Physics Education Research Conference
"The Practice of Analysis as a Window on Theory"

August 6-7, 2003
Monona Terrace Convention Center - Madison WI

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Contributed Poster Abstracts


Abstracts are listed alphabetically by first author.

The Contributed Poster Session will take place Wednesday evening (5:30 to 9:30) in conjunction with the Roundtable DIscussions and Reception. A second session (with the same posters!) will take place Thursday morning from 11:45 to 12:30.

Bradley S. Ambrose, Grand Valley State University

"Incorporating a tutorial approach in an advanced mechanics course for physics majors"

Over the past two years I have been developing and testing a set of instructional materials, modeled after Tutorials in Introductory Physics*, for use in a sophomore/junior-level mechanics course at Grand Valley State University. Together with current physics education research on introductory mechanics, the initial design of the materials was guided by anticipated student difficulties in understanding new representations of motion (e.g., phase space diagrams) and in connecting physical concepts with mathematics (e.g., equations of motion for linear and non-linear oscillations). Preliminary results have provided strong evidence for the need of such a modified approach and demonstrate in new ways the extent to which persistent difficulties with fundamental concepts can hinder meaningful learning of advanced topics.

*L.C. McDermott, P.S. Shaffer, and the Physics Education Group at the Univ. of Washington (Prentice Hall, 2002)

Eric C. Anderson, Avila University

"Different attitudes and expectations toward learning physics: Insight into the gender gap in physics achievement?"*

It’s commonly suggested that introductory physics courses which feature guided, collaborative inquiry may relieve the prevalent gender gap in physics achievement. In my Workshop Physics-inspired course for life science students and preservice teachers, women achieve higher conceptual learning gains than in the traditional course it replaced, but the gap between women and men remains unchanged. One approach to understanding this persistent gender gap is to ask if, and in what ways, women and men differ in their attitudes and expectations about learning physics, assuming that favorable attitudes and expectations have something to do with conceptual learning gains. Results of the Maryland Physics Expectations Survey (MPEX) for my course indeed reveal significant gender differences in attitudes and expectations. Further, it appears that favorable attitudes and expectations are positively correlated with gains in conceptual understanding only for women, suggesting perhaps a more relevant research question.

*Supported in part by NSF grant #DUE-9851480

Gordon J. Aubrecht, II, Cristian Raduta, The Ohio State University

"Student understanding of Gauss's Law and charged-particle trajectories in regions of magnetic field"

The way a student learns physics depends on the context, and does not take place in a vacuum. Although physics is the same worldwide, the instructional methods used, the way the exams are held, and the cultural context in which the physics learning process takes place all influence the way students understand and assimilate physics understanding. We present in this poster results obtained from a brief E&M survey taken by two populations of students: one from the Ohio State University (US), and the other (quite small) from Bucharest University (Romania). We discuss two problems given in a small E&M survey, in which students from both populations were presented with questions based on a knowledge of Gauss's Law and asked about the motion and forces on a point charge in a region containing a uniform magnetic field. Students answers to the Gauss's Law question were disappointing-a bare majority could solve the simplest problem; student answers to the magnetic field question depend on an understanding of the Lorentz force and student general knowledge from classical mechanics, which apparently does not transfer to E&M. Our results show that students in both countries generally know less about E&M after instruction than we, as teachers, wished them to have learned.

Florin Bocaneala, Lei Bao, The Ohio State University

"Connectionist modeling in physics learning"

A strictly syntactical approach to human cognition based on computational hypothesis limits itself to a mainly descriptive account of cognitive behavior. A symbolic treatment of the learner fails shortly of providing more than cataloging of rules addition-extension to a production system. Attempts of extending or relaxing the inherent constraints of the computational hypothesis (e.g. Bayesian semantical networks) are welcome in as much as a semantical content makes itself needed. In this paper we test the versatility of the connectionist approach to modeling the dynamics of students learning. We take a case of problem solving from an introductory physics class and we construct a connectionist model for it. Based on this case, we try to argue for the future of the connectionist modeling in the Physics Education Research and for what this approach can teach us about how physics learning takes place.

Geraldine Cochran, Chicago State University, [1]; Robert Beichner, North Carolina State University

"Using Physics Education Research to Develop an Optics Diagnostic"

Previous research has shown that students struggle with a number of concepts in geometrical optics. The purpose of this ongoing research is to develop an optics diagnostic that will uncover these difficulties. My goals for this project are to: 1) create a list of specific objectives or concepts to address with the diagnostic, 2) develop test items for these objectives, 3) conduct one-on-one interviews with students as they attempt to answer the items, and 4) modify the test items based on the analysis of the interview responses. In an effort to identify student difficulties in geometrical optics, results from earlier studies in student understanding of geometrical optics have been reviewed. After conducting interviews using open-ended questions, multiple-choice versions of the items will be produced. Current progress regarding these goals will be presented.

