Powercatgoldy.bmpEffects of Attentional Cueing on Novice Problem Solvers

Tanner J. Stevens




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Project Design


Working With:

Advisor:  Dr. N. Sanjay Rebello

Graduate Student: Adrian Carmichael


Kansas State University

Physics Department  

REU Program

NSF Homepage





My project investigated how students react to visual cueing when solving introductory physics problems. 

Previous studies have suggested that students who answer visual problems correctly with the right

conceptual understanding tend to look at certain areas more frequently, while students with incorrect

conceptual understanding look at other areas of the problem.  Our goal is to cue students to look in areas

where most “expert” problem solvers look while tracking the students’ eye movements to see whether we

can help students activate prior knowledge, solve the problem and gain a better understanding of the

concepts used. 



Project Design


Students were asked to solve conceptual physics problems with highly visual components while we tracked

their eye movements.  There were four groups of problems, each being on a problem from a previous study

which showed large differences in eye movements between correct and incorrect students.  After solving each

problem, the students were asked to explain their reasoning.  If the student answered incorrectly or gave

incorrect reasoning, they were shown a similar problem.  Students in the cued condition saw colored shapes

flash across the screen in the similar problems, while students in the non-cued condition saw the problem as

normal.  Once the student answered correctly with correct reasoning, or if they didn’t answer correctly after

three similar problems, students were shown a transfer problem, involving the same concept but in a

different context, to determine whether the student could still apply the reasoning to other situations. 

Answers for all problems were recorded, and each interview was video recorded and audio recorded for

qualitative analysis on students’ explanations. 




I first looked at students’ accuracy on the transfer problems.  Over all problems, students in the cueing

condition correctly solved the transfer problem with correct reasoning 34.4% of the time, while students in

the non-cueing condition gave correct answers and reasoning 25.9% of the time.  Students verbal responses

were also analyzed and categorized into different mental models used to solve each problem.  It was found in

the cued group of students that the average number of changes in mental model per problem group was

higher than the non-cued group in three of the four problem groups.  More in-depth data analysis will be

available soon in my final presentation below.




I am currently finalizing a proposal to present my project at the National Association of Research in Science

Teaching (NARST) Annual Conference.  If my proposal is accepted, I will complete and present a full paper

at the conference in Orlando in April, 2011.  Wish me luck!  Unfortunately, since the review process is

double-blind, I will not be posting my paper here.  I have posted my final presentation slides below. 


Final Presentation