Buick - EJP 2007

Investigating the correlation between mathematical pre-knowledge and learning gains in service physics
Eur. J. Phys. 28 1073-1080
J M Buick
Physics and Electronics, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia
E-mail: jbuick at une dot edu dot au

An investigation was undertaken into the relationship between the initial mathematics knowledge of students and their success in a service physics course aimed at science students who require an understanding of basic physics concepts but who are not studying for a physics major. An appropriate method for performing this investigation was developed, implemented and analysed. Results from a small, self-selected sample indicated a correlation between the initial mathematical knowledge of students and learning gains obtained during the course.

Print publication: Issue 6 (November 2007)
Received 10 July 2007
Published 7 September 2007

This paper recently went behind the EJP wall (they only allow open access in the first month of publication), but JM Buick pointed out to me that he has a page of publications listed at his web site. You can contact him for more information, if you wish.


Taber - IJSE 2007

Conceptual Resources for Learning Science: Issues of transience and grain-size in cognition and cognitive structure
International Journal of Science Education (1):1-27. (2008).
Keith Taber
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK

Many studies into learners' ideas in science have reported that aspects of learners' thinking can be represented in terms of entities described in such terms as alternative conceptions or conceptual frameworks, which are considered to describe relatively stable aspects of conceptual knowledge that are represented in the learner's memory and accessed in certain contexts. Other researchers have suggested that learners' ideas elicited in research are often better understood as labile constructions formed in response to probes and generated from more elementary conceptual resources (e.g. phenomenological primitives or 'p-prims'). This 'knowledge-in-pieces perspective' (largely developed from studies of student thinking about physics topics), and the 'alternative conceptions perspective', suggests different pedagogic approaches. The present paper discusses issues raised by this area of work. Firstly, a model of cognition is considered within which the 'knowledge-in-pieces' and 'alternative conceptions' perspectives co-exist. Secondly, this model is explored in terms of whether such a synthesis could offer fruitful insights by considering some candidate p-prims from chemistry education. Finally, areas for developing testable predictions are outlined, to show how such a model can be a 'refutable variant' of a progressive research programme in learning science.

Extra information:
This paper cites David Hammer and Andrea diSessa a lot, building a connection between a p-prims/resources/knowledge-in-pieces approach (quotinga across the literature) and the alternative conceptions world (quoting mainly from the 80s literature, I feel). For those interested in a continuation of Hammer's 1996 papers on "p-prims vs. misconceptions" or Scherr's "Modeling Student Reasoning" papers, this is a good read.

Bao - arxiv.org 2007

Dynamic Models of Learning and Education Measurement
arxiv.org posting

Lei Bao
(Submitted on 6 Oct 2007)

Pre-post testing is a commonly used method in physics education for evaluating students' achievement and or the effectiveness of teaching through a short period of instruction. A popular method to analyze pre-post testing results is the normalized gain first brought to the physics education community in wide use by R. Hake. In his analysis with thousands of students' pre-post test results, it has been observed that students having very different pretest scores tend to have similar normalized gains when going through similar types of instruction, i.e., classes with traditional instruction often have systematically lower gains than classes with research-based collaborative types of instruction. This feature allows researchers to investigate the effectiveness of instruction using data collected from classes with different initial states. However, the question of why the normalized gain has this feature and to what extend this feature will be valid is not well understood. Recently, there have been debates on what the normalized gain is actually measuring and concerns that the normalized gain lacks a probability framework comparing to other methods such as Item Response Theory (IRT). Motivated by searching for answers to these questions, a theoretical model about the dynamic process of learning have been developed, which leads to an explanatory interpretation of the features of the normalized gain. Further the model also connects well to other models and methods such as IRT and shows that the normalized gain does have a probabilistic framework but one different from what the IRT emphasizes. This paper will report the basic theoretical formalism of the new model and explore its applications in data modeling and analysis.

