Fortus - Science Education 2008

The importance of learning to make assumptions
Sci Ed 1-23, 2008

David Fortus

Making assumptions is an important step in solving many real-world problems. This study investigated whether participants who could solve well-defined physics problems could also solve a real-world physics problem that involved the need to make assumptions. The participants, who all had at least a BA in physics, were videotaped thinking aloud while solving three well-defined and one real-world problem and then interviewed about the problem-solving process. All the problems dealt with the same scientific content. The recordings were analyzed to identify similarities and differences in the ways the problems were solved and to see which steps in the solution of the problems posed the greatest cognitive difficulty for each participant. Results indicate that (a) the process of making the constraining assumptions needed to convert the real-world problem into a well-defined one was the most difficult step for all, and (b) only the participants who had prior experience making constraining assumptions were able to make the needed assumptions and solve the real-world problem. These findings suggest a need to support physics students develop this important skill.

DOI: 10.1002/sce.20295

Kohl Finkelstein - PRST-PER 2008

Patterns of multiple representation use by experts and novices during physics problem solving
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 4, 010111 (2008)

Patrick B. Kohl and Noah D. Finkelstein

It is generally believed that students should use multiple representations in solving certain physics problems, and earlier work in PER has begun to outline how experts and novices differ in their use of multiple representations. In this study, we build on this foundation by interviewing expert and novice physicists as they solve two types of multiple representation problems: those in which multiple representations are provided for them and those in which the students must construct their own representations. We analyze in detail the types of representations subjects use and the order and manner in which they are used. Expert and novice representation use is surprisingly similar in some ways, especially in that both experts and novices make significant use of multiple representations. Some significant differences also emerge. Experts are more flexible in terms of starting point and move between the available representations more quickly, and novices tend to move between more representations in total. In addition, we find that an examination of how often and when multiple representations are used is inadequate to fully characterize a problem-solving episode; one must also consider the purpose behind the use of the available representations. This analysis of how experts and novices use representations sharpens the differences between the two groups, demonstrates analysis techniques that may be useful in future work, and suggests possible paths for instruction.

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.4.010111

Ding Reach Lee Bao - PRST-PER 2008

Effects of testing conditions on conceptual survey results
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 4, 010112 (2008)

Lin Ding, Neville W. Reay, Albert Lee, and Lei Bao

Pre-testing and post-testing is a commonly used method in Physics Education Research to assess student learning gains. It is well recognized in the community that timings and incentives in delivering conceptual tests can impact test results. However, it is difficult to control these variables across different studies. As a common practice, a pre-test is often administered either at or near the beginning of a course, while a post-test can be given either at or near the end of a course. Also, in conducting such tests there often is no norm as to whether incentives should be offered to students. Because these variations can significantly affect test results, it is important to study and document their impact. We analyzed five years of data that were collected at The Ohio State University from over 2100 students, who took both the pre-test and post-test of the Conceptual Survey of Electricity and Magnetism under various timings and incentives. We observed that the actual time frame for giving a test has a marked effect on the test results and that incentive granting also has a significant influence on test outcomes. These results suggest that one should carefully monitor and document the conditions under which tests are administered.

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.4.010112

Mercer - JLS 2008

The Seeds of Time: Why Classroom Dialogue Needs a Temporal Analysis
Journal of the Learning Sciences, Volume 17, Issue 1 January 2008 , pages 33 - 59

Neil Mercer

The process of teaching and learning in school has a natural long-term trajectory and cannot be understood only as a series of discrete educational events. Classroom talk plays an important role in mediating this long-term process, and in this article I argue that more attention should be given to the temporal dimension of classroom dialogue, both empirically and theoretically, if we are to appreciate how children gain an education from their classroom experience. I explore this topic using data from recent applied, interventional research in United Kingdom primary schools and examine how classroom talk is used to represent past shared experience, carry ideas forward from one occasion to another, approach future activities, and achieve learning outcomes. The article ends with a discussion of the theoretical, methodological, and educational implications of making this kind of temporal analysis.

DOI: 10.1080/10508400701793182

Tatar Roschelle Knudsen Schechtman Kaput Hopkins - JLS 2008

Scaling Up Innovative Technology-Based Mathematics
Journal of the Learning Sciences, Volume 17, Issue 2 April 2008 , pages 248 - 286

Deborah Tatar; Jeremy Roschelle; Jennifer Knudsen; Nicole Shechtman; Jim Kaput; Bill Hopkins

We report on the initial attempts at evaluating at scale a particular technological/curricular innovation that enables more students to develop deeper knowledge. The methods, issues, and findings of the current pilot experiment speak not only to the success of SimCalc MathWorlds, the focus of our research program, but also to the evaluation at scale of a broad class of representationally innovative technologies and to the merit of long-term investment in design-based research. In particular, we present conditions and findings from a completed pilot experiment involving 21 seventh-grade mathematics teachers from Texas. Pilot outcomes suggest that (a) innovative representational technologies can have an important impact on student learning, (b) considerable impact can be found across a wide range of teachers and conditions, and (c) these gains can be detected even in the absence of other desirable conditions. In particular, detection of student gains does not, in our case, depend on having a long-term context of learning, long-term teacher professional development, or a shift to learner-centered constructivist pedagogy. The full experiment will replicate and extend our experimental design with a wider range of teachers and schools, model the factors that contribute to classroom success with such technology, and explore what happens as research support fades away.

