Research Papers in Physics and Astronomy


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Dr. V. Plano Clark, as a part of her PhD program, wrote a number of essays for her graduate course in educational psychology, Cognitive Development, #961, taught by Professor David Moshman. Her primary reference for this essay is a chapter by Professor Moshman in the Handbook of Child Psychology, the exact citation is given below:

David Moshman. (1998). Cognitive development beyond childhood. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & D. Kuhn & R. Siegler (Vol. Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 2. Cognition, perception and language (5th ed., pp. 947-978). New York: Wiley.


Moshman's discussion in his chapter from the Handbook of Child Psychology (1998) is very relevant to my work with young adults at UNL and to my interests in physics education. While there are many possible topics upon which I could write in this essay, one statement from this chapter in particular resonated with me and will serve as the starting point of my essay. This statement was as follows (emphasis added):

"Legal thinking may be defined as thinking aimed at determining what the law requires or forbids. It is often argued that legal education should be aimed at teaching a student how to "think like a lawyer, " that is, to engage in legal reasoning." (p. 955)

This statement stood out to me because this is exactly what has been frequently stated as the reason that many students (particularly those pursuing careers in the biosciences and health sciences) are required to take introductory physics. In fact, I believe many bioscience faculty, advisors, and professional school staff, who are unfamiliar with cognitive development, would be entirely comfortable with the following analogous statement.

"Physics thinking may be defined as thinking aimed at solving scientific problems. It is often argued that physics education should be aimed at teaching a student how to "think like a physicist," that is, to engage in scientific reasoning." (p. 955)

If you are willing to accept that this is a fair statement about the beliefs commonly held about the introductory physics course, then I think that a number of related questions and issues immediately come to mind and call for further discussion. Three of these questions are discussed below.

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