ERIC Number: ED331717
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1991-Apr
Teaching Algorithmic Problem Solving or Conceptual Understanding: Role of Developmental Level, Mental Capacity, and Cognitive Style.
Niaz, Mansoor; Robinson, William R.
It has been shown previously that many students solve chemistry problems using only algorithmic strategies and do not understand the chemical concepts on which the problems are based. It is plausible to suggest that if the information is presented in differing formats the cognitive demand of a problem changes. The main objective of this study (involving 62 students in a chemistry course at Purdue University, Indiana) is to investigate the degree to which cognitive variables, such as developmental level, mental capacity, and disembedding ability explain student performance on problems which: (1) could be addressed by algorithms; or (2) require conceptual understanding. All conceptual problems used in this study were based on a figurative format. The results obtained show that in all four problems requiring algorithmic strategies, developmental level of the students is the best predictor of success. This could be attributed to the fact that these are basically computational problems, requiring mathematical transformations. Although all three problems requiring conceptual understanding had an important aspect in common (the figurative format), yet in all three the best predictor of success is a different cognitive variable. It was concluded that: (1) the ability to solve computational problems (based on algorithms) is not the major factor in predicting success in solving problems that require conceptual understanding; (2) solving problems based on algorithmic strategies requires formal operational reasoning to a certain degree; and (3) student difficulty in solving problems that require conceptual understanding could be attributed to different cognitive variables. (32 references) (Author/KR)
Publication Type: Speeches/Meeting Papers; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (Lake Geneva, WI, April 7-10, 1991).