Wittmann, Flood, and many others on negotiations of energy in a structured environment (Energy Theater)

Negotiating energy dynamics through embodied action in a materially structured environment

Rachel E. Scherr*, Hunter G. Close†, Eleanor W. Close†, Virginia J. Flood‡, Sarah B. McKagan*, Amy D. Robertson*, Lane Seeley*, Michael C. Wittmann§‡, and Stamatis Vokos*

* Department of Physics, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA
† Department of Physics, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
‡ Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, Orono, ME
§ Department of Physics, University of Maine, Orono, ME

We provide evidence that a learning activity called Energy Theater engages learners with key conceptual issues in the learning of energy, including disambiguating matter flow and energy flow and theorizing mechanisms for energy transformation. A participationist theory of learning, in which learning is indicated by changes in speech and behavior, supports ethnographic analysis of learners’ embodied interaction with each other and the material setting. We conduct detailed analysis to build plausible causal links between specific features of Energy Theater and the conceptual engagement that we observe. Disambiguation of matter and energy appears to be promoted especially by the material structure of the Energy Theater environment, in which energy is represented by participants, while objects are represented by areas demarcated by loops of rope. Theorizing mechanisms of energy transformation is promoted especially by Energy Theater’s embodied action, which necessitates modeling the time ordering of energy transformations.

Accepted for publication in the Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research.


Wittmann, Flood, and Black on embodiment in separating variables

Algebraic manipulation as motion within a landscape
Michael C. Wittmann, Virginia J. Flood, Katrina E. Black
Educational Studies in Mathematics
February 2013, Volume 82, Issue 2, pp 169-181

We show that students rearranging the terms of a mathematical equation in order to separate variables prior to integration use gestures and speech to manipulate the mathematical terms on the page. They treat the terms of the equation as physical objects in a landscape, capable of being moved around. We analyze our results within the tradition of embodied cognition and use conceptual metaphors such as the path-source-goal schema and the idea of fictive motion. We find that students solving the problem correctly and efficiently do not use overt mathematical language like multiplication or division. Instead, their gestures and ambiguous speech of moving are the only algebra used at that moment.


Harrer, Flood, and Wittmann on Energy in middle school science

Students talk about energy in Project-Based Inquiry Science
Benedikt W. Harrer, Virginia J. Flood, and Michael C. Wittmann
AIP Conf. Proc. 1513, 162 (2013)

We examine the types of emergent language eighth grade students in rural Maine middle schools use when they discuss energy in their first experiences with Project-Based Inquiry Science: Energy, a research-based curriculum that uses a specific language for talking about energy. By comparative analysis of the language used by the curriculum materials to students’ language, we find that students’ talk is at times more aligned with a Stores and Transfer model of energy than the Forms model supported by the curriculum.

Kaczynski and Wittmann on expectations about damped harmonic motion

Student expectations in a group learning activity on harmonic motion
Adam Kaczynski and Michael C. Wittmann
AIP Conf. Proc. 1513, 210 (2013)

Students in a sophomore-level mechanics course participated in a new group learning activity that was intended to support model-building and finding coherence between multiple representations in the context of an underdamped harmonic system. Not all of the student groups framed the activity in the same way, and many attempted tasks that existed outside of the prompts of the activity. For one group, this meant that instead of providing a rich verbal description, they framed the activity as finding a mathematical expression.

Wittmann and Hawkins on new versions of FMCE questions

New ways of investigating the canonical coin toss acceleration problem
Michael C. Wittmann and Jeffrey M. Hawkins
AIP Conf. Proc. 1513, 422 (2013)

Asking students about the acceleration of a tossed object is a well-studied problem in physics education research. Students frequently respond using reasoning that describes the velocity of the object, in particular that acceleration is zero at the top. We created new versions of the canonical multiple-choice Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation coin-toss questions to investigate what other reasoning students might use. Some students were asked “is the acceleration zero at the top?” Other students were told “the acceleration is not zero” and asked to explain. A third group answered the original multiple-choice version of the question. Our results suggest that some students give answers that they can explain are incorrect. We also find that some students’ responses about the acceleration at the turnaround point are affected by question format.

Chase and Wittmann on Embodied Cognition

Evidence of embodied cognition via speech and gesture complementarity
 Evan A. Chase and Michael C. Wittmann
 AIP Conf. Proc. 1513, 94 (2013)

We are studying how students talk and gesture about physics problems involving directionality. Students discussing physics use more than words and equations; gestures are also a meaningful element of their thinking. Data come from one-on-one interviews in which students were asked to gesture about the sign and direction of velocity, acceleration, and other quantities. Specific contexts are a ball toss in the presence and absence of air resistance, including situations where the ball starts at greater than terminal velocity. Students show an aptitude for representing up to 6 characteristics of the ball with 2 hands. They switch quickly while talking about velocity, acceleration, and the different forces, frequently representing more than one quantity using a single hand. We believe that much of their thinking resides in their hands, and that their gestures complement their speech, as indicated by moments when speech and gesture represent different quantities.


Hawkins, Frank, Thompson, Wittmann, and Wemyss on alternative question strategies

Probing student understanding with alternative questioning strategies
Jeffrey M. Hawkins, Brian W. Frank, John R. Thompson, Michael C. Wittmann, and Thomas M. Weymss
AIP Conf. Proc. 1413, 207 (2012)

Common research tasks ask students to identify a correct answer and justify their answer choice. We propose expanding the array of research tasks to access different knowledge that students might have. By asking students to discuss answers they may not have chosen naturally, we can investigate students' abilities to explain something that is already established or to disprove an incorrect response. The results of these research tasks also provide us with information about how students' responses vary across the different tasks. We discuss three underused question types, their possible benefits, and some preliminary results from an electric circuits pretest utilizing these novel question types. We find that the answer students most commonly choose as correct is the same choice most commonly eliminated as incorrect. Also, given the correct answer, students can provide valuable reasoning to explain it, but they do not spontaneously identify it as the correct answer.