[1] Chicago State University Mentor: Dr. Mel S. Sabella

Charles De Leone, Graham Oberem, California State University, San Marcos

"Toward Understanding Student Conceptions of the Photoelectric Effect"

The photoelectric effect is part of a group of phenomena that provide the experimental basis for the photon model of light. Most students pursuing a degree in physics or a related field first study the photoelectric effect and the photon model of light in a "modern physics" course following directly after the introductory physics sequence. It has been documented that many students have trouble understanding the photoelectric effect itself, and its connection to the photon model of light. In an attempt to better understand student preconceptions and misconceptions of this topic, we conducted a study of students in a modern physics class at California State University, San Marcos. In this poster we will provide preliminary results of our research with specific emphasis on the knowledge base required to understand the photoelectric effect.

Paula V. Engelhardt, N. Sanjay Rebello, Edgar Corpuz, and Darryl Ozimek, Kansas State University

"The Teaching Experiment - What it is and what it isn't"

Much of the research to investigate how students' reason or what knowledge structures they possess and utilize have typically been done using the clinical interview format. The clinical interviews are often semi-structured and may or may not involve demonstration equipment. In the early 1980's, mathematics researchers began experimenting with a new style of interviewing which they termed the "teaching experiment." These two methods will be compared and contrasted within the context of sound. Students from a conceptually-based introductory physics course were interviewed using both formats in an effort to understand how they view the production of sound from musical instruments.

Cathy Mariotti Ezrailson, Texas A&M University

"Is there a Need for Teaching Teaching? Assessing the need for Instructional Methods for Graduate Teaching Assistants: Results of a Pilot Study at TAMU"

Graduate teaching assistants are most often expected to either intuitively know how to teach or “pick it up” while teaching undergraduates in introductory physics. This pilot study examines need for explicit training in the use of interactive-engagement methods and their application by graduate teaching assistants. The study was carried out in the spring semester, 2003 in two introductory honors physics sections at Texas A& M University (n = 27), Five sections of introductory physics classes acted as controls. Students in both the treatment and control groups were administered the FCI and CSEM along with a student profile and a nature of science survey. This study was a pilot to a larger study to be undertaken prior to and during the fall semester 2003.

Scott V. Franklin and Stacey M. Davis, Rochester Institute of Technology

"Can we measure the impact of individual student learning style preferences?"

Students express a range of preferences for learning environments, be it quiet/noisy, bright/dark, or individual/group. Much work has shown the benefit of matching the learning environment with the student preference; this has led to the use of multiple teaching techniques in the same classroom in order to appeal to as many students as possible. We are looking at whether it is possible to measure the impact of matching individual student's expressed preference. For example, are students who express a preference for solitary learning handicapped by being forced to work in a group? Over the past year, we have administered the Building Excellence Learning Styles Assessment and looked for correlations with class performance. We have analyzed videotapes of group interactions and followed these up with individual student interviews. Finally, this spring we conducted a pilot project in which students worked in groups and alone on two separate activities. We then looked for differences in how the same student approached two different learning environments.

Danielle Boyd Harlow, Valerie K. Otero, University of Colorado, Boulder

"Can Third Grade Students Develop Sophisticated Conceptual Models?"

Research in physics education indicates that students' naive conceptions such as the clashing currents model of electricity are common among introductory physics students. Is it possible that these conceptions begin as early as the third grade? Research on student learning in the elementary classroom revealed that children as young as eight-years-old construct sophisticated and abstract conceptual models to make sense of their observations of electrical phenomena. This paper focuses on a discussion among three children about the nature of the flow of electricity in a simple circuit. The models they developed and the children's discourse is surprisingly similar to the models and discourse of university students in inquiry-based physics courses.

Charles Henderson, Western Michigan University

"Easier Said Than Done: A Case Study of Instructional Change Under the Best of Circumstances"

A substantial body of research evidence suggests that traditional physics instruction does not produce the desired student learning outcomes. Some college instructors find this evidence convincing and attempt to change their instruction. It is known that not all of these instructors are successful. Little is known, however, about what factors can impede or facilitate these changes. This poster will present the preliminary results of a case study of one physics instructor in his first semester of attempting to use research-based instructional strategies in an introductory calculus-based physics course after 20 years of traditional teaching. Data sources include daily class observations and weekly interviews with the instructor. Although this instructor appeared to have all of the prerequisites for successful change, he still encountered difficulties. Four factors are identified that limited his ability to change.

Ray Hodges, University of Maryland

"Physicists' epistemologies of quantum mechanics"

The role of epistemology in students' understanding of introductory physics is being studied within the science education community. Students are not the only possible subjects for this type of study. How do the epistemologies of physicists' affect their understanding? I have examined this question in the context of quantum mechanics. When physicists are solving standard and non-standard quantum problems, what do they believe about their knowledge of the quantum world and how does this affect their work? I have conducted interviews with physics professors in which they were asked to work through a series of problems and questions about quantum mechanics. I have analyzed their responses to determine their epistemological views of quantum mechanics. In this talk I present the results of this analysis.

