Smith MST: comparing reform implementations

Trevor I. Smith
Comparing the Effectiveness of Research-Based Curricula for Teaching Introductory Mechanics
Unpublished MST thesis, University of Maine, May, 2007.

This study examines the effects of implementing various research-based forms of cur- ricula for teaching introductory physics course at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL and the University of Maine in Orono, ME. Introductory courses at each of these institutions were modified at each of these institutions over the course of several years. For each course, baseline data were collected during a year in which at least one form of research-based curricula was used. In subsequent years, other research-based curricula were implemented in addition to the baseline treatment at the University of Maine and in place of the baseline treatment at the College of Du- Page. Data collected using the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation and the Force Concept Inventory were analyzed using the Model Analysis method developed by Bao and Redish[1] to determine the manner(s) in which the curricular modifica- tions affected students’ conceptual development throughout a course. The results of this analysis show that the majority of curricular changes had little overall effect on students’ conceptual understanding of physics. Several exceptions to this generality are discussed.

Recommended Citation

Smith, Trevor I., "Comparing the Effectiveness of Research-based Curricula for Teaching Introductory Mechanics" (2007). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1355.



Moyer MST: Understanding of stem cells

Jon Moyer
A comparative study of how high school students understand stem cells
Unpublished M.S.T. thesis, May 2007

In Spring 2004 an inquiry-based unit on stem cells was developed from chromatin dynamics research at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. The unit was developed according to the backwards design model of curriculum development and implemented in Bangor area high schools in April 2005 and June 2005. With slight modifications, the stem cell unit was re-implemented in June 2006 and tested against a traditional, lecture-based unit.

Open response pre- and post-tests were used to capture initial student conceptions and measure learning gains. Pre-instruction interviews were conducted in order to gain a deeper understanding of pre-test answers. In addition, a two-tailed matched-pair analysis of post-test answers was performed in order to determine the effectiveness of inquiry- based instruction versus lecture-based instruction.

Comparison of pre- and post-tests shows relatively large learning gains after instruction. Analysis of pre-test responses and interview transcripts reveals many misconceptions, such as a fairly widespread belief that abortions are done specifically to obtain stem cells and beliefs that the amount of genetic information of stem cells is different from differentiated cells. Other findings include how students use a variety of terms to describe differentiation and the belief that stem cells are more prevalent early in life and “used up” during development.

The results of the two-tailed, matched-pair analysis for the most part do not indicate statistically significant differences between inquiry- and lecture-based instruction. However, results for a question on controversial aspects of stem cell research imply that the lecture-based instruction was more effective than the inquiry-based instruction at helping students understand the controversy. This result suggests that, given the limited time span of the unit, inquiry-based methods by themselves may not be the most appropriate pedagogy for teaching about controversies in stem cell research. A combination of lecture and inquiry, where the instructor gives a small series of initial lectures before assigning students a genuine inquiry activity, may be a better approach.


Bucy, Thompson, Mountcastle on Partial Differentiation

B.R. Bucy, J.R. Thompson, D.B. Mountcastle
Student (Mis)application of Partial Differentiation to Material Properties
2006 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, edited by P. Heron, L. McCullough, and J. Marx, AIP Conference Proceedings 883, 157-160 (2007)

Sayre, Wittmann, and Donovan on resource plasticity

E.C. Sayre, M.C. Wittmann, and J.E. Donovan
Resource Plasticity: Detailing a Common Chain of Reasoning with Damped Harmonic Motion
in P. Heron, L. McCullough, J. Marx (Eds.) Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings 2006, AIP Conference Proceedings 883, 85 (2007).

Coombs MS in Physics on sound as a longitudinal wave

Investigating Student Understanding of Sound as a Longitudinal Wave
Earl C. Coombs, 2007 MS in Physics

The field of physics education research (PER) has highlighted the discrepancy between what is taught during traditional instruction in physics, and what students understand afterward. PER has also provided alternatives to traditional instruction that are research-based and have been shown to be more effective in bringing students’ level of understanding of physics more in line with that of the scientific community. One topic that has received attention is the propagation of sound. We confirmed that students in the introductory algebra-based and calculus-based physics courses at the University of Maine have difficulties with sound propagation similar to those documented by others. We found that a relatively small percentage of the students we interviewed from a calculus-based introductory physics course used the community consensus model of particles oscillating parallel to the direction of propagation. We identified three other mental models used by the interview subjects that have been described previously. The first was a model in which sound is considered to be an entity that passes through the medium without disturbing the particles of the medium. The second was a model in which sound is viewed as an entity that pushes the particles of the medium aside as it propagates. The third was a hybrid model in which the particles of the medium oscillate perpendicular to the direction of propagation. In an extension of the work by previous researchers in this area, we examined students’ ability to predict the points at which the particles of the medium have the maximum and the minimum magnitudes of velocity and displacement from their equilibrium positions. We found that students’ ability to do so was extremely limited. To improve student understanding of sound propagation, we developed an instructional tool in the form of a “tutorial” and evaluated its effectiveness through pre- and post-testing of students enrolled in an algebra-based introductory physics course. The tutorial constructed for this purpose was found to be successful in increasing the number of students that used the community consensus model when answering questions about sound propagation. It was less successful in enabling students to make accurate predictions about particle velocities and displacements.

Recommended Citation

Coombs, Earl C., "Investigating Student Understanding of Sound as a Longitudinal Wave" (2007). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 314.