42). Due to the
relationship between these two closely-connected categories, they were put into the same
step (as in Figure 4.4). This took into account the considerations mentioned in sections
4.2.3 and 4.2.4 in which Analysing could be seen as a subcategory of Planning.
Hence the metacognitive aspects of Planning could be referred to as those in
Analysing.
The metacognitive aspects of Calculating include the monitoring of the
problem-solving process and solution. Calculating 1 did not contain any metacognitive
skills because the students only carried out the planning without Checking (associated
with Calculating 2 and Calculating 5) or Justifying (associated with Calculating 3).
Technically, Calculating was purely a cognitive process because it was the
implementation of a plan. However, if it was associated with certain metacognitive acts
like Checking and Justifying, it was considered as carrying metacognitive elements
within the step, rather than being a metacognitive step itself.
Calculating 5 was related to the problem-solving processes because the students
believed that if they did not write down the units of the measurement in the calculation,
they might be confused or make mistakes. This was evident in Xennas (in section
4.2.5.4) and Zahras protocols (in section 5.1.7) and interviews (Zahra, Q37). Fiona also
realised the importance of clearly stating the units in the calculation because in Problem
3, when she was checking her calculation and realised her mistake, she said, If Id
written down the unit I would have understood it (119).
Calculating 2 occurred when the students were unsure of their plans (e.g., Colin
and Jacob in section 5.1.6) or sometimes in a test-and-check (see section 4.3.1); or if the
problem was too long (e.g., Jacob, Angie, Colin and Eddie in section 5.1.6) or too
difficult (e.g., Angie, Jacob and Oscar only performed this step in difficult problems); or
it was a habit to be careful during calculation (e.g., Wendy and Xenna performed this step

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in all the problems). The students would consciously monitor their problem-solving
processes, especially during Calculating, or they would demonstrate sensing potential
errors during calculation (e.g., Betty, Fiona and Vince in section 5.1.6). The fear of
making a mistake during calculation prompted them to monitor their calculation and
regulate their ways of making the calculation so that they were more careful and
sometimes sceptical about their calculation (hence the sensing potential errors took
place even though there was no mistake spotted see Vince in section 5.1.6). They also
constantly evaluated their calculation, answer and plan.
Calculating 3 was closely related to Justifying (refer to Reasoning in section
4.2.5.2). Some students performed this step when they were facing difficult problems
(Angie in Problem 3, 111-118; Wendy in Problem 3, 29-35) while some used it as a
strategy to do their calculation in all the problems (Eddie, Rosie and Usher). In the
example of Rosie in Problem 2, she was ready to use her calculator to make the following
calculation when she said, So its 1500 times 4 because (13), but she paused for a
while before she gave the justification of her calculation as Its 1500 and it takes 4
seconds (14). This was similar to her approach to Problem 3 (25-30) and Problem 4
(32-56). The reason for the students to explicitly state their justifications for every
calculation was uncertain from the protocols, but they did show that more considerations
were given in implementing the calculation even after careful Analysing and
Planning. Calculating 3 and Calculating 5 were not very common among the
students. The majority of them undertook Calculating 1 and some Calculating 2 with
mostly Checking 7. Therefore, the metacognitive aspect of the step of Calculating
was associated with monitoring and evaluating the problem-solving process and solution.
Checking could be divided into two parts: (1) strategies to check (Checking 1,
Checking 3, Checking 4, Checking 8); and (2) steps/aspects to check (Checking 2
Calculating 4, Checking 5 Planning, Checking 6 Calculating, Checking 7
problem-solving process). Technically, Checking was a metacognitive step similar to
evaluating. However, if it was not explicitly shown in the protocol, like Checking 1
(e.g., Zahra in Problem 3 said, I think thats right (75) and ended the problem-solving),
it would not be categorised as a metacognitive step. Moreover, this showed that

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Checking 1 did not require a deep thinking process because the students only scanned
the solution before they ended the problem-solving process.
Checking 3 represented a form of metacognitive skill because the students
actively interpreted the meaning of the answer before they accepted it. They justified the
reason for accepting an answer (e.g., Helen in Problem 4, 65-67). Checking 4 referred
to checking the goal of a problem by reading the problem statement again during the
problem-solving process or at the end. It could be monitoring, reflecting and evaluating
of the goal or using the strategy of reading the problem statement to check if the answer
had reached the goal. Although Checking 8 was not frequently performed by the
students, it was a strategy that demanded a deeper thinking process. Some students
believed that they might make mistakes in their calculation (e.g., Rosie and Grace in
section 4.2.7.8) while some wanted to have more confidence in accepting their answers
(e.g., Larry in section 4.2.7.8). This kind of belief prompted them to devise a calculation
method to double-check their answer.
In the second part of Checking, only Checking 7 involved metacognition.
Checking 7 required constant monitoring of the problem-solving process consciously or
subconsciously (see sections 4.2.7.7 and 5.1.6 for detailed explanations). It involved the
monitoring of memory because the students mentioned suddenly remembered
something that may be incorrect so they performed Checking at that point (see Xenna
and Yonah in section 4.2.7.7).
The analysis of problem-solving steps and metacognition showed the
relationships between the steps and metacognitive skills, which have been summarised
into Table 5.1. It should be noted that not all the metacognitive skills mentioned in the
table appeared every time the category of problem-solving steps was coded. It was
generalised from the examples given in this section and those quoted in this and previous
chapters. Table 5.1 aims to provide less complicated relationships between the steps and
metacognitive skills.

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Table 5.1: Metacognitive skills in problem-solving steps.


Problem-solving Metacognitive skills Descriptions
steps
Reading 2 Monitoring understanding; Reading in a way to ensure a better understanding
Reflecting memory of a problem and remembering the information of
the problem
Reading 4 Regulating understanding; Reading in a way to build the representation of a
Monitoring representation, problem to identify the goal or concept of the
concept and goal problem
Reading 5 Monitoring planning Reading while devising a plan
Reading 6 Monitoring understanding; Reading in a way to ensure a better understanding
Reflecting memory of a problem and remember the information of the
problem using various methods
Analysing 1 Evaluating and Justifying Determining the concept related to a problem
concept
Analysing 2 Monitoring and Regulating Making clear to oneself the understanding and
understanding and representation of a problem
representation
Analysing 4 then Evaluating and Reflecting Assessing the information at hand
Planning 3 problem-solving process;
Regulating understanding
Analysing 7 then Evaluating and Justifying Determining the goal or sub-goal
Planning 1 or goal or sub-goal
Planning 5
Analysing 8 then Evaluating problem-solving Assessing a mistake then correcting the plan or
Planning 4 or process; Evaluating and deciding on the next planning
Planning 6 Reflecting solution
Analysing 9 Monitoring understanding; Arranging information to assist the problem-
Reflecting memory solving process by making the key information
easily accessible
Calculating 2 Monitoring plan, solution Monitoring errors while making calculation
and answer
Calculating 3 Monitoring problem- Justifying the calculation and solution
solving process; Evaluating
and Justifying solution
Calculating 5 Monitoring problem- Emphasising on the units of measurement during
solving process calculation to avoid errors
Checking 3 Evaluating, Justifying and Checking answer by justifying the meaning of the
Reflecting answer answer
Checking 4 Evaluating answer and goal Checking answer by reading the problem to
determine if the goal has been achieved
Checking 5 Evaluating plan Checking plan
Checking 6 Evaluating problem-solving Checking problem-solving steps
process
Checking 7 Monitoring problem- Constantly monitoring problem-solving process
solving process either in reading, planning or calculating
Checking 8 Evaluating answer Checking answer using a different method

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Referring to Table 5.2 below, Reading, Analysing, Planning and Checking


contained more metacognitive categories than non-cognitive ones. In the step of
Reading most of the time the students performed Monitoring and Reflecting,
especially on their memory and understanding of the problem. Monitoring occurred in
the step of Analysing, but most of the time the students performed Justifying and
Evaluating to decide what they needed to carry out. There was some Regulating and
Reflecting of the aspects analysed in Analysing. The step of Checking involved
Evaluating, Justifying and Monitoring of the problem-solving process and answers.
There appeared to be some Checking in the middle and at the end (as in Figure 4.4).
The difference between them both was that Checking in the middle was found more
within Monitoring the problem-solving process, whilst it was found at the end within
Evaluating. As for the step of Calculating, the students exhibited fewer metacognitive
skills here.

Table 5.2: Total of metacognitive and non-metacognitive categories of problem-


solving steps coded in 44 real problem protocols.
Problem- Total of metacognitive Total of non-metacognitive Total
solving steps categories categories coded
Reading 44 39 83
Analysing 106 17 123
Planning 143 25 168
Calculating 55 94 149
Checking 115 26 141
Total coded 463 201 664

From the above conclusions about the role of metacognitive skills in each step of
Physics problem-solving found among KS4 students, Figure 5.1 represents the
metacognitive skills in each step in general. The shaded boxes represent steps that
contained or were associated with metacognition and the cloudy boxes illustrate the
general metacognitive skills found more frequently in that step. Figure 5.1 is a general
pattern of Physics problem-solving and metacognitive skills. Notably, not all of the
students exhibited exactly all the metacognitive skills as illustrated in Figure 5.1, but it
represents the majority of the students approaches while solving real Physics problems,
be they pencil-and-paper or hands-on.

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Monitoring (d)
Reflecting Reading
Monitoring
Justifying
Arranging Information Evaluating
Regulating
Reflecting
Planning
(c)

Analysing Monitoring
Justifying
(b)

Calculating Checking

(a)
Answering
Evaluating
Justifying

Checking

Notes: (a) if there is no need to make further planning or test-and-check


(b) the next sub-goal without Planning
(c) if further planning or test-and-check is required
(d) if restarting the problem-solving is required due to the difficulty of the problem

Figure 5.1: Pattern of Physics problem-solving with metacognitive skills.

5.3 The story of Physics problem-solving


I have provided detailed descriptions (think description as in GT) of the problem-
solving processes and patterns of the students in various sections of this and previous
chapters. Below is a summary of how KS4 students faced a Physics problem based on
the data collected in this study.
When the students were given a problem, some of them would search their
memory to find out if they had previously solved a similar problem. This was so that
they could use a similar method to solve the current problem. This was also to judge the
level of difficulty of the problem so that they could regulate their state of mind to face the
problem. This type of reflection could be done either before, during or after they had
read the problem. For some, it did not matter if they had solved a similar problem before

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or not because they believed that they would inevitably utilise the same method as the
logic of the problem was the same.
When they were reading a problem, some of them would monitor their knowledge
and concepts that they knew. This usually occurred within easy questions because the
concepts in the questions were those that they used more often and had mastered. Some
of the students would monitor the goal and sub-goals of the problem to help them with
planning after they had finished reading the problem. There were a few of them who
planned whilst reading the problem.
There were several strategies employed to read a Physics problem. They could
read the problem for the first time as a text and then read it one more time to monitor
their understanding of the problem, or to build a representation of the problem in their
minds, either as a diagram or by putting it into different words. This usually occurred
when the students encountered a long problem statement where reading once was not
sufficient to understand the problem. Some students found it easier to understand a
problem through a diagram than in words. Another strategy was to underline, circle or
jot down the key information while reading the problem. For this group of students, they
believed that it would help them to keep track of the information and save more time
because they did not need to come back to read the problem every time they needed a
piece of information from the problem. They also believed that this helped them to
monitor the information so that they would not miss any of the information before they
started to plan.
After they had finished reading a Physics question, if it was easy, they would
immediately start to solve it without any analysis or planning. However, for a real
problem, they would usually take some time to analyse and plan. If they could not
determine the goal or sub-goal, they would read the problem again and monitor the goal
that they wanted to reach. They then regulated a plan according to the goal. Some would
try to monitor the Physics concepts involved so that they could use the typical solution or
formula that was customarily utilised in a problem of that concept. They would give
justification for thinking of that concept as relevant to the problem. They might further
evaluate the concept by giving a detailed explanation of the concept.

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When a plan was devised, a few of them checked whether the plan would work,
especially when the problem was so difficult, such that they were unsure of the
effectiveness of the plan. In situations when they were stuck, they might plan to perform
trial-and-error or test-and-check. The way they determined if they were correct in
their trial or testing was to compare whether the numerical answers they obtained did not
differ too significantly from each other. For example to compare two runners, if ones
speed obtained after a trial was 3 m/s, and anothers was 300 m/s or 0.03 m/s, it was
likely that one of them must be wrong. They interpreted the meaning of the numerical
answers and tried to make sense of the answers before they accepted those answers. If
they were wrong, they would perform an analysis to search for the source of the error,
devise another plan or read the problem again to find more clues that could help lead to a
correct solution.
After they had planned the solution, they made calculations or implemented the
plan. If they were unsure of their plan, they would make their calculations more
carefully, like constantly checking the steps and answers or inserting the units in order to
interpret the meaning of the answers. They would persistently exhibit sensing potential
error throughout the problem-solving process. Some would also justify each step of the
calculation or action. However, this was not done by the majority of the students.
When they obtained an answer, they ended the problem-solving if they had
reached the goal and did not need to check the answer. This usually happened if they
were confident with their answer; they had checked and monitored the calculation
consistently; they were not used to checking their answer at the end; they did not think
that checking was important as they were not being examined; or they did not have the
time. When an answer was obtained, some checked the answer in various ways,
undertook the next planning if there was another goal or sub-goal, or reread the problem
because they needed to find out more information or they did not know how they should
continue. These produced one or more cycles of calculation until a solution was obtained
or they gave up.
If the students were stuck and did not know how to proceed, then they had to
think of the options that they had and then made decisions, performed justifying and
reflected on the decisions as well as the reasons behind them. The correct justification

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and decision were usually influenced by their knowledge and experience. Some, through
experience, would reread or reanalyse the problem because they believed that they must
have missed one or two key words, misunderstood the problem or overlooked some
information. They might also check their steps thinking that they might have made a
mistake in the calculation or copied the wrong information. They would insert
measurement units to try to make sense of the answer again. Some would re-examine the
concept involved using their knowledge or try to compare their answers with their
logical understanding of the concepts they knew. They would also question themselves,
reanalyse the situation with new information and try whatever method that they could
think of at that point.
When they were checking their answer, they would evaluate it by interpreting the
meaning, checking if they had reached the goal, rereading the problem to see if the
answer fitted the problem situation or trying to think of a different method to obtain the
same answer. They would justify to themselves why they thought the answer was correct
and acceptable.

5.4 Working hypotheses


After reviewing the descriptions as stories of how the students embarked on their
journeys to solve Physics problems, more questions arose besides those that had been
answered in Stage 2 and 3. More data could be collected using the existing Physics
problems designed thus far, and the retrospective interviews and observation could be
focused on these questions to bring the pattern to saturation. However, since this is a
doctoral research project with a limited time frame, I listed the questions and attempted to
answer them by re-examining the protocols without collecting new data:
a. What do students do immediately after they finish reading the question?
b. What are the students thinking when they are reading the question?
c. What do the students do when they find the question is familiar?
d. What do the students do when they find the question is easy?
e. What do the students do when they find the question is difficult?
f. What do the students do when they dont understand the question?
g. What do the students do after they find the information and goal?

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h. What do students do when they encounter difficulty in deciding what to do


next? (when they are stuck or facing an impasse)
i. What are the students thinking when they are calculating?
j. What do students do when they are not sure of their answer?
k. What do students do when they are not sure of their
planning/steps/calculation?
l. What do students do after the calculation (in the middle of the problem-
solving process)?
m. How do students know that they have made a mistake?
n. What do students do when they realise their mistake?
o. What do students do when they have made a correction?
p. What do students do when they have obtained the answer (at the end)?

