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In order to offer students an education in physics that will be useful outside the classroom, students need to develop both the ability to apply physics in novel situations as well as the belief that physics can be relevant outside the classroom. In this talk I will describe my research in a course that was transformed with the aim of supporting these skills and beliefs. In particular, I will describe how students responded to the course’s collaborative group recitation problems, which were designed to promote real-world connections and support the development of expert-like problem-solving skills. I will describe three main results from this research:
1. Despite significant pedagogical support, over half of the students do not make significant use of their real-world knowledge as a part of their solution to the recitation problems.
2. Students that do make use of their real-world knowledge do so during conceptual discussion, but not during procedural discussion.
3. The structured problem-solving strategy which is intended to promote sensemaking at appropriate times in the solution process is not effective at doing so.
Implications for instruction and future research will be discussed.