2016-02-10

Michael Wittmann on research-driven professional development in the MainePSP

Michael C. Wittmann

Rural outreach in Maine: A research-driven professional development teacher community

Published abstract for the APS April Meeting 2016 (part of session R6: Engaging the Public Through a Variety of Collaborations and Initiatives, April 18, starting 10.45 in room 150ABC)

In the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP), researchers at the University of Maine have joined together with the state's Department of Education, non-profits, and teachers in multiple school districts to create a dynamic and growing community dedicated to improving K12 education of the physical sciences. Through ongoing efforts to introduce and adapt instructional materials, guided by education research and research-guided professional development, we have built a community responsive to student and teacher needs. This work has fed back into the university setting, where teachers are playing a role in graduate courses taken by our Master of Science in Teaching students. In this talk, I will focus on the role of education research in the partnership, showing how we use research in professional development, the development of assessments, and the analysis of the resulting data. I will describe two projects, one to understand how teachers' content knowledge affects the development of items assessing knowledge of acceleration, the other to see how teachers use their content knowledge of systems and energy to make pedagogical choices based on students' incorrect ideas about conservation of energy.

2016-02-06

Lauren Barth-Cohen and Michael Wittmann on coordination classes and group learning

Barth-Cohen, L.& Wittmann, M. C.

Expanding Coordination Class Theory to Capture Conceptual Learning in a Classroom Environment

Accepted to the 2016 Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences on Feb 5, 2016.

Abstract: This article presents an extension to coordination class theory—a theory of conceptual change that was built to capture an individual’s learning in an interview setting. Here we extend that theory to capture group and individual learning in classrooms. The proposed extension focuses on different contexts in the sense of groups’ and individuals’ different interpretations of the same student-generated artifact. We describe instances in which a classroom of 9th grade earth science students created embodied models for a specific scientific concept, the steady state energy of the earth. The students encountered difficulties aligning their embodied models with their conceptual understandings, and yet, they were able to make progress by changing their models to better aligned their understanding of the scientific concept with their newly modified model—instances of individual and group learning. We conclude with discussing implications for designing classrooms learning environments.

2015-12-18

Van de Bogart, Dounas-Frazer, Lewandowski, and Stetzer on metacognition in troubleshooting

Kevin L. Van De Bogart, Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer, H. J. Lewandowski, and MacKenzie R. Stetzer

The Role of Metacognition in Troubleshooting: An Example From Electronics

2015 Physics Education Research Conference
Published Dec 18, 2015

Students in physics laboratory courses, particularly at the upper division, are often expected to engage in troubleshooting. Although there are numerous ways in which students may proceed when diagnosing a problem, not all approaches are equivalent in terms of providing meaningful insight. It is reasonable to believe that metacognition, by assisting students in making informed decisions, is an integral component of effective troubleshooting. We report on an investigation of authentic student troubleshooting in the context of junior-level electronics courses at two institutions. Think-aloud interviews were conducted with pairs of students as they attempted to repair a malfunctioning operational-amplifier circuit. Video data from the interviews have been analyzed to examine the relationship between each group's troubleshooting activities and instances of socially mediated metacognition. We present an analysis of a short episode from one interview.

Dounas-Frazer, Van De Bogart, Stetzer, and Lewandowski on troubleshooting in electronics labs

Dmitri R. Dounas-Frazer, Kevin L. Van De Bogart, MacKenzie R. Stetzer, and H. J. Lewandowski

The role of modeling in troubleshooting: An example from electronics

2015 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings
Published Dec 18, 2015

Troubleshooting systems is integral to experimental physics in both research and instructional laboratory settings. The recently adopted AAPT Lab Guidelines identify troubleshooting as an important learning outcome of the undergraduate laboratory curriculum. We investigate students' model-based reasoning on a troubleshooting task using data collected in think-aloud interviews during which pairs of students attempted to diagnose and repair a malfunctioning circuit. Our analysis scheme is informed by the Experimental Modeling Framework (EMF), which describes physicists' use of mathematical and conceptual models when reasoning about experimental systems. We show how students' work on a troubleshooting task can be mapped onto the EMF.

