Pratt MST: Zebrafish teratogenesis and an inquiry curriculum

Jon Pratt
Zebrafish teratogenesis as a secondary-level science inquiry curriculum
Unpublished M.S.T. thesis, December 2006

A secondary-level zebrafish science education curriculum was designed and implemented with the Upward Bound Math Science program at the University of Maine in the summer of 2003. The six-week curriculum was designed to increase student scientific literacy in a program that integrates math and science education using inquiry- based methods. Scientific literacy is defined as knowledge of the nature of science, its concepts, and its human context: “A scientifically literate person is one who not only possesses a knowledge about these various aspects of science but also makes use of them in his or her ethical decision making and social participation in civic life” (NBPTS, 1997/2001). The zebrafish, Danio rerio, was chosen because it is a model organism in modern professional biological research. The zebrafish curriculum focused on biological development as a process that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, and the zebrafish development time of approximately 72 hours made it possible to conduct student designed experiment within a weekday-oriented education schedule. The students in the curriculum had completed their 10th, 11th, or 12th grade years in high school, and some had up to two years of prior experience in UBMS. The students were grouped so that all experience levels were represented, and groups developed, defended, implemented, and analyzed data collected in zebrafish development experiments using various environmental teratogens. The defense of the experimental protocol took place in front of a panel of experts, requiring students to justify the ethical fitness of their self- designed research because it involved the use of a vertebrate organism. Students used statistical tools to test the data they collected, and developed scientific explanatory models to interpret the results. Facilitators worked closely with small groups to promote participation in all aspects of the curriculum from all students.

Student learning in the curriculum was measured using formative and summative techniques that collected both qualitative and quantitative data. Formative assessment helped to fine-tune the curriculum while being implemented and summative assessment gave insight into student development via facilitator observations, student writing samples, and pre-post test score statistical analysis. The results of student learning were used to determine whether or not the zebrafish curriculum succeeded in increasing student scientific literacy, and the zebrafish curriculum was evaluated even further by comparing its fit with selected elements of the National Science Education Standards (NAS, 1995).

Analysis of student groups’ writing samples, group facilitator student evaluations, and of fitness with the NSES demonstrated that the zebrafish curriculum had a significant effect on the improvement of scientific literacy and a good fit with research based standards intended to guide the development of inquiry based science curricula. Statistical analysis of pre-post test data with students grouped by years of experience shows that the number of years of experience in UBMS also had a statistically significant effect on performance on the pre-post test. Suggestions are given for future iterations of the zebrafish curriculum, with emphasis on the importance of setting on the potential for success in raising student scientific literacy.



Nelson MST: Concentrated workshop on force and motion

David Nelson
"Effect of a Concentrated In-Service Elementary Teacher Force and Motion Workshop"
Unpublished M.S.T. thesis, August, 2006

The National Science Education Standards and Maine Learning Results outline a comprehensive program for facilitating children’s learning of basic concepts in force and motion. The program has goals for children as early as Kindergarten, but assumes the teachers in our primary schools are prepared to handle these concepts. Unfortunately our elementary school teacher’s training programs do not require in-depth instruction in the sciences, and many of our elementary school teachers have never received instruction in basic physics. Lacking mastery of the content, many in-service teachers doubt their ability to present science material in their classrooms, and sometimes avoid the material all together. While standard summer coursework is available that might improve teacher understanding of the concepts, it is difficult for many teachers to commit to a summer long program. Short courses and workshops are offered as alternatives in a number of venues that try to address these deficiencies. This research project investigates whether a concentrated workshop format can have a lasting impact on in-service teacher conceptual understanding and self-efficacy as they relate to force and motion. A concentrated one-week workshop featuring inquiry-based learning and including epistemological topics was developed and administered during the summer of 2005. The Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE) was used to measure gain in conceptual understanding, and the Maryland Physics Expectations Survey (MPEX) and Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument (STEBI) were used to evaluate teacher attitudes, beliefs, and expectations relating to their own physics understanding and its role in their classrooms. While improvement was evident in both the FMCE and MPEX results, it is not clear that the amount of improvement produced is sufficient to fully prepare in-service teachers to facilitate learning in this area.


Wittmann, Morgan, Feeley on probability in quantum

M.C. Wittmann, J.T. Morgan, R.F. Feeley
Laboratory-tutorial activities for teaching probability
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 2, 020104 (2006)


Wittmann on tutorials for teaching QM tunneling

M.C. Wittmann
Lab-Tutorials für den Quantenphysik Unterricht
Praxis der Naturwissenschaften – Physik, 55:4, 16-21.

Note that this paper is in German and that the arxiv.org publication contains only an English language abstract. The arxiv.org version is in much weaker German than the edited final version published in Praxis der Naturwissenschaften - Physik.