In response to question (a), they usually arranged the information (e.g., the
variables) in the problem or tried to determine the goal/sub-goals, concept or formula that
might be relevant to the solution. They also tried to build a representation of the problem
using a diagram or reread the problem in their own words to explain it. Some would
search their memories to find a similar problem that they have solved before, while some
would judge if they could solve the problem themselves. These are the task and person
variables mentioned by Flavell and Wellman (Duell, 1986).
Question (b) was more difficult to answer because I did not specifically ask them
regarding this in the interview and the answers were based on inferences. They might
have been monitoring their understanding, making plans, analysing the problem or trying
to match it with their previous experience. For some, they might have just read it as a
text. A more specific research design is needed to establish the answers to this question.
With regard to questions (c) to (e), when they found the problem to be familiar to
them (question (c)), they would try to think of the similar solution or try to remember the
answer. They might also try to link it to a concept or formula. If they found the problem
to be easy (question (d)), they usually made a calculation without planning or carried out
planning without analysing. They would also link it to a concept. On the other hand, if
the problem was difficult (question (e)), they would reflect on the difficulty, reread the

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question to try to understand it, build a problem representation, rearrange the information,
perform test-and-check, guess the answer or simply give up.
For question (f), they would reread the question or try to highlight the key
information and make sense of it. As for question (g), they would try to find a formula
that matched the variables and goal or simply carry out a calculation. Some of them
would take some time to build a representation of the problem or think of a plan. If after
acquiring all the information they still did not know how to proceed, they would reread
the problem. This leads to question (h) where, besides rereading the problem to find
more information or correct their understanding of the problem, they also tried whatever
that seemed helpful or logical to test-and-check. A few of them would end the
problem-solving or guess the answer and a possible plan.
Question (i) could usually be answered by simply making a calculation or
implementing the plan without any other cognitive or metacognitive processes.
However, a minority of the students tried to check for mistakes by interpreting the
meaning of the answer and giving justifications for their actions. For question (j), they
would check their steps and calculation, perform self-questioning and reread the problem.
Question (k) has the similar answers to question (j) but in addition, the students tried to
think of another way to make the calculation, or revised the plan or problem
representation to ensure that it was correct. However, there were some who just carried
on even though they were not sure if they were working towards the correct solution.
For question (l), many of them just continued to the next sub-goal or planned for
the next sub-goal. If the problem was more difficult, they would reread the problem to
make the next plan. A few would check the answer by making an interpretation or
adding in the measurement units. As for question (m), they usually detected their mistake
when they checked their answer by interpreting the meaning or checking their
calculation. Some found the mistake when they reread the problem after they had made
the calculation. If they were consciously checking the answer throughout the whole
problem-solving process, they would suddenly realise their mistakes (i.e., sensing
potential errors).
After they had found their mistakes, they usually checked the calculation and then
swiftly made the correction. They might need to reanalyse the problem or think of

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another way to solve the problem. Some of them would ask themselves the reason and
where the mistake came from. For a minority of them, if they could not determine how
the mistake arose or did not know how to make the correction, they stopped the problem-
solving process. As for those who had corrected their mistake, they continued the
problem-solving process with the next planning. A few of them would check again by
interpreting the answer, rereading the question to refocus and continuing with the
problem-solving process. They might also remind themselves not to repeat the same
mistake again.
As for the last question, if they did not think checking was necessary or it was not
their habit, they would end the problem-solving process. Others would check their
answer by interpreting the meaning, rereading the problem to match it with the answer or
by using a different method to recalculate the answer.
Although I have attempted to answer all the questions briefly using the data at
hand, it would be more useful and interesting to design one or more research projects to
understand the motive and reason behind the students actions and compared them so as
to determine which kind of justification and decision is connected to greater success in
Physics problem-solving.

5.5 Summary
This chapter has answered the second research question (What is the role of
metacognitive skills in each step of Physics problem-solving among KS4 students) by
showing how the metacognitive skills of monitoring, regulating, reflecting, evaluating
and justifying played their roles in each step of Physics problem-solving. This was
supported by evidence drawn from the protocols, answer sheets and interviews
especially. A more theoretical pattern of problem-solving and metacognition will be
described in the next chapter drawing on the evidence and conclusions of these past two
chapters of analysis. A brief description or story of how the students solve a Physics
problem was presented in this chapter. Finally, as the outcomes of GT-based research,
more questions were generated for further investigation in order to understand how
students solve Physics problems.

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Chapter 6: Summary and Conclusions

6.0 Introduction
This is the closing chapter of this thesis, wherein a summary and conclusions of
this study will be presented. As the final step of reporting GT-based research, the
findings will be compared with existing theory in order to locate some similarities and
differences, to determine if the existing theoretical frameworks could illuminate the
patterns that were generated through this study and to further extend the patterns and
theory (Charmaz, 2006). This chapter will also include some substantive theories (Glaser
& Strauss, 1967) for Physics problem-solving and metacognition for further
development. The implications and significance of this study will also be discussed
together with some of my reflections a GT researcher.

6.1 Summary of the study


Referring to Chapter 1, the journey of this study began when I realised that one of
the reasons for many students not to study Physics at GCSE and A-Level is the difficulty
of the subject when compared to other science subjects. One of the areas of difficulty is
the application of their knowledge in problem-solving. Yet it is acknowledged that
problem-solving is an essential skill in Physics education. Therefore, there are a number
of studies in this area, especially those that intended to build a successful Physics
problem-solving model to help improve problem-solving skills (Larkin et al., 1980,
Savage & Williams, 1990; Heller & Heller, 1995, etc.).
However, due to the lack of an agreed interpretation of a problem, problem-
solving, and what constitutes a novice solver and expert solver, the recommendations
and models suggested to improve problem-solving have failed to meet the objective.
Most of the prominent studies in this area and the models built from them are related to
university Physics problem-solving which has limited relevance to secondary school
Physics. Another reason is that without the correct understanding of how the secondary
school students solved Physics problems, it is difficult to suggest the best expert model of
problem-solving to improve their problem-solving (see section 1.3). Research (Bolton &
Ross, 1997; Kyurshunov, 2005, Yerushalmi & Magen, 2006) has shown that it is not easy

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for students to accept and implement a certain type of problem-solving method if they
already developed a few strategies or approaches that have been proven to be effective
for themselves through their own problem-solving experience (see section 2.4). It may
be that the successful methods of their peers could be more effective than experts
methods which involve extensive knowledge of Physics, training, familiarisation and
experience.
Therefore, this study focuses on the pattern of Physics problem-solving among
KS4 students, mainly to understand how they solve Physics problems and to find out if
there are successful methods exhibited by them. Since metacognition has been suggested
as an important factor in Physics problem-solving recently, this study also investigates
the metacognitive aspect of problem-solving in order to better understand the students
thinking processes in Physics problem-solving. To achieve the above, real Physics
problems (i.e., those which are difficult for the students and for which they do not have
an immediate solution) were designed in the topics of linear motion, pressure, waves,
optics and electricity.
An open-ended method of enquiry, GT, was chosen to conduct the research using
thinking-aloud, retrospective interview, observation and analysis of answer sheets. The
justifications for selecting GT, the procedure, trustworthiness and the self-checking of
GT, as well as the techniques used have been discussed extensively in Chapter 3
providing a clear picture of the conduct of this research. There are three stages of data
collection and analysis in this research where each stage can be divided into six phases.
In total, 148 students from six schools were involved in this research and 26 students
were selected to undergo in-depth study which produced 108 thinking-aloud protocols.
The procedure used to analyse the data, mainly the thinking-aloud protocols
supported by retrospective interview, observation and answer sheets, using the coding
technique introduced by Strauss and Corbin (1998) generated open- and axial-codings.
The generation of the categories was reported in thick descriptions in Chapters 4
(problem-solving steps) and 5 (metacognition). There were 38 categories created for
problem-solving steps (see Appendix H) and 32 for metacognition (see Appendix G).
Then, 44 real problems were extensively analysed to produce a general pattern of Physics
problem-solving which could represent all the students observed (Figure 4.4) and later

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the role of metacognition was added on to the pattern (Figure 5.1). It represents a linear
model of problem-solving if:
a. the problem was not planned into sub-goals to be achieved at different stages
b. the problem did not have any sub-goals
c. there was no mistake made or doubt sensed
d. there was no checking of the answer and other problem-solving steps
e. it was not a problem to the students

It becomes a cyclical model of problem-solving if:


a. the problem had more than one sub-goals to be achieved in different stages
b. checking was carried out after a sub-goal was achieved
c. mistakes or doubts were found during the problem-solving (sensing potential
error)
d. the problem was so difficult, such that the students had to restart the problem-
solving process or were unsure how to proceed
e. test-and-check was used in trying to find a suitable solution

Figure 5.1 illustrates a general pattern of Physics problem-solving among KS4


students. It provides a lucid and evidenced-based problem-solving pattern that many of
the students will undertake when solving real Physics problems (i.e., difficult to the
individual solver). The test-and-check strategy and sensing potential error
demonstrated by many of the students show that the students device strategies in solving
Physics problems. The metacognitive skills exhibited by the students in various steps of
problem-solving also suggest the thoughtfulness of the students in facing difficult Physics
problems.
Although this general pattern could represent all the students in this study in some
way, there were three variations from the general pattern that could represent three
groups of students more closely. The main differences between these three patterns are
in the steps of Checking and Planning. Checking and Planning were almost absent
in Pattern 1 but were clearly present in Pattern 3 and Pattern 2; but Pattern 2 did not end
with Checking like Pattern 3. Pattern 2 and Pattern 3 were also representing more

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metacognitive problem-solving processes compared to Pattern 1. The advantages and


disadvantages of the patterns for the students will be further discussed in section 6.3
when they are compared with existing literature and evidence from the data of this study.
However, Patterns 2 and 3 are preferable for more successful problem-solving. If the
students in Pattern 1 could be identified and improved from Pattern 1 to either Pattern 2
or 3, this could hugely yield more successful Physics problem-solving among KS4
students.
Here follows a summary of some other main findings of this study:
a. Reading strategy (see section 5.2) This is influenced by the nature of a problem
(i.e., length, difficulty), the habit of the students and their beliefs about how they
can understand and remember a problem.
i. When the students face a longer or more difficult problem they employ
more strategies such as reading more than once, arranging the information
while reading (writing down, circling, underlining, drawing, making a
table), and rewording the problem to build their own representation of the
problem (in a shorter fashion).
ii. If it is habitual for the students to always read a problem more than once,
the nature of the problem will not influence their reading strategy. In this
case, the second reading is more careful and reflective, where they start to
build the problem representation by identifying the important information.
iii. Some students arrange information while reading because they believe
that it is difficult to remember the important information of a problem
when they are reading the problem (burdening short-term memory), so
they implement a particular approach that they are more comfortable with
to ensure that the information is easily understood, remembered and
accessible when needed. This kind of approach is also used so that they
do not miss any important information from the problem and they can save
time by not needing to read the whole problem statement again if they
want to use some of the information.
iv. A few of the students prefer to draw a diagram to represent the problem
because they believe that it is easier to understand and refer to it during the

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problem-solving process. It is important to ensure that the diagram and


information are clearly labelled because by not doing so the diagram will
be useless.
b. Use of Physics formulae (refer section 4.2.3.2) This can be divided into three
groups: (1) those who try to avoid using a formula; (2) those who always try to
use a formula; (3) those who use a formula when it is necessary.
i. In group (1), they usually do not like mathematics and do not think that
they are good in this subject. They prefer using logical reasoning and
proportional thinking (see section 4.2.5.3) to solve a problem that involves
numbers and formulae. Only one student uses graphs because he knows
that he can visualise the problem and solution easily with graphs (refer
section 4.2.5.3).
ii. In group (2), they always look for the variables in a problem and find a
formula that can match all the variables and unknowns. Some students
believe that this will produce a more accurate answer because the formula
is precise. For Oscar, he believes that this will give him more marks (in
examinations) for showing the knowledge of relating a problem to a
Physics formula. In group (3), they use formulae when they are
comfortable in using it.
iii. Not all the students can perform algebra in Physics formulae well,
however. Many of the students fail to manipulate a formula to find a
variable that is not presented in its standard form. This is very clear in
many examples of speed formulae where the standard formula that many
students can remember is s=d/t (d is used as distance and s is used as
speed in the formula utilised by the students). But if the students are
asked to find the time, some of them cannot rearrange the standard
formula to put t on the left side of the formula (refer sections 4.3.1).
iv. In relation to the above, there is a group of students who like to use the
speed triangle where the three variables of speed, distance and time
are mapped in a triangle. Although it is a useful way to remember the
variables involved because of the shape of the triangle, (e.g., Peter), when

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it comes to manipulating the variables, again, the same problem as in (iii)


above occurs. They know that if they want to find one variable, the other
two have to be either multiplied or divided (refer to section 4.2.5.3) but
they are not sure about which.
c. Calculator method and manipulation of numbers (see section 4.2.7.9):
i. When numbers are involved in a problem and the students do not have a
certain solution, they use a calculator to try and manipulate the numbers
(i.e., multiply or divide) found in the problem (see section 4.3.1). The
answer is accepted according to three criteria as stated in (d) (iii) to (v)
below.
ii. Some of them also use a calculator to check their answer if they obtained
the answer using another method (i.e., counting in their heads). They are
more confident with the calculator than counting (see section 4.2.7.8).
d. Test-and-check (see section 4.3.1) This problem-solving strategy is used when
the students do not have any idea of how to proceed or do not know exactly the
right method to find the answer. Most of them try to think of a plan that may or
may not be successful for solving the problem. It could be just a hunch or logical
reasoning that makes sense to them. The answer is accepted when it makes sense
for them. The key idea is make sense that is, they make a judgement to this
effect. When a plan or answer makes sense to them, (but there is no direct means
available to check the correctness of the answer, unlike in the electricity problem
where direct feedback is possible), they are likely to follow one of the following
criteria:
i. the plan matches the Physics knowledge or concepts that they have learnt
and understood;
ii. the plan is not conflicting with what they understand about Physics
concepts and the world around them (common sense learnt through daily
experience);
iii. the answer is not too big (more than a thousand) or small (with many
decimal points);

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iv. the answer is meaningful and acceptable when it is interpreted after adding
the unit of measurement;
v. the answer does not differ too significantly when it is compared to a set of
independent variables in the same problem; or
vi. they can justify the plan or answer according to what they believe to be
true.
When the first answer is accepted, they will duplicate the same method to find the
next answer (refer section 4.3.1). However, they would still seem to have doubt
when they are duplicating the method because they hesitate (e.g., Helen in
Problem 3, 34-45).
e. Reasons to check There are many reasons for the students to perform
Checking or not (refer section 4.2.7.1).
They check if:
i. they are not confident with their method;
ii. have doubt about their answer; or
iii. it is a habit and they have been constantly reminded by their teachers to do
so.
They do not check if:
i. there is no time;
ii. it is not important (i.e., not an examination);
iii. they have been constantly monitoring the problem-solving process; or
iv. it is a habit to not performing this during the problem-solving process..
f. Examination-oriented Although the students were told that there was no time
limit in solving the problems and it was only for research, they still went into
examination mode where they:
i. tried to solve the problems as quickly as possible;
ii. only checked their answer if they thought that there was time left;
iii. thought of the different ways to gain more marks (through the use of a
formula, working on the answer sheet, etc.);
iv. gave importance to the problem-solving until they were told that it was not
an examination.

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g. Importance of retrieving previous problem-solving experience While most of


the students will try to remember a similar problem that they have solved in the
past, not many of them will remember the method. Some do not think that it is
important to remember it because they believe that by going through the same
logical thinking process, they will arrive at the same method to solve the same
kind of problem.
h. The students can relate a problem to a certain Physics concept based on the
features of the problem (i.e., sand, shoes, etc.) or the variables (i.e., area,
weight, etc.). However, this type of analysis only occurs when they were doing
easy questions.
i. Self-questioning is seldom performed by the students. Only a few incidents are
found - when they are not sure about their planning, when they are trying to find
the cause of their mistake and when they are checking their answer (see section
5.1.4).
j. Sensing potential error This is exhibited by many of the students during the
problem-solving process of a difficult problem, when they are doubtful about their
plan, step or answer. They will pause when they sense a potential error and then
perform checking. Sometimes, however, they have not made any errors even they
are in doubt about their plan, step or answer. This shows that they are very
careful and try to avoid making mistakes.