Comments: Theoretical Models of Education Measurement
Subjects: Physics Education (physics.ed-ph); Data Analysis, Statistics and Probability (physics.data-an)
Cite as: arXiv:0710.1375v1 [physics.ed-ph]

McKagan et al - arxiv.org 2007

Developing and Researching PhET simulations for Teaching Quantum Mechanics
arxiv.org posting

S. B. McKagan, K. K. Perkins, M. Dubson, C. Malley, S. Reid, R. LeMaster, C. E. Wieman
(Submitted on 27 Sep 2007)

Quantum mechanics is difficult to learn because it is counterintuitive, hard to visualize, mathematically challenging, and abstract. The Physics Education Technology (PhET) Project, known for its interactive computer simulations for teaching and learning physics, now includes 17 simulations on quantum mechanics designed to improve learning of this difficult subject. Our simulations include several key features that help students build mental models and intuitions about quantum mechanics: visual representations of abstract concepts and microscopic processes that cannot be directly observed, interactive environments that directly couple students' actions to animations, connections to everyday life, and efficient calculations so students can focus on the concepts rather than the math. Like all PhET simulations, these are developed using the results of education research and feedback from educators, and are tested in student interviews and classroom studies. This article provides an overview of the PhET quantum simulations and their development. We describe research demonstrating their effectiveness in helping students overcome well-known difficulties, build vivid mental models of quantum phenomena, and understand key concepts. We also share some insights about student thinking we have gained from our research on quantum simulations.

Comments: submitted to American Journal of Physics
Subjects: Physics Education (physics.ed-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:0709.4503v1 [physics.ed-ph]

Parnafes - JLS 2007

What Does "Fast" Mean? Understanding the Physical World Through Computational Representations
Orit Parnafes
School of Education, Tel-Aviv University

This article concerns the development of conceptual understanding of a physical phenomenon through the use of computational representations. It examines how students make sense of and interpret computational representations, and how their understanding of the represented physical phenomenon develops in this process. Eight studies were conducted, in which pairs of students were engaged in an exploratory activity of natural harmonic oscillation. They first explored physical oscillators (e.g., springs, pendulums) and then interacted with dynamic and interactive computational representations that represent aspects of natural harmonic oscillation. The analysis focuses on selected episodes demonstrating critical steps in the development of the students' understanding. It offers a detailed description of these steps and closely examines students' interaction with various features of the representations in order to identify the relations between use of representations and students' developing understanding. A theory of conceptual change, coordination class theory (diSessa & Sherin, 1998), is used to track the development process of students' understanding with representations. The detailed analysis aims to construct a model describing mechanisms of developing understanding through the mediation of computational representations. The significance of this study is in its close look at the detailed process of learning and conceptual change in computational environments.

Afra Osta Zoubeir - IJSME 2007

Students’ Alternative Conceptions about Electricity and Effect of Inquiry-Based Teaching Strategies
online first publication
International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
Nada Chatila Afra, Iman Osta and Wassim Zoubeir

Received: 16 August 2006 Accepted: 13 August 2007 Published online: 5 October 2007

Abstract This study attempted to investigate the alternative conceptions that a group of 12 Lebanese students in a grade 9 class hold about electricity. It also attempted to evaluate learning outcomes of implementing in that class an inquiry-based module for the acquisition of conceptual understanding of basic concepts in electricity. Fourteen mostly subjective tests were administered throughout the implementation phase of the inquiry-based module to assess the evolution of participants’ conceptions. The instrument DIRECT (Version 1.0) focusing on conceptual understanding was used as a post-instructional test to measure acquisition of understanding. The findings revealed that most of the alternative conceptions reported in literature were found amongst the participants. Results of the post-testing showed that the implemented inquiry-based approach was successful in enhancing participants’ conceptual understanding of the targeted DC circuit concepts.

Key words alternative conceptions - conceptual change - electricity - inquiry - physics teaching and learning

Savinainen and Viiri - IJSME 2007

The Force Concept Inventory as a Measure of Students Conceptual Coherence
Online first publication
International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education

This paper has been accepted for publication and posted online, but has not yet been published in the journal itself. You'll have to negotiate for yourself (and with your library) how you gain access to it.

Received: 2 October 2006 Accepted: 17 July 2007 Published online: 11 October 2007

Abstract The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) is a multiple choice test designed to monitor students’ understanding of the conceptual domain of force and related kinematics (Hestenes et al. Physics Teacher 30:141–158 1992; Halloun et al., 1995, Online at http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Research.html). It has gained wide popularity among both researchers and physics instructors in the United States and elsewhere. The FCI has also been criticized, and its validity as a measure of the coherence of a student’s understanding of the force concept has been questioned. In this paper we provide a characterization of students’ conceptual coherence and a way to evaluate it using the FCI. We divide students’ conceptual coherence into three aspects: representational coherence (the ability to use multiple representations and move between them), contextual coherence (the ability to apply a concept across a variety of contexts), and conceptual framework coherence (the ability to fit related concepts together, i.e. to integrate and differentiate between them). Postinstruction FCI results and interview data from two Finnish high school groups (n=49 total) are discussed; the data provide evidence that the FCI can be used to evaluate students’ conceptual coherence—especially contextual coherence—of the force concept.