Zdeslav Hrepic, Dean Zollman and Sanjay Rebello, Kansas State University

"Students' understanding and perceptions of the content of a lecture"

In spite of advances in physics pedagogy, the lecture is by far the most widely used format of instruction. We investigated students' understanding and perceptions of the content delivered during a physics lecture. Participants viewed a segment of a videotaped lecture on sound propagation by a well known teacher. All of the participants were enrolled in a conceptual physics course and had previously covered the topic in class. Before viewing the lecture, the participants responded to a series of conceptual questions on sound. The participants then looked for answers to these questions in the videotaped lecture. On a written questionnaire, they indicated instances, if any, in which these questions were answered during the lecture. In addition to the students, a group of content experts (physics instructors) also participated in our study. We will discuss students' and experts' responses to the questionnaire.

Salomon Itza-Ortiz, Benjamin Lawrence, Dean Zollman, Kansas State University

"Energy Mental Models: Mechanics Through Electromagnetism"*

In an introductory physics course the concept of energy is often introduced in mechanics contexts whit two main forms: kinetic energy (KE) and potential energy (PE). As the course progresses other forms of energy are introduced in different contexts (heat, light), but rarely do students relate all of these energy forms, other than in a discussion of energy conservation. We investigated students’ mental models for energy, and changes in these models, in going from mechanics to electromagnetism contexts. We interviewed students in a two-semester calculus-based physics course. Our research design included semi-structured interviews with demonstration. Based on findings from the interviews we developed the first version of an ‘Energy Mental Model Inventory, Mechanics.’ We present details of the interviews and the inventory.

*Supported in part by the National Science Foundation grant REC-0087788

Andy Johnson, Black Hills State University

"What do students think an exponent means?"

This brief, exploratory project investigated college students' understandings of the implied operations behind positive integer exponents, negative integer exponents, and fractional exponents. Surprise! Many of the students did not offer correct descriptions of more basic operations equivalent to X^-2 and X^(1/2).

They said other things instead. Classroom discussions with students also showed that many did not see a useful coherence among the three different types of exponents. An explicit activity focusing on the meanings of the three different kinds of exponents and their connections to each other, may have helped some students.

Yeounsoo Kim, Korea National University of Education; Gyoungho Lee, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea; Lei Bao, The Ohio State University

"Students’ Cognitive Conflict from Counterintuitive VR in Learning Physics"

Many studies have suggested that the experience of cognitive conflict can be important to students' conceptual changes. In light of this idea, many teaching tools (e.g., demonstration equipments) have been developed. There are a lot of teaching strategies using the tools in science instruction. In this research, we used Virtual Reality simulation as a teaching tool for facilitating conceptual change through cognitive conflict. We will discuss the potential effects of VR on learning mechanics.

This work is supported in part by NSF grant REC-0087788 and REC-0126070

Kathleen M. Koenig, Robert J. Endorf, University of Cincinnati

"Study of TA's ability to implement the Tutorials in Introductory Physics and student conceptual gain"

Many students are not prepared for college physics and therefore perform poorly. This becomes a problem when students must pass physics as part of course requirements for their major. At the University of Cincinnati this problem is being addressed through the implementation of Tutorials in Introductory Physics [1] in the recitation sections of our calculus-based physics course. In recent years we have evidence that the Tutorials do increase both students’ conceptual understanding of physics as well as their success rate in the course. To make further improvements we have shifted our research focus to the training of the recitation TAs. This presentation will describe the training the TAs receive as well as the methodology and instruments used in the study to determine the effectiveness of each TA. Preliminary findings indicate that there is a relationship between the TA’s ability to implement the Tutorials and student conceptual gain.

[1] L.C. McDermott, P.S. Shaffer and the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington, Tutorials in Introductory Physics, First Ed. (Prentice Hall, 2002).

Matthew Kohlmyer, Ruth W. Chabay, Bruce A. Sherwood, North Carolina State University

"Observing Students’ Difficulties with Computer Modeling"

A distinguishing feature of the Matter and Interactions curriculum, in use at NCSU, is its emphasis on computer modeling. In the course, students write programs in VPython that use the same core procedure to simulate a variety of physical systems and behaviors, including planetary orbits, oscillation, and scattering. We wish to learn what difficulties students have in writing such programs. We are especially interested in difficulties with organizing the structure of the program, and with translating physics to computer code. Several students in the course were observed while they worked on computer programs similar to the ones assigned in class. Their understanding was probed through think-aloud protocols and instructor questioning. Their difficulties with computer modeling will be discussed, as well as implications for revising instruction.

