deciding whether or not two problems would be solved similarly; see Figure 7.2. (See Chapter 6 for an example of the type of item used in the categorization task of Figure 7.2.) It is also worth noting that both Figures 7.1 and 7.2 illustrate two other issues that we have discussed in this volume, namely that time on task is a major indicator for learning and that deliberate practice is an efficient way to promote expertise. In both cases, the control group made significant improvements simply as a result of practice (time on task), but the experimental group showed more improvements for the same amount of training time (deliberate practice).
Introductory physics courses have also been taught successfully with an approach for problem solving that begins with a qualitative hierarchical analysis of the problems (Leonard et al., 1996). Undergraduate engineering students were instructed to write qualitative strategies for solving problems before attempting to solve them (based on Chi et al., 1981). The strategies consisted of a coherent verbal description of how a problem could be solved and contained three components: the major principle to be applied; the justification for why the principle was applicable; and the procedures for applying the principle. That is, the what, why, and how of solving the problem were explicitly delineated; see Box 7.4. Compared with students who took a traditional course, students in the strategy-based course performed significantly better in their ability to categorize problems according to the relevant principles that could be applied to solve them; see Figure 7.3.
Hierarchical structures are useful strategies for helping novices both recall knowledge and solve problems. For example, physics novices who had completed and received good grades in an introductory college physics course were trained to generate a problem analysis called a theoretical problem description (Heller and Reif, 1984). The analysis consists of describing force problems in terms of concepts, principles, and heuristics. With such an approach, novices substantially improved in their ability to solve problems, even though the type of theoretical problem description used in the study was not a natural one for novices. Novices untrained in the theoretical descriptions were generally unable to generate appropriate descriptions on their own—even given fairly routine problems. Skills, such as the ability to describe a problem in detail before attempting a solution, the ability to determine what relevant information should enter the analysis of a problem, and the ability to decide which procedures can be used to generate problem descriptions and analyses, are tacitly used by experts but rarely taught explicitly in physics courses.
Another approach helps students organize knowledge by imposing a hierarchical organization on the performance of different tasks in physics (Eylon and Reif, 1984). Students who received a particular physics argument that was organized in hierarchical form performed various recall and problem-solving tasks better than subjects who received the same argument