Key Words conceptual coherence - Force Concept Inventory - multiple representations - Newton’s laws - teaching force

Podolefsky Finkelstein - Phys Rev 2007

Noah and Noah in the Physics Review - Special Topics PER

Analogical scaffolding and the learning of abstract ideas in physics: Empirical studies
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 3, 020104
Noah S. Podolefsky and Noah D. Finkelstein
Department of Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

Received 12 March 2007; published 14 September 2007

Previously, we proposed a model of student reasoning which combines the roles of representation, analogy, and layering of meaning—analogical scaffolding [Podolefsky and Finkelstein, Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 3, 010109 (2007)]. The present empirical studies build on this model to examine its utility and demonstrate the vital intertwining of representation, analogy, and conceptual learning in physics. In two studies of student reasoning using analogy, we show that representations couple to students’ existing prior knowledge and also lead to the dynamic formation of new knowledge. Students presented with abstract, concrete, or blended (both abstract and concrete) representations produced markedly different response patterns. In the first study, using analogies to scaffold understanding of electromagnetic (EM) waves, students in the blend group were more likely to reason productively about EM waves than students in the abstract group by as much as a factor of 3 (73% vs 24% correct, p=0.002 ). In the second study, examining representation use within one domain (sound waves), the blend group was more likely to reason productively about sound waves than the abstract group by as much as a factor of 2 (48% vs 23% correct, p=0.002 ). Using the analogical scaffolding model we examine when and why students succeed and fail to use analogies and interpret representations appropriately.

URL: http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRSTPER/v3/e020104
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.3.020104
PACS: 01.40.Fk

Smith and Wittmann - Phys Rev 2007

From the Physical Review - Special Topics Physics Education Research:

Comparing three methods for teaching Newton’s third law
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 3, 020105 (2007)
Trevor I. Smith and Michael C. Wittmann
Department of Physics and Astronomy, College of Education and Human Development, Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469, USA

Received 20 April 2006; revised 11 December 2006; published 18 October 2007
Although guided-inquiry methods for teaching introductory physics have been individually shown to be more effective at improving conceptual understanding than traditional lecture-style instruction, researchers in physics education have not studied differences among reform-based curricula in much detail. Several researchers have developed University of Washington–style tutorial materials, but the different curricula have not been compared against each other. Our study examines three tutorials designed to improve student understanding of Newton’s third law: the University of Washington’s Tutorials in Introductory Physics (TIP), the University of Maryland’s Activity-Based Tutorials (ABT), and the Open Source Tutorials (OST) also developed at the University of Maryland. Each tutorial was designed with different goals and agendas, and each employs different methods to help students understand the physics. We analyzed pretest and post-test data, including course examinations and data from the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE). Using both FMCE and course data, we find that students using the OST version of the tutorial perform better than students using either of the other two.

©2007 The American Physical Society

URL: http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRSTPER/v3/e020105
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.3.020105
PACS: 01.40.Fk, 01.40.G−, 01.40.gb

Karelina and Etkina - Phys Rev 2007

From the Physical Review - Special Topics Physics Education Research

Acting like a physicist: Student approach study to experimental design
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 3, 020106
Anna Karelina and Eugenia Etkina
Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA

Received 16 April 2007; published 19 October 2007

National studies of science education have unanimously concluded that preparing our students for the demands of the 21st century workplace is one of the major goals. This paper describes a study of student activities in introductory college physics labs, which were designed to help students acquire abilities that are valuable in the workplace. In these labs [called Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) labs], students design their own experiments. Our previous studies have shown that students in these labs acquire scientific abilities such as the ability to design an experiment to solve a problem, the ability to collect and analyze data, the ability to evaluate assumptions and uncertainties, and the ability to communicate. These studies mostly concentrated on analyzing students’ writing, evaluated by specially designed scientific ability rubrics. Recently, we started to study whether the ISLE labs make students not only write like scientists but also engage in discussions and act like scientists while doing the labs. For example, do students plan an experiment, validate assumptions, evaluate results, and revise the experiment if necessary? A brief report of some of our findings that came from monitoring students’ activity during ISLE and nondesign labs was presented in the Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings. We found differences in student behavior and discussions that indicated that ISLE labs do in fact encourage a scientistlike approach to experimental design and promote high-quality discussions. This paper presents a full description of the study.

