Improving problem solving capability of students in physical teaching at high schools in Vietnam

Nguyen Thi Nhi – Vinh University, Vietnam.

Tran Ngoc Thang – Department of Education and Training, Binh Phuoc Province, Vietnam.

Abstract: This paper mentions to the improvement of students’ problem solving capacity via the use of exercises in teaching physics at high school in Vietnam. In this paper, the author presents the concept of capacity and problem solving capacity of high school students, the form and procedure of using exercises towards the problem solving capacity improvement in teaching physics at high school through some specific examples.

Keywords: Vietnam, improvement, students, teaching physics, Common capacity.

1. Introduction

Teaching towards the learners’ capacity development is currently the education innovation orientation in Vietnam. Thus, we need to pay attention to the innovation of teaching methods at all levels towards the learners’ capacity development, to identify the key capacity and specialized capacity of the students in order to make the teaching method innovation for training objectives.

1. Capacity and problem solving capacity of high school students

1.1 Capacity

The term “capacity” has been given by R.W.White since 1959, since then there have been many different views on capacity. According to Pham Minh Hac, capacity is a combination of psychological characteristics of a person (also called a combination of psychological attribute of a personality) which works for a specific purpose and produces the result of an activity. The author Dinh Quang Bao assumes that capacity is an attribute that integrates the personality and combines the individual psychological characteristics and it is consistent with the needs of a specific activity to ensure nice results for that activity. The author Lam Quang Thiep assumes that any capacity of a person is usually the combination of knowledge, skills, emotions and attitudes expressed in a particular activity and situation. [1]

Capacity can be divided into two main groups:

  • The group which is defined by the psychological signs, for example, “capacity is an attribute that integrates the personality and combines the individual psychological characteristics and it is consistent with the needs of a specific activity to ensure nice results for that activity”.
  • The group which is defined by the signs of elements making up action ability, for example, “Capacity is the ability to apply knowledge, experience, skills, attitude and excitement to act accordingly and effectively in diverse situations of life” or “Capacity is the ability to master the knowledge, attitude and working systems (and link them) appropriately into the successful implementation of the task or effective solving of the problem of life.
  • In terms of capacity structure, capacity is devided into common capacity and specialized capacity.

Common capacity is the system of personal intellectual attributes by which an individual can get knowledge and make activity easily and effectively. Common capcity is also called inteligence and it is expressed in psychological functions, for example, self-control and self-study capacity, communication and co-operation capacity, problem solving capacity.

Specialized capacity is a system of personal attributes that assures high achievement of the perception and creativity in the specialized areas such as music, painting, sports, literature, science, engineering and technology. Each person has both common capacity and specialized capacity which develop and support each other. The capacity of an individual is subject to his/ her activity in the educational and social condition and is influenced by the social culture.

1.2. Problem solving capacity of students

There are two approaches to problem solving capacity. Traditionally, problem solving capacity is approached in the process of problem solving and the cognitive transformation of the subject after problem solving. Modernly, problem solving capacity is approached in the process of information processing and emphasizes i) the problem solver's thinking or “information processing system”, ii) the problem and iii) problem space. The problem space there is the inner psychological behaviors of problem solver: initial status (known information); intermediate status; desired (target) status; and the way and action strategy to change from one status to another. Thereby, it can be seen that problem solving capacity demonstrates the individual’s capacity (when working individually or in group) to think about the problem situations and search and implement solutions for that problem. Thus, problem solving capaicty can be understood the capacity of an individual to effectively use the cognitive processes, actions and attitudes, motives, and emotions to solve problem situations without available procedures and common solutions. [1,2]

The problem solving capacity of high school students is structured by three elements: problem identification and clarification; solution proposal and selection; solution implementation and effectiveness evaluation. The student's problem solving capacity result can be specified via the behavioral indicators as follows:


Behavioral indicators


Problem identification and clarification

Situation analysis

Problem identification

Problem expression


Solution proposal and selection

Problem related information collection

Solution proposal

Appropriate solution selection


Solution implementation and evaluation

Solution implementation

Solution evaluation

Perception and application of action method to new context.

