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.


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.


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 (scroll to p.386)

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

Barth-Cohen, L. & Wittmann, M. C. (2016). Expanding Coordination Class Theory to Capture Conceptual Learning in a Classroom Environment. In Looi, C. K., Polman, J. L., Cress, U., and Reimann, P. (Eds.), Transforming Learning, Empowering Learners: The International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) 2016, Volume 1 (pp. 386-393) Singapore: International Society of the Learning Sciences.

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.


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

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

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.


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.

[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

Identifying student difficulties with entropy, heat engines, and the Carnot cycle

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.