The use of a thinking skills approach to aid the learning of difficult concepts in physics education
This thesis, 'The Use of a Thinking Skills Approach to aid the Learning of Difficult Concepts in Physics Education', addresses the use and subsequent effect of thinking skills strategies in the teaching and learning of physics at GCSE and A level. The research has been carried out in three separate stages: a) The preliminary research stage; b) The implementation stage, c) The analysis stage. In the preliminary research section, students were asked to grade how difficult they thought certain areas of the physics syllabus were in comparison to other areas and they were asked to comment on why they thought that this was the case. As well as trying to determine the most difficult and least difficult areas of the physics syllabus, other information was collected based on the areas of working memory, mathematics, multiple intelligences, language and vocabulary, confidence and metacognitive self-regulation and Piagetian stages of development. The preliminary research stage was also sensitive to the opinions of teachers, lecturers, physicists and other experts and these people also provided some very relevant information. A literature review was conducted and there were two main reasons for this: firstly, to provide further information as to why certain areas were seen as being more difficult than other areas and secondly, to help with the construction of a Thinking Skills programme which could be delivered to students during the implementation stage of the research. The year groups involved in the research were year groups 10, 11 and 12 respectively. It was possible to adopt an approach of controlled experimentation for the year 10 and 11 groups, with one group in each year group being the control group and one group being the experimental group. The main research period involved a 7-week thinking skills programme that was administered to the experimental groups but not to the control groups. This was not possible in year 12, so the results obtained from this group had to be compared, on a national basis, with other students of the same age via ALIS data provided by the CEM centre at the University of Durham. The thinking skills that were used are documented thoroughly in this thesis. The results showed, for years 10 and 11, that the implementation of a thinking skills programme had a very positive effect on the performance of those students that had received the treatment. Statistical methods such as discriminant analysis, t-tests and the effect size were used to show that the experimental group had significantly outperformed the control groups in both year groups. The year 12 data showed that students at AS level had done better than expected compared with students of similar ability by comparing their ALIS residuals. The results strongly suggest that the thinking skills programme used in this research is a product that could be used to improve the understanding of difficult concepts in physics education at GCSE and AS level throughout the UK.