Wittmann, Alvarado, and Millay on PD and teachers' goals for teaching energy

Michael C. Wittmann, Carolina Alvarado, and Laura Millay

Teacher responses to their multiple goals for teaching energy

2015 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings
Published Dec 18, 2015

Abstract.
Teachers discussing pedagogical strategies to help students with an incorrect idea about potential energy expressed competing goals for guiding student thinking: keep it simple and explore complexity. On the one hand, teachers wished to avoid being "overly complicated" in their teaching, suggesting that they should have students stick to naming forms of energy in a system and naming principles like the law of conservation of energy. On the other hand, teachers recognized that students might also engage with, won-der about, and have good ideas about systems, mechanisms, and causality. In addition, teachers themselves showed a need develop operational understandings of energy transformation, conservation, and system even in a simple energy scenario, rather than simply identifying forms and principles. Thus, the initial de-sire for keeping instruction simple was contradicted both by the recognition that students were capable of more complex analysis, even if it interfered with the goals of simple instruction, and by an awareness that understanding even a simple energy scenario involves grappling with complex ideas.

Axthelm, Wittmann, Alvarado, and Millay on Idea Use Curves

Alex Axthelm, Michael C. Wittmann, Carolina Alvarado, and Laura Millay

Idea Use Curves

2015 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings
Published Dec 18, 2015

Abstract.
A variety of tools have been created to understand student performance on multiple-choice tests, including analysis of normalized gain, item response curves, and more. These methods typically focus on correct answers. Many incorrect responses contain value and can be used as building blocks for instruction, but present tools do not account for productive reasoning leading to an incorrect response. Inspired by Item Response Curves, we introduce Idea Use Curves, which relate frequency with which an idea is used to student performance. We use this tool to consider ideas which may be present in both correct responses and distractors, letting us attend more to students’ conceptual understanding. This tool is made with the goal of identifying ideas that are consistently used by students who perform well or poorly, allowing researchers and instructors to look beyond the “correct/incorrect” paradigm. We explore student reasoning about energy as a proof of concept for this method.

Kranich, Wittmann, and Alvarado on teacher content knowledge affecting assessments

Greg Kranich, Michael C. Wittmann, and Carolina Alvarado

Teachers’ conflicting conceptual models and the efficacy of formative assessments

2015 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings
Published Dec 18, 2015

Abstract: We studied a group of middle school teachers as they modified curriculum and developed common formative assessments on force and motion concepts. While designing an item and discussing goals for student understanding of acceleration, two of the teachers held opposing models (one of them being incomplete) about the implications of the sign of acceleration on the direction of an object’s motion and whether it was speeding up or slowing down. Failing to resolve the inconsistency between their individual models, the teachers wrote an assessment item for which both models would provide the same correct response, albeit for different reasons. The potential to elicit correct answers for incorrect reasons created ambiguity in the ability to recognize probable alternative conceptions. More specifically, the item had limited ability both to refine the teachers’ own conceptual understanding and to accurately inform their instruction, interventions, and feedback that would support students in identifying their mistakes.

2015-09-23

Smith, Mountcastle, Thompson on the Boltzmann factor


T.I. Smith, D.B. Mountcastle, and J.R. Thompson

Student understanding of the Boltzmann factor


Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 11, 020123 (2015).  

Published 23 September 2015.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.11.020123

[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Upper Division Physics Courses.] We present results of our investigation into student understanding of the physical significance and utility of the Boltzmann factor in several simple models. We identify various justifications, both correct and incorrect, that students use when answering written questions that require application of the Boltzmann factor. Results from written data as well as teaching interviews suggest that many students can neither recognize situations in which the Boltzmann factor is applicable nor articulate the physical significance of the Boltzmann factor as an expression for multiplicity, a fundamental quantity of statistical mechanics. The specific student difficulties seen in the written data led us to develop a guided-inquiry tutorial activity, centered around the derivation of the Boltzmann factor, for use in undergraduate statistical mechanics courses. We report on the development process of our tutorial, including data from teaching interviews and classroom observations of student discussions about the Boltzmann factor and its derivation during the tutorial development process. This additional information informed modifications that improved students’ abilities to complete the tutorial during the allowed class time without sacrificing the effectiveness as we have measured it. These data also show an increase in students’ appreciation of the origin and significance of the Boltzmann factor during the student discussions. Our findings provide evidence that working in groups to better understand the physical origins of the canonical probability distribution helps students gain a better understanding of when the Boltzmann factor is applicable and how to use it appropriately in answering relevant questions.