Carolann Koleci, Worcester Polytechnic Institue

"Is analogical reasoning right on target?"

A common problem-solving approach of novices is to work with examples, to arrive at a solution to a novel problem through the application of a set of knowledge concerning familiar situations similar to the target problem. Most of the cognitive science and educational psychology research chronicles the effects associated with the features of stimuli, for example the kind and the degree of isomorphism existing between the analogy and the target, but there is less attention toward the influence produced by the kind of elaboration of the analogy on the transfer to the target problem. We address the question entitled above, in the context of introductory physics, using data from a study conducted this past academic year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Gyoungho Lee, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea; Lei Bao, The Ohio State University

"Probing Context-dependency of Learning with the Context Map"

In previous research, there are many studies that have identified a wide range of context factors that could affect student learning. In this research, we tried to understand the context-dependency of learning from a more holistic perspective. We used a tool called context map that provides a graphical representation of the effects and interactions of multiple context factors. Using context map, we probed several cases of students' learning in an introductory physics course and showed how context factors affected students' learning during a course.

This work is supported in part by NSF grant REC-0087788 and REC-0126070

Yuhfen Lin, Gordon Aubrecht, The Ohio State University

"Graduate Students: experts and novices at the same time"

Most universities use graduate students as TAs teaching introductory level physics courses. At the same time, those graduate students are required to take graduate level courses. These students are the experts when they are teaching, but they are novices in the graduate courses they are taking. It is well known that experts and novices solve problems differently. This study will focus on whether graduate TAs teach like experts and learn like novices, or they benefit from their teaching experience and start to think like experts in unfamiliar fields.

Rebecca S. Lindell, Steven R. Sommer, Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville

"Using the Lunar Phases Concept Inventory to Investigate College Studentsí Pre-instructional Mental Models of Lunar Phases"

The Lunar Phases Concept Inventory (LPCI) is a twenty-item multiple-choice inventory developed to aid instructors in assessing the mental models their students utilize when answering questions concerning phases of the moon. Based upon an in-depth qualitative investigation of students' understanding of lunar phases, the LPCI was designed to take advantage of the innovative model analysis theory to probe the different dimensions of students' mental models of lunar phases. As part of a national field test, pre-instructional LPCI data was collected for nearly 1000 students from multiple post-secondary institutions across the United States and Canada. Application of model analysis theory to this data set allowed researchers to probe the different mental models of lunar phases students across the country utilize prior to instruction. Preliminary results of this analysis will be reported.

Jeff Marx, McDaniel University

"Students' Notions of Telescopes and Astronomical Light"

I conducted post-instructional, fifteen-minute interviews with students from my general-science level astronomy class. The questions covered the workings of typical reflectors and refractors, the sources and properties of astronomical light, the relative importance of a telescope's magnification and light gathering ability, telescope construction and placement, and light pollution. The students responded with a mix of verbal and graphical answers. I concluded that students' posses only a loose set of ideas regarding optical telescopes and visible astronomical light. Most importantly, their responses were based heavily on bits of information they could recall from class or the text. In this poster, I will share some artifacts and summaries from the interviews, and other preliminary conclusions regarding students' notions of telescopes and astronomical light.

David B. May, David Hammer, University of Maryland

"Elements of expertise in the use of analogies in a 3rd-grade science discussion"

Expertise in science involves the generation and use of analogies. How and when students might develop this aspect of expertise has implications for understanding how instruction might facilitate that development. We're at the beginning stages of trying to understand analogies as students use them in science classrooms. In a study of K-8 inquiry in physical science, we have seen several cases of spontaneous analogy generation at different levels of sophistication. In the case presented here, a 3rd-grader generates a particularly well-developed analogy and modifies it to reconcile his classmates' counter-arguments, allowing us to identify in these 3rd-graders specific elements of expertise in analogy use.

Timothy L. McCaskey, University of Maryland; Melissa H. Dancy, Western Carolina University; Andrew Elby, University of Maryland

"Effects on assessment caused by splits between belief and understanding"

We performed a new kind of FCI study to get at the differences between what students believe and what they think scientists believe. Students took the FCI in the standard way, and then made a second pass indicating “the answer they really believe” and “the answer they think a scientist would give.” Students split on a large number of the questions, with women splitting more often than men.

Katherine VP Menchen, John R Thompson, The University of Maine

"Teacher understanding of propagation and resonance phenomena in sound"

Members of the Physics Education Research Laboratory at The University of Maine are exploring the understanding of sound in populations of undergraduates and K-12 teachers. In this poster, we will report on an investigation involving preservice and inservice teachers. As part of this project, we are developing instructional materials on sound for teachers in the style of Physics by Inquiry*. Recent work has focused on sound propagation and resonance phenomena. We will present examples of research that is guiding the design of the materials, including responses to written pre- and post-test questions and classroom observations.

