Probing students' critical thinking processes by presenting ill-defined physics problems

N. Erceg, I. Aviani, V. Mešić


Students' reflections on the meaningfulness of physics problem statements and solutions were investigated. The sample consisted of 276 Croatian high school/university students. The students, being at the different learning levels, were all familiar with the physical concepts concerned. Students' critical thinking processes were explored based on their responses to two open-ended ill-defined problems. Further, the teachers' ability to predict the typical students' approach to problem solving was investigated. For this purpose, 48 teachers were administered the closed-ended questionnaire composed of the empirically obtained students' responses to the two ill-defined problems. The results show that ill-defined problems have the potential of eliciting a whole diversity of deep-rooted students' ideas regarding the meaningfulness of problem statements and solutions. Further, the results indicate that the level of students' critical thinking is low regardless of their educational level and curriculum. It seems that traditional teaching does not sufficiently develop critical thinking. The teachers correctly judge the students' ability to consider the meaningfulness of the solution but they significantly overestimate their criticism towards the problem statement. We believe this kind of problems could facilitate the teachers' efforts directed at systematically developing the students' critical thinking processes. Consequently, students' coping with ill-defined problems could help them to improve their real-life competencies, as well as to develop the habit of taking a critical attitude towards the statements and solutions of physics problems.


Critical thinking; ill-defined problem; problem statement; students' problem solving

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Revista Mexicana de Física E

ISSN: 2683-2216 (on line), 1870-3542 (print)

Semiannual publication of Sociedad Mexicana de Física, A.C.
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