Smith, Christensen, Mountcastle, and Thompson on entropy, heat engines, and the Carnot cycle

Trevor I. Smith, Warren M. Christensen, Donald B. Mountcastle, and John R. Thompson
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 11, 020116 – Published 23 September 2015

[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Upper Division Physics Courses.] We report on several specific student difficulties regarding the second law of thermodynamics in the context of heat engines within upper-division undergraduate thermal physics courses. Data come from ungraded written surveys, graded homework assignments, and videotaped classroom observations of tutorial activities. Written data show that students in these courses do not clearly articulate the connection between the Carnot cycle and the second law after lecture instruction. This result is consistent both within and across student populations. Observation data provide evidence for myriad difficulties related to entropy and heat engines, including students’ struggles in reasoning about situations that are physically impossible and failures to differentiate between differential and net changes of state properties of a system. Results herein may be seen as the application of previously documented difficulties in the context of heat engines, but others are novel and emphasize the subtle and complex nature of cyclic processes and heat engines, which are central to the teaching and learning of thermodynamics and its applications. Moreover, the sophistication of these difficulties is indicative of the more advanced thinking required of students at the upper division, whose developing knowledge and understanding give rise to questions and struggles that are inaccessible to novices.

Wittmann and Black on procedural resources in mathematics

Michael C. Wittmann and Katrina E. BLack

Mathematical actions as procedural resources: An example from the separation of variables.

Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 11, 020114 - Published Sept 23, 2015
doi:10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.11.020114

Abstract:
[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Upper Division Physics Courses.] Students learning to separate variables in order to solve a differential equation have multiple ways of correctly doing so. The procedures involved in separation include division or multiplication after properly grouping terms in an equation, moving terms (again, at times grouped) from one location on the page to another, or simply carrying out separation as a single act without showing any steps. We describe student use of these procedures in terms of Hammer’s resources, showing that each of the previously listed procedures is its own “piece” of a larger problem solving activity. Our data come from group examinations of students separating variables while solving an air resistance problem in an intermediate mechanics class. Through detailed analysis of four groups of students, we motivate that the mathematical procedures are resources and show the issues that students must resolve in order to successfully separate variables. We use this analysis to suggest ways in which new resources (such as separation) come to be.

2015-04-10

Barth-Cohen and Wittmann on student model revision with Energy Theater

Lauren Barth-Cohen and Michael C. Wittmann

Mismatches between Represented Science Content and Unmet Expectations as a Mechanism of Model Revision.
Peer reviewed conference proceedings of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching 2015.

Models and modeling are a growing topic in science education. We focus on one of the sub-processes of modeling: model revision. The process of model revision is typically underdefined in specially designed modeling curricula. There are many ways to conceptualize model revision, but here we focus on model revision due to mismatches between the science content represented in a model and unmet expectations about that same model. Drawing on the knowledge-in–pieces theoretical framework, we present five cases of such model revision in the context of 9th graders modeling the steady state energy of the Earth using an embodied modeling instructional activity. These mismatches led students to modify both the conceptual content and how it was represented in their model. This mechanism for model revision may be applicable to model revision in other classroom instruction settings.

2015-03-01

Bajracharya and Thompson on the Application and Understanding of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus in Physics

R. R. Bajracharya and J. R. Thompson
Student application and understanding of the fundamental theorem of calculus at the mathematics-physics interface
Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conference on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, pp. 43-54 (Mathematical Association of America, 2014).



We studied students’ understanding of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus (FTC) in graphical representations that are relevant in physics contexts. Two versions of written surveys, one in mathematics and one in physics, were administered in multivariable calculus and introductory calculus-based physics classes, respectively. Individual interviews were conducted with students from the survey population. A series of FTC-based physics questions were asked during the interviews. The written and interview data have yielded evidence of several student difficulties in interpreting or applying the FTC to the problems given, including attempting to evaluate the antiderivative at individual points and using the slope rather than the area to determine the integral. The interview results further suggest that students often fail to make meaningful connections between individual elements of the FTC. 

