This week's reading focused on two roughly analogous experiments. In Chase Simon (1973), the authors sought to assess the methods of a master, an amateur, and a beginner in recreating a chess board both from memory and while side by side. In Che et al (1981), the authors examined the ways experts and novices sorted various physics problems. Both studies offer valuable insights into how a subject's thought process relates to their level of expertise in the given field. In both studies, the depth of understanding the subject had of the topic correlated with an apparently stronger ability to recognize core patterns while novices seemed to focus on the more superficial surface image.
In Chase, the authors studied in particular the idea of chunking, essentially attempting to determine the subject's method of sorting the pieces either in their memory (as in the memory task) or physically on the board (as in the perception task) into different groups. They found that experts were able to remember larger chunks, especially when the board the pieces were in positions characteristic of an average chess game. Furthermore, they found experts tended to remember, or chunk, pieces of importance, such as in attacking or defending positions, while novices tended to chunk based more on more superficial characteristics, such as color, type, or relative location of the piece. Beyond simply showing that experts can remember more of the game board than novices, this experiment suggests that experts view the game on a much deeper level than a novice.
A similar trend is suggested in the Che paper. When experts and novices in the field of physics were given the task of sorting various problems into different subtopics, experts tended to group problems based on type while the novices tended to sort problems based more on what they called surface characteristics, such as objects and physical terms used. For example a physics professor might group together a ball falling straight down with a car at constant acceleration (kinematics), while an undergrad might group the falling ball with a ball being swung around on a string, even though the second problem involves a different skill set than the first. This study shows what I think is a very crucial part of not just physics but problem solving in general: Seeing a problem at its core is far more important than superficial details. Understanding what a problem is really asking is half the battle. After that it's usually plug and chug or looking up a table of values.
Perhaps an important conclusion with regards to teaching is to focus importance not on discrete problems, but more on the concrete, consistent principles that unite them and how to recognize these principles in an applied problem.