Springuel Thompson Wittmann correcting a past paper

R. Padraic Springuel, Michael C. Wittmann, and John R. Thompson
Erratum: Applying clustering to statistical analysis of student reasoning about two-dimensional kinematics [Phys Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 3, 020107 (2007)]

In our paper reported previously in this journal, we explored how cluster analysis, a method from data mining used to find natural groupings in data, could be used to categorize the responses given by students on a free-response question about acceleration in two dimensions. In the process of preparing to expand on that work, however, we discovered that our analysis was both incorrect and incomplete. We were incorrect in that we used default settings in our software package and thereby misidentified the distance measure used. We have since determined that this distance was not appropriate for our data coding. Furthermore, we were incomplete in that we were not sufficiently rigorous in our definition of groups of student responses. We have corrected both of these issues.

This is an erratum related to (and nearly longer than!) the paper found here.


Black and Wittmann on Resource Creation in Mechanics

Katrina E. Black and Michael C. Wittmann
Procedural Resource Creation in Intermediate Mechanics
AIP Conf. Proc. -- November 5, 2009 -- Volume 1179, pp. 97-101

A problem in resource theory is describing the creation of new, high-level resources. We model resource creation by analyzing four student groups separating variables in a group quiz setting. The task was to solve an air resistance problem with uncommon initial conditions. We assess the fluency of each group and two observables: use of overt (such as divide, subtract, equals) and covert (such as moving, bringing, or pulling over) mathematical and use of accompanying gestures (such as circling, grabbing, or sliding). For each group, the type of language and gesture used corresponds to how easily they carry out separation of variables. We create resource graphs for each group to organize our observations and use these graphs to model the creation of the procedural resource Separate Variables.

Wittmann, Anderson, and Smith on teaching Newton's Second Law

Michael C. Wittmann, Mindi Kvaal Anderson, and Trevor I. Smith
Comparing Three Methods for Teaching Newton's Second Law
AIP Conf. Proc. -- November 5, 2009 -- Volume 1179, pp. 301-304

As a follow-up to a study comparing learning of Newton's Third Law when using three different forms of tutorial instruction, we have compared student learning of Newton's Second Law (NSL) when students use the Tutorials in Introductory Physics, Activity-Based Tutorials, or Open Source Tutorials. We split an algebra-based, life sciences physics course in 3 groups and measured students' pre- and post-instruction scores on the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE). We look at only the NSL-related clusters of questions on the FMCE to compare students' performance and normalized gains. Students entering the course are not significantly different, and students using the Tutorials in Introductory Physics show the largest normalized gains in answering question on the FMCE correctly. These gains are significant in only one cluster of questions, the Force Sled cluster.

Hawkins, Thompson, and Wittmann on persistence of methods used to add vectors

Jeffrey M. Hawkins, John R. Thompson, and Michael C. Wittmann
Students Consistency of Graphical Vector Addition Method on 2-D Vector Addition Tasks
AIP Conf. Proc. -- November 5, 2009 -- Volume 1179, pp. 161-164

In a series of ten two-dimensional graphical vector addition questions with varying visual representations, most students stuck to a single solution method, be it correct or incorrect. Changes to the visual representation include placing vectors on a grid, making the vectors arrangements symmetric, varying the separation between vectors, and reversing the direction of either vector. We discuss the questions asked of students and their responses, emphasizing the results of one student who did change solution methods during an interview. ©2009 American Institute of Physics

Smith, Christensen, Thompson on entropy, engines, and cycles

Trevor I. Smith Warren M. Christensen and John R. Thompson
Addressing Student Difficulties with Concepts Related to Entropy, Heat Engines and the Carnot Cycle
AIP Conf. Proc. -- November 5, 2009 -- Volume 1179, pp. 277-280

We report the rationale behind and preliminary results from a guided-inquiry conceptual worksheet (a.k.a. tutorial) dealing with Carnot's efficiency and the Carnot cycle. The tutorial was administered in an upper-level thermodynamics course at the University of Maine. The tutorial was implemented as the third in a three-tutorial sequence designed to improve students' understanding of entropy and its applications. Initial pre- and post-tutorial assessment data suggest that student understanding of heat engines and the Carnot cycle improved as a result of tutorial instruction


Hayes MST: Language, discourse, and problem solving

Kate McCann Hayes
A qualititative analysis of student behavior and language during group problem solving
Unpublished MST thesis, University of Maine, August, 2009.

In guided-inquiry group problem solving, students experience shifts in understanding: potential "a-ha" moments where ideas fall into place and things suddenly make sense. To characterize students’ behavior, activities and language as they interact, we use video and transcript of students working in an Intermediate Mechanics class. Key elements of discourse, such as the words “just” or “anyway,” or false starts, indicate speakers' expectations about an activity so we identify these elements and track the frequency with which they appear in student discourse, both in total quantity and relative frequency. We use changes in both language and behavior to identify areas of struggle in problem solving followed by a shift in student understanding and expectations. Our methodology can capture very different resolutions in problem solving; in the three areas selected, we find that students come to a genuine resolution following struggle or knowingly accept an insufficient answer.

Anderson MST: Three ways of teaching Newton's Second Law

Mindi Kvaal Anderson
Comparing the Effectiveness of Three Unique Research Based Tutorials for Introducing Newton’s Second Law
Unpublished MST thesis, University of Maine, August, 2009

Recent research has shown that guided inquiry tutorials can be effective supplements to traditional methods of teaching. This study examines the learning outcomes of three different tutorials about Newton’s Second Law (NSL): the University of Maryland’s Activity Based Tutorial, the University of Maryland’s Open Source Tutorial and the University of Washington’s Tutorial in Introductory Physics. Specifically, to what extent does a single hour of tutorial impact student learning of NSL? The force and motion conceptual evaluation (FMCE), a multiple-choice assessment instrument, is used to evaluate gains in conceptual understanding in the areas of one dimensional motion and kinematics in introductory physics courses. FMCE pretest and post-test data were collected for each of the three guided inquiry tutorial groups. The data was analyzed by separating the exam into clusters using a template created by Michael Wittmann and later updated by Trevor Smith. Gains for each tutorial group on the NSL portions of the FMCE were compared for students in a first semester algebra-based physics course. Although significant gains were not recorded in overall scores for any particular tutorial group over the others, analysis of the FMCE showed definite improvement areas by tutorial groups for certain curricula.


O’Brien and Thompson on assessing Physics First in Maine

Effectiveness of Ninth-Grade Physics in Maine: Conceptual Understanding

Phys. Teach. 47 (4), 234-239 (2009)

The Physics First movement—teaching a true physics course to ninth-grade students—is gaining popularity in high schools. There are several different rhetorical arguments for and against this movement, and it is quite controversial in physics education. However, there is no actual evidence to assess the success, or failure, of this substantial shift in the science teaching sequence. We have undertaken a comparison study of physics classes taught in ninth- and 12th-grade classes in Maine. Comparisons of student understanding and gains with respect to mechanics concepts were made with excerpts from well-known multiple-choice surveys and individual student interviews. Results indicate that both populations begin physics courses with similar content knowledge and specific difficulties, but when learning concepts, ninth-graders are more sensitive to the instructional method used.

Originally posted at arxiv.org, where a pre-print remains available.