6.2 Substantive theory and working hypotheses


In GT, theoretical saturation happens when no new properties are revealed
through more data collection (Charmaz, 2006). Strauss and Corbin (2008) explained that
it is the point in analysis when all categories are well developed and further data
gathering and analysis add little new to the conceptualisation, though variations can
always be discovered (p.263). If this definition of theoretical saturation is to be
followed, it is clear that the categories of problem-solving steps have reached the
theoretical saturation because in Stage 3s data collection and analysis, there was no new
category, although further development, modification and elaboration of a few categories
(e.g., Analysing 9, Justifying) were carried out. Furthermore, the pattern of problem-

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solving was refined as more data collection and analysis were undertaken, while the core
steps (i.e., Reading, Planning and Calculating) remained in the pattern. There were
three variations from the general pattern (Figure 4.4).
Therefore, it could be concluded that the first research question has reached
theoretical saturation. This means that the pattern in Figure 4.4 and the three variations
are sufficient to form a model of Physics problem-solving among KS4 students, if not in
general, at least to all the students involved in this study. As explained in section 3.2, GT
is about fit and work. The fit of the categories generated in this study has been
extensively reported in the generation of categories in problem-solving steps and
metacognitive skills, while the work is demonstrated through the explanation of the
patterns using the categories generated and this will further be discussed in this and next
sections. Therefore, Figure 4.4 is sufficient to represent a model of Physics problem-
solving among KS4 students in general. This has answered the first research question (as
in section 1.5).
However, the five main categories of metacognitive skills monitoring,
regulating, reflecting, evaluating and justifying, have not been reported in all the
aspects of metacognition in Chapter 5. It is felt (perhaps drawing on the theoretical
sensitivity) that the categories generated for the second research question (as in section
1.5) are not fully developed and dense enough. For instance, in the metacognitive aspect
of planning, there are very limited incidents (see the last two paragraphs of section 5.1.5)
demonstrating how the students monitored and regulated their plan. It was difficult to
undertake constant comparison because of the limited number of cases and not easy to
identify the students who would exhibit such behaviour in their problem-solving.
Furthermore, it was also uncertain if monitoring memory and monitoring Physics
concepts (in sections 5.1.1 and 5.1.2) should be merged into one aspect because of the
search process carried out in their memories to search for a certain Physics concept
related to a problem. Monitoring memory and monitoring Physics concepts could be
separate categories because the former covered more than just Physics concepts while the
latter could also involve the search for a Physics concept in the problem statement. In
short, more data needs to be collected by further theoretical sampling to continue

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developing the properties of these categories so that the process of axial-coding can be
carried out with stronger supports from the data.
With the second research question yet to reach theoretical saturation, one can only
develop a substantive theory or model (in this study). According to Charmaz (2006), a
substantive theory is a theoretical interpretation or explanation of a delimited problem in
a particular area (p.189). It is a step before the development of a formal theory that can
be generalised (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). From the data collection and analysis carried
out thus far in this study, to answer the second research question (see section 1.5), it can
be concluded that the metacognitive aspects of problem-solving illustrated in Figure 5.1
occurred in the problem-solving steps among the students but this pattern is limited in
terms of explaining how metacognitive skills help in each step of Physics problem-
solving. It cannot be assumed that all the metacognitive skills mapped in Figure 5.1 play
a significant role in assisting the problem-solving. It is hypothetical to state that, for
example, monitoring and reflecting on ones memory, Physics concepts, understanding or
the goal of a problem during the step of reading will improve the students Physics
problems-solving. If future researchers wished to test the hypothesis that monitoring the
Physics concepts within a problem while reading it can help improve the students
problem-solving in Physics, there are a few considerations that would need to be taken
into account:
a. The researchers need to decide if the monitoring of Physics concepts needs to
happen consciously or not. If it has to be consciously acted upon while
reading a problem, the sampling of the students for the study will have to be
selected carefully to identify those students who genuinely consciously
monitor while reading, or the students have to be trained to act consciously.
They also need to be observed during a time when they do not consciously
monitor so that a comparison of these two different situations can inform
research as to whether monitoring Physics concepts while reading helped to
improve their problem-solving.
b. If subconscious monitoring of Physics concepts while reading could be
accepted as a form of metacognitive skill, the observation would be focused
on the presence and absence of this monitoring so that a comparison of their

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respective levels of effectiveness can be carried out to test the hypothesis. In


this case, the problem would be how to determine if a student is
subconsciously monitoring Physics concepts. For now, determining this
depends largely on the interpretation of the researchers in their observations
and the students self-report through interview (but the self-report may not
reveal any useful data as the students most probably would not be able to tell
if they had carried out monitoring). Furthermore, since it is a subconscious or
automated skill, even if it is proven to be useful in improving Physics
problem-solving, in practice, one has to question whether teachers could
instruct the use of such a skill in classrooms.

Due to the issue of consciousness in metacognition (as discussed in section 2.5) in


my study, conscious metacognitive skills were highlighted in various sub-sections of
section 5.1 while subconscious metacognitive skills which are helpful in improving
problem-solving were interpreted and presented in those sections (e.g., monitoring a
problem-solving process when the students are doubtful about their plans). After all,
what is subconscious cannot be observed vividly, rather it is only through interpretations
that one can infer the presence of subconscious metacognitive skills. However, a
preliminary model of metacognitive skills in Physics problem-solving will be presented
in the next section (see Figure 6.1) with the support of both data from this study, both
observed and interpreted, and existing theories.
The main hypothesis that needs further theoretical sampling and data collection is
that the metacognitive skills discovered in this study can help the students Physics
problem-solving. It is very appealing to me to carry on to Stage 4 of the study to collect
more data to investigate this hypothesis and establish if metacognitive skills are important
and helpful in improving the success of Physics problem-solving among the students.
However, this doctoral project and my sponsorship with its limited timeframe forced me
to cease pursuing the next stages of the study, for the time being. As mentioned in
Chapter 3, the priority to report my doctoral project within the limited timeframe is more
important at this stage of doctoral research training than attaining total theoretical

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saturation. This will be carried out in the future when I resume the position of tutor in
Malaysia after this doctoral training.

6.3 Discussions of the findings


In this section, the main pattern and the main findings of this study will be
discussed with reference to the literature presented in Chapter 2 and other related
literature in problem-solving, metacognition and Physics teaching and learning in
general. As mentioned in Chapter 2, the experts took less time to complete a Physics
task compared to the novices. This was because the experts were facing what were
for them easy questions. The same pattern was observed among the students in this study
when they were doing easy questions. They took relatively less time in encountering
easy questions compared to completing real problems (nearly double or more time
compared to the easy ones). This parallels with the idea of search trees (see section 2.2)
suggested by Neves and Anderson (1981) in which the experts in Physics knowledge
with extensive training in doing Physics questions have a wide and easily accessible
network of Physics knowledge (both declarative and procedural knowledge). The experts
also completed a task faster because they combined a few steps into one (as reported by
Larkin et al. (1980) in section 2.2). This kind of pattern can be seen in some students
when attempting easy questions. For example, in more difficult problems, the students
exhibited Analysing 3 where they talked aloud about the variables and considering a
suitable formula before they proceeded to Planning 2 to determine the formula and how
to proceed from there. Analysing 3 was not present before Planning 2 in easy
questions.
Referring to a few established problem-solving models by Polya (1945), Savage
and Williams (1990) and Heller and Heller (1995), a comparison is made and
summarised in Table 6.1. If these models are to be considered as being among the most
effective models for Physics problem-solving, Patterns 2 and 3 (see sections 4.3.3.2 and
4.3.3.3) may seem to be more successful patterns because they fit most parts of these
models when compared to Pattern 1.
Polya (1945, 1990) provided a list of questions solvers can ask themselves while
solving a problem (see Appendix P). As explained in section 5.1.4, self-questioning only

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occurred when the students were checking their answers and plans. It may be difficult to
find the students questioning themselves but some of their actions in the protocols
suggested that the students were fulfilling the requirements of the questions posed by
Polya. Questions and instructions like What is the unknown?, What is the data? and
Draw a figure in the first step of Polyas model have been answered and carried out by
the students in their actions in Reading 2, Reading 4, Reading 6 and Analysing 9.
In Polyas second step, he encouraged solvers to refer to their memory and
previous experience in devising a plan. This parallels what was found in this study in
some of the students who monitored their memory to locate related problems that they
had encountered before. Some of them also restated the problem into something that was
easier for them to understand. However, none of the students employed the strategy
suggested by Polya of trying to solve some related problems and changing parts of those
problems in order to relate them to the present problem.

Table 6.1: Comparison of established problem-solving models with the findings.


Author(s), Year Model Comparison Remarks
& Subject
Polya (1945, Understanding the Reading, Performed by most of the
1990) problem Analysing students in Patterns 2 and 3
Mathematics Devising a plan Planning Most of the students only devised
one plan
Carrying out the plan Calculating Performed by all the students
Looking back Checking Mostly students in Pattern 3
Heller & Heller Focus the problem Reading, Performed by most of the
(1995) Analysing students in Patterns 2 and 3
Physics Describe the Physics Analysing Not many students analysed the
concepts
Plan the solution Planning Most of the students only devised
one plan
Execute the plan Calculating Performed by all the students
Evaluate the answer Checking Mostly students in Pattern 3
Savage & Preparing the model Analysing Performed by most of the
Williams (1990) students in Patterns 2 and 3
Physics Analysing the problem Analysing, Performed by all the students
Calculating
Interpreting and Checking Performed by students in Patterns
confirming the answer 2 and 3

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In executing the plan, Polya not only suggested that solvers check their steps but
also prove that their steps are correct. Almost all the students in this study when they
were solving difficult problems checked their steps and answers, except those in Pattern
1. However, not all of them tried to prove that their steps were correct, except those who
justified their steps and answers (Calculating 3). They are mostly from the group of
students represented in Pattern 2. This may suggest that since they tried to prove that
their steps and answers were correct through justifying during calculation, there was no
need for them to check again at the end of their problem-solving process. However,
Polya suggested that solvers should check their answer as their final step. In the last step,
he also recommended solvers try to solve the problem using a different method. There
are only a few students who thought of different methods to solve a problem and checked
their answers using these different methods.
Comparing the model of Polya to that of Heller and Heller (1995) which is related
to university Physics, the Logical Problem-Solving Strategy focused more on
determining the correct Physics concepts rather than mathematical calculation. The
detailed instruction outlined (see section 2.4) in this strategy recommends that solvers
represent the problem in another simple manner or diagram. This has been performed by
some of the students in my study. The strategy also suggests that solvers should describe
their approach and predict the outcome but none of the students explicitly demonstrated
this characteristic. There are some students who used the phrase ifthen to describe
their approach and predict the outcome. Justifying their plan can also be seen as partially
describing their approach to solve a problem.
The next step of Heller and Heller is to use related Physics equations to solve the
problem. As explained in section 4.2.3.2, there are those who prefer to use formulae in
solving Physics problems while there are those who try to avoid this but will use another
mathematical approaches or logical reasoning to arrive at a solution. It is not known
which approach is better for these students but it may be that the use of formulae in
solving Physics problems is only suitable for some students, especially those who like
mathematics and think that they are good at it, particularly in algebra.
In the next step, Heller and Heller advised solvers to perform the algebra of the
equation and then plug in the quantities to find the unknown. However, this type of

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problem-solving instruction would not be suitable for all the students because as
explained in section 6.1 (b) (iii) not many students can perform algebra. Most of the
students do not find it difficult to plug in the right numbers into an equation but their
weaknesses are that not all of them can perform well in algebra (rearrangement of a
formula) and recognise the result of the calculation, especially when the units of
measurement are not included at the beginning and the end of the calculation. Betty, in
Problems 1 and 3, used m/s2 for all the speeds after each calculation although she
obtained the correct numerical answers. There were only a few students who were aware
of the importance of writing down the units of measurement for their calculation,
especially at the end. Finally, those in Pattern 3 checked their answers at the end. They
performed Checking 4 to ensure that they had answered the question and undertook
Justifying to interpret their answers.
It is difficult to compare the students pattern with Savage and Williams (1990)
model because their model is suitable only for real world problem where numbers are not
given but only conditions. Solvers are asked to predict the outcome as precisely as
possible, by making assumptions, and provide reasonable values for the variables
involved to calculate and determine the conditions in order to find the answer. However,
the fundamental step of changing quantitative values into a qualitative answer at the end
through interpretation was carried out by most of the students as a form of checking.
From the comparison of these three models, some of the students already
possessed the problem-solving steps and instructions recommended by these established
successful problem-solving models in Physics and mathematics. These include:
a. restate a problem in the students own words;
b. make a diagram to represent a problem;
c. write down the important information;
d. identify the Physics concept involved and justify it;
e. interpret and justify a numerical answer using the unit of measurement;
f. check the steps and answer at the end to make sure that they solved the
problem;
g. use different ways to check the answer;

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Since these steps have been recommended by scholars as good practice for
problem-solving and there are examples that show the students are able to perform them,
it may be suggested that these steps are relevant to KS4 students and can be learnt and
applied to solve Physics problems more effectively. On the other hand, there are useful
instructions suggested by these models that may not be suitable for KS4 students because
they are related to university Physics, such as trying to solve another related problems to
derive a plan that may help to solve the present problem (Polya); predicting the outcome
(Savage & Williams); and describing the approach before planning (Heller & Heller); etc.
Moreover, since none of the students carried out these steps, this may indicate that these
steps may not be useful for KS4 students when they are facing difficult problems because
they are more comfortable with their own way of solving problems (see Kyurshunovs
(2005) comment on the failure of Heller and Hellers model in section 2.4).
With regard to metacognition, different researchers have proposed different
characteristics of metacognitive skills in problem-solving as in Table 6.2. The majority
of them accepted that planning, monitoring and evaluating are the metacognitive skills
required in problem-solving. In my study, I have identified five categories of
metacognitive skills - monitoring, regulating, reflecting, evaluating and justifying
although regulating was found in only a few incidents. Justifying is similar to elaborating
while reflecting is similar to what Flavell and Wellman (cited in Duell (1986)) mentioned
as personal and task variables.
As concluded in section 2.5, metacognition consists of at least metacognitive
knowledge and monitoring. What the students know and believe about their thinking,
however, varies. One has to distinguish between the students metacognitive knowledge
and their awareness of using it. It is possible for the students to have some metacognitive
knowledge about how they think in Physics problem-solving without using it consciously
- or perhaps not consciously using it at all during problem-solving. Therefore, students
who possess rich metacognitive knowledge do not necessarily perform metacognitive
monitoring using the metacognitive knowledge that they have, and hence may not
perform well in problem-solving. Marco admitted that he knew that he was not organised
in writing down information from a Physics problem and always confused himself when
he needed to refer to the information (Q12). In Problem 2, he did not use this

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metacognitive knowledge to regulate his action to write down the information clearly
so he failed to solve this problem correctly because he did not answer all the necessary
parts in order to make the correct comparison. In the problems that followed, when he
was conscious of this, he regulated his working and solved the problems successfully.
Similarly, Peter realised that he could not make the correct rearrangement of the speed
formula in Problem 3, yet he did not regulate his action in order to be more careful in
arranging the same formula in the next problem (Problem 4). He was stuck after he could
not arrive at a sensible numerical answer until I pointed out to him that his error was in
his rearrangement of the formula, at which point he admitted that he made the same
mistake again (Problem 4, 71).

Table 6.2: Metacognitive skills in problem-solving by various researchers.

Author(s) Orientation Planning Monitoring Evaluating Regulating Elaboration Execution


& Year
Flavell Yes Yes
(1976)
Kluwe Yes Yes Yes
(1982)
Garofalo Yes Organisation Verification Yes
& Lester
(1985)
Brown Yes Yes Yes
(1987)
Mettes Yes Yes Yes Yes
(1987)
ONeil & Yes Yes Applying
Abedi
(1996)
Vos (2001) Yes Checking Yes
Kuo Yes Yes Yes
(2004)
Veenman Yes Systematical Yes Yes
& Spaans orderliness
(2005)
Meijer et Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
al. (2006)

On the other hand, metacognitive monitoring can be carried out subconsciously.


In this case, it is impossible to know if metacognitive knowledge is involved in the
process. When Susan was asked about her reason for circling the variables in the
problem statement, she was unsure and said, I guess I kind of, its not something that I

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always do. I just thought, um, itd help. (Q3). She probably had never thought (i.e.,
consciously) of the reason for her to monitor the information from the problem. It was
when I asked her about this that she thought of the reason and this triggered her thinking
about her own thinking. Through the data gathered in this study, it is still difficult to
determine in an exhaustive way how much metacognitive knowledge the students
possessed.
Therefore, in order to improve problem-solving among students in terms of
metacognition, the two main components of metacognition have to be able to influence
each other, either in a conscious or subconscious manner. Nelson and Narens (1990)
illustrated a model of metamemory (refer Figure 2.2) which shows the relationships
between object-level, meta-level, monitoring and control. This model can be modified
into a problem-solving one as in Figure 6.1. This model is a substantive one as the
metacognitive aspect of this study has not reached the point of saturation and not all the
students exhibited metacognitive behaviour in all the problems that they solved, so there
were a limited number of incidents to be compared.

Justifying
(Decision-making)
Metacognitive
knowledge

Regulating Monitoring Reflecting

Cognition
& action

Evaluating

Figure 6.1: Metacognition model of Physics problem-solving.

