Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education



Lyrica L. Lucas

Date of this Version



Lucas LL, Lewis EB. High school students’ use of representations in physics problem solving. School Science and Mathematics.2019;119:327–339.


Copyright © 2019 School Science and Mathematics Association. Published by Wiley. Used by permission.


Findings from physics education research strongly point to the critical need for teachers’ use of multiple representations in their instructional practices such as pictures, diagrams, written explanations, and mathematical expressions to enhance students' problem‐solving ability. In this study, we explored use of problem‐solving tasks for generating multiple representations as a scaffolding strategy in a high school modeling physics class. Through problem‐solving cognitive interviews with students, we investigated how a group of students responded to the tasks and how their use of such strategies affected their problem‐solving performance and use of representations as compared to students who did not receive explicit, scaffolded guidance to generate representations in solving similar problems. Aggregated data on students' problem-solving performance and use of representations were collected from a set of 14 mechanics problems and triangulated with cognitive interviews. A higher percentage of students from the scaffolding group constructed visual representations in their problem‐ solving solutions, while their use of other representations and problem‐solving performance did not differ with that of the comparison group. In addition, interviews revealed that students did not think that writing down physics concepts was necessary despite being encouraged to do so as a support strategy.