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Unpublished MST thesis, University of Maine, August, 2009.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Unpublished MST thesis, University of Maine, August, 2009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.