From this study, metacognition in problem-solving can be defined as the ability to


monitor, regulate, reflect, evaluate and justify ones problem-solving process by referring

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to the metacognitive knowledge (i.e., beliefs about ones cognition, problem-solving


behaviour and the nature of the problem one is facing) that one possesses either
consciously or subconsciously. However, conscious metacognitive skills and awareness
of ones metacognitive knowledge are more favourable in the context of research and
practice because they are more accessible and practical in developing the students
metacognitive aspects of problem-solving.
Referring to Figure 6.1, there are two levels of cognitive activities. Cognition and
action refer to the non-metacognitive activities explained in Chapter 5 (i.e., Reading 1,
Calculating 1, etc.). Metacognitive knowledge indicates what the students know and
believe about themselves (i.e., knowing that one cannot remember a huge amount of
information when reading a problem; believing that checking is necessary because of
doubt; etc.). The monitoring process can happen consciously or subconsciously to gather
information from the cognitive level to inform the metacognitive level. The
metacognitive level will provide metacognitive knowledge of how one can work in the
best way (and perhaps the fastest way if they are working in examination mode) to solve
that particular problem.
Justification and decision will be made by employing the information gathered
and what the students know and believe about themselves (i.e., metacognitive
knowledge). The decision will regulate the action or cognition. They can further
evaluate the decision after an action is taken and continue to monitor the situation and
justify again their decision or action. Throughout the whole process, they may reflect on
themselves, the task, the strategy and previous problem-solving experience. As Nelson
and Narens (1990) noted, these processes can take place simultaneously, therefore it can
happen in a short period of time which makes observation difficult, so the researcher
needs to rely more on interpretation and inference from the thinking-aloud protocols.
Consequently, more specific questions about their thought processes need to be asked
during the retrospective interview to further saturate this model.

6.4 Implications of the research findings


From a constructivist perspective, the way forward in improving problem-solving
skills among the students is to understand how the students solve problems, investigate

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the strengths and weaknesses, and then suggest instructions that are suitable for the
students. As each student is different from the others, an ideal instruction of problem-
solving would require us to investigate the students on an individual basis before a
personalised instruction could be designed to help the students. However, it is unlikely
for teachers to carry out such investigation in classrooms, in practice. Therefore, this
research aims to generalise and simplify the patterns of KS4 students in Physics problem-
solving so that a few general instructions can be designed to improve the students
problem-solving skills accordingly. Although some details may differ between the
students within one pattern of problem-solving, it is unnecessary and unhelpful for
teachers if the patterns are so complicated that it only represents one or two rare cases
among the students.
For students represented in Pattern 1, they should be reminded to spend more time
in reading, understanding and analysing the problem and Physics concepts involved
before they jump into calculation. They should ask themselves at least the first three
questions in the first step of Polyas model (see Appendix P). By familiarising
themselves with self-questioning, it is hoped that they will become more reflective about
their problem-solving processes. As checking is essential, they should also try to make
checking a habitual step in problem-solving either in the middle or at the end.
As for students in Pattern 2, checking should also be performed at the end to
ensure that all parts of the problem are solved. Marco, who is categorised as Pattern 2,
did not realise that he left one part of the problem unsolved. It was during the interview
when I asked him to check his problem-solving that he realised his mistake. They should
be reminded to check at the end if they have solved all parts of a problem before they end
the problem-solving process.
For students in Pattern 3, if they did not constantly perform checking during
calculation like those in Pattern 2, they should try to use a different method to check their
problem-solving. This is because checking only once at the end is not enough to spot any
mistakes when the student is just repeating the same process mentally. Teachers need to
identify the pattern of Physics problem-solving among their students through observation
and assessment and suggest suitable adjustments to the students patterns in order to
improve their problem-solving skills. It is more desirable to attain Patterns 2 and 3 with

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more metacognitive skills (as in Figure 5.1) for students to achieve more successful
problem-solving results.
The use of Physics formulae in problem-solving depends on the mathematical
ability of the students, especially in algebra. They will usually arrive at a correct answer
if they are using a formula in its standard format (i.e., with no need to rearrange) and
provided they:
a. are careful in determining the units of measurements for all the variables; and
b. make the correct calculation.

The last criterion is easy to fulfil if the students are alert during the calculation,
especially when a calculator is used. It is more useful if they can verbalise or mutter the
numbers as they type them into the calculator because it gives them another chance to
check the calculation and reduces the possibility of making errors. This is clear from
Helens mistake in typing in the numbers using a calculator without verbalising them
(Problem 4, 146). She repeated the calculation by verbalising it and then realised that she
had made a mistake (147-148). The first criterion is recommended by Heller and Heller
(1995) and many of the students in this study were aware of the importance of writing
down the unit of measurement in order to check the answer through interpretation (see
sections 5.2 and 6.1). A few examples of how the students realised their mistakes after
they had put in the units were presented in sections 4.2.5.4, 5.1.7 and 5.2.
If a standard formula had to be manipulated using algebra, many students failed to
arrive at the correct equation and resort to manipulating the numbers to try to find a
number that makes sense to them. Foster (2007) stated that one of the misconceptions
that obstructs the learning of algebra is the idea of equality in algebra. The equal sign is
often perceived as the answer follows but in an equation this indicates that the
expression on the left and right sides have the same value. Although algebra is taught in
KS3 and KS4, most of these KS4 students still could not perform algebra in solving
Physics problems which were related to formulae and algebra. The reason for this could
be that they did not have a strong foundation in algebra or they could not relate algebra to
Physics formulae although the KS3 algebra should have prepared them to calculate
and manipulate rational numbers to make sense of everyday situations and for setting

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up linear equations (DfEE & QCA, 1999a). There is clearly a need to strengthen the
students mastery of algebra and apply it in Physics formulae.
An alternative means of teaching the speed formula, that many schools have
adopted (at least all the schools in this study), is the speed-distance-time triangle which is
presumably meant to help students in rearranging the variables. However, many of the
students failed to understand and use the triangle as desired (see section 4.2.5.3). The
students could not understand the relationships between these variables when one of them
was an unknown. This alternative or aid to algebra could not effectively help students in
manipulating a formula with three variables. In addition, in the long term, algebra is
more useful than the triangle in relating variables because Physics formulae can have
more than three variables. For this reason, the use of such a triangle should be limited
and not encouraged.
Star and Rittle-Johnson (2008) recognised the difficulty that students often have
in solving equation problems using algebra, hence designed a 3-hour problem-solving
experience (over 5 days) to improve 6th grade students (in America) equation-solving
ability and flexibility in applying different strategies to solve the same equation problem.
The short course included instruction on multiple strategies in solving equation problems
and working through some problems at the students own pace with the help of the
instructor when they were stuck. They believed that to achieve the objectives of
increasing the students ability and flexibility, both direct instruction and discovery
learning were essential to provide meaningful problem-solving experience.
Until the second research question concerning metacognitive skills reaches the
point of theoretical saturation, it is difficult to determine the extent to which
metacognitive skills influenced Physics problem-solving among KS4 students. However,
a few suggestions for instruction may be recommended to improve problem-solving
based on the findings thus far. Self-questioning is seen as an important skill in problem-
solving (Schoenfeld, 1985) and a few crucial questions are posted by Polya (1945) in
every step (see Appendix P) for the students to consider. Self-questioning during
planning, analysing and checking, accompanied by the effort to answer those questions
through justification, helps the students to plan and check (see section 5.1.4). Although,
naturally, most of the students will only ask themselves questions when they are in doubt,

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it is also a good habit to ask some standard questions (as recommended by Polya) to
ensure that they have answered and carried out those suggested problem-solving acts.
The next helpful metacognitive skill is justifying. The students should be
reminded to always provide justification for their thought, plans, decisions and actions.
They should be able to give justifications for their thought or decisions in relating a
Physics concept to a problem, conceiving a plan, performing a certain type of calculation
or strategy, accepting an answer and so on. A good justification usually depends on
precise knowledge, experience and sometimes common sense. This is why the expert in
Physics who has mastered the substantial Physics knowledge and has undergone
extensive training in Physics application and problem-solving exercise can easily come to
a correct solution (this type of pattern can be observed in many of the students in this
study when they were facing easy questions). However, by trying to provide a
justification, the students have the opportunity to thinking more deeply or rethink their
decision to ensure that the most accurate (within their knowledge and experience)
decision is taken.
Therefore, another way to improve the students problem-solving ability is to
provide them with meaningful problem-solving experience that can be easily referred to
when needed and useful for them in facing real problems. In the protocols and
interviews, some students claimed that they usually remember very difficult problems
and think about these problems when they are facing a similar one (e.g., Rosie in Problem
4, Isaac in Q41, Peter in Q30). As Polya has suggested, it is useful to remember a
familiar problem in the second step of problem-solving. Perhaps by providing students
with difficult problem-solving experience, they can remember the approach and retrieve
it easily from their memories in the future. This is not equivalent to the drilling that
Dewey (1910) mentioned (see section 2.2), which provide exercises that the students
know exactly how to answer. The students level of difficulty will need to be measured
and Physics problems which are not too easy or so difficult (i.e., they cannot complete or
will damage their confidence in Physics) will be given. Since one of the most popular
strategies for the students when facing a very difficult problem is test-and-check,
immediate feedback should be made available for the students, when they require it, in
order to test out their plan and check their answer. It would be ideal if teachers could

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spend time with the students while they are solving problems and play the role of
questioning the students, providing with appropriate feedback when they are testing their
plan and giving them hints when they are stuck.
To achieve the above meaningful problem-solving experience, it will demand a
huge amount of individual attention from the teachers. However, with the development
of recent computer technology in testing and diagnosis, it may be that a computerised
adaptive testing (CAT) system could be designed and developed to achieve this. CAT
contains a pool of items with various levels of proficiency carefully designed to ensure
that the items meet all the proficiency levels within the interested population (Pitkin &
Vispoel, 2001). An item from the medium level will be given to the student to answer
and the response to that item is scored. The students proficiency and its associated error
are estimated and the student is presented with the next item which is usually the one
remaining in the pool that most reduces the measurement of error associated with that
proficiency estimate. This process continues, item by item, until a test termination
criterion is reached (i.e., the students level of proficiency is determined).
In this system, a bank of Physics problems consisting of different levels of
difficulty is designed and ranked accordingly. When a student has successfully solved a
problem and perceived that it is easy, a more difficult problem will be presented. But if
they failed to solve that problem, a less difficult problem will be presented. The system
will automatically select the appropriate problems according to the level of difficulty of
the students.
By using a computer to teach problem-solving, a click of a button can lead the
students to a Physics concept, formula, clue, solution or answer which will allow them to
check their plan, justification and answer. Providing such feedback will ensure that the
test-and-check strategy is used in a more effective way. In addition, self-questions and
reminders can be posted on the computer screen so that the students will familiarise
themselves with these and question themselves automatically in the future. Teong
(2003), in his research to compare the computer-based mathematical problem-solving
performance of two groups of 11-12-year-old students in Singapore (one of which was
given metacognitive training) used a mathematical word-problems computer programme
called WordMath to train the first group by directing the students to regulate and monitor

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their problem-solving using questions (e.g., Have I read and understood what I am
supposed to find?; Can I write Mathematics statement(s) to work out my answer?; Am I
on the right track?; Does the answer make sense? etc.). Teong found that metacognitive
training for mathematical word-problems in a computer environment helped the low
achievers in solving mathematical word-problems.
At a glance, this idea of using computers to provide a meaningful problem-
solving experience seems too ideal and may not be easily achieved. However, there are
some examples of such applications in education. A computer programme entitled
Mathematics Assessment for Learning and Teaching: Computer-Adaptive Diagnostic
Mathematics Assessment developed for Hodder Education by the University of
Manchester (Hodder Education, 2009) is advertised to be sensitive to the individual
pupils answers on the test, selecting and presenting new questions that are optimally
matched to the pupil's performance. There are also CATs developed to test Japanese
language (Ariizumi, College & Ariizumi, 2002) and reading proficiency (Chalhoub-
Deville, 1999).
Although these are designed for assessment and testing, the CAT method can be
used to adjust the level of difficulty of Physics problems for the students so that suitable
problems can be presented to them. CAT requires a lot of time to develop the items (i.e.,
the Physics problems) and research (or teachers evaluation) to determine the levels of
difficulty. Nonetheless, this can be a fruitful new area of research in Physics problem-
solving instruction, if providing the students with real problems is an important agenda.
If metacognitive knowledge is helpful in problem-solving, there is a need for the
students to assess their own metacognitive knowledge and beliefs to make them aware of
what they know and believe about their own thinking and cognitive process in solving
Physics problems. After the assessment, there should be a discussion regarding a
possible action plan of how to use the metacognitive knowledge to change their strategy
in order to improve their problem-solving. For example, if the student knows that s/he
always makes mistakes if the unit of measurement is not written down accordingly during
the calculation, then s/he should always remind him/herself to write it.
From this study, for certain kinds of metacognitive knowledge, there are possible
regulated actions demonstrated by the students in this study to help them in Physics

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problem-solving. Among them are those listed in Table 6.3. These sets of
metacognitive knowledge-regulated action are by no means represent something
definite and exhaustive, but they can act as a guideline for some students to follow if they
can identify therein ways that they think about their own thinking are similar.

Table 6.3: Some metacognitive knowledge and regulated thought/action shown by


the students in this study.
Metacognitive knowledge Regulated thought or action by the students
as a response to the metacognitive knowledge
Know that one cannot remember all the Write down the important information; or
information of a problem underlining or circling it.
A long problem is difficult to understand Read more than once
Believe that numbers can always be Find a formula that matches the variables
associated with formulae
Perceive that the problem is difficult Be more careful in reading, analysing and
planning
Have doubt in ones ability to find the Perform sensing potential error
correct answer
Believe that the problem-solving is not an Do not put the maximum effort to try (likely to
examination (not important) give up)
Will be confused if the information is not Plan to write down the information clearly
arranged in order
Will make mistakes without stating the Make sure that the unit of measurement is
unit of measurement written or mentioned
Believe that a long period of time will be Do not plan to check
taken to solve a problem
Think that a Physics concept is involved Try to find a formula or previous experience
related to the concept
Believe that by not writing a formula or Ensure that all the working is written clearly to
certain steps, one will lose marks gain more marks
Believe that one will always Plan to read more than once
misunderstand a problem if it is just read
once

As justifying is useful in ensuring that the students are making decisions, planning
steps and accepting answers in a more careful and thoughtful manner, it can also be
adopted as a mechanism to check plans, steps and answers as well as increasing the
students confidence in what they have decided to implement. This will also give them a
chance to rethink their thought and actions. They should not carry out an action blindly
except when they are encountering easy questions where most of the steps are familiar to
them and are almost automated (though they should be wary of taking these questions too
lightly as well).

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Referring to the six good learning behaviours of the PEEL (see section 2.8), it is
clear that checking, planning, reflecting, monitoring and justifying are not just essential
skills for learning science but also for successful Physics problem-solving from the
perspective of metacognition. The results of PEEL showed that by inculcating these
metacognitive good learning behaviours, the students will be more accountable and
responsible for their own learning. Perhaps this can also be applied to problem-solving
so that the ownership of Physics problems (assignments and tasks) can be transferred to
the students and so that the problem-solving can be used as an effective tool for the
teaching and learning of science as suggested by Watts (1991, 1994) as mentioned in
section 1.3.

