A Quote that I think Applies to the Different Problem Solving Schemas of Novice and Expert Physicists

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”

Shunryu Suzuki

While this quote is meant to encourage folks to keep the sense of open mindedness in the face of advancing knowledge, I think an alternative interpretation works well for physics instruction.

As Chi et al discuss in their work1, novice and expert physics students approach analyzing problems in wildly different ways:

  • Novices tend to focus on the surface features of the problem: ramps, friction, pulleys, ropes, etc. In their “beginner’s mind” these are all simply different types of problems – there are “ramp problems,” “friction problems,” etc.
  • In the “expert’s mind,” however, there are a lot fewer options: all problems begin from a small set of universal principles: Newton’s Laws, Conservation of Energy, etc.

Perhaps this quote can help students cement their knowledge?

  1. Chi, Michelene T. H., Paul J. Feltovich, and Robert Glaser. “Categorization and Representation of Physics Problems by Experts and Novices*.” Cognitive Science 5, no. 2 (April 1, 1981): 121–52. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15516709cog0502_2.