Morgan PhD: Quantum Tunneling

Jeffrey T. Morgan
Investigating How Students Think About and Learn Quantum Physics: An Example From Tunneling
Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maine, 2006

Much of physics education research (PER) has focused on introductory courses and topics, with less research done into how students learn physics in advanced courses. Members of The University of Maine Physics Education Research Laboratory (PERL) have begun studying how students in advanced physics courses reason about classical mechanics, thermal physics, and quantum physics. Here, we describe an investigation into how students reason about quantum mechanical tunneling, and detail how those findings informed a portion of a curriculum development project. Quantum mechanical tunneling is a standard topic discussed in most modern physics and quantum physics courses. Understanding tunneling is crucial to making sense of several topics in physics, including scanning tunneling microscopy and nuclear decay. To make sense of the standard presentation of tunneling, students must track total, potential, and kinetic energies. Additionally, they must distinguish between the ideas of energy, probability density, and the wave function. They need to understand the complex nature of the wave function, as well as understand what can and cannot be inferred from a solution to the time-independent Schrödinger equation. Our investigations into student understanding of these ideas consisted of a series of interviews, as well as a survey. Both centered around asking students to reason about energy, probability, and the wave function solutions for the standard square potential energy barrier scenario presented in most textbooks. We describe ideas that students seem to successfully learn following standard instruction, as well as common difficulties that remain. Additionally, we present multiple data points from a small population of physics majors over three years and describe how some of their reasoning about tunneling changed, while other portions seemed to remain unaffected by instruction. We used the results of these investigations to write tutorials on tunneling and applications of tunneling. The tutorials were part of a course on introductory quantum physics for non-science majors. In this course, most of the ideas were introduced in the small-group, student-centered tutorial-labs. We present evidence that this population can learn some basic ideas of quantum physics, and on certain tunneling questions perform as well or better than advanced undergraduate students.

Recommended Citation

Morgan, Jeffrey Todd, "Investigating how Students Think About and Learn Quantum Physics: An Example from Tunneling" (2006). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 524.


O'Brien MST: Physics First in Maine

Michael O'Brien
An investigation into the effectiveness of Physics First in Maine
Unpublished MST thesis, May 2006

Data from three high schools that teach physics in ninth grade and three that teach physics in twelfth grade were used to make comparisons between these classes. Research tools include written pre- and post-tests of kinematics and mechanics concepts, a written physics attitudes and expectations survey, and individual student interviews. Portions of these tools were excerpted from wellknown and thoroughly tested instruments. The normalized gains on the conceptual survey were compared, and analyzed to determine which kinematics and mechanics concepts ninth- and twelfth-graders appear to learn differently. Students' perceptions of physics from the ninth- and twelfth-grade viewpoints are also compared. Results suggest that while the populations are similar affectively, they have some significant differences in conceptual understanding, and this difference is amplified by different instructional approaches.

Recommended Citation

O'Brien, Michael James, "An Investigation of the Effectiveness of Physics First in Maine" (2006). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1362.


Traxler MST: Teaching Time in Intro Astro

Adrienne Traxler
"Assessment and Modification of an Introductory Astronomy Laboratory Lesson on Astronomical Time-Keeping"
Unpublished MST thesis, May 2006

The introductory astronomy laboratory course at the University of Maine consists of weekly lessons in which students work in small groups on computer-based exercises. My work consists of assessing and revising a lesson on astronomical time-keeping, including sidereal time, Apparent Solar Time, and time zones. After a baseline of pretest and post-test data was collected, the lesson went through two major revisions. For the spring 2005 semester, the unit was altered to incorporate planetarium software for simulating the sky instead of the physical celestial sphere models previously used. This change produced only small gains from pretest to post-test, so a more drastic change to the lesson was planned. For fall 2005, the entire lesson was rewritten to focus more explicitly on the desired conceptual content and less on intermediary mathematical manipulations. This final iteration of the material was reused in the spring 2006 semester with a new pretest that was updated based on student interviews. Although the fall 2005 data indicated a trend of pretest to post-test improvement with the rewritten lesson, the spring 2006 data do not sustain this trend. Overall, neither the interface change nor the switch to a more inquiry-based style seem to reliably affect student performance on the post-test. I present and discuss these results in detail, including possible explanations for the lack of pre/post-test gain.


Bucy, Thompson, Mountcastle on Entropy

B.R. Bucy, J.R. Thompson, D.B. Mountcastle
What is Entropy? Advanced Undergraduate Performance Comparing Ideal Gas Processes
2005 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, edited by P. Heron, L. McCullough, and J. Marx, AIP Conference Proceedings 818, 77-80 (2006)

Thompson, Bucy, and Mountcastle on partial derivatives in thermo

J.R. Thompson, B.R. Bucy, D.B. Mountcastle
Assessing Student Understanding of Partial Derivatives in Thermodynamics
2005 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, edited by P. Heron, L. McCullough, and J. Marx, AIP Conference Proceedings 818, 77-80 (2006)

Morgan and Wittmann on Quantum Tunneling

J.T. Morgan and M.C. Wittmann
Examining the Evolution of Student Ideas About Quantum Tunneling
in P. Heron, L. McCullough, J. Marx (Eds.) Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings 2005, AIP Conference Proceedings 818, 73-76 (2006).