Harrer PhD on productive resources in secondary school students' discourse about energy

Identifying Productive Resources in Secondary School Students' Discourse About Energy

Benedikt Walter Harrer

A growing program of research in science education acknowledges the beginnings of disciplinary reasoning in students’ ideas and seeks to inform instruction that responds productively to these disciplinary progenitors in the moment to foster their development into sophisticated scientific practice. This dissertation examines secondary school students’ ideas about energy for progenitors of disciplinary knowledge and practice. Previously, researchers argued that students’ ideas about energy were constrained by stable and coherent conceptual structures that conflicted with an assumed unified scientific conception and therefore needed to be replaced. These researchers did not attend to the productive elements in students’ ideas about energy.
To analyze the disciplinary substance in students’ ideas, a theoretical perspective was developed that extends Hammer and colleagues’ resources framework. This elaboration allows for the identification of disciplinary productive resources—i.e., appropriately activated declarative and procedural pieces of knowledge—in individual students’ utterances as well as in the interactions of multiple learners engaged in group learning activities.

Using this framework, original interview transcripts from one of the most influential studies of students’ ideas about energy (Watts, 1983. Some alternative views of energy. Physics Education, 18/5, 213-217) were analyzed. Disciplinary productive resources regarding the ontology of energy, indicators for energy, and mechanistic reasoning about energy were found to be activated by interviewed students. These valuable aspects were not recognized by the original author. An interpretive analysis of video recorded student-centered discourse in rural Maine middle schools was carried out to find cases of resource activation in classroom discussions. Several cases of disciplinary productive resources regarding the nature of energy and its forms as well as the construction of a mechanistic energy story were identified and richly described.

Like energy, resources are manifested in various ways. The results of this study imply the necessity of appropriate disciplinary training for teachers that enables them to recognize and productively respond to disciplinary progenitors of the energy concept in students’ ideas.

Recommended Citation:

Harrer, Benedikt Walter, "Identifying Productive Resources in Secondary School Students' Discourse About Energy" (2013). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2065.


Levi Lucy MST on energy knowledge of students and teachers

Levi Lucy

Correlations Between Students Performance on Assessments and Teachers’ Knowledge of Students and Energy

Research in energy education is important due to increased attention to energy in recent standards. Within education research, looking at the different knowledge teachers have and use while teaching is also a growing area. This study was a pilot study in looking at whether and if so, how, the different knowledge teachers have and use correlates with student performance, in an effort to help focus professional development and pre-service teacher programs. A single survey was used to measure two different types of teacher knowledge: knowledge of common content, and knowledge of content and students, as well as student performance. The results show that where correlations between teachers knowledge and student performance could exist, they did. Students of teachers who gave more detailed responses in a free response question performed better after instruction, than those that were not. Additionally, students of teachers who were able to predict and explain student misconceptions on the same questions used on the student performance assessment, performed better after instruction. Modifications to the teacher assessment are needed tools to investigate teachers’ knowledge of energy more deeply, and to engage teachers more in the assessment tasks.

Recommended Citation

Lucy, Levi, "Correlations Between Students Performance on Assessments and Teachers' Knowledge of Students and Energy" (2013). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2010.



Harrer, Flood, and Wittmann on productive resources about energy

Benedikt W. Harrer, Virginia J. Flood, and Michael C. Wittmann

Productive resources in students’ ideas about energy: An alternative analysis of Watts’ original interview transcripts
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 9, 023101 – Published 10 September 2013

For over 30 years, researchers have investigated students’ ideas about energy with the intent of reforming instructional practice. In this pursuit, Watts contributed an influential study with his 1983 paper “Some alternative views of energy” [Phys. Educ. 18, 213 (1983)]. Watts’ “alternative frameworks” continue to be used for categorizing students’ non-normative ideas about energy. Using a resources framework, we propose an alternate analysis of student responses from Watts’ interviews. In our analysis, we show how students’ activated resources about energy are disciplinarily productive. We suggest that fostering seeds of scientific understandings in students’ ideas about energy may play an important role in their development of scientific literacy.


Smith, Thompson, Mountcastle on Taylor Series Expansions in Statistical Mechanics

T.I. Smith, J.R. Thompson and D.B. Mountcastle
Student Understanding of Taylor Series Expansions in Statistical Mechanics
Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research 9, 020110 (2013). http://link.aps.org/doi/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.9.020110

One goal of physics instruction is to have students learn to make physical meaning of specific mathematical expressions, concepts, and procedures in different physical settings. As part of research investigating student learning in statistical physics, we are developing curriculum materials that guide students through a derivation of the Boltzmann factor using a Taylor series expansion of entropy. Using results from written surveys, classroom observations, and both individual think-aloud and teaching interviews, we present evidence that many students can recognize and interpret series expansions, but they often lack fluency in creating and using a Taylor series appropriately, despite previous exposures in both calculus and physics courses.


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

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*

Negotiating energy dynamics through embodied action in a materially structured environment

Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 9, 020105 – Published 11 July 2013

* 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.


Evan Chase MST on gestures regarding accelerated motion

Evan Chase

Investigating Physics Students’ Simultaneous Use of Gestures and Speech to Describe Multiple Quantities of a Vertically-Tossed Ball

In physics education research, we are often concerned with understanding students’ ideas. For these purposes, teachers often assess student knowledge on the basis of summative assessment: exams, quizzes, and lab reports, etc. Teachers and researchers also attend to conversation, where people typically produce hand gestures that can communicate additional information to the listener. Due to this, it is important to be able to understand what gestures may mean, so that any information within them can be accessed. If there is valuable information about student knowledge available in a gesture, then this information can easily be missed if exclusively written methods of assessment and research are used. Teachers and researchers could benefit from the ability to decipher and utilize a student’s gestures to better understand the student’s level of comprehension.

To study how physics students use gestures in addition to their speech to explain a ball being tossed into the air, individual interviews were conducted with physics majors who had completed half of an eight-semester physics program at the University of Maine. These interviews conformed to the standards set by current qualitative education research. Students were asked to discuss kinematic quantities and forces associated with the motion of a ball thrown straight up, both with and without the force of air resistance. The video episodes selected for detailed analysis contained moments of students gesturing and speaking simultaneously, such that the referents of the speech and gesture did not appear to match. A more explicit methodology than that found in the current literature on gesture research in physics is defined. This methodology is used to show that these physics students were able to portray information about kinematics and force quantities simultaneously with gestures and speech, and in some cases were able to describe changes in one quantity with a hand and another quantity with the fingers on the same hand.


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.