6.5 Future research recommendations


A number of the recommendations for future research have been discussed in
section 6.2 regarding the issue of consciousness and also in section 5.4 for further
exploration. The general pattern as illustrated in Figure 5.1 shows the clear pattern of
how KS4 students solve difficult Physics problems from the perspective of
metacognition. Further research would be to verify the general pattern and the variations
of the pattern (i.e., Patterns 1, 2 and 3) or investigate the students patterns to identify
which variations the students belong to. This will help the teachers in providing the
appropriate advice or instruction (as suggested in the previous section) in improving the
students Physics problem-solving skills.
As the second research question related to metacognition has not reached the
point of theoretical saturation, a number of suggestions for further investigation can be
offered. One of the most crucial questions to ask is, how significant is metacognition in
helping the students in Physics problem-solving? We also need to know how much
metacognitive knowledge the students have about themselves and to what degree does
this knowledge help them to monitor and control their problem-solving?
To answer this through retrospective interview, more structured questions should
be asked in the next stage of research especially to understand the reasons behind their
thoughts and actions (i.e., why do they think the formula, Physics concept, strategy,
decision, interpretation or answer is correct?). However, the weakness of doing so is that

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the students may not remember the reasons or may not have a specific reason for
performing certain actions or thinking processes, partly because they are performed in a
subconscious manner. Moreover, if the students were stopped at the point of their
problem-solving and probed about the reasons for their thoughts or actions, this would
interrupt their problem-solving process (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977).
However, if future research does not intend to understand the problem-solving
process further (since it has been established in the present study), it is useful to replicate
this study (using the same kind of Physics problems, thinking-aloud technique,
theoretical sampling and PhyPT) but question the students at various points of the
problem-solving process to investigate their thoughts and metacognitive knowledge. In
this way, we can gain more insight into the students thinking in problem-solving.
Furthermore, by using this studys research method of carefully matching the
students with difficult problems, one can observe metacognitive monitoring at a more
conscious level. As reported in section 5.1.6, the students mostly monitored at a
subconscious level. When they were confronted with a difficult problem where they did
not know how to proceed with, their metacognitive monitoring became more explicit.
This is the point where metacognitive monitoring can be diagnosed in a deeper way as
the students are more conscious of their thinking process.
As suggested in the previous section, one of the ways forward into improving
Physics problem-solving is to provide the students with meaningful problem-solving
experience that will be useful for them in the future. Further research needs to be carried
out to explore the possible teaching and learning techniques that could achieve this. I
have suggested CAT to assist in gaining meaningful problem-solving experience where
the teachers could not meet the needs of all the students individually. This is by no
means the best approach and is not to substitute the role of teachers in classrooms, but as
the use of computers technology is seen as what most children now and in the future will
be increasingly familiar with (especially in countries where information technology is
fostered), it is thought to be a more practical way to achieve the objective. If CAT may
be used, it opens up a whole new world of research into the design of Physics problems
for KS4 students, in investigating the various types of Physics problems and in

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categorising them into different levels of difficulty before they are tested with students
and programmed into the CAT system.

6.6 Reflections
When I was formulating the research questions in this study, I wanted an
immediate and direct answer to the problem of how to improve students Physics
problem-solving. I realised that there was no straight-forward answer and the more I
desperately sought a solution, the deeper I delved into the roots of the problem, far from
the solution. Therefore, my initial plan to investigate the best Physics problem-solving
approach changed to understanding how students solve Physics problem. I have heard
from teachers about how poor their students problem-solving skills are and how much
they need to improve.
With that in mind, I started my study using an open-ended research method
because I did not want to restrict myself only to what the teachers said, preferring to
investigate myself what the students could show me about themselves. To my surprise, I
found that some of the students exhibited problem-solving skills that were creative,
flexible and most importantly practical to reach a solution. The use of graphs to solve a
linear motion problem (Problem 3) by Isaac, the answer given by Helen in Problem E
using test-and-check and the pattern-searching strategy shown by Marco in Problem 4,
are some of the examples which amazed me as to how far the students could reach if they
tried hard to solve the problem. I am proud of their performance and thankful for their
time and effort in participating in this study.
As I mentioned in Chapter 3, GT is a painstaking research method and may not
be very suitable for a doctoral student who needs to complete his/her study within a
limited timeframe. I was not optimistic that I would reach the point of theoretical
saturation in such a short period of time. Indeed, I did not reach this point in the
metacognitive aspect, although I have established a few patterns of Physics problem-
solving among KS4 students. It could be that due to my lack of experience and
theoretical sensitivity in using the technique that I chose, I could not fully manipulate it in
order to elicit the information that I required from the students, especially in the
retrospective interview. The lack of experience in interpreting data and making

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inferences from it may also have contributed to the failure in reaching theoretical
saturation on the part of metacognition. The urge to carry out the next stage of this study
is strong but the constraints (e.g., permission to stay away from my teaching position,
time and money) from my sponsor prevent me from spending more time in this study.
However, GT provided very systematic and useful data analysis procedure that
focused and directed my attention to the development of patterns, core categories and
theories (substantive and formal). Glaser and Strauss (1967) mentioned about core
category which is the end result of selective-coding after the exhaustive open-coding and
axial-coding. By practising the GT procedure, the core category of Justifying was
identified as one of the metacognitive skills and test-and-check as the most common
practice of the students when facing very difficult Physics problems. A substantive
theory (a step before a formal theory) of metacognition in Physics problem-solving was
developed (see section 6.3) through GT which emphasised on the formation of theory by
working towards theoretical saturation.
The substantive theory developed for the metacognitive skills in Physics problem-
solving offers a lot of potential for extension and refinement. This will definitely be a
part of my future research works. As one of my colleagues in Malaysia has just started to
examine CAT, I am keen to work with her to explore the possibility of working on a CAT
that can be used both in research (to find the correct level of Physics problem-solving
difficulty for students) and teaching and learning (to assess Physics problem-solving
skills and provide meaningful problem-solving experience).
I have learnt during my MPhil (in Educational Research) at the University of
Cambridge that a dissertation or thesis is a research report of arguments and justifications
for what a researcher has decided upon and implemented in a research project. Indeed, a
large portion of the present thesis is representative of this. However in GT, the writing of
a thesis, as Charmaz (2006) stated, is to extend a GT journey and present the opportunity
for drafting new discoveries with each revision of the data and analysis. Even though I
thought that I had analysed to the furthest degree that I could before I wrote Chapters 4
and 5, when I started to write these chapters about one year ago, I could not avoid
engaging in data analysis and interpretation. A thesis writing-up plan of nine months
turned into 19 months because I was forced to revise and change my interpretations of the

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data and analysis as I was writing this thesis. Reflection, rethinking, re-judging and re-
analysing my data, codings, memos and analysis were intertwined with my writing of
these chapters. To an extent, Strauss and Corbin (2008) even introduced the notion of
letting go in reporting GT research because it is established that there could be no end
to interpreting the data and there is always room for improvement and alteration of the
analysis during the writing-up of GT-based research. As the literature of Physics
problem-solving and metacognition is ever-evolving, new ideas and theories can always
bring new insights to my study. It is better to let this be a comma, rather than a full-
stop, and let the valuable training experience and theoretical sensitivity that I have
gained through this research training process be a guide for me to continue this journey in
another country.

6.7 Conclusions
Figure 5.1 evidently portrays the pattern of KS4 students in solving difficult
Physics problem-solving from the viewpoint of metacognition. The three sub-patterns
divide the students into different style of problem-solving where Patterns 2 and 3
represent more successful patterns which should be the next goal of improvement for
students represented by Pattern 1. Five metacognitive skills monitoring, regulating,
evaluating, reflecting and justifying were identified among the students and
demonstrated in various steps of problem-solving. These skills should be incorporated
into the problem-solving instruction to further refine the students problem-solving skill.
All these findings were drawn from evidence collected and analysed through the
methodology of GT which contains a self-check system that offers me the confidence to
accept the findings.
In this chapter, I have provided an extensive summary of the findings of this
study, including substantive theories related to Physics problem-solving and
metacognition which could be further extended, developed and verified. I have clearly
illustrated how KS4 students solve Physics problems and some ways that metacognition
influences this process. Some suggestions for teachers to improve Physics problem-
solving and for future researchers in this particular field to continue to research are also
outlined in this chapter. Finally, I offer some thoughts and reflections on my whole

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research journey and my belief that I have fulfilled the main objective of this doctoral
project I have undergone meaningful educational research training and gained
experience and knowledge from it to be implemented and improved upon in the future.

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Amigues, R. (1988). Peer interaction in solving physics problems: Sociocognitive
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Appendix A - Categories created during open-coding in Stage 1

Category Meaning
Reading Reading the problem.
Read back Reading the problem more than one time.
Planning Saying what to do next.
Goal Setting a goal or sub-goal to be achieved.
Interpreting Saying the meaning of the problem.
Reasoning Saying the meaning of the answer.
Calculating Saying the mathematical calculation.
Checking Saying the steps again to look for error.
Arrange equation Arranging the variables in an equation.
Arrange information Write down the information from the problem.
Remembered Trying to think back what was done before.
Have Saying what are the variables that one already had or discover.
Answer The answer of the calculation.
Doubt Saying uncertainty about ones situations.
Correction Making correction to ones calculation or interpretation.
Confirm Be sure about an answer or interpretation.
Another way Approach the problem using another method.
Self Talking to oneself.
Thinking Saying words like Um, Well, So, Hmm, A,
Metacognitive Talking about oneself, usually with I or me.
statement

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Appendix B - Categories created during axial-coding in Stage 1

Category Subcategory Meaning


Reading Reading the problem.
Read back Reading the problem more than one time.
Planning Saying what to do next and the goal or sub-goal.
Arrange equation Arranging the variables in an equation.
Arrange information Write down the information from the problem.
Interpreting Saying the meaning of the problem and answer,
trying to make sense of the answer.
Calculating Saying the mathematical calculation.
Checking Saying the steps again to look for error.
Correction Making correction to ones calculation or
interpretation.
Confirm Be sure about an answer or interpretation.
Another way Approach the problem using another method.
Memory Trying to think back what was done before.
Reflecting Assessing ones situation, monitoring the
progress of problem-solving.
Self Talking to oneself or self-questioning.
Metacognitive Talking about oneself, usually with I or me.
statement

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Appendix C Open coding for problem-solving steps in Stage 2

Analysing 1 searching for the possible concept [time, distance] by looking at the features of the
question and variables to link to the concept
Analysing 2 show understanding by rewording the question in own words [which means]
Analysing 3 from variables to possible equation
Analysing 4 the current situation [I got, I have]
Analysing 5 unsuccessful
Analysing 6 successful
Analysing 7 analysing goal, how to reach the goal
Analysing 8 error/mistake
Analysing 9 key information
Analysing 10 - identify the importance of information
Analysing 11 the representation
Answering 1 answering the question or reach the goal
Answering 2 reaching sub-goal
Arranging 1 variables
Arranging 2 equation (algebra)
Calculating 1 simply calculation
Calculating 2 calculate and at the same time check answer by interpreting the meaning
Calculating 3 by giving reasons
Calculating 4 doing algebra
Checking 1 simply look back again
Checking 2 checking the logic of the equation after doing arranging the equation
Checking 3 - answer
Checking 4 reread to see if the goal is achieved as required by the question
Checking 5 checking the plan
Checking 6 checking the steps
Checking 7 feeling of knowing, turn back and check
Checking 8 another way of calculation to check
Checking 9 checking through interpreting the meaning
Interpreting 1 the meaning of the goal
Interpreting 2 the meaning of the answer [that would be super fast]
Interpreting 3 logic of the answer
Planning 1 determining the goal and then interpreting the goal
Planning 2 use ifthen through the variables to match the possible equation/formula and then do
algebra (arranging the equation)
Planning 3 know exactly what to do next
Planning 4 say what to do next unsurely, do whatever that seems logical
Planning 5 use ifthen to find out what to do next (sub-goal)
Planning 6 improve the plan (another way)
Planning 7 determining the sub-goal
Predicting what the outcome might be
Reading 1 cognitive, understand the question, first read
Reading 2 read again the question to further understand and find some clues
Reading 3 to check the answer, to find out if the answer had fulfilled the goal of the problem, with
checking
Reading 4 with analysing
Reading 5 with planning
Reasoning 1 through the surface feature of the question
Reasoning 2 if then
Reasoning 3 why do a thing such a way
Reflecting 1 remembering the question
Reflecting 2 realise mistake (make correction)
Reflecting 3 difficult of the problem (Task variable)
Reflecting 4 about ownself (personal variable)

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Appendix D Axial coding for problem-solving steps in Stage 2

Category Subcategory Description


Reading the Reading 1 cognitive, understand the question, usually the first reading
question Reading 2 read (usually second reading) the question to further understand
and find some clues (including the goal)
Reading 3 with Checking 4
Reading 4 with Analysing 2
Reading 5 with planning
Reading 6 with Analysing 9
Reflecting on Reflecting 1 remembering a task (as done or not done before, task variable)
the question Reflecting 2 realise mistake (make correction)
Reflecting 3 difficulty of the problem (task variable) EOL
Reflecting 4 about oneself (personal variable)
Analysing Analysing 1 searching for the possible Physics concept
what could be Analysing 2 show understanding by rewording the question in own words,
done building a representation
Analysing 3 the variables to match the possible equation/formula
Analysing 4 the current situation, what Ive done so far
(calculated/interpreted not directly from the question)
Analysing 7 analysing goal, how to reach the goal
Analysing 8 error/mistake
Analysing 9 arranging key information (variable)
Analysing 11 converting into something easy
Planning Planning 1 determining the goal
what needed to Planning 2 Analysing 3 and then arranging the equation
be done Planning 3 know exactly what to do next
Planning 4 (trial & error) say what to do next unsurely, do whatever that
seems logical through reasoning
Planning 5 determining the sub-goal(s)
Planning 6 improve the plan (another way)
Planning 8 need to arrange the information (Analysing 9)
Calculating Calculating 1 simply calculation (cognitive)
carry out the Calculating 2 calculate and at the same time do checking
plan Calculating 3 with reasoning
Calculating 4 Arranging 2
Calculating 5 emphasis on the units (because of checking)
Answering Answering 1 answering the question or reach the goal
Interpreting Interpreting 2 the meaning of the answer
give another Interpreting 3 logic of the answer
meaning Interpreting 4 put in the units to understand the meaning
Checking go Checking 1 simply look back again (recap)
through again, Checking 2 checking the logic of the equation arrangement
either answers, Checking 3 checking the answer by interpreting
steps, plans, etc. Checking 4 reading to see if the goal is achieved as required by the question
Checking 5 checking the plan/analysis
Checking 6 checking the steps, go back and do again
Checking 7 FOK, turn back and check
Checking 8 another way of calculation to check
Checking 9 Reading 2 if misread or miss the clue/cue of the question
Testing Testing 1 thinking of a plan and check by trying if it works

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Appendix E Axial coding for problem-solving steps in Stage 3

Category Subcategory Description


Reading the Reading 1 cognitive, understand the question, usually the first reading
question Reading 2 read (usually second reading) the question to further understand
and find some clues (including the goal)
Reading 3 with Checking 4
Reading 4 with Analysing 2
Reading 5 with planning
Reading 6 with Analysing 9
Reflecting on Reflecting 1 remembering a task (as done or not done before, task variable)
the question Reflecting 2 realise mistake (make correction)
Reflecting 3 difficulty of the problem (task variable) EOL
Reflecting 4 about oneself (personal variable)
Analysing Analysing 1 searching for the possible Physics concept
what could be Analysing 2 show understanding by rewording the question in own words,
done building a representation
Analysing 3 the variables to match the possible equation/formula
Analysing 4 the current situation, what one has done so far
(calculated/interpreted not directly from the question)
Analysing 7 analysing goal, how to reach the goal
Analysing 8 error/mistake
Analysing 9 arranging key information or electrical components (variable)
Analysing 11 converting into something easy
Planning Planning 1 determining the goal
what needed to Planning 2 Analysing 3 and then do algebra (arranging the equation)
be done Planning 3 know exactly what to do next
Planning 4 (trial & error) say what to do next unsurely, do whatever that
seems logical through justifying (deciding)
Planning 5 determining the sub-goal(s)
Planning 6 improve the plan (another way)
Planning 8 need to arrange the information (Analysing 9)
Calculating Calculating 1 simply calculation (cognitive)
carry out the Calculating 2 calculate and at the same time do checking
plan Calculating 3 with justifying
Calculating 4 Arranging 2
Calculating 5 emphasis on the units (because checking)
Answering Answering 1 answering the question or reach the goal
Interpreting Interpreting 2 the meaning of the answer
give another Interpreting 3 logic of the answer
meaning Interpreting 4 put in the units to understand the meaning
Checking go Checking 1 simply look back again (recap)
through again, Checking 2 checking the logic of the equation arrangement
either answers, Checking 3 checking the answer by interpreting
steps, plans, etc. Checking 4 reading to see if the goal is achieved as required by the question
Checking 5 checking the plan/analysis
Checking 6 checking the steps, go back and do again
Checking 7 FOK, turn back and check
Checking 8 another way of calculation to check
Checking 9 Reading 2 if misread or miss the clue/cue of the question
Testing Testing 1 thinking of a plan and check by trying if it works
Justifying Justifying 1 using because/cause to justify the reason to do something or
thinking in such a way
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Appendix F Open-coding for metacognitive skills in Stage 2


