Wittmann on the resources framework

Michael C. Wittmann

Research in the Resources Framework: Changing environments, consistent exploration

arXiv.org > physics > arXiv:1801.09592

(This paper will be published in the Reviews in Physics Education Research in a volume edited by (in alphabetical order) Charles Henderson, Kathy Harper, and Amy Robertson, publication date Summer 2018. See https://www.compadre.org/per/per_reviews/ for more information.)

In this paper, I discuss my personal journey through one research tradition, that of the resources framework, and how it has evolved over time. In my present work, understanding learners' reasoning in physics in terms of the construction of large-scale models from small-scale resources emphasizes the person doing the constructing over the physics they are discussing. In this human-centered approach, I find value not in the correctness or incorrectness of a given response, but in the nature of construction, the individual's evaluation of their own ideas, and the communication between learners as they seek to understand each other. The resources framework has driven my attention toward a human-centered approach, and has had an effect on both my professional and personal life, in the process. In addition, events in my personal life have proven relevant to my professional work in ways that are reflected by my use of the resources framework to understand knowledge and learning.



Wittmann, Alvarado, and Millay on teacher knowledge of energy

Michael C. Wittmann, Carolina Alvarado, Laura Millay

Teacher awareness of problematic facets of meaningful metaphors of energy

Latin American Journal of Physics Education 11, 2327 (2017).

English Abstract

How teachers respond to students depends, in part, on what they see in their students’ thinking. In a teacher professional development setting, we asked teachers to provide possible incorrect responses and explanations that students might give when discussing the gravitational potential energy of identical hikers walking to the summit of a mountain along different paths, from the same starting point. Teachers were aware of the common difficulties that students might have, including (1) energy is “used up” because of travel time, travel distance, or the effort exerted during travel (2) double-counting work and energy, and (3) energy being an intrinsic property of the hiker. Several of these difficulties use the metaphor of energy as a substance-like quantity, but teachers never made explicit that they were aware of the value of this metaphor in thinking about energy. We discuss the need for teachers to respond to multiple grain sizes of student thinking, including the metaphors they use and the different and at times problematic facets of each.

Keywords: Teacher training, Alternative conceptions, Gravity.

Resumen Espanol

La manera en que los maestros responden a los alumnos depende, en parte, de lo que ven en el pensamiento de los estudiantes. En un curso de capacitación, le pedimos a maestros que proporcionaran la posible respuesta incorrecta y la explicación de qué explicaciones podrían dar al analizar la energía gravitacional potencial de unos excursionistas idénticos caminando hacia la cumbre de una montaña por diferentes veredas, iniciando desde el mismo punto. Los maestros reconocían las dificultades comunes que los estudiantes podrían tener, incluyendo (1) la energía es “usada” en el tiempo viajado, distancia recorrida, o el esfuerzo requerido durante el viaje, (2) contar doblemente el trabajo y la energía, y (3) considerar la energía como una propiedad intrínseca del excursionista. Muchas de esas dificultades utilizan la metáfora de la energía como una cantidad del tipo sustancia, pero los maestros nunca hicieron explícito que ellos estaban al tanto del valor de dicha metáfora la pensar en energía. Discutimos la necesidad de los maestros a responder a las múltiples maneras de pensar de los estudiantes, incluyendo metáforas que usan así como las facetas que pueden ser problemáticas en ocasiones..

Palabras clave: Capacitación de maestros, Concepciones alternativas, Gravedad.

Link to journal: http://www.lajpe.org
Link to article: http://www.lajpe.org/jun17/2327_AAPT_2017.pdf


Ishimoto, Davenport, and Wittmann on cultural differences on the FMCE

M. Ishimoto, G. Davenport, and M. C. Wittmann

Comparing Item Response Curves of Japanese and American Students on the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation

Physical Review Physics Education Research 13, 20135 (published Nov 30, 2017)

