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.