Ithe field of teaching, the students’ problem solving capacity is formed, developed and practiced through teaching process. Therefore, it is influenced by the elements in the teaching process (including objectives, content, methods, means, test and evaluation). The subjects, who perform the teaching process, are the teacher and the student, so the relationship between problem solving capacity and the elements of the teaching process is as follows. [2,3]

Students’ problem solving capacity is reflected in the students’ process of problem identification and clarification, solution proposal and selection, solution implementation and evaluation. The problem identification and clarification consists of three main tasks including situation analysis, problem identification and problem expression. The solution proposal and selection consist of three main tasks including problem related information collection, solution proposal and appropriate solution selection. The solution implementation and evaluation consists of three main tasks including solution implementation, solution evaluation, perception and application of action method to new context.

Figure 1. Element influencing the students’ problem solving capacity

The problem establishment and organization of problem solving activities of teachers are interrelated with the problem solving activities of students. Depending on the difficulty and subtlety of the problem, the teacher’s appropriate and flexible organization of problem solving activities, students can identify and solve the problem effectively, optimally with quality. And vice versa, through the students’ process of problem solving, teacher will have the condition to experimentally adjust the problem and organize the problem solving activities.

The task of problem solving solution evaluation has impact on the other two tasks (based on the evaluation result, the teacher will adjust the problem, organize the solution proposal and selection; Upon the problem solving result given by teacher, the students know their problem solving levels, and then practice by themselves and re-adjust their problem-solving process)

Elements including objectives, contents, methods and means all affect the problem identification, organization of solution proposal and selection, problem solving activities. Besides, the mean element also affect the problem solving process of students (with different means, students will give different problem-solving processes).

In the process of teaching physics, there are many ways to improve the problem-solving capacity of students. In this paper, we present the use of physics exercises to improve the problem solving capacity of high school students in Vietnam.

2. Use of physics exercises towards problem solving capacity for students

Physics exercise is understood to be a problem that is addressed by logical thinking, mathematical operations and experiments on the basis of laws and physical methods.

Exercise is a traditional teaching tool that effectively promotes the function of training, education, general technical education and development. It is an organic part of the process of teaching physics because it allows the formation and enrichment of physical concepts, the development of physical thinking and the habit of applying knowledge into practice.

Students’ problem solving activities in teaching exercises are activities that take place when students confront real problems in life such as questions, physical problems that need to be solved. They have to find out, think to identify the problem, find a way and be creative to solve that problem. When students have to solve problems themselves, they have to find ways to solve them, solve them and their problem solving capacity is developed.

2.1. Process of using exercises towards the problem solving capacity improvement in teaching physics

Based on the teaching objectives, the role of physics exercises, the students’ problem solving capacity improvement solution, we propose the process of using physics exercises in teaching towards problem solving capacity improvement for students with 4 steps as follows:

Step 1: Select and build an exercise system for problem solving capacity improvement

The selection and building of physics exercise system towards problem solving capacity improvement must be in line with the following principles:

Firstly, it must be consistent with the skills and knowledge in textbooks and the skills and knowledge standards set by the Ministry of Education and Training.

Secondly, it must be ensured to be suitable with the grade level of students and promotes the positive awareness of students.

Thirdly, the scientific content of the knowledge and related subjects must be ensured.

Fourthly, the selected exercises must include the skills of problem solving capacity.

Step 2: Make plan to use problem solving capacity improvement exercises

A good plan will help teachers have a clear orientation during the improvement implementation. Therefore, the planning stage should be carefully and thoughtful prepared. Since the way to organize and use exercises for theoretical periods is not the same as one for practical periods, the problem solving capacity improvement plan is divided into two parts:

- Plan to use problem solving capacity improvement exercise for theoretical periods

The form of using exercises should be clearly defined: Teachers can improve the elements of problem solving capacity through exercises of problem statement to new lessons, new knowledge research exercises, lesson consolidating and applying exercises and tasks at home. The means and time for organizing the improvement should also be defined. The means of teaching play an important role in the teaching process as well as in the problem solving capacity improvement process, therefore, teacher should prepare means to be used during planning. Besides, the time of improvement for specific exercises should be paid attention.

In addition, the teacher also needs to plan the way of organizing the improvement for an effective training.