2014-10-22

Flood Harrar Wittmann and many others on embodied cognition in chemistry

Virginia J. Flood, Fran├žois G. Amar, Ricardo Nemirovsky, Benedikt W. Harrer, Mitchell R. M. Bruce, and Michael C. Wittmann

Paying Attention to Gesture when Students Talk Chemistry: Interactional Resources for Responsive Teaching

Journal of Chemical Education
J. Chem. Educ., 2015, 92 (1), pp 11–22
DOI: 10.1021/ed400477b
Publication Date (Web): October 21, 2014

Abstract: When students share and explore chemistry ideas with others, they use gestures and their bodies to perform their understanding. As a publicly visible, spatio–dynamic medium of expression, gestures and the body provide productive resources for imagining the submicroscopic, three-dimensional, and dynamic phenomena of chemistry together. In this paper, we analyze the role of gestures and the body as interactional resources in interactive spaces for collaborative meaning-making in chemistry. With our moment-by-moment analysis of video-recorded interviews, we demonstrate how creating spaces for, attending to, and interacting with students’ gestures and bodily performances generate opportunities for learning. Implications for teaching and assessment that are responsive to students’ ideas in chemistry are discussed.

2014-07-02

Smith Wittmann Carter on analyzing the FMCE

Trevor I. Smith, Michael C. Wittmann, and Tom Carter

Applying model analysis to a resource-based analysis of the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation

Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res 10, 020102 – Published 2 July 2014
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.10.020102

ABSTRACT
Previously, we analyzed the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation in terms of a resources-based model that allows for clustering of questions so as to provide useful information on how students correctly or incorrectly reason about physics. In this paper, we apply model analysis to show that the associated model plots provide more information regarding the results of investigations using these question clusters than normalized gain graphs. We provide examples from two different institutions to show how the use of model analysis with our redefined clusters can provide previously hidden insight into the effectiveness of instruction.

2014-06-30

Clark, Thompson, and Mountcastle on PV diagrams in physics and engineering

J. W. Clark, J. R. Thompson, and D. B. Mountcastle
Investigating Student Conceptual Difficulties in Thermodynamics Across Multiple Disciplines: The First Law and P-V Diagrams
Proceedings of 121st ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education) Annual Conference and Exposition (2014).

Thermodynamics is a core part of the curriculum in physics and many engineering fields. While individual courses in each discipline appear to cover many of the same topics at some level, the emphasis, applications, and many representations are idiosyncratic to the field. Education researchers in both disciplines have studied thermodynamics learning and teaching. Physics education researchers have identified student difficulties with foundational concepts such as heat, temperature, and entropy as well as with larger grain-sized ideas such as state variables, path-dependent processes, etc.  Engineering education research shows analogous findings and has identified additional difficulties unique to engineering contexts, such as confusion between steady-state and equilibrium processes.
     An open question is the extent to which discipline-specific research findings apply across disciplines.  Previous work by us and our colleagues in physics education research has explored student difficulties with thermodynamics and statistical mechanics in upper-division physics courses.  We have recently broadened the scope of our own investigation to include mechanical and chemical engineering courses, to see whether similar difficulties are present in these disciplines and how certain instructional pedagogies may affect student learning.  At our institution, thermodynamics is not covered in the introductory physics course sequence, so for most students this is their first formal encounter with the topic.
     Our initial focus is on the First Law of Thermodynamics and its constituent elements, as this topic is fundamental to all the courses of interest.  We have administered hand-written, free- response questions to students at various points before and/or after instruction.  The questions discussed here require interpretation of graphical information about thermodynamic processes. We have coded responses according to student reasoning (e.g., area under the curve, time- related) provided in the data so as not to confine our understanding of student ideas  We find that most reasoning patterns are present in all disciplines although the frequency varies by discipline. Initial answering patterns are similar across disciplines with a high proportion of students responding with incorrect ideas.  The post-instruction patterns are improved but show persistence of some specific difficulties (e.g. work is path-independent).  These outcomes vary between courses and are consistent with disciplinary emphasis and individual instructional practice.