Dawn Meredith and Michael Briggs, University of New Hampshire

"Assessment of The Strategic Component of Problem Solving"

Improved problem solving skills is a goal of many physics courses, yet problem solving is difficult to define and assess. In particular, many assessments require detailed coding of student work that are time consuming and subjective. Also, problem solving itself is a complex task with at least four commonly identified pieces: gathering information, choosing a strategy, analyzing with the the given strategy, checking and learning. We will limit our study to the strategic portion of problem solving.

We propose to investigate if there are sub-skills required for successful completion of the strategic component of problem solving that are easily assessed that can act as proxies for this more complex skill. Possible candidates for proxies are conceptual knowledge, connections between concepts, knowledge of applicability of key concepts, working knowledge of generic problem solving strategies, and useful beliefs about problem solving. We have begun to develop assessments for these skills (or are using already developed assessments) that are easy to grade and administer. We will continue to develop these assessments and look for correlations between scores on these tests and students ability to find a correct strategy to solve complex physics problems.

Jeffrey Morgan, Michael C. Wittmann, John R. Thompson, The University of Maine

"Student Understanding of Quantum Tunneling"

Members of the University of Maine Physics Education Research Laboratory are studying student understanding of the phenomenon of tunneling through a potential barrier. Tunneling is a standard topic discussed in most modern physics and quantum mechanics courses. Understanding tunneling is crucial to making sense of several topics in physics, including scanning tunneling microscopy and nuclear decay. Preliminary investigations show that students often inappropriately use ideas from classical physics and common sense, everyday reasoning to make sense of unfamiliar situations. Consistent with previous results,[1] we have found that many students, even after instruction, incorrectly believe that particles tunneling through a barrier lose energy in the process. We discuss these and other results from a series of interviews conducted with upper-level undergraduate physics and engineering physics majors.

1. Edward F. Redish, Michael C. Wittmann, and Richard N. Steinberg, "Affecting Student Reasoning in the Context of Quantum Tunneling," AAPT Summer Meeting, 2000.

Ngoc Loan P. Nguyen, Warren M. Christensen, and David E. Meltzer, Iowa State University

"Students' use of rule-based reasoning in the context of calorimetry and thermal phenomena"*

We have been engaged in an ongoing project to investigate and address student learning difficulties with calorimetry, heat, temperature, and related concepts. We have found that students tend to approach calorimetry problems involving two substances with differing specific heats by employing various "rules-of-thumb" such as "equal energy transfer implies equal temperature change," "objects approaching equilibrium with each other undergo equal temperature changes," and "temperature changes are directly proportional to specific heat." The choice of which rule to apply in a particular situation seems to be strongly dependent on context. It appears that instruction is effective in reducing reliance on some, but not all, of the inappropriate rules. However, related confusion regarding fundamental quantities such as temperature, heat, and internal energy has proved strongly resistant to attempts at improved instructional strategies. Moreover, improvements on standard instruction regarding student learning of basic calorimetry concepts have proved elusive as well.

*Supported in part by NSF Grant DUE-#9981140

Luanna G. Ortiz, Kevin L. Gibson, Arizona State University

"Retention of more advanced physics concepts as demonstrated by engineering students: An example in the context of modern physics"*

At Arizona State University we are investigating student understanding of modern physics topics covered in a junior-level physics course required of engineering majors. The study also includes engineering seniors who have recently completed the course. We have administered quiz and examination problems on the wave nature of particles to both student populations. In this presentation we will examine whether the research tasks administered to assess long-term retention should be similar in character to those administered while students are in the course. On the basis of the preliminary results, further research questions regarding the analysis of the data have been generated. We will compare and contrast several paradigms that we have applied in the analysis of the data.

* Supported in part by the Quality of Undergraduate Education Grant Program, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, ASU.

Valerie K. Otero, University of Colorado at Boulder

"Elementary pre-service teachers’ conceptions of student prior knowledge: 'After I gave them their prior knowledge…'"

When it comes to teaching science, pre-service teachers often revert back to blank slate models of human cognition. This is often related to their understanding of science as a set of facts that come from authority and need to be taught by authority. I will present results from a research study that investigated prospective teachers' understanding of student prior knowledge and the purpose and process of collaboration in the classroom. Implications for teacher preparation will be discussed in terms of sociocultural theory which suggests that a primary factor in constructing understanding is the extent to which the content being learned is seen by the student as being applicable his or her life. The Physics for Elementary Teachers (PET) curriculum will be introduced as a strategy for helping teachers incorporate the physics they learn in college into their identities as elementary school teachers.

