Schwartz, D. L., Chase, C. C., Oppezzo, M. A., & Chin, D. B. (2011). Practicing versus inventing with contrasting cases: The effects of telling first on learning and transfer. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(4): 759-775. doi:10.1037/a0025140.
Being told procedures and concepts before problem solving can inadvertently undermine the learning of
deep structures in physics. If students do not learn the underlying structure of physical phenomena, they
will exhibit poor transfer. Two studies on teaching physics to adolescents compared the effects of
“telling” students before and after problem solving. In Experiment 1 (N _ 128), students in a tell-andpractice
condition were told the relevant concepts and formulas (e.g., density) before practicing on a set
of contrasting cases for each lesson. Students in an invent-with-contrasting-cases (ICC) condition had to
invent formulas using the same cases and were told only afterward. Both groups exhibited equal
proficiency at using the formulas on word problems. However, ICC students better learned the ratio
structure of the physical phenomena and transferred more frequently to semantically unrelated topics that
also had a ratio structure (e.g., spring constant). Experiment 2 (N _ 120) clarified the sources of the
effects while showing that ICC benefited both low- and high-achieving students.