DOI: 10.1080/10508400801986090

Lindwall Lymer - JLS 2008

The Dark Matter of Lab Work: Illuminating the Negotiation of Disciplined Perception in Mechanics
Journal of the Learning Sciences, Volume 17, Issue 2 April 2008 , pages 180 - 224

Oskar Lindwall; Gustav Lymer

This study examines the practical work of a pair of students and an instructor using probeware in a mechanics lab. The aim of the study is to describe and discuss a type of interactional sequence that we refer to as dark matter, the ordinary backdrop to the extraordinary sequences that are easily recognizable as clear-cut instances of learning. Although this work is downplayed in the research literature, describing it is critical to properly understanding lab work as an educational practice. With a focus on the negotiation of disciplined perception, we analyze a number of episodes wherein a pair of students and an instructor struggle with the construction and interpretation of a graph depicting a linear relationship between force and acceleration. We demonstrate an intimate interplay between how the students display their problems and understandings and how the instructor tries to make the subject matter content visible and thus learnable. The analyzed episodes are illuminating with regard to the analytical notion of disciplined perception as applied to graph interpretation; the cognitive and practical competencies involved in producing, recognizing, and understanding graphs in mechanics; and the interactive work by which these competencies are made into objects of learning and instruction.

DOI: 10.1080/10508400801986082


Carr McKagan - arxiv.org 2008

Graduate Quantum Mechanics Reform
arxiv.org, submitted to American Journal of Physics

L. D. Carr and S. B. McKagan

We address four main areas in which graduate quantum mechanics education in the U.S. can be improved: course content; textbook; teaching methods; and assessment tools. We report on a three year longitudinal study at the Colorado School of Mines using innovations in all four of these areas. In particular, we have modified the content of the course to reflect progress in the field in the last 50 years, use modern textbooks that include such content, incorporate a variety of teaching techniques based on physics education research, and used a variety of assessment tools to study the effectiveness of these reforms. We present a new assessment tool, the Graduate Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey, and further testing of a previously developed assessment tool, the Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey (QMCS). We find that graduate students respond well to research-based techniques that have previously been tested mainly in introductory courses, and that they learn a great deal of the new content introduced in each version of the course. We also find that students' ability to answer conceptual questions about graduate quantum mechanics is highly correlated with their ability to solve calculational problems on the same topics. On the other hand, we find that students' understanding of basic undergraduate quantum mechanics concepts at the modern physics level is not improved by instruction at the graduate level.


Price Finkelstein - AJP 2008

Preparing physics graduate students to be educators
American Journal of Physics -- July 2008 -- Volume 76, Issue 7, pp. 684-690

Edward Price, Noah Finkelstein

We discuss two efforts that support the preparation of graduate students for their roles as professional physicists, particularly in the areas of teaching and education research. The Preparing Future Physicists program and the Teaching and Learning Physics course are mutually supportive, address broader graduate roles, and support the development of physics education research. Students' participation in these activities increases their mastery of physics, develops their interest in education and teaching, and engages them in research projects in physics education. We describe these efforts and identify critical features of their successes.

Wittmann Thompson - AJP 2008

Integrated approaches in physics education: A graduate level course in physics, pedagogy, and education research
American Journal of Physics, Volume 76, Number 7 (July 2008), pp. 677-683

Michael C. Wittmann, John R. Thompson

We describe a course designed to help future educators develop an integrated understanding of different elements of physics education research (PER), including research into student learning, content knowledge from the perspective of how it is learned, and reform-based curricula, together with evidence of their effectiveness. Course elements include equal parts of physics study through proven curricula and discussion of research results in the context of the PER literature. We provide examples of the course content and structure and representative examples of student learning in the class.


