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Students often make errors when trying to solve qualitative or conceptual physics problems, but the process of deduction that students use when solving physics problems has not been thoroughly studied. To better understand that reasoning, I have developed a framework, based on the "Mental Models" framework in psychology championed by P. N. Johnson-Laird. This "Possibilities Framework" allows us to interpret errors in reasoning as a failure to flesh out all of the possibilities that result from the underlying physical premises. This suggests potential interventions for student difficulties that range from overlooking potentially relevant physical quantities to actively oversimplifying the situation.

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In 1910, John Dewey presented a theory of inquiry for educators. He proposed that inquiry involves studying, pondering, considering alternative possibilities and multiple sources of evidence to change or support beliefs. Years later, Piaget claimed that children learn by asking questions and repetition of the same activity. Learning is enhanced when tutors pay special attention to the knowledge and beliefs that learners bring with them before learning task. They use this knowledge as a starting point for giving new instructions and monitor learners changing conceptions as the training progresses. For example, I have observed, sixth graders in a school who were given inquiry-based instruction for Physics were found to do better on conceptual physics problems than eleventh and twelfth standard physics students, who were taught by conventional methods in the same school system. Another study comparing the seventh and twelfth standard students revealed that the younger students, taught through an inquiry-based approach, had a better grasp of the fundamental principles about the subject than the elder ones. In one sense, Dewey was the first to criticize the fact that science education was not taught in a way to develop young scientific thinkers. He proposed that science should be taught as a process and way of thinking and not as a subject with facts to be memorized.

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Conceptual Physics Problems

Several reasons have been proposed to explain students' incorrect answers to conceptual physics problems. Heckler [3] proposed with a perceptual basis: plausible and salient "eye catching" features in a problem capture students' attention. Once students attend to these perceptually salient features, less salient albeit thematically relevant features are not considered and students answer the problem incorrectly based on the salient features. To test this hypothesis we recorded eye movements of introductory physics students on 15 conceptual problems with diagrams. Each diagram contained areas consistent with documented novice-like answers and other areas consistent with the scientifically correct answer. We manipulated the luminance contrast of the diagrams to produce three versions of each diagram, which differed by the area with the highest level of perceptual salience. We found no effect of the salience on the correctness of students' answers. We also discuss how the salience manipulations influence eye movements.