We present several studies conducted in our lab that shed light on what students attend to when performing cognitive tasks in physics. The studies, drawing from a variety of methodologies from the learning sciences, aim to understand the obstacles to, and factors facilitating, competent performance.  The findings from some of the studies debunk biases/hunches that many physics professors have about what students do, and the audience will very likely find several of the findings surprising.  Pedagogical implications of the findings will be discussed.

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