Collaborative problem solving (CPS) is considered as one of the core competencies of the 21st century. Collaborative simulations which allow multiple students to participate in CPS activities in a shared simulation session are now increasingly applied to better facilitate these activities. However, the literature has shown that students' collaboration often does not lead to an effective solution to problems. Guided by the PISA CPS framework, this study thus aimed to analyze students’ collaboration patterns and problem solving strategies in solving a physics problem, and to identify significant patterns which may lead to a successful or unsuccessful outcome. Multiple data sources including group discussions, problem solving activities in a collaborative simulation, and open-ended questionnaire feedback from 30 high school students were analyzed using the lag sequential analysis technique. It was found that collaborative simulation has the potential to help students situate their discussion in a joint concrete problem space, facilitating their formation of a path to solve the problem. More importantly, the results showed significant differences between the successful and unsuccessful groups in terms of their collaboration patterns and problem solving strategies. A considerable portion of the students could only apply an intuitive trial-and-error strategy, and failed to solve the problem in the end. These students showed an inability to monitor and analyze the problem solving process, and were unable to transform their discussion into an executable plan to solve the problem. Those students who applied analytical reasoning strategies were more likely to achieve a successful problem solving outcome. The implications for educational practice are discussed, and the directions for future studies addressed.
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