Thinking of... Code Meaning Description
Memory MoM Monitoring memory monitoring which part of the understanding (through
reading) is similar to the memory
KM Checking memory checking if the memory triggered is correct as thought
RM Reflecting the memory considering ones memory
Concept CM Finding concept from deciding which concept to accept
memory
MoC Monitoring the concept monitoring the concepts available in mind, choosing a
concept
RC Reflecting the concept considering the meaning of the concept in mind
KC Checking the concept justify the acceptance of concept
Goal MoG Monitoring the goal monitoring the determination of the goal
MoG-Qu Monitoring the goal through monitoring the development of the goal by self-
questioning questioning
ReG Regulating goal determining the goal from different information in
mind, focus the mind to a goal
RG Reflecting on the goal considering the goal in mind
KG Checking the goal justify the acceptance of the goal
Knowns MoKnG Monitoring the knowns to choosing the goal from the known
determine the goal
MoKn Monitoring the knowns monitoring the knowns in mind
MoKn-Qu Monitoring the knowns monitoring the elicitation of information from the
through questioning problem through questioning
ReKn Regulating the knowns choosing the information in mind
RKn Reflecting the knowns considering meaning of the knowns in mind
KnU Knowns to unknown thinking from what are knowns to what is unknown
Representation MoRep Monitoring representation monitoring the development of the meaning of the
problem
RRep Reflecting the considering the representation (in mind) of the problem
representation
Equation MoEq Monitoring the equation monitoring the equations available in mind, choosing
an equation
KEq Checking equation checking the correctness of equation in mind
Personal RP Reflecting personal aspect what do i think about my thinking or myself
Plan MoPl Monitoring the plan monitoring the development of the plan
MoPl-Qu Monitoring the plan through monitoring the development of the plan by self-
questioning questioning
RePl Regulating a plan choosing to do something or carry out a plan
RPl Reflecting the plan considering the plan that is in mind to justify the
acceptance of the plan
Problem- AlM/FOK Alert of a mistake/Feeling sensing an error in the answer or plan that is going to
solving of knowing be accepted
process MoPc Monitoring the problem- monitoring the problem-solving process, back to front
solving process and front to back, time to time
RPc Reflecting the problem- the need to thinking about the problem-solving process
solving process
KPc Checking the problem- checking if there is any error in the problem-solving
solving process process
Answer KAI Checking answer through checking the correctness of the answer by thinking the
interpretation meaning or interpretation of the answer
KAI/Co Checking answer through checking the correctness of the answer by thinking the
interpretation and meaning or interpretation of the answer and comparing
comparison with other answer(s)
KA Checking the answer checking the correctness of the answer before the
acceptance
RA Reflecting the answer the need to thinking about the answer in mind
MoA-Qu Monitoring the answer monitoring the development of acceptance of the
through questioning answer through self-questioning
Calculation ClM Calculating in the mind making calculation in ones mind without any aid
Reading ReRd Regulating reading deciding a need to read

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Appendix G Axial-coding for metacognitive skills in Stage 2

Metacognitive Code Meaning Description


aspect
Memory MoM Monitoring memory monitoring which part of the understanding
(through reading) is similar to the memory
EM Evaluating memory determining if the memory or experience is
useful to in problem-solving
RM Reflecting memory considering which part of the memory or
experience was relevant to the problem
Concept MoC Monitoring a concept monitoring concepts available in mind, choosing
a concept
EC Evaluating a concept considering the accuracy of a concept in mind
JC Justifying a concept justify the acceptance of a concept
Understanding MoUn Monitoring understanding monitoring and keeping track of what one
understands
EUn Evaluating understanding evaluating if the understanding is correct
compared to the problem statement
RUn Reflecting understanding considering the meaning or interpretation of
information from the problem
JUn Justifying understanding giving justification for what one believes or
knows is true
ReUn Regulating understanding thinking of a strategy to enhance understanding
Problem MoRep Monitoring a problem monitoring the development of the meaning of
representation representation the problem
ReRep Regulating a problem devising ways to develop better problem
representation representation
Goal MoG Monitoring a goal monitoring the determination of a goal
EG Evaluating a goal considering the accuracy of a goal
JG Justifying a goal justify the acceptance of a goal
ReG Regulating a goal determining the goal from different information
in mind, focus the mind to a goal
Plan MoPl Monitoring a plan monitoring the development of a plan
EPl Evaluating a plan considering the accuracy of a plan
JPl Justifying a plan justifying the acceptance of a plan
RPl Reflecting a plan considering the workability of a plan that is in
mind
RePl Regulating a plan choosing to do something or carry out a plan
Problem- MoPc Monitoring problem- monitoring the problem-solving process, back to
solving solving process front and front to back, time to time
process EPc Evaluating problem- checking if there is any error in the problem-
solving process solving process
JPc Justifying problem-solving justifying the decision to perform the problem-
process solving process
RPc Reflecting problem-solving the need to thinking about the problem-solving
process process
RePc Regulating problem- regulating the problem-solving process according
solving process to what is more acceptable and easier to solve a
problem
Answer MoA Monitoring an answer monitoring the development of acceptance of an
answer
EA Evaluating an answer checking the correctness of an answer before
accepting it
JA Justifying an answer justifying the reason to accept an answer
RA Reflecting an answer the need to reconsider an answer
Self RP Reflecting about oneself what do i think about my thinking or myself

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


246

Appendix H A combination of categories of problem-solving steps and metacognition in


Stage 3

Problem-solving steps Metacognition Description


Reading the Reading 1 - cognitive, understand the question, first read
question Reading 2 MoUn, RM, read again the question to further understand and
MoG find some clues
Reading 4 ReUn, MoRep, with Analysing 2
MoC, MoG,
MoPl
Reading 5 MoPl with Planning
Reading 6 MoUn, RM with Analysing 9
Reflecting Reflecting 1 MoM, RM remembering the question (as done or not done
Metacognition before, task variable)
Reflecting 2 RePc, RA realise mistake (make correction)
Reflecting 3 JUn, RUn difficulty of the problem (task variable) EOL
Reflecting 4 RP about oneself (personal variable)
Analysing Analysing 1 KC, JC, MoC searching for the possible concept
what could be Analysing 2 MoUn, MoRep show understanding by rewording the question in
done ReUn, ReRep own words, building a representation
Analysing 3 - the variables to match the possible equation/formula
Analysing 4 KPc, RPc, the current situation, what one has done so far
ReUn, JPc
Analysing 7 KG, JG, MoG analysing goal, how to reach the goal
Analysing 8 KPc, KA, RA error/mistake
Analysing 9 MoUn, RM arranging key information or electrical components
(variable)
Planning Planning 1 KG, JG, ReG determining the goal
what needed Planning 2 - Analysing 3 and then do algebra (arranging the
to be done equation)
Planning 3 KPc, RPc, know exactly what to do next
ReUn, RePl
Planning 4 KPc, KA, RA, (trial & error) say what to do next unsurely, do
RPl whatever that seems logical through Justifying
(deciding)
Planning 5 KG, JG, ReG determining the sub-goal(s)
Planning 6 KPc, KA, RA, improve the plan (another way)
RPl
Calculating Calculating 1 - simply calculation (cognitive)
carry out the Calculating 2 MoPl, MoA calculate and at the same time do Checking
plan Calculating 3 MoPc, KA, JA with Justifying
Calculating 4 - arranging the algebra
Calculating 5 MoPc emphasis on the units
Answering Answering 1 - answering the question or reach the goal
Justifying Justifying 1 JC, JUn, JG, Making justification before a decision or action is
Metacognition JPl, JPc, JA taken
Checking go Checking 1 - simply look back again (recap)
through again, Checking 2 - checking the logic of the equation after doing
either algebra
answers, steps, Checking 3 KA, JA, RA checking the answer by Interpreting
plans, etc. Checking 4 KA, KG Reading 2 to see if the goal is achieved as required
by the question
Checking 5 KPl checking the plan/analysis
Checking 6 KPc checking the steps, go back and do again
Checking 7 MoPc FOK, turn back and check
Checking 8 KA another way of calculation to check
Testing Testing 1 KPl thinking of a plan and check by trying if it works
Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)
247

Appendix I - Preset interview questions

Suggested by Charles et al. (1992) for evaluating problem-solving:

1. Why did you use this method?


2. How do you know you are correct? Why?
3. How did you think of this solution?
4. What was the first thing that came into your mind when you had just finished reading the
problem?
5. How did you know that you have to solve this first?
6. Can you please explain how did you solve this problem?
7. In your opinion
8. How do you feel

Other questions:
1. Do you think this problem is difficult for you? Why?
2. Did you have immediate solution for this problem?
3. Do you usually check your answer?
4. Why did you do this (from observation)?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


248

Appendix J Questions for retrospective interview (Stage 2)

1. Do you think the question is difficult? Why?


2. Do you think your answer is correct? Why?
3. What was the first thing that came into your mind after you had finished reading the
question?
4. Have you learnt about (Physics concept)? Do you remember it?
5. Do you think this question is familiar for you? Have you seen this question before? Do you
remember the way you did it?
6. Why did you do this (circling, underlining, drawing, reading twice, etc.)?
7. Why did you draw this diagram? Do you think you are better at looking at a diagram than at
words?
8. Did you plan how to solve this problem? How?
9. Do you like to use formulae to answer a question? Why?
10. Did you check your answer? Why?
11. Do you usually check your answer? Why?
12. Why did you go back to read the question again?
13. Do you like mathematics/science? Do you think you are good at it?
14. Do you do a lot of mathematics/science exercises?
15. Do you always think of another way to solve a problem? Why?
16. You said/did this when you were solving the problem. Why?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


249

Appendix K Physics Problems Test 1 (PhyPT1) & suggested solutions

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
Faculty of Education

Patterns of Physics Problem Solving From the Perspective of Metacognition

This questionnaire is design to investigate the patterns of Physics problem


solving among Key Stage 4 students in Cambridge. You are asked to do
the following:

1. Please answer all questions. You are allowed to use calculator and the
equations provided in page 2.
2. Please write down all your answer and any thoughts about the
questions in the paper provided. Please continue at the back of the
paper if there is not enough space.
3. There is no time limitation in answering all the questions.
4. Please do not leave any questions blank.
5. All the information given by you in this questionnaire is strictly
confidential and is used only for the purpose of the research.

Thank you very much for your time and corporation.

Fatin Aliah Phang binti Abdullah


Faculty of Education
University of Cambridge
January 2006

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


250

Please answer the following questions. All the information in this page is only for my
reference and is strictly confidential.

Name: _______________________________________________________________

Gender: ______________________________________________________________

School: _______________________________________________________________

Class: ________________________________________________________________

Do you like Physics? YES / NO (Please circle your answer)

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


251

Here is something to help

Some variables in Physics:

s distance (metre, m)
t time (second, s)
v velocity (m/s)
u initial velocity (m/s)
a acceleration (m/s2)

Some constant in Physics:

1 kilometre (km) = 1000 metre (m)


1 hour = 60 minutes
1 minutes = 60 seconds (s)
g = 10.0 m/s2

Some equations in Physics:

s
v=
t
v!u
a=
t
v2 = u2 + 2as
s = !(u+v)t
s = ut + !at2
v = u + at
F = ma

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


252

1 If you are cycling from your house to the school which is 3.0 km away in a
velocity of 5.0 m/s, what is the latest time should you start cycling if you dont
want to be late at school?

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


253

2 Jenny is the winner of 100 m race, Sophia is the winner of 800 m race and
Cynthia is the winners of 1500 m races in your school. They all claim that they
are the fastest runner in the school. Jenny used 18.5 s to finish the race, Sophia
144.0 s and Cynthia 500.0 s. So, you tell me, who is the fastest?

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


254

3 The record of the 100 m x 4 relay (each runs 100 m) in your school is 89.9 s.
Jenny (in question no. 2) is the first runner of your team, followed by Cynthia and
Sophia. If they all run at their usual speed as in question no. 2, you, as the last
runner, how fast should you run, at least to beat 0.1 s of the record (0.1 s faster
than the record)?

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


255

4 Your velocity of running up stair is 4.0 m/s for the first 10.0 s. And you decelerate
0.2 m/s2 after that. The velocity of the lift is 6.0 m/s or 1! floors per second, as
the height of each floor is 4.0 m. You always have to wait for 10.0 s for the lift to
come to the ground floor. If you want to go to the 15th floor (count from ground
floor, first floor, second floor and so on), which way will be faster for you?

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


256

5 John is cycling in the velocity of 2.0 m/s, Gray is skating in the acceleration of 2.0
m/s2 from rest, and Tom is riding in the deceleration of 5.0 m/s2 from a velocity of
10 m/s. In a distance of 10.0 m, who will reach the finishing line last?

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


257

6 A lorry moved to the East from rest until it reached a constant velocity of 50.0
m/s in 20.0 seconds. A car was moving with an acceleration of 4.0 m/s to the
West in 10.0 second from the starting point. The car moved into the lorrys lane in
order to cross a car in front of it as shown in Figure 1. When both the lorry and
the car were in a distance of 500.0 m opposite to each other, they stepped on the
break immediately. The lorry took 10.0 seconds to stop while the car took 5.0
seconds to stop. Will there be any road accident happening? Why?

Lorry Car

FIGURE 1

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this?

- END -
THANK YOU VERY MUCH
Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)
258

Suggested solution for the PhyPT1


(The solutions given are for the school reference. There may be better and more
than one solution)

1 If you are cycling from your house to the school which is 3.0 km away in a
velocity of 5.0 m/s, what is the latest time should you start cycling if you dont
want to be late at school?

s = 3.0 km
v = 5.0 m/s
s = 3.0 x 1000 m = 3000 m
t=?
s
v=
t
3000m
5.0 m/s =
t
3000m
t=
5 .0 m / s
t = 600 s
600
=
60 min
= 10 min
Time to start cycle
= time the school start (depend on your school) 10 minutes

2 Jenny is the winner of 100 m race, Sophia is the winner of 800 m race and
Cynthia is the winners of 1500 m races in your school. They all claim that they
are the fastest runner in the school. Jenny used 18.5 s to finish the race, Sophia
144.0 s and Cynthia 500.0 s. So, you tell me, who is the fastest?

Jenny: Sophia: Cynthia:

s = 100 m s = 800 m s = 1500 m


t = 18.5 s t = 144.0 s t = 500.0 s
v=? v=? v=?
s s s
v= v= v=
t t t
100m 800m 1500m
= = =
18.5s 144.0 s 500.0 s
= 5.41 m/s = 5.56 m/s = 3.00 m/s

Sophia has the biggest value of speed, so Sophia is the fastest.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


259

3 The record of the 100 m x 4 relay (each runs 100 m) in your school is 89.9 s.
Jenny (in question no. 2) is the first runner of your team, followed by Cynthia and
Sophia. If they all run at their usual speed as in question no. 2, you, as the last
runner, how fast should you run, at least to beat 0.1 s of the record (0.1 s faster
than the record)?

The time for each to run for 100 m:

Jenny: Sophia: Cynthia:

s = 100 m s = 100 m s = 100 m


v = 5.41 m/s v = 5.56 m/s v = 3.00 m/s
t=? t=? t=?
s s s
v= v= v=
t t t
s s s
t= t= t=
v v v
100m 100m 100m
= = =
5.41m / s 5.56m / s 3.00m / s
= 18.5 s = 18.0 s = 33.3 s

The time taken by Jenny, Sophia and Cynthia = 18.5 s + 18.0 s + 33.3 s = 69.8 s
The time that you have to run = 89.9 s 69.8 s = 20.1 s
The time that you have to run to beat 0.1 s of the record = 20.0 s

For you:
s = 100 m
t = 20.0 s
v=?
s
v=
t
100m
=
20.0 s
= 5.0 m/s

I need to run in a speed of 5.0 m/s to beat at least 0.1 s of the record.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


260

4 Your velocity of running up stair is 4.0 m/s for the first 10.0 s. And you decelerate
0.2 m/s2 after that. The velocity of the lift is 6.0 m/s or 1! floors per second, as
the height of each floor is 4.0 m. You always have to wait for 10.0 s for the lift to
come to the ground floor. If you want to go to the 15th floor (count from ground
floor, first floor, second floor and so on), which way will be faster for you?