Student views of force and motion reflect the personal experiences and physics education of the student. With a different language, culture, and educational system, we expect that Japanese students’ views on force and motion might be different from those of American students. The Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE) is an instrument used to probe student views on force and motion. It was designed using research on American students, and, as such, the items might function differently for Japanese students. Preliminary results from a translated version indicated that Japanese students had similar misconceptions as those of American students. In this study, we used item response curves (IRCs) to make more detailed item-by-item comparisons. IRCs show the functioning of individual items across all levels of performance by plotting the proportion of each response as a function of the total score. Most of the IRCs showed very similar patterns on both correct and incorrect responses; however, a few of the plots indicate differences between the populations. The similar patterns indicate that students tend to interact with FMCE items similarly, despite differences in culture, language, and education. We speculate about the possible causes for the differences in some of the IRCs. This report is intended to show how IRCs can be used as a part of the validation process when making comparisons across languages and nationalities. Differences in IRCs can help to pinpoint artifacts of translation, contextual effects because of differences in culture, and perhaps intrinsic differences in student understanding of Newtonian motion.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.13.020135


van de Bogart, Stetzer, and more on metacognition, troubleshooting, and circuits

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

Investigating the role of socially mediated metacognition during collaborative troubleshooting of electric circuits

Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 13, 020116 – Published 12 September 2017

Developing students’ ability to troubleshoot is an important learning outcome for many undergraduate physics lab courses, especially electronics courses. In other work, metacognition has been identified as an important feature of troubleshooting. However, that work has focused primarily on individual students’ metacognitive processes or troubleshooting abilities. In contrast, electronics courses often require students to work in pairs, and hence students’ in-class experiences likely have significant social dimensions that are not well understood. In this work, we use an existing framework for socially mediated metacognition to analyze audiovisual data from think-aloud activities in which eight pairs of students from two institutions attempted to diagnose and repair a malfunctioning electric circuit. In doing so, we provide insight into some of the social metacognitive dynamics that arise during collaborative troubleshooting. We find that students engaged in socially mediated metacognition at multiple key transitions during the troubleshooting process. Reciprocated metacognitive dialogue arose when students were collectively strategizing about which measurements to perform, or reaching a shared understanding of the circuit’s behavior. Our research demonstrates the value of the framework of socially mediated metacognition in providing insight into the nature of collaborative student troubleshooting in the context of electronics. As such, this framework may be a useful resource for future efforts to examine and support the development of student troubleshooting skills in other upper-division laboratory courses.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.13.020116


Lodge-Scharff on mental models in mathematics and physics

Savannah E. Lodge-Scharff

Investigating Student Mental Models at the Intersection of Mathematics and Physical Reasoning in Physics

Thesis for the Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)

A significant challenge in learning science and mathematics is coordinating different types of mental models, such as mathematical and physical mental models, that represent different aspects of a given phenomenon. This challenge is illustrated in the present study, in which we observed a small number of college students reasoning about forces as both physical and mathematical quantities as they reasoned about a physical system. Using video analysis of the students’ gesture and as they reasoned qualitatively and mathematically about the system, we documented the construction and coordination of participants’ mental models. We found that participants constructed mathematical mental models as imagined lines uniquely to physical mental models as imagined pulls. Moreover, students rarely exhibited the coordination of these two mental models. These findings suggest that instructors that they cannot assume that students generate models, even circumstances designed to support them.

Recommended Citation
Lodge-Scharff, Savannah E., "Investigating Student Mental Models at the Intersection of Mathematics and Physical Reasoning in Physics" (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2718.


Ferm MST on following and using inferential reasoning chains

William N. Ferm (Billy)

Examining Student Ability to Follow and Interact with Qualitative Inferential Reasoning Chains

Thesis for Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)

The effectiveness of scaffolded, research-based instruction in physics has been extensively documented in the literature. However, even after such instruction, students who demonstrate a solid conceptual understanding on one physics task may subsequently perform poorly on another, closely related task requiring the application of that same conceptual understanding. Research on such inconsistencies has suggested that poor performance may primarily be attributed to difficulties related to reasoning rather than those of a conceptual nature. To gain insight into this phenomenon, further work is required, specifically focusing on the design and testing of tasks that may be used to document the extent to which students are able to follow, replicate, evaluate, and generate coherent chains of qualitative inferential reasoning before, during, and after scaffolded, research-based instruction.

