The relationships among cognitive variables and students' problem-solving strategies in an interactive chemistry classroom

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Joanna O. Masingila


high school

Subject Categories

Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Educational Psychology | Secondary Education and Teaching


Recent reform projects in science education emphasize the development of problem-solving skills through hands-on, inquiry-based investigations in a real world context. Although several curricula that correspond to the goals and recommendations of the reform projects have been developed, the extent to which students with various cognitive backgrounds will benefit from these curricula remains unexplored.

This study had three purposes: (a) the determination of the problem-solving strategies used by students enrolled in Chemistry in the Community (ChemCom) classes; (b) an examination of the changes in students' problem-solving strategy use over time and across units in a ChemCom course; and (c) an investigation of how collaborative processes influence the problem-solving strategies of students in a ChemCom classroom.

The subjects for this study were 12 students from three high schools (selected from 139 students from four high schools) in upstate New York. I administered four instruments to the students in order to measure four cognitive variables (mental capacity, degree of field independence, formal reasoning ability, and meaningful learning orientation). I used the students' scores on these instruments to determine the cognitive profiles of the students, and I selected 12 students to examine with respect to their individual problem-solving strategies and interactions while solving problems in groups.

The four problem-solving strategies used by the students in this study were: (a) Strategy A, which is characterized by deductive reasoning and the use of efficient and accurate procedures; (b) Strategy B, which is characterized by the use of trial and error, multiple procedures, and inductive reasoning; (c) Strategy C, which is characterized by a dependence on algorithms, equations, and other rote tools, and (d) Strategy D, which is characterized by the use of analogies and pattern recognition.

The results indicate that students who had similar cognitive profiles often used similar problem-solving strategies when individually solving problems. In addition, students in three of the four cognitive groups exhibited considerable changes in the relative frequencies of their problem-solving strategy use over the course of three instructional units. Finally, the actions of the students when solving problems in groups were examined with respect to their cognitive profiles.


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