Height from ground floor to the 15th floor:


4.0 m x 16 = 64.0 m

Running: By lift:
v = 4.0 m/s v = 6.0 m/s
t = 10.0 s s = 64.0 m
s=vxt t=?
= 4.0 m/s x 10.0 s s
= 40 m v=
t
s
a = -0.2 m/s2 t=
v
u = 4.0 m/s
64.0m
s (remaining) = 64.0 m 40.0 m = t=
24.0 m 6 .0 m / s
t=? = 10.67 s
s = ut + !at2
24.0 m = (4.0 m/s)t + !(-0.2 Total time by lift = 10.0 s + 10.67 s
m/s2)t2 = 20.67 s
24 = 4t 0.1t2 (x10)
240 = 40t t2
t2 40t + 240 = 0 b ! b 2 ! 4ac
t = 7.35 s 2a

Total time = 10 s + 7.35 s = 17.35 s

The time for running up the stair is shorter so running would be faster.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


261

5 John is cycling in the velocity of 2.0 m/s, Gray is skating in the acceleration of 2.0
m/s2 from rest, and Tom is riding in the deceleration of 5.0 m/s2 from a velocity of
10 m/s. In a distance of 10.0 m, who will reach the finishing line last?

John: Gray: Tom:


v = 2.0 m/s a = 2.0 m/s2 a = -5.0 m/s2
s = 10.0 m u = 0.0 m/s u = 10.0 m/s
t=? s = 10.0 m s = 10.0 m
s t=? t=?
v= s = ut + !at2 s = ut + !at2
t
s 10.0 m = (0.0 m/s)t + !(2.0 10.0 m = (10.0 m/s)t + !(-5.0
t= m/s2)t2 m/s2)t2
v
10 = t2 10 = 10t -2.5t2 (x 2)
10.0m
t= t = 3.16 s 20 = 20t 5t2
2 .0 m / s 5t2 20t + 20 = 0 ( ! 5)
= 5.0 s 2
t 4t + 4 = 0
(t 2)(t 2) = 0
t = 2.0

John uses the longest time to do the same distance as Gray and Tom, so John is
last to reach the finishing line.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


262

6 A lorry moved to the East from rest until it reached a constant velocity of 50.0
m/s in 20.0 seconds. A car was moving with an acceleration of 4.0 m/s to the
West in 10.0 second from the starting point. The car moved into the lorrys lane in
order to cross a car in front of it as shown in Figure 1. When both the lorry and
the car were in a distance of 500.0 m opposite to each other, they stepped on the
break immediately. The lorry took 10.0 seconds to stop while the car took 5.0
seconds to stop. Will there be any road accident happening? Why?

Lorry Car

FIGURE 1

Lorry:
u = 50.0 m/s
v = 0.0 m/s
t = 10.0 s
s=?
s = !(u + v)t
= !(50.0 m/s + 0.0 m/s) 10.0 s
= 250.0 m

Car:
Before break
u = 0.0 m/s
a = 4.0 m/s2
t = 10.0 s
v1 = ?
v1 = u + at
= 0.0 m/s + (4.0 m/s2)(10.0 s)
= 40.0 m/s

After break
u = v1 = 40.0 m/s
v = 0.0 m/s
t = 5.0 s
s=?
s = !(u + v)t
= !(40.0 m/s + 0.0 m/s) 5.0 s
= 100.0 m

Total distance = 250.0 m + 100.0 m = 350.0 m


There is still a distance of 150.0 m between the lorry and the car, so there will be no road
accident happened.
263

Appendix L Physics Problems Test 2 (PhyPT2) & suggested solutions

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
Faculty of Education

Patterns of Physics Problem Solving From the Perspective of Metacognition

This questionnaire is design to investigate the patterns of Physics problem


solving among Key Stage 4 students in Cambridge. You are asked to do
the following:

6. Please answer all questions. You are allowed to use calculator and the
equations provided.
7. Please write down all your answer and any thoughts about the
questions in the paper provided. Please continue at the back of the
paper if there is not enough space.
8. There is no time limitation in answering all the questions.
9. Although the questions are designed to be more difficult, you are
asked to try them all and please do not leave any questions blank.
10. All the information given by you in this questionnaire is strictly
confidential and is used only for the purpose of the research.

Thank you very much for your time and corporation.

Fatin Aliah Phang binti Abdullah


Faculty of Education
University of Cambridge
January 2007

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


264

Please answer the following questions. All the information in this page is only for my
reference and is strictly confidential.

Name: _______________________________________________________________

Gender: ______________________________________________________________

School: _______________________________________________________________

Class: ________________________________________________________________

Does Physics always appear to be interesting for you?

YES / SOMETIMES / NO (Please circle your answer)

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


265

HELP SHEET
Here is something to help

Some variables in Physics: Some equations in Physics:


d
s or d distance (metre, m) s!
t
t time (second, s)
s
v or s velocity / speed (m/s) v=
t
u initial velocity / speed (m/s)
v"u
a acceleration (m/s2) a=
t
h height (m) v2 = u2 + 2as
F Force (Newton, N) s = !(u+v)t
m mass (kilogram, kg) s = ut + !at2
P Pressure (Pascal, Pa) v = u + at
2
A Area (m ) F = ma
E Energy (Joule, J) F
P (Pressure) =
V potential difference (V) A
I Current (Ampere, A) V = IR
R !"#$#%&'(")*+,-.)/0 P (Power) = IV
P Power (Watt, W) EElectrical = Pt
EKinetic = !mv2
Some useful constants:
1 hour = 60 minutes Some electrical symbols:
1 minutes = 60 seconds (s) wire
1 kilometre (km) = 1000 metre (m) bulb
1 m = 100 cm cell
1 m2 = 10000 cm2 battery
g = 10.0 m/s2 ! ~ ! alternate current (a.c.)
switch

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


266

1 A mirror reflects the image of an object. The closer an object to the mirror, the
bigger the image will be. Alis height is 170cm, Bobs height is 150cm, Cins
height is 130cm and Dias height is 100cm. They want to take a picture that
will show that Cin is the tallest, Bob is the shortest while Ali and Dia want to
look the same height. How would you position them in front of your camera to
have this effect? Put their names in the grid below accordingly.

Camera

Questionnaire:

c. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

d. Do you have any immediate solution for this? (Did you get your solution
straight away?)

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


267

2 Emma, Fran, Gina and Hana are walking on sandy beach together. Emma
wears a pair of high-heel shoes with the total area that touches the beach is 44
cm2; Fran wears a slipper with the total area that touches the beach is 90 cm2;
Gina wears a pair of boots with the total area that touches the beach is 60 cm2;
and Hana wears a pair of trainers with the total area that touches the beach is
78 cm2. They all have the same weight (including their clothes and shoes) and
walking at the same pace. Who has the deepest trace on the beach? Put them in
order from the deepest to the shallowest.

Questionnaire:

c. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

d. Do you have any immediate solution for this? (Did you get your solution
straight away?)

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


268

3 There are 4 pairs of different types of shoes as in question no. 2. Ian, Jane,
Kate and Lim want to walk on the beach together and making the same depth
of traces on the beach. Ians weight is 68.25 kg, Janes weight is 38.50 kg,
Kates weight is 52.50 kg and Lims weight is 78.75 kg. Can you match them
with the appropriate shoes so that they can make the same depth of traces on
the beach?

Questionnaire:

c. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

d. Do you have any immediate solution for this? (Did you get your solution
straight away?)

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


269

4 To avoid the missile from a marine ship, a submarine has to be at least 2500
metres underneath the surface of the ocean. A submarine and a marine ship
can only measure the distance in the water using ultrasound scan by measuring
the time for the sound to travel forth and back. When the marine ship detects
an echo of the ultrasound coming back in 4 seconds, it fires a missile to the
submarine underneath. Do you think the submarine will be hit? (The speed of
ultrasound in the water is 1500 m/s)

Questionnaire:

c. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

d. Do you have any immediate solution for this? (Did you get your solution
straight away?)

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


270

5 Jenny is the winner of 100 m race, Sophia is the winner of 800 m race and
Cynthia is the winner of 1500 m race in your school. They all claim that they
are the fastest runners in the school. Jenny used 18.5 s to finish the race,
Sophia 144.0 s and Cynthia 500.0 s. So, you tell me, who is the fastest?

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this? (Did you get your solution
straight away?)

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


271

6 The best record of the 100 m x 4 relay (each runs 100 m) in your school is
89.9 s. Jenny (in question no. 5) is the first runner of your team, followed by
Cynthia and Sophia. If they all run at their usual speed (as in question no. 2),
and you, as the last runner, how fast should you run, at least to beat 0.1 s of the
record (0.1 s faster than the record)?

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this? (Did you get your solution
straight away?)

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


272

7 You are given 4 new batteries, 6 bulbs, 1 switch and some wires. If you want
to light 3 bulbs brightly and 3 bulbs dimly, how would you assemble all these
electrical components? Please show a working circuit in a drawing/diagram.

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this? (Did you get your solution
straight away?)

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


273

8 A lorry moved to the East from stationary until it reached a constant speed of
50.0 m/s in 20.0 seconds. A car was moving with an acceleration of 4.0 m/s2
to the West in 10.0 second from the starting point. The car moved into the
lorrys lane in order to cross a car in front of it as shown in Figure 1. When
both the lorry and the car were in a distance of 500.0 m opposite to each other,
they stepped on the brake immediately. The lorry took 10.0 seconds to stop
while the car took 5.0 seconds to stop. Will there be any road accident
happening? Why?

Lorry Car

FIGURE 1

Questionnaire:

a. Do you think this is difficult for you? Please explain.

b. Do you have any immediate solution for this? (Did you get your solution
straight away?)

- END -
THANK YOU VERY MUCH

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


274

Suggested solution for the PhyPT2

(The solutions given are for the school reference. There may be better and more
than one solution)

1 A mirror reflects the image of an object. The closer an object to the mirror, the
bigger the image will be. Alis height is 170cm, Bobs height is 150cm, Cins
height is 130cm and Dias height is 100cm. They want to take a picture that
will show that Cin is the tallest, Bob is the shortest while Ali and Dia want to
look the same height. How would you position them in front of your camera to
have this effect? Put their names in the grid below accordingly.

Approximated answer Bob > Ali > Dia > Cin

2 Emma, Fran, Gina and Hana are walking on sandy beach together. Emma
wears a pair of high-heel shoes with the total area that touches the beach is 44
cm2; Fran wears a slipper with the total area that touches the beach is 90 cm2;
Gina wears a pair of boots with the total area that touches the beach is 60 cm2;
and Hana wears a pair of trainers with the total area that touches the beach is
78 cm2. They all have the same weight (including their clothes and shoes) and
walking at the same pace. Who has the deepest trace on the beach? Put them in
order from the deepest to the shallowest.

Emma > Gina > Hana > Fran


F
(The smaller the area the deeper the trace) P (Pressure) =
A

3 There are 4 pairs of different types of shoes as in question no. 2. Ian, Jane,
Kate and Lim want to walk on the beach together and making the same depth
of traces on the beach. Ians weight is 68.25 kg, Janes weight is 38.50 kg,
Kates weight is 52.50 kg and Lims weight is 78.75 kg. Can you match them
with the appropriate shoes so that they can make the same depth of traces on
the beach?

F 1
P (Pressure) = (To ensure P is constant, F !" )
A A
So big F has to match with small A and vice versa.

385 N
Jane High-heel shoes 2
= 87500 N/m2 or Pa
P=
0.0044m
525 N
Kate Boots P= = 87500 N/m2 or Pa
0.0060m 2
682.5 N
Ian Trainers P= = 87500 N/m2 or Pa
0.0078m 2
787.5 N
Lim Slippers P= 2
= 87500 N/m2 or Pa
0.0090m
*Calculation is not a must to answer the question.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


275

4 To avoid the missile from a marine ship, a submarine has to be at least 2500
metres underneath the surface of the ocean. A submarine and a marine ship
can only measure the distance in the water using ultrasound scan by measuring
the time for the sound to travel forth and back. When the marine ship detects
an echo of the ultrasound coming back in 4 seconds, it fires a missile to the
submarine underneath. Do you think the submarine will be hit? (The speed of
ultrasound in the water is 1500 m/s)

2 seconds for the ultrasound to go and 2 seconds to come back

s
v=
t
s
1500m/s =
2s
s = 3000m
3000m is more than 2500m, so the missile will not be able to hit the
submarine.

5 Jenny is the winner of 100 m race, Sophia is the winner of 800 m race and
Cynthia is the winner of 1500 m race in your school. They all claim that they
are the fastest runners in the school. Jenny used 18.5 s to finish the race,
Sophia 144.0 s and Cynthia 500.0 s. So, you tell me, who is the fastest?

Jenny: Sophia:

s = 100 m s = 800 m
t = 18.5 s t = 144.0 s
v=? v=?
s s
v= v=
t t
100m 800m
= =
18.5s 144.0s
= 5.41 m/s = 5.56 m/s

Sophia is the fastest.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


276

6 The best record of the 100 m x 4 relay (each runs 100 m) in your school is
89.9 s. Jenny (in question no. 5) is the first runner of your team, followed by
Cynthia and Sophia. If they all run at their usual speed (as in question no. 5),
and you, as the last runner, how fast should you run, at least to beat 0.1 s of the
record (0.1 s faster than the record)?

The time for each to run for 100 m:

Jenny: Sophia: Cynthia:

s = 100 m s = 100 m s = 100 m


v = 5.41 m/s v = 5.56 m/s v = 3.00 m/s
t=? t=? t=?
s s s
v= v= v=
t t t
s s s
t= t= t=
v v v
100m 100m 100m
= = =
5.41m / s 5.56m / s 3.00m / s
= 18.5 s = 18.0 s = 33.3 s

The time taken by Jenny, Sophia and Cynthia


= 18.5 s + 18.0 s + 33.3 s = 69.8 s
The time that you have to run = 89.9 s 69.8 s = 20.1 s
The time that you have to run to beat 0.1 s of the record = 20.0 s

For you: s
v=
s = 100 m t
t = 20.0 s 100m
v=? = = 5.0 m/s
20.0 s

7 You are given 4 new batteries, 6 bulbs, 1 switch and some wires. If you want
to light 3 bulbs brightly and 3 bulbs dimly, how would you assemble all these
electrical components? Please show a working circuit in a drawing/diagram.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


277

8 A lorry moved to the East from stationary until it reached a constant speed of
50.0 m/s in 20.0 seconds. A car was moving with an acceleration of 4.0 m/s2
to the West in 10.0 second from the starting point. The car moved into the
lorrys lane in order to cross a car in front of it as shown in Figure 1. When
both the lorry and the car were in a distance of 500.0 m opposite to each other,
they stepped on the brake immediately. The lorry took 10.0 seconds to stop
while the car took 5.0 seconds to stop. Will there be any road accident
happening? Why?

Lorry Car

FIGURE 1

Lorry:
u = 50.0 m/s
v = 0.0 m/s
t = 10.0 s
s=?
s = !(u + v)t
= !(50.0 m/s + 0.0 m/s) 10.0 s
= 250.0 m

Car:
Before break
u = 0.0 m/s
a = 4.0 m/s2
t = 10.0 s
v1 = ?
v1 = u + at
= 0.0 m/s + (4.0 m/s2)(10.0 s)
= 40.0 m/s

After brake
u = v1 = 40.0 m/s
v = 0.0 m/s
t = 5.0 s
s=?
s = !(u + v)t
= !(40.0 m/s + 0.0 m/s) 5.0 s
= 100.0 m

Total distance = 250.0 m + 100.0 m = 350.0 m


There is still a distance of 150.0 m between the lorry and the car, so there will be
no road accident happened.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


278

Appendix M Additional Physics problems for Phase 3 of the research

For Stage 1

1 If you are cycling from your house to the school which is 3.0 km away in a
velocity of 5.0 m/s, what is the latest time should you start cycling if you dont
want to be late at school?

2 Jenny is the winner of 100 m race, Sophia is the winner of 800 m race and
Cynthia is the winners of 1500 m races in your school. They all claim that they
are the fastest runner in the school. Jenny used 18.5 s to finish the race, Sophia
144.0 s and Cynthia 500.0 s. So, you tell me, who is the fastest?

3 The record of the 100 m x 4 relay (each runs 100 m) in your school is 89.9 s.
Jenny (in question no. 2) is the first runner of your team, followed by Cynthia
and Sophia. If they all run at their usual speed as in question no. 2, you, as the
last runner, how fast should you run, at least to beat 0.1 s of the record (0.1 s
faster than the record)?

4 You can cycle 800 m in 2 minutes. You friend can cycle 900 m in 3 minutes.
In a 9 km race, you want to finish at the same time with your friend. If your
friend starts cycling at 8.30am, what time should you start cycling to reach the
finishing line together?

5 John can finish a 100 m race in 19.4 s, Toby can finish a 200 m race 35.2 s and
Chris can finish a 800 m race in 130.1 s. The record of the 400 m x 4 relay
(each runs 400 m) in your school is 280.1 s. John is the first runner of your
team, followed by Toby and Chris. If they all run at their usual speed as above,
you as the last runner, how fast should you run, at least to beat 0.1 s of the
record (0.1 s faster than the record)?