In response to this need, we have designed and implemented tasks to assess the extent to which introductory physics students are able to logically follow and interact with the reasoning chains of hypothetical students in a variety of physics contexts. In this thesis, we describe several of these tasks, including a “Follow Reasoning” task in which students are asked to infer the conclusions that would be drawn from different lines of reasoning articulated by hypothetical students and to provide justification for those inferences. We also share work from an experiment in which students were first prompted to answer a physics question before completing a “Follow Reasoning” task, which itself contained reasoning associated with the same physics question (leading to either the correct or an incorrect answer). Finally, we describe the construction, implementation, and analysis of a pair of isomorphic “Follow Reasoning” tasks in which the same lines of reasoning are articulated by hypothetical students but the physics context in which the reasoning is presented is different.

Results show that the majority of students were able to predict the logical concluding statement when provided with a hypothetical student reasoning chain (HSRC), suggesting that they were in fact capable of following the reasoning of others. Several overall trends were identified, and they provided insight into how students interact with HSRCs. In addition, we found that students who demonstrated requisite conceptual understanding were better able to follow correct reasoning leading to the correct answer but showed no such enhancement when considering incorrect reasoning leading to a common incorrect answer. Finally, data collected from isomorphic “Follow Reasoning” tasks suggest that student ability to follow particular lines of reasoning may, in fact, be independent of physics context and content. Key findings from this work have numerous important implications for instruction.

Recommended Citation
Ferm, William N. Jr., "Examining Student Ability to Follow and Interact with Qualitative Inferential Reasoning Chains" (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2662.


Barth-Cohen and Wittmann on coordination classes and energy

Lauren Barth-Cohen and Michael C. Wittmann

Aligning Coordination Class Theory With a New Context: Applying a Theory of Individual Learning to Group Learning

This article presents an empirical analysis of conceptual difficulties encountered and ways students made progress in learning at both individual and group levels in a classroom environment in which the students used an embodied modeling activity to make sense of a specific scientific scenario. The theoretical framework, coordination class theory, has primarily been used to capture individual learning in interview settings, and here it is applied to analytically capture both individual and group learning in a complex classroom environment. Classrooms of ninth-grade earth science students used the position of their bodies to model a specific scientific concept, the steady-state energy of the earth. The students encountered difficulties aligning their understanding of the scientific concept with the models. Subsequently, they changed their models in specific ways that better aligned their understanding of the scientific concept with their newly modified model. The theory is utilized to describe learning by both individuals and the group in this classroom environment and shows how a single student's contribution can dramatically affect the model and subsequent learning. Implications suggest new ways in which the theory may be useful for designing learning environments.


Alvarado Wittmann Rogers Millay on Teacher knowledge of coldness

Carolina Alvarado, Michael C. Wittmann, Adam Z. Rogers, and Laura A. Millay

Problematizing "cold" with K12 Science Teachers

In the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP), we have observed that students improve the way they analyze thermal energy after instruction. Still, many of them continue to use the idea that "coldness" transfers. Past researchers have identified that "cold" is commonly perceived as a separate heat energy. Nevertheless, we have not found specific activities to address this idea. We present analysis of students' conceptual understanding of energy transfer and how the use of coldness as an entity plays a role in it. We explore how both ideas interact with each other using two different multiple choice items. To illustrate the difficulty of addressing student difficulties with coldness, we analyze a collaborative session among K-12 teachers who modeled energy transfers in scenarios similar to the student items and had to work to reconcile the conflict between the two models. Our study shows how the concept of coldness as an energy entity can co-exist and be in conflict with the idea of thermal energy, even after instruction.

C. Alvarado, M. C. Wittmann, A. Z. Rogers, and L. A. Millay, Problematizing "cold" with K12 Science Teachers, 2016 PERC Proceedings [Sacramento, CA, July 20-21, 2016], edited by D. L. Jones, L. Ding, and A. Traxler, doi:10.1119/perc.2016.pr.003.