Brown Spang - Science Education 2008

Double talk: Synthesizing everyday and science language in the classroom
Sci Ed 92:708-732, 2008

Bryan A. Brown, Eliza Spang

This research project explores the language practices that emerged as a teacher taught a lesson designed to promote science literacy development for traditionally underrepresented students. This ethnographic study of a Detroit, Michigan, school examined the teacher's use of science language and its influence on students' use of science language. Using sociolinguistic discourse analysis, two modes of classroom language were identified. First, the teacher used a hybrid method of language involving her explaining science ideas by using vernacular and scientific language. This parenthetical type of speech, which we describe as double talk, was also found in students. Second, students appropriated this same strategy for using science language in which they produced vernacular and scientific descriptions during explanations. The findings of this study are significant in their contribution to contemporary research about teaching and learning for minority students. These results implicate the need to teach science explicitly as a second language in urban classrooms.

Buck PlanoClark Leslie-Pelecky Lu Cerda-Lizarraga - Science Education 2008

Examining the cognitive processes used by adolescent girls and women scientists in identifying science role models: A feminist approach
Sci Ed 92:688-707, 2008

Gayle A. Buck, Vicki L. Plano Clark, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, Yun Lu, Particia Cerda-Lizarraga

Women remain underrepresented in science professions. Studies have shown that students are more likely to select careers when they can identify a role model in that career path. Further research has shown that the success of this strategy is enhanced by the use of gender-matched role models. While prior work provides insights into the value of using role models, it does not explain the cognitive process involved in girls identifying role models from nontraditional careers for women. This feminist study addresses this gap by examining the cognitive process eighth-grade girls use in identifying a person as a science role model and comparing it to the process used by women scientists seeking to serve as possible science role models. Data revealed that the girls' process in identifying a role model involved personal connections and their initial image of a scientist led them to believe they could not have such a connection with a scientist. The initial views expressed by the women suggested they felt pressure to portray perfect scientists in order to be a role model. A common understanding of a science role model was realized only after changes occurred in the girls' image of scientists and the scientists' image of a role model. The catalysts for these changes were the relationships that developed between girls and women scientists.

Zia Redish McKay - arxiv.org 2008

Making Sense of the Legendre Transform

R. K. P. Zia (Virginia Tech), Edward F. Redish (U Maryland), and Susan R. McKay (U. Maine)

The Legendre Transform (LT) is a common feature of many upper division and graduate physics classes. However, discussions of it tend to be ad hoc, poorly motivated, and confusing. As a result, the LT equations become something to be memorized without understanding. In this paper we describe a more satisfying way of looking at LT relations both mathematically and physically. Mathematically this results in highly symmetric equations that clarify the structure of the transform both algebraically and geometrically. Physically, we motivate the transform as an issue of choosing independent variables that are easily controlled and give examples drawn from classical mechanics and thermodynamics. In thermodynamics, we demonstrate how the LT arising naturally from statistical mechanics and show how use of dimensionless thermodynamic potentials lead to more natural and symmetric relations.

COMMENTARY: This paper isn't really about PER, but the writers are fascinating bunch. Joe Redish is, well, Joe Redish. Susan McKay is founding director of the University of Maine Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research (where I work, after all...). And together with Zia, a friend, they wrote a paper which gets deeply into the meaningfulness of some mathematics used in physics. Papers like these might serve as a push for certain kinds of research on student understanding at the upper level, but that's not why I'm posting. I'm posting because 2 of the authors are mentors of mine, so there!


Hausmann B van de Sande C van de Sande VanLehn - arxiv.org

Productive Dialog During Collaborative Problem Solving
arxiv.org (submitted to JLS)

Robert G.M. Hausmann, Brett van de Sande, Carla van de Sande, and Kurt VanLehn

Collaboration is an important problem-solving skill; however, novice collaboration generally benefits from some kind of support. One possibility for supporting productive conversations between collaborators is to encourage pairs of students to provide explanations for their problem-solving steps. To test this possibility, we contrasted individuals who were instructed to self-explain problem-solving steps with dyads who were instructed to jointly explain problem-solving steps in the context of an intelligent tutoring system (ITS). The results suggest that collaboratively developed explanations prompted students to remediate their errors in dialog, as opposed to relying on the ITS for assistance, which is provided in the form of on-demand hints. The paper concludes with a discussion about implications for combining proven learning interventions.

Stelzer Gladding Mestre Brookes - arxiv.org 2008

Comparing the efficacy of multimedia modules with traditional textbooks
for learning introductory physics content

arxiv.org (submitted to AJP)

Timothy Stelzer, Gary Gladding, Jose Mestre, and David T. Brookes

A clinical study was performed comparing the efficacy of multimedia learning modules with traditional textbooks for the first few topics of a calculus based introductory electricity and magnetism course. Students were randomly assigned to three different groups experiencing different presentations of the material; one group received the multimedia learning module presentations and the other two received the presentations via written text. All students were then tested on their learning immediately following the presentations as well as two weeks later. The students receiving the multimedia learning modules performed significantly better than the students experiencing the text-based presentations on both tests.

The final version of this paper is available from AJP.