Wittmann and Black on integration and separation of variables

When basic changes to a solution suggest meaningful differences in mathematics
Michael C. Wittmann and Katrina E. Black
AIP Conf. Proc. 1413, 93 (2012)

When solving two integrals arising from the separation of variables in a first order linear differential equation, students have multiple correct choices for how to proceed. They might set limits on both integrals or use integration constants on both or only one equation. In each case, the physical meaning of the mathematics is equivalent. But, how students choose to represent the mathematics can tell us much about what they are thinking. We observe students debating how to integrate the quantity dt. One student seeks a general function that works for everyone, and does not wish to specify the value of the integration constant. Another student seeks a function consistent with the specific physics problem. They compromise by using a constant, undefined in value for one student, zero in value for the other.

Harrer, Scherr, Wittmann, Close and Frank on proximal formative assessment about energy

Elements of proximal formative assessment in learners' discourse about energy
Benedikt W. Harrer, Rachel E. Scherr, Michael C. Wittmann, Hunter G. Close, and Brian W. Frank
AIP Conf. Proc. 1413, 203 (2012)

Proximal formative assessment, the just-in-time elicitation of students' ideas that informs ongoing instruction, is usually associated with the instructor in a formal classroom setting. However, the elicitation, assessment, and subsequent instruction that characterize proximal formative assessment are also seen in discourse among peers. We present a case in which secondary teachers in a professional development course at SPU are discussing energy flow in refrigerators. In this episode, a peer is invited to share her thinking (elicitation). Her idea that refrigerators move heat from a relatively cold compartment to a hotter environment is inappropriately judged as incorrect (assessment). The "instruction" (peer explanation) that follows is based on the second law of thermodynamics, and acts as corrective rather than collaborative.

Wittmann and Chase on embodied cognition in wave propagation

Evidence of embodied cognition about wave propagation
Michael C. Wittmann and Evan Chase
AIP Conf. Proc. 1413, 383 (2012)

That students think of wavepulses as if throwing balls down a long taut spring is well established. Typical questions involve students imagining the spring already pulled taut; a different scenario would imagine them pulling the spring tight first. This situation creates a different baseline of physical experience from which to reason. For example, it provides a physical experience in which tension is a relevant measure in the system. We investigated the effects of students pulling the spring (or not) in interviews after instruction. We also wrote two surveys, each giving a different physical description of a typical problem. From interviews, we find evidence that a different embodiment of the problem affects students' responses. In surveys, with students asked to imagine different situations, we found no such evidence.


Thompson Christensen Wittmann on graduate course in PER

John R. Thompson, Warren M. Christensen, Michael C. Wittmann

Preparing future teachers to anticipate student difficulties in physics in a graduate-level course in physics, pedagogy, and education research

We describe courses designed to help future teachers reflect on and discuss both physics content and student knowledge thereof. We use three kinds of activities: reading and discussing the literature, experiencing research-based curricular materials, and learning to use the basic research methods of physics education research. We present a general overview of the two courses we have designed as well as a framework for assessing student performance on physics content knowledge and one aspect of pedagogical content knowledge—knowledge of student ideas—about one particular content area: electric circuits. We find that the quality of future teachers’ responses, especially on questions dealing with knowledge of student ideas, can be successfully categorized and may be higher for those with a nonphysics background than those with a physics background.

URL: http://link.aps.org/doi/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.7.010108
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.7.010108
PACS: 01.40.J-


Casey MST: Interaction and MPEX analysis of group learning behaviors

Casey Murphy
Answer-Seeking and Idea-Constructing During Collaborative Active-Learning Activities in a Physics Laboratory  
Unpublished MST thesis, University of Maine, 2010


Smith, Thompson, and Mountcastle on the Boltzmann Factor

Trevor I. Smith, John R. Thompson, and Donald B. Mountcastle

Addressing Student Difficulties with Statistical Mechanics: The Boltzmann Factor

AIP Conf. Proc. -- October 24, 2010 -- Volume 1289, pp. 305-308

As part of research into student understanding of topics related to thermodynamics and statistical mechanics at the upper division, we have identified student difficulties in applying concepts related to the Boltzmann factor and the canonical partition function. With this in mind, we have developed a guided-inquiry worksheet activity (tutorial) designed to help students develop a better understanding of where the Boltzmann factor comes from and why it is useful. The tutorial guides students through the derivation of both the Boltzmann factor and the canonical partition function. Preliminary results suggest that students who participated in the tutorial had a higher success rate on assessment items than students who had only received lecture instruction on the topic. We present results that motivate the need for this tutorial, the outline of the derivation used, and results from implementations of the tutorial. ©2010 American Institute of Physics

Hawkins et al. on vector addition

Jeffrey M. Hawkins, John R. Thompson, Michael C. Wittmann, Eleanor C. Sayre, and Brian W. Frank

AIP Conf. Proc. -- October 24, 2010 -- Volume 1289, pp. 165-168

We investigate if the visual representation of vectors can affect which methods students use to add them. We gave students one of four questions with different graphical representations, asking students to add the same two vectors. For students in an algebra-based class the arrangement of the vectors had a statistically significant effect on the vector addition method chosen while the addition or removal of a grid did not. ©2010 American Institute of Physics


Springuel Ph.D.: Cluster analysis in kinematics and the FMCE

R. Padraic Springuel
Applying Cluster Analysis to Physics Education Research Data
Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maine, 2010