Ferm Speirs Stetzer Lindsey on using reasoning chains

William N. Ferm Jr., J. Caleb Speirs, MacKenzie R. Stetzer, and Beth A. Lindsey

Investigating student ability to follow and interact with reasoning chains

The effectiveness of scaffolded, research-based instruction in physics has been extensively documented in the literature. However, much less is known about the development of students' reasoning skills in these research-based instructional environments. As part of a larger collaborative project, we have been designing and implementing tasks to assess the extent to which introductory physics students are able to logically follow and interact with hypothetical student reasoning chains in a variety of physics contexts. In this paper, we report preliminary results from a "Follow Reasoning" task in which students are asked to infer the conclusions that would be drawn from different lines of reasoning articulated by hypothetical students and provide justification for that inference.

W. N. F. Jr., J. C. Speirs, M. R. Stetzer, and B. A. Lindsey, Investigating student ability to follow and interact with reasoning chains, 2016 PERC Proceedings [Sacramento, CA, July 20-21, 2016], edited by D. L. Jones, L. Ding, and A. Traxler, doi:10.1119/perc.2016.pr.025.

Schermerhorn and Thompson on symbolic forms and differential length elements

Benjamin P. Schermerhorn and John R. Thompson

Students’ use of symbolic forms when constructing differential length elements

As part of an effort to examine students' understanding of the structure of non-Cartesian coordinate systems and the differential vector elements associated with these systems, students in junior-level electricity and magnetism (E&M) were interviewed in pairs. Students constructed differential length and volume elements for an unconventional spherical coordinate system. A symbolic forms analysis found that students invoked known as well as novel symbolic forms when building these vector expressions. Further analysis suggests that student difficulties were primarily conceptual rather than symbolic.

B. P. Schermerhorn and J. R. Thompson, Students’ use of symbolic forms when constructing differential length elements, 2016 PERC Proceedings [Sacramento, CA, July 20-21, 2016], edited by D. L. Jones, L. Ding, and A. Traxler, doi:10.1119/perc.2016.pr.073.

Speirs Ferm Stetzer Lindsey on reasoning chains

J. Caleb Speirs, William N. Ferm Jr., MacKenzie R. Stetzer, and Beth A. Lindsey

Probing Student Ability to Construct Reasoning Chains: A New Methodology

Students are often asked to construct qualitative reasoning chains during scaffolded, research-based physics instruction. As part of a multi-institutional effort to investigate and assess the development of student reasoning skills in physics, we have been designing tasks that probe the extent to which students can create and evaluate reasoning chains. In one task, students are provided with correct reasoning elements (i.e., true statements about the physical situation as well as correct concepts and mathematical relationships) and are asked to assemble them into an argument that they can use to answer a specified physics problem. In this paper, the task is described in detail and preliminary results are presented.

J. C. Speirs, W. N. F. Jr., M. R. Stetzer, and B. A. Lindsey, Probing Student Ability to Construct Reasoning Chains: A New Methodology, 2016 PERC Proceedings [Sacramento, CA, July 20-21, 2016], edited by D. L. Jones, L. Ding, and A. Traxler, doi:10.1119/perc.2016.pr.077.

Wittmann Alvarado Millay on facets and metaphors of teacher knowledge of student ideas

Michael C. Wittmann, Carolina Alvarado, and Laura A. Millay

Teachers' explanations of student difficulties with gravitational potential energy

In a teacher professional development meeting, teachers were asked a question about potential energy and then to discuss why students might give a particular response to it. Working together in a large group, they came up with responses and explanations that touched on multiple ways of thinking about energy and how these might affect student responses. We observed that teachers were aware of common metaphors for thinking about energy (like energy-as-a-substance) and that they gave multiple explanations for how students might have difficulties in applying these metaphors (e.g., energy is "used up" because of travel time, travel distance, or the effort exerted during travel). Additional explanations showed that teachers recognized how students might bring these ideas to the classroom. We discuss the need for teachers to respond to multiple grain sizes of student thinking, including the metaphors they use and the different facets of each. Assessments that help with this will be of greater value to teachers than the assessment we present.