Step 3: Organize the problem solving capacity improvement as planned

Organization is actually the actualization of the prepared training plan. In the organization process, the teacher should follow the students so that he/ she can orient, consult and support students when necessary. In this process, the elements of problem solving capacity should be paid attention. The answer of the problem solving capacity exercises should be given according to the sequence as follows:

First, state and clarify the problem. The main tasks of this stage are to analyze the problematic situation, to identify the problem and to express the problem. To address this stage, students need to answer the following questions: Is this a problem? What information has been given... This is the stage where students are placed in a problematic situation. Its main purpose is to make students give the cognitive conflicts.

Second, propose and select solution. The main tasks of this stage are to gather information related to the problem, propose solutions and select solution. To address this stage, students need to answer questions like: Has you met this problem? In what situation and context? Remember a related problem and can you use the solution of that problem for this problem? Is the data sufficient to solve the problem? What are the possible solutions to the above problem? Which solution is optimal? Etc.

Third, implement a solution to the problem. The main tasks of this stage are to use language, equations, mathematical operations, and practical problems to argue for a complete solution.

Fourth, evaluate the solution. This stage asks the students to evaluate their own solution by answering the following questions: Are the arguments tight? Is it a scientific, logic and rational presentation? Is the problem definitely correct? Is the calculation correct?

Fifth, perceive and apply action methods to new context (give a similar problem or general problem of the problem solved).

The stage demonstrating the students’ highest problem solving capacity is when they can use knowledge in a same new or strange situation. To develop problem solving capacity, it is necessary to request students to build new exercises based on the previous exercises and propose the solution.

Step 4: Organize test and evaluation

The teacher performs the process based on the test and evaluation plan prepared. During the valuation, the teacher can base on a set of criteria to evaluate the levels of each problem solving capacity element.

2.2. Forms of using physics exercises in teaching towards problem solving capacity improvement for students

* Use physics exercises in classroom periods

Physics exercises can be used at all stages of the teaching process such as at the beginning of the lesson, during building new knowledge, within consolidation time, and practical period, etc.

However, exercise should be used appropriately depending on the teaching objective. Besides using the exercise as a teaching situation, exercises need to be used for students’ problem solving capacity improvement. When using the exercise, it is necessary to show which element of the problem solving capacity is improved.

Example of problem solving capacity improvement exercises:

In hot summer days, lemon juice is a favorite juice, but it is not easy to make a cup of lemon juice. Here is a formula to easily make delicious lemon juice:

Materials for 6 cups of fresh lemon juice:

  • 1 liter of filtered water (cool boiling water);
  • 6 lemons;
  • 100g sugar.

How to mix:

  • Put the water in a glass jar.
  • Cut the lemon in two parts and squeeze it for juice (remove seeds). Add the lemon water to the glass jar containing filtered water. Then add sugar and stir.
  • When drinking, add some ice to the glass, then add lemon juice and enjoy.

Why we should stir for melting of sugar before add ice when mixing ice lemon juice?

* Use physics exercises out of classroom periods

During the teaching process, teachers have trained students to become familiar with the use of problem solving capacity improvement exercises. Therefore, they can develop a system of qualitative, quantitative or experimental exercises for their students. Teachers can collect students’ assignments and then mark and evaluate students' problem solving capacity so that they can know their students’ capacity level and give teaching method innovation to each student. There is no limit to time out of classroom, so teachers can use a variety of assignments to students. [3]

For example: List your home electrical appliances and monitor how often they are used. Calculate the amount of electricity to be paid by your family in a month and propose a plan to use electrical appliances in your home to save energy.

With this assignment, students can present in the form of a project or a report to submit to the teacher.

3. Conclusion

Students’ problem solving capacity is expressed by the capacity of problem identification and solution proposal and solving. Through the teaching practice, we find many measures and use a variety of means to improve the problem solving capacity. It can be seen that exercise is a very important means of physics teaching to improve the capacity to apply knowledge into practice, thereby develop the learner’s capacity in general and problem solving capacity in particular. Teachers need to select the appropriate exercises to help students research, identify and solve problems that result in students the problem solving capacity improvement.


  1. Pham Minh Hac, (1992), Some psychological problems, Education Publishing House, Hanoi.
  2. Lam Quang Thiep, (2012), Measurement and evaluation of learning activities at school, University of Education Publishing House, Hanoi.
  3. Do Huong Tra, Pham Gia Phach, Teaching physics exercises at high school, University of Education Publishing House, Hanoi.

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