experts adopt a working forward strategy in certain situations (e.g., solving introductory mechanics problems from physics). That strategy may reflect the nature of the particular problem-solving tasks that have been investigated; other problems, from the same or other disciplines, may require different strategies or approaches for successful and/or efficient solution.
Where findings have been replicated in numerous disciplines within and outside the sciences, it is probably safe to presume that those findings generalize to new problem domains or disciplines yet to be investigated. A prime candidate for such a finding is the differential reliance of experts and novices on structural versus superficial features of problems, respectively.
A potential complication of generalizing from cognitive science research relates to the research setting and nature of the problems studied. DBER is typically conducted in classroom settings with discipline-specific problems, whereas much of the cognitive science research—especially early in that field’s history—has been conducted in laboratory settings with puzzle problems or brain teasers. However, cognitive science research on problem solving in more ecologically valid settings and in domains such as physics and mathematics has often yielded comparable results to studies of puzzle problems (Bassok and Novick, 2012). What changes from one problem to another in these situations is the specific knowledge students need to bring to bear on their solution attempts, rather than the underlying cognitive processes. This general pattern of consistent results across disparate types of problems lends support to the committee’s view that findings from cognitive science research on problem solving may be applicable in undergraduate science and engineering domains in which they have not yet been investigated. After all, humans have a single cognitive system, with specific operating parameters and constraints, that underlies their learning and problem solving regardless of the problem or discipline under investigation (Simon, 1978). At the same time, domain knowledge, which the general processes take as input, is important as well. In the inevitable cases where different patterns of results are found across problems or disciplines, these patterns will point to specific areas of science learning where disciplinary knowledge and perspectives are especially critical.
Overview of Discipline-Based Education
Research on Problem Solving
Problem solving is a significant focus of DBER in physics (see Docktor and Mestre, 2011, for a review), chemistry (for reviews, see Bodner and Herron, 2002; Gabel and Bunce, 1994), and engineering (see Svinicki, 2011, for a review), and an emerging area of study in biology and the geosciences. Because problem solving is not taught frequently enough in astronomy, the committee did not find peer-reviewed astronomy education