M. C. Wittmann, C. Alvarado, and L. A. Millay, Teachers' explanations of student difficulties with gravitational potential energy, 2016 PERC Proceedings [Sacramento, CA, July 20-21, 2016], edited by D. L. Jones, L. Ding, and A. Traxler, doi:10.1119/perc.2016.pr.094.


Nissen, Shemwell, on gender and self-efficacy

Jayson M. Nissen and Jonathan T. Shemwell

Gender, experience, and self-efficacy in introductory physics

Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 12, 020105 – Published 1 August 2016 [This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Gender in Physics.]

There is growing evidence of persistent gender achievement gaps in university physics instruction, not only for learning physics content, but also for developing productive attitudes and beliefs about learning physics. These gaps occur in both traditional and interactive-engagement (IE) styles of physics instruction. We investigated one gender gap in the area of attitudes and beliefs. This was men’s and women’s physics self-efficacy, which comprises students’ thoughts and feelings about their capabilities to succeed as learners in physics. According to extant research using pre- and post-course surveys, the self-efficacy of both men and women tends to be reduced after taking traditional and IE physics courses. Moreover, self-efficacy is reduced further for women than for men. However, it remains unclear from these studies whether this gender difference is caused by physics instruction. It may be, for instance, that the greater reduction of women’s self-efficacy in physics merely reflects a broader trend in university education that has little to do with physics per se. We investigated this and other alternative causes, using an in-the-moment measurement technique called the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). We used ESM to collect multiple samples of university students’ feelings of self-efficacy during four types of activity for two one-week periods: (i) an introductory IE physics course, (ii) students’ other introductory STEM courses, (iii) their non-STEM courses, and (iv) their activities outside of school. We found that women experienced the IE physics course with lower self-efficacy than men, but for the other three activity types, women’s self-efficacy was not reliably different from men’s. We therefore concluded that the experience of physics instruction in the IE physics course depressed women’s self-efficacy. Using complementary measures showing the IE physics course to be similar to others in which gendered self-efficacy effects have been consistently observed, we further concluded that IE physics instruction in general is likely to be detrimental to women’s self-efficacy. Consequently, there is a clear need to redress this inequity in IE physics, and probably also in traditional instruction.


Kranich MST on teacher knowledge of accelerated motion

Gregory D. Kranich

Inconsistent Conceptions of Acceleration Contributing to Formative Assessment Limitations

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education has become a national priority in light of measures indicating marginal student interest and success in the United States. Just as evidence is integral to policy decisions, so too do teachers depend on evidence to inform instructional choices. Classroom assessment remains a touchstone means of gathering such evidence as indicators of students’ progress, and increasingly, teachers are designing, implementing, and interpreting assessments in collaboration with one another.

In rural Maine, the work of the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP) has enabled science educators to come together as a supportive professional community. We focused on a team of MainePSP teachers as they developed common assessments for a unit on force and motion concepts. During group discussions individual members vetted their own ideas about acceleration comprising the following perspectives: a) terminology used to describe acceleration, b) the sign of acceleration as an indicator of speeding up or slowing down, and c) the sign of acceleration as an indicator of direction, dependent on the change in both the magnitude and direction of velocity. The latter two ideas could be in agreement (when motion is in the positive direction) or conflict (when motion is in the negative direction). With objectives to accomplish and limited time, the team opted to only include an item about motion in the positive direction, leaving the inconsistencies of their ideas unresolved. As a result, the assessment lacked the ability to provide sufficient evidence of which idea students might hold.

We examined the group’s interactions as captured by video recording and employed basic qualitative methods to analyze the event as a case study. Our findings suggest that an incomplete understanding of acceleration limited the teachers’ ability to resolve their initial conflict. Further, the item’s susceptibility for students to provide correct answers for the wrong reasons was not recognized at the time. We consider the item’s implications on teachers interpreting student assessment responses, masking a potential need for adjusted instruction by teachers and conceptual refinement by students. Finally, we discuss the pedagogical implications and limitations of this study.

Kranich, Gregory D., "Inconsistent Conceptions of Acceleration Contributing to Formative Assessment Limitations" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2438.

http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/etd/2438 - note that you will need to create a Digital Commons account (for free) to download a copy.


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.