For Stage 2

1-8 are problems as in PhyPT2

9 If you are cycling from your house to the school which is 3.0 km away in a
velocity of 5.0 m/s, what is the latest time should you start cycling if you dont
want to be late at school?

10 You can cycle 800 m in 2 minutes. You friend can cycle 900 m in 3 minutes.
In a 9 km race, you want to finish at the same time with your friend. If your
friend starts cycling at 8.30am, what time should you start cycling to reach the
finishing line together?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


279

11 John can finish a 100 m race in 19.4 s, Toby can finish a 200 m race 35.2 s and
Chris can finish a 800 m race in 130.1 s. The record of the 400 m x 4 relay
(each runs 400 m) in your school is 280.1 s. John is the first runner of your
team, followed by Toby and Chris. If they all run at their usual speed as above,
you as the last runner, how fast should you run, at least to beat 0.1 s of the
record (0.1 s faster than the record)?

12 There are 4 pairs of different types of shoes: slipper with the total area that
touches the ground is 90 cm2; high-heel shoe with the total area that touches
the ground is 44 cm2; trainer with the total area that touches the ground is 60
cm2; and boot with the total area that touches the ground is 78 cm2. Susan,
Tom, Uma and Vivian are walking on sandy beach together. Toms weight is
68.25 kg, Susans weight is 38.50 kg, Vivians weight is 52.50 kg and Umas
weight is 78.75 kg. Can you match them with the appropriate shoes so that
Tom and Vivian make the same depth of traces on the beach while Susan and
Uma have different depth?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


Appendix N Problem E for Stage 3 280

Some electrical symbols:


wire
bulb
battery
switch

E You are given 4 new batteries, 6 bulbs, 1 switch and some wires. If you want
to light 3 bulbs brightly and 3 bulbs dimly, how would you assemble all these
electrical components into ONE circuit?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


Appendix O Consent Form 281

CONSENT FORM

Research Title: Patterns of Physics Problem-Solving Among Key Stage 4 Students from the
Perspective of Metacognition

Purpose of the research: To observe and understand the patterns of Physics problem-solving
among Key Stage 4 students in-depth using recorded thinking-aloud and interview.

Researcher: Fatin Aliah Phang binti Abdullah (email: fap24@cam.ac.uk)


PhD Student
Faculty of Education / New Hall
University of Cambridge, Cambridge

Supervisor: Dr. Keith S. Taber, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

This is a consent form for student participating in the interview and thinking-aloud protocol to
read and sign as to give his/her consent to be committed in this research.

Student Name:

Email Address:

Class:

School:

Science Teacher (Physics):

I, as the student name stated above have been explained by the researcher about the
procedures of this research that I am going to participate. I understand all the procedures and
am willing to be fully participate in the following process(es):

a. I am willing to participate all the interviews and thinking aloud for the Physics problems
given by the researcher. Yes / No

b. All the interviewed & thinking-aloud for the Physics problems given can be recorded
digitally using audio device. Only the researcher & her supervisor can listen to the recording.
It can only be played for academic purposes where my name and identity is remained
anonymous. Yes / No

c. All the interviewed & thinking-aloud for the Physics problems given can be recorded
digitally using video device. Only the researcher & her supervisor can watch the recording. It
can only be played for academic purposes where my name & identity is remained anonymous.
Yes / No

I will give full commitment to this research but remain the right to withdraw from the
research at any point of the time. I certify that the above information is correct.

Yours sincerely,

Student Name:
Date:

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


282

Appendix P - Summary of How to solve it taken from Polya, G. (1990) How


to solve it: A new aspect of mathematical method (2nd ed.) (p.xxxvi-xxxvii)

UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM


First. You have to understand the problem.
What is the unknown? What are the data? What is the condition?
Is it possible to satisfy the condition? Is the condition sufficient to determine the
unknown? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?
Draw a figure. Introduce suitable notation.
Separate the various parts of the condition. Can you write them down?

DEVISING A PLAN
Second. Find the connection between the data and the unknown. You may be obliged
to consider auxiliary problems if an immediate connection cannot be found. You
should obtain eventually a plan of the solution.
Have you seen it before? Or have you seen the same problem in a slightly different
form?
Do you know a related problem? Do you know a theorem that could be useful?
Look at the unknown! And try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a
similar unknown.
Here is a problem related to yours and solved before. Could you use it? Could you use
its result? Could you use its method? Should you introduce some auxiliary element in
order to make its use possible?
Could you restate the problem? Could you restate it still differently? Go back to
definitions.
If you cannot solve the proposed problem try to solve first some related problem.
Could you imagine a more accessible related problem? A more general problem? A
more special problem? An analogous problem? Could you solve a part of the
problem? Keep only a part of the condition, drop the other part; how far is the
unknown then determined, how can it vary? Could you derive something useful from
the data? Could you think of other data appropriate to determine the unknown? Could
you change the unknown or data, or both if necessary, so that the new unknown and
the new data are nearer to each other?
Did you use all the data? Did you use the whole condition? Have you taken into
account all essential notions involved in the problem?

CARRYING OUT THE PLAN


Third. Carry out your plan.
Carrying out your plan of the solution, check each step. Can you see clearly that the
step is correct? Can you prove that it is correct?

LOOKING BACK
Fourth. Examine the solution obtained.
Can you check the result? Can you check the argument?
Can you derive the solution differently? Can you see it at a glance?
Can you use the result, or the method, for some other problem?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


283
Appendix Q An example of interview transcript at the beginning of Stage 2 (Peter)
After Problem 1 & 2 After Problem 3

Q1 Do you think this question is easy for you? Q13 Do you think this question is difficult?
Um, no I have to think about it but Im not entirely Um, I think its reasonably easy.
sure if its right.
Q14 Does this question sound familiar for you?
Why? As long as you know the um the speed equals
Um, well, I think that if you are further away from distance over time formula I think its okay.
the mirror, the bigger your image will show and the
closer you are the smaller would be. So, um, I put Q15 Do you memorise the formula?
the person who needs to be tallest the furthest Yeah
away, the person who needs to be the shortest the
closest. And then because, um, Ali and Dia want to Q16 Why?
be the same and Ali was taller, um, Ali has to go I dont know, its just useful. If you have to do,
closer so smaller than cause Dia needs to be cause in maths you use it quite a lot as well to do
bigger cause the further away you are from the problems and also in science.
mirror the bigger image would be.
Q17 Do you usually do a lot of science exercise at
Q2 Look at the first and second sentences. home?
A mirror reflects the image of an object. The closer Yeah, reasonably exercise at home, yeah.
the object to the mirror, the bigger the image
will be. Q18 What was the first thing that comes into your
mind after you have finished reading the
Q3 Did you read the two sentences? question?
Yeah, I read them but I dont take them in. Um, the formula.

Q4 Can you understand them? Q19 Why?


The closer, um, the bigger the image would be, so Well you got to find out speed and whos the
you need to be closer, I get that. So the closer you fastest so thats the easiest way.
are, as in from the mirror, so the bigger your
reflection will be. Q20 But there is not speed stated in the problem.
No, no, but youve got to find out whos the fastest
Q5 Have you learnt about mirrors in science class? and that must be speed.
Um, we havent really use them, no, we havent
read that much. Q21 The triangle, is that from maths or science?
A bit of both, I think. Cause Ive done something
Q6 Have you learnt about glasses or rainbow? in maths but Ive done something in science as
Not really. well. So its like just memorise it extra in science
when using it.
Q7 Do you understand the first two sentences?
Yeah, yeah. Q22 Have you learnt about speed in science?
Um, Ive done a bit of formula work in it, um, but
Q8 Do you agree the nearer you are the bigger you not as such in Year 10. Ive done it previously.
are? Probably either in Year 8 or 9.
If you are closer to mirror the bigger your, um,
reflection will be. Um, the closer you are to the Q23 Do you like to use formula?
camera the bigger your image will show. Then if Well, if I can, it can be easier.
you are further away, so, yeah.
Q24 Do you think Cynthia is the fastest?
Q9 Do you understand the concept? Yes, I think so because she did the race in, um, its
Yeah, I understand it now. If I did it again Ill do it like, I dont know, its just
differently.
Q25 Do you think you solve the problem using
Q10 Do you realise that before this or just now? experience like in racing or just mathematical?
Not really, it just tricked now. I havent really I think its just mathematical.
thought about it much.
Q26 Do you think you have done this question
Q11 Do you think you are good in science? before?
I wont say Im the best but I would say Um, I have done it before, in one of the tests that
intermediate. you gave?

Q12 Are you interested in science? Q27 Do you remember how you solve it?
Yeah.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


284
I think it may have been this way, I cant really After Problem 4
remember it.
Q41 What does 5.0 means?
Q28 Do you usually remember how you do it? Its how fast you run in a mile, Im not sure.
It depends on what kind of question it is.
Q42 Why miles per hour?
Q29 If its an easy question? Could be metres per second.
I remember it, yeah
Q43 What is speed?
Q30 If its a difficult question? Its like how fast an object travels.
If it is a really, really difficult, Ill remember as
well but if its just usual, I probably no. Q44 If the speed of a person running is 2 metres per
second, what does that mean?
Q31 Do you like to use logic to answer your Every 2 metres the person runs, no, every second
question? the person runs 2 metres.
If I can put formula in but usually its like logic.
Q45 If a car is travelling 10 miles per hour, what
Q32 In the mirror question, is it more on logic or does that mean?
using formula? You do 10 miles in an hour. The car will travel 10
Logic. miles in an hour.

Q33 Why were you measuring the grid line when you Q46 If Jenny is running 5.4 m/s, what does that
were doing this question? mean?
Yeah, I was wondering whether it has something to She will do 5.4 metres in a second.
do with it, whether it is something to do with it.
Whether, like this, if its 17 or Im not exactly sure. Q47 What about Cynthia?
There must be something to do with the question. She will run 3 metres in a second.

Q34 Do you always check your answer? Q48 So who is faster?


For this I didnt. But for something, like if I have a Um, if Jenny does 5.4 m/s, then she is quicker than
massive exam, if I have the time Ill go back and Cynthia.
check the correction.
Q49 What about Sophia?
Q35 Do you check step by step or you check the Shes like in between. No, Cynthia, no Sophia, she
whole thing after you have finished it? runs 5.5, so shes the fastest.
I go over it once again after Ive done all of it. Like
this, if I did 3 times 500 and that would equal 1500, Q50 Do you understand speed?
that should be right. Yeah, I get it now. I knew it in somewhere but I
just didnt put it in.
Q36 Why did you scribble off that?
Cause I got it wrong, cause I did 100 times 18.5, Q51 Do you run at school?
instead of divide. No.

Q37 When did you realise that its wrong? Q52 Do you always make the same mistake again
Umm, I wanted to do this question, I thought, I and again, why?
thought the number is a bit like high. I knew its Yeah, I dont know, its just got into a habit
probably wrong, so I thought Id better do it a probably. I did I there and then I did it there. Not
different way again. always, and depends on what Im doing.

Q38 Do you always think of another way to do the Q53 Do you think this question looks familiar for
questions? you?
Um, no vary sometime, its just depends on what I have done a similar question but probably
the question is. approached it in a different way.

Q39 Do you plan how to solve the problem after Q54 So, you usually think of another of doing a
reading the question? question?
Um, usually reading it I think of the way to solve it Yeah, if Ive got the time.
but otherwise Ill read it maybe over again.

Q40 Why did you write down all the information in


this way?
Well, its easy to see and pick out and work out
from.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


285
After Problem 5 I think I dont need them. Cause if youve got
a wider surface area then you just need to put a
Q55 Do you think your answer is correct? heavier person to support the weight, Jane is
Yes. lighter, she doesnt need a wider surface area to
support her weight.
Q56 Why?
Well, if you are heavy then you need a wider Q60 So this is an easy question for you?
surface area to support your weight and if you are Yes.
lighter you dont need that much.
Q61 Do you always encounter this type of question?
Q57 How do you know that? No.
I dont know. You just know like, you knew it, I
dont know why. You just know it naturally. Q62 Do you think you friends know the concept of
pressure?
Q58 Have you learnt about it? Yes.
Not really.
Q63 Why?
Q59 Why didnt you use any formula in this I dont know. Its something really logical.
question?

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


286
Appendix R An example of interview transcript at the end of Stage 2 (Oscar)
After Problem 1 Im sure about it I wont return myself and do it
again.
Q1 Is this question easy?
Its a bit vague because if I was actually told to Q13 Are you sure with your answer for this
look for pressure, I know thats applied and I can question?
understand that, I would probably have been Im absolutely positive this is the way to do it.
getting it without thinking it, to be honest.
Q14 What was the first thing that came into your
Q2 How did you know its about pressure? mind after you finished reading the question?
Because it says put them all from the deepest to the The formula (P=F/A).
shallowest and because if you think about sand and
you press hard on it, its going to become a shallow Q15 Is that what the school teach you?
mark, get a pen and dig into it, its going to be I just kind of pick it up myself. While I was
quite deep. thinking about that first I would actually think what
was going on and I pictured it in my mind.
Q3 How do you know about it?
Because I tried it myself and it kind of makes Q16 Why theres no working in this question?
sense. Because this is very straight forward and it doesnt
actually give you all the necessary components so
Q4 Have you been walking on sandy beach? theres no necessary to show the working.
Yeah Ive been to lots of beaches and Ive tried
stuff like that and it just makes sense because if
you just think of a pen and a needle piercing on a After Problem 2
thing, if you did that like this [the cap of a pen], it
wont be able to pierce. Q17 Do you think you get the correct answers?
Well I made the exact calculation but if I was given
Q5 How do you learn about that? just like a number between each of them, thats
The idea is kind of comes to you in life. Like, lets what I would get, thats what makes sense.
say, Oh because that [a pen] got a small area
when youre learning in class, its just kind of put it Q18 Why did you think you need to do calculation?
into a bit more details. To be honest I dont know, if I put down an answer
which is right even if I didnt put the calculation
Q6 Where did you learn about that? down, I personally think I should get the marks.
I just kind of figure it out. I learnt it last year but I But I suppose the reason I do that is for security
think just from walking around you will be able to reason, just to make sure whoever marks that will
figure out the smaller area. give me marks.

Q7 You were thinking of using a formula to answer Q19 How did you realise that you have made a
the question but you didnt, why? mistake?
Thats probably just because you were told if you One of 2 things will happen, most commonly Ill
want an extra marks you need to show your be so sure that Im right but I just dont want to
working. fail. I go back to read the question again.

Q8 Is this question difficult? Q20 How did you know you have to go back to read
Although its vague, its kind of straight forward at the question again?
the same time and its kind of in my area but if its Well, to be honest, when I was looking at the next
electricity I wont be able to do it. person, and when I realised that it was actually
low, I correct it.
Q9 Do you like science?
Yeah. Q21 Do you think this question is easy?
Its easy but like I said, if its other topic I might
Q10 Do you think you are good in science? not be able to do it.
So so
Q22 Do you usually check your answer in the middle
Q11 Do you like maths? of your work?
Maths used to be my star subject but its not after Yeah, I just check if I have a neck-aching feeling
Year 10. like oh this is wrong, what are you doing?, then
Ill check.
Q12 Do you usually check your answer?
That would depend. If Im really sure about my
answer and even if it does turn out to be wrong, if
Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)
287
After Problem 3 Q27 How do you know that you need to do speed?
Because its just kind of implied who is faster, so
Q23 Do you think your answer is correct? fast is speed.
I dont know. I get through half of that and was
pretty sure but when I got up to the conversion of 9 Q28 Do the first two questions look familiar for you?
km race, I dont actually know if I should times We did it one of those questionnaires you gave us.
that by 9.
Q29 Do you remember how you did it?
Q24 Why did you times 9? No, Ive got a bad memory.
Because I just thought how am I going to get that
(speed) in time, so I just thought times that by 9. Q30 Would it be helpful for you to try to think back
the way you did it?
Q25 Do you think this question is easy? I honestly think if I try to think the way I did it, I
This is the most difficult question. wont be able to focus on the answer that Im
working on.
Q26 Who is cycling faster here?
I cycled faster because of the equation. I figured Q31 Does this question look familiar for you?
out the speed. I did the distance over time for each Ive seen this type of question before but most of
of us, I got 6.6 m/s and he only got 5 m/s, so Im these questions are from text book. I come across
faster. them more in maths.

Fatin Aliah PHANG binti Abdullah (PhD in Education)


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