Kathy Perkins, Wendy Adams, Noah Finkelstein, Univ. of Colorado; Ron LeMaster, Kavli Institute; Sam Reid, Mike Dubson, Carl Wieman, Univ. of Colorado

"The Physics Education Technology Project: Web-based interactive simulations to support student learning"

We introduce the Physics Education Technology (PhET) Project, a new initiative to provide a suite of online tools for teaching and learning introductory physics at the high school and college levels. The project focuses on the development of relatively elaborate Java and Flash-based simulations that are designed to help students develop visual and conceptual models of physical phenomena. We are also developing guiding questions that will utilize the simulations to address specific conceptual difficulties, help students experience the relationships among variables, and connect physics to real-world experiences and observations. These simulations create an animated and interactive experience for the student that is designed to promote active thinking and encourage experimentation. They can also greatly enhance the presentation of material in a lecture setting. We will describe the project, a summary of the learning tools currently available, our preliminary experiences in using these tools in our classrooms, and our future plans for evaluating and assessing their effectiveness.

Ref: http://www.colorado.edu/physics/phet

David E. Pritchard, Elsa-Sofia Morote and David Kokorowski, MIT

"Student Response Variables from Online Tutor System"

On-line intelligent tutors allow us to “observe” students solving problems, collecting student responses far more thoroughly than standard tests. For approximately 100 students using myCyberTUTOR in an introductory physics course at MIT, we distill student responses into performance variables (relative to average on each problem) and quantity variables (proportional to problems done). For 12 such variables and 11 responses from an initial student survey, we studied correlations with student performance on standard paper assessments. The variables “correct on first attempt”, “time to solution”, and “latency time until first response” and “number of practice problems done” have significant correlations. We discuss preliminary searches for male-female differences. A comparison of this class with a high quality advanced high school class reveals a significantly different (and superior) problem solving strategy than the MIT students. Finally, the use of these data facilitates the monitoring and improvement of the tutorial problems by their authors.

For a complete paper see: URL: http://cybertutor.mit.edu

Brian A. Pyper, Brigham Young University - Idaho;
Robert G. Fuller, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

"What do PER students study?" (Contributed Poster)

Graduate students in PER programs in physics departments are often required to take courses that are not required of typical physics graduate students. Also, in some physics departments, special seminar courses are offered for PER students. We have collected several (and would love more!) PER curricula and syllabi used in PER graduate seminars. With an eye to noting what things they have in common, and how they differ, we will show what our PER grad students are studying. The collected curricula and syllabi will be available at the conference, and posted on the web.

Eleanor Raulerson, Michael C. Wittmann, John R. Thompson, The University of Maine

"Resource Selection in Nearly-Novel Situations"

Members of the University of Maine Physics Education Research Laboratory have developed an iterative survey to study the process of resource selection in a specific nearly-novel situation – the construction of vacuum tube diodes. We use a resources model to describe student reasoning and introduce the idea of “cognitive space” to make sense of nearly novel situations. Preliminary data from upper level-undergraduate physics majors suggest that the ability to identify diode function in simple circuits predicts the ability to construct models of diodes.

Neville W. Reay, Lei Bao, Gordon Baugh, and Rasil Warnakulasooriya, The Ohio State University

"Group Work in a Physics Course for Feshman Engineering Honors Students"

Group work that emphasized a "business-style" approach was introduced into the middle quarter of a calculus-based course for Freshman Engineering Honors students. Identical student groups were used in labs, recitations and the lecture. Groups sat together during lectures, and used voting machines to answer multiple-choice questions. An "outside-of-class" continuous-flow Ink Jet project that required "business-style" group skills was a major focus. Results will be presented based on several end-of-quarter surveys and extensive interviews with each group.

N. Sanjay Rebello, Kansas State University

"Student goals and expectations in a large-enrollment physical science class"

What are the goals of non-science students taking a lecture-based physical science course as they begin the class? Do students' goals and expectations change as they progress through the class? To answer these questions we surveyed students on the first day of class about their goals for the course (in addition to getting a good grade), and the barriers they perceived in achieving these goals. Students were also asked what they, their instructor, and their classmates could do to help them achieve these goals. At the end of the course we again surveyed students and asked them the whether they were able to achieve their goals and the factors that helped or hindered them in the process. We will describe student responses on both the pre- and post-course surveys and the insights these responses give regarding students' perspective about the role of the instructor and peers in the learning process.

Homeyra Sadaghiani, Lei Bao, The Ohio State University

"Ineffective Demonstration in Modern Physics Classes"

We asked students in modern physics classes at The Ohio State University to take on-line survey questionnaires. The questionnaires contained topics about in-class demonstrations, which students had observed in their classes during the quarter. Our observations and investigations show that a significant number of students did not recall many of the in-class demonstrations and were confused about the results of different demonstrations they had observed. We will include examples of the in-class demonstrations, survey questions, and students’ responses to these questions in this poster. Furthermore, we will explore the possible implications this research has for instructors of modern physics classes who tend to use in-class demonstrations as a part of lecture.

