Collaborative Research: Establishing a New Model for Research-Based Curriculum Development in Physics Aligned with Dual-Process Theories of Reasoning

Project: Research project

Project Details


The development of reasoning and critical thinking skills is possibly the most important outcome of college physics instruction, as these abilities extend to all STEM disciplines. They are integral to many non-STEM professions as well. However, research has shown that students who demonstrate correct conceptual understanding and reasoning on one task often fail to use the same knowledge and skills on related tasks. Observed inconsistencies can be accounted for by dual-process theories of reasoning. These theories assert that human cognition relies on two thinking processes. The first heuristic process is fast, intuitive, and automatic. The second analytic process is slow, effortful, and deliberate. Students get incorrect answers when their analytical process fails to reject an incorrect intuitive response. This project will develop classroom activities that give students opportunities to slow down, examine intuitively appealing responses, and recognize instances of biased reasoning. Becoming aware of one's own thinking paths and reasoning approaches is a critical step toward more expert-like reasoning in physics and beyond.

This five-year collaborative project will integrate findings and models from cognitive science into research-based curriculum development efforts in physics to maximize their efficacy by improving student reasoning skills. The project will first develop and document instructional interventions that improve student reasoning. Secondly, it will identify specific mechanisms by which such interventions help students reason productively. Thirdly, the project will establish a framework for curriculum development explicitly aligned with dual-process theories of reasoning. Central to the project will be the development of a portfolio of illustrative examples of research-based instructional materials (along with instructor resources) that attend explicitly to the dual nature of human thinking. The materials will adapt or supplement existing interventions and thus improve their impact. In addition, this project will help researchers gain greater insight into: (1) the reasoning approaches employed by novice physics learners, (2) the factors and circumstances contributing to intuitive student ideas, and (3) strategies by which students mediate their intuitive thinking. Finally, the project will establish a comprehensive framework for developing or enhancing instructional materials that draw upon dual-process theories of reasoning.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date10/1/189/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $158,914.00


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