©2007 The American Physical Society

URL: http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRSTPER/v3/e020106
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.3.020106
PACS: 01.40.Fk, 01.40.gb, 01.50.Qb

Ates and Cataloglu, EJP 2007

For a short time only, you can access the following:

The effects of students' reasoning abilities on conceptual understandings and problem-solving skills in introductory mechanics
2007 Eur. J. Phys. 28 1161-1171
S Ates and E Cataloglu
Department of Physics Education, Abant Izzet Baysal University, 14280 Bolu, Turkey
E-mail: sates0@yahoo.com and erdat@ibu.edu.tr

The IOP (which publishes the European Journal of Physics) only gives access to newly published articles for 30 days. Get it quick, if you're interested in this topic.

Abstract. The purpose of this study was to determine if there are relationships among freshmen/first year students' reasoning abilities, conceptual understandings and problem-solving skills in introductory mechanics. The sample consisted of 165 freshmen science education prospective teachers (female = 86, male = 79; age range 17–21) who were enrolled in an introductory physics course. Data collection was done during the fall semesters in two successive years. At the beginning of each semester, the force concept inventory (FCI) and the classroom test of scientific reasoning (CTSR) were administered to assess students' initial understanding of basic concepts in mechanics and reasoning levels. After completing the course, the FCI and the mechanics baseline test (MBT) were administered. The results indicated that there was a significant difference in problem-solving skill test mean scores, as measured by the MBT, among concrete, formal and postformal reasoners. There were no significant differences in conceptual understanding levels of pre- and post-test mean scores, as measured by FCI, among the groups. The Benferroni post hoc comparison test revealed which set of reasoning levels showed significant difference for the MBT scores. No statistical difference between formal and postformal reasoners' mean scores was observed, while the mean scores between concrete and formal reasoners and concrete and postformal reasoners were statistically significantly different.

Print publication: Issue 6 (November 2007)
Received 29 July 2007, in final form 3 September 2007
Published 5 October 2007

(If the name of the second author sounds familiar to some, it's because this is the author of the Quantum Mechanics Visualization Instrument that Rick Robinett has talked about in past years. It's nice to see a new paper come out, years later, and in a different research area!)

My goals for a blog for PER articles

For years, I've posted messages to various mailing lists, including links to newly published articles that might be of interest to those of us who do physics education research (PER). Though this is nice, broadly speaking, it's a bit of a hassle for anyone else to get access to. If you're not on the mailing lists that are out there (PhysLrnr, for example), then you'll have a hard time finding out what is out there. And, though those mailing lists maintain archives, those are often difficult to work with, and so on. There is a place for a blog that can share links to papers and publications that are relevant to PER.

Now, it's obvious that everyone's taste in PER articles is going to be different. My interests lie in

  • resource theory and linked ideas

  • curriculum development on advanced physics topics

  • the physics topics of mechanics, quantum physics, and wave physics

  • the role of mathematics when thinking about physics

It is highly likely that these are not your interests. I will do my best to bring in articles that are of interest to all physics education researchers, from whatever source I find. The journals which I pay attention to are AJP, TPT, Phys Rev ST-PER, obviously, and also a bunch that deal with the learning sciences (JLS, JRST, IJSE, etc.) and other journals that aren't as often followed by US researchers (EJP, Physics Education). For those who know me, don't worry, I won't forget arxiv.org. Also, I will post links that I grab from my RSS feeds (Cognitive Daily or How We Learn, etc.). I will post links to the articles and perhaps I'll give some commentary of my own. I will try to use labels on the articles, so that you can group information based on author, physics content, methodology, or whatever. The number of such tags will be large, but hopefully useful.

What do I hope to have happen with this blog? For one, I hope it's a resource for those who are interested in PER. If nothing else, you might find a paper that you weren't expecting to find. That kind of sharing of information helps. Second, I hope that people might comment on the articles that are posted. If you read a paper and have something to say, say it here! Help out other readers. Tell them what the strengths or the weaknesses are. Yes, you can do this anonymously - or you can give your name, and we know who you are. Of course, you could start your own blog, and we could all end up debating these ideas in public. And, if you really really want to participate... then let's talk, and I can add you to the roll of people who can post on this blog. I don't want this to be just me, basically.

One important way to help: if you find an article that I have missed, then drop me a line! I won't spend much time going into the past to post famous or seminal articles. I'll post new things, from now on.

Stay tuned. Thanks for your interest.