Cody Sandifer, Towson University

"Spontaneous Student-Generated Analogies"

The purposes of this qualitative study were to (a) document the types of spontaneous analogies (SAs) generated by students as they engage in problem-solving and explaining activities, and (b) investigate the conditions under which students construct SAs. Outside of class, 8 algebra-based physics students engaged in two group problem-solving sessions and one individual explaining session. Overall, 18 spontaneous analogies were generated; these 18 represented analogies of all distances (local, regional, long) and types (relationships, attributes). At least 11 of the 18 analogies appeared to be successful in helping the generating student increase his or her understanding of a concept or problem. In this study, three conditions appeared to support the spontaneous generation of analogies: (1) sufficient prior understanding of the analogy target, (2) the presence of another friendly, supportive individual for the analogy-generating student, and (3) for some students, previous analogical examples (guidance) from other students.

Rachel E. Scherr, University of Maryland

"Gestures as evidence of student thinking about physics"

Student gestures are part of how students articulate their ideas, and can be of use to us in diagnosing student thinking and forming effective pedagogical responses. This poster presents examples of the gestures that occur in a conversation between students and a TA about a mechanics homework problem, and analyzes one gesture that was particularly significant to the conversation.

Manjula Devi Sharma, University of Sydney

"On the use of phenomenography in the analysis of qualitative data"

Consider the idea that learning can be described in terms of what students learn rather than a description of how much they learn. We are concerned with the range and complexity of what students learn, and the patterns and trends in their responses. This is the basis of phenomenography; "Phenomenography is the empirical study of the differing ways in which people experience, perceive, apprehend, understand, conceptualize various phenomena in and aspects of the world around us." The analysis does not look for pre-determined patterns but extracts patterns from the data. The process involves several stages of independent categorisations by a team of researchers and meetings to establish the boundaries of the categories.

In this presentation we will describe phenomenography and demonstrate its use in two separate studies; an investigation of students' understandings of gravity and a comparison of two groups of students awareness of the utility of physics.

Chandralekha Singh, University of Pittsburgh

"Interactive video tutorials for enhancing problem solving, reasoning, and meta-cognitive skills of introductory physics students"

We discuss the development and assessment of interactive video-tutorial based problems to help introductory physics students learn effective problem-solving heuristics. Students learn problem solving strategies using concrete examples in an interactive environment. Students are required to solve sub-problems (research-guided multiple-choice questions) to show their level of understanding at every stage of problem solving. Each incorrect response directs students to a short video. Students also have the option of watching additional videos which demostrate and exemplify a particular problem solving stage, such as how to perform qualitative analysis. The interactive video tutorials will provide students scaffolding support and help them view the problem solving process as an opportunity for knowledge and skill acquisition rather than a ``plug and chug" chore or guessing task.

Steven R. Sommer and Rebecca S. Lindell, Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville

"Accounting for Errors in Model Analysis Theory: A Numerical Approach"

By studying the patterns of a group of individualsí responses to a series of multiple-choice questions, researchers can utilize Model Analysis Theory to create a probability distribution of mental models for a student population. The eigenanalysis of this distribution yields information about what mental models the students possess, as well as how consistently they utilize said mental models. Although the theory considers the probabilistic distribution to be fundamental, there exists opportunities for random errors to occur. In this paper we will discuss a numerical approach for mathematically accounting for these random errors. As an example of this methodology, analysis of data obtained from the Lunar Phases Concept Inventory will be presented. Limitations and applicability of this numerical approach will be discussed.

Stephen R Stonebraker, Lei Bao, Ohio State University

"Comparing Grades And Behavior Under A Flexible Homework System"

In Fall 2002, our group modified the homework system in the first course of our calculus-based introductory sequence. As reported at the winter meeting [1, 2], the two primary features of this system are that the students are allowed to pick which problems to submit from a large pool of choices, and that full solutions to some problems are posted before the due date. In this poster we discuss types of behavior among students of different achievement levels, such as how many of the available problems the students read, how much time they spend studying posted solutions, and what sorts of problems they prefer to submit.

[1] Stonebraker and Sadaghiani, "Effects Of Increased Freedom In Homework Assignments", 126th AAPT National Meeting (2003).

[2] Stonebraker, Sadaghiani, and Bao, "Student Response To Completeness Of Teacher-Provided National Meeting (2003).

Thomas C. Thaden-Koch, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Robert J. Dufresne, William J. Gerace, Jose P. Mestre, William J. Leonard, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

"A Coordination Class Analysis of Judgments about Animated Motion"

The coordination class construct (CCC), invented by diSessa and Sherin in an effort to clarify what it means to learn and use scientific concepts, has not seen wide use. In this study, interviews with college students were analyzed in terms of the CCC. Students judged the realism of computer animations depicting balls rolling on a pair of tracks. When only one ball was presented, most students focused on the presence or absence of realistic speed changes. Adding a second ball drastically changed the judgments of students taking introductory physics; non-physics students were affected much less strongly. Ingredients of student decision-making were successfully explained with the CCC. Patterns of coordination were found; these patterns were able to account for patterns of judgment. Many students reached judgments contrary to their appropriate expectations about realistic motion by making inaccurate observations about animations, or by inappropriately adjusting observations or expectations during the decision-making process.

Jonathon Tuminaro, Edward F. Redish, University of Maryland

"Students' misuses of appropriate knowledge during problem solving" (Contributed Poster)

Most instructors in physics agree that the majority of introductory, algebra-based physics students perform poorly on mathematical problem solving tasks in physics, but there are at least two possible distinct reasons for this poor performance: (1) Students simply lack the mathematical skills needed to solve problems in physics. (2) Students do not know how to apply the mathematical skills they have to particular problem situations in physics. Most physics faculty assume that the lack of mathematical skills is the problem. We will present evidence that suggests a major challenge for the introductory, algebra-based students and the major source of their errors stems from their inability to apply the mathematical knowledge they have or to interpret that knowledge in a physical context.

DJ Wagner, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Grove City College; JJ Rivera, Fran Mateycik, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Sybillyn Jennings, Russell Sage College

"Probing student understanding of total internal reflection and optical fibers using Piaget-style interviews conducted both face-to-face and electronically"

The Science of Information Technology (ScIT) is a novel course introducing students to the physics underlying information technologies. We are currently expanding and improving the on-line curricular materials designed for this Rensselaer course to facilitate their use at other institutions. Our prototype module presents the principles of Reflection, Refraction, and Optical Fibers. To check whether the materials in this module speak to students' preconceptions, we interviewed 30 students (with diverse physics experience) and 2 physics faculty members, probing the participants' understandings of optical fibers and total internal reflection. 22 pre-instruction interviews, along with 8 post-instruction interviews, were conducted on-line using a Chat Room. The remainder of the interviews were conducted in a traditional face-to-face format. Both interfaces yielded meaningful information about students' conceptual frameworks. In this paper we discuss the conceptual and methodological findings of our study, and how we are using the results to refine the curricular materials. [1]

[1] RPI work was supported in part by NSF CCLI Program under grant DUE-0089399

Rasil Warnakulasooriya, Lei Bao, The Ohio State University

"Propositions and rules in students’ reasoning"

We give two examples from electricity and magnetism of how students’ reasoning is dependent on the context of the questions. In the first example concerning the grounding of a neutral metal in the presence of an external charge, we show how relations are preserved among two related questions. In the second example concerning the force on a charge in a magnetic field and current carrying wires, we show how the reasoning is dependent on the propositions used by students on a set of related questions. In all cases students seems to function with a set of procedural rules. It is also seen that the fixation on procedural rules has the ability to override the ‘reality’ of phenomena. The implication for instruction is that a set of related questions as discussed in the paper can be used to elucidate and address the fundamental limitations of students’ reasoning.

Benjamin D. Williams, San Diego State University

“Promoting student reflection in an introductory college physics course”*

A major goal of the Physics for Elementary Teachers (PET) course is to help students be aware of, and monitor their own learning of ideas. This poster will present instances where curriculum designers attempted to promote student reflection. The poster will also display how these instances are related to one another. It is hoped that students will be encouraged to reflect on their own learning by 1) answering questions that ask them to compare their initial ideas and final ideas 2) analyzing video of young children struggling with the same physics concepts that the college students have been working on and 3) writing learning commentaries in which the student is asked to provide evidence from their own work of how their ideas changed.

*Supported by NSF grant #ESI-0096856

Xueli Zou and Orion Davies, California State University, Chico

"Probing students' epistemological beliefs: A mixed data, design, and analysis approach"

The Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) helps students learn physics using the same strategies that physicists use to construct their knowledge. These strategies include using experimental evidence for knowledge construction, model building, and experimental testing of models. How does ISLE affect students' epistemological beliefs, compared with traditional instruction? This poster will particularly discuss how ISLE students justify for their knowing (e.g., based on authority or evidence), probed by different types of measurement, including multiple-choice questions, open-ended convincing questions, students' journals, and individual interviews. Detailed data, research design, and data analysis will be shared.


Contact Information

Michael C. Wittmann
Department of Physics and Astronomy
5709 Bennett Hall
University of Maine
Orono ME 04401-5709

tel: 207 - 581 - 1237
fax: 207 - 581 - 3410
email: wittmann@umit.maine.edu

Rachel E. Scherr
Department of Physics
University of Maryland
College Park MD 20742-4111

tel: 301 - 405 - 6179
fax: 301 - 314 - 9531
email: rescherr@physics.umd.edu

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Last updated 2003.07.28