Van de Bogart, Dounas-Frazer, Lewandowski, and Stetzer on metacognition in troubleshooting

Kevin L. Van De Bogart, Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer, H. J. Lewandowski, and MacKenzie R. Stetzer

The Role of Metacognition in Troubleshooting: An Example From Electronics

2015 Physics Education Research Conference
Published Dec 18, 2015

Students in physics laboratory courses, particularly at the upper division, are often expected to engage in troubleshooting. Although there are numerous ways in which students may proceed when diagnosing a problem, not all approaches are equivalent in terms of providing meaningful insight. It is reasonable to believe that metacognition, by assisting students in making informed decisions, is an integral component of effective troubleshooting. We report on an investigation of authentic student troubleshooting in the context of junior-level electronics courses at two institutions. Think-aloud interviews were conducted with pairs of students as they attempted to repair a malfunctioning operational-amplifier circuit. Video data from the interviews have been analyzed to examine the relationship between each group's troubleshooting activities and instances of socially mediated metacognition. We present an analysis of a short episode from one interview.

Dounas-Frazer, Van De Bogart, Stetzer, and Lewandowski on troubleshooting in electronics labs

Dmitri R. Dounas-Frazer, Kevin L. Van De Bogart, MacKenzie R. Stetzer, and H. J. Lewandowski

The role of modeling in troubleshooting: An example from electronics

2015 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings
Published Dec 18, 2015

Troubleshooting systems is integral to experimental physics in both research and instructional laboratory settings. The recently adopted AAPT Lab Guidelines identify troubleshooting as an important learning outcome of the undergraduate laboratory curriculum. We investigate students' model-based reasoning on a troubleshooting task using data collected in think-aloud interviews during which pairs of students attempted to diagnose and repair a malfunctioning circuit. Our analysis scheme is informed by the Experimental Modeling Framework (EMF), which describes physicists' use of mathematical and conceptual models when reasoning about experimental systems. We show how students' work on a troubleshooting task can be mapped onto the EMF.

Wittmann, Alvarado, and Millay on PD and teachers' goals for teaching energy

Michael C. Wittmann, Carolina Alvarado, and Laura Millay

Teacher responses to their multiple goals for teaching energy

2015 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings
Published Dec 18, 2015

Teachers discussing pedagogical strategies to help students with an incorrect idea about potential energy expressed competing goals for guiding student thinking: keep it simple and explore complexity. On the one hand, teachers wished to avoid being "overly complicated" in their teaching, suggesting that they should have students stick to naming forms of energy in a system and naming principles like the law of conservation of energy. On the other hand, teachers recognized that students might also engage with, won-der about, and have good ideas about systems, mechanisms, and causality. In addition, teachers themselves showed a need develop operational understandings of energy transformation, conservation, and system even in a simple energy scenario, rather than simply identifying forms and principles. Thus, the initial de-sire for keeping instruction simple was contradicted both by the recognition that students were capable of more complex analysis, even if it interfered with the goals of simple instruction, and by an awareness that understanding even a simple energy scenario involves grappling with complex ideas.

Axthelm, Wittmann, Alvarado, and Millay on Idea Use Curves

Alex Axthelm, Michael C. Wittmann, Carolina Alvarado, and Laura Millay

Idea Use Curves

2015 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings
Published Dec 18, 2015

A variety of tools have been created to understand student performance on multiple-choice tests, including analysis of normalized gain, item response curves, and more. These methods typically focus on correct answers. Many incorrect responses contain value and can be used as building blocks for instruction, but present tools do not account for productive reasoning leading to an incorrect response. Inspired by Item Response Curves, we introduce Idea Use Curves, which relate frequency with which an idea is used to student performance. We use this tool to consider ideas which may be present in both correct responses and distractors, letting us attend more to students’ conceptual understanding. This tool is made with the goal of identifying ideas that are consistently used by students who perform well or poorly, allowing researchers and instructors to look beyond the “correct/incorrect” paradigm. We explore student reasoning about energy as a proof of concept for this method.

Kranich, Wittmann, and Alvarado on teacher content knowledge affecting assessments

Greg Kranich, Michael C. Wittmann, and Carolina Alvarado

Teachers’ conflicting conceptual models and the efficacy of formative assessments

2015 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings
Published Dec 18, 2015

Abstract: We studied a group of middle school teachers as they modified curriculum and developed common formative assessments on force and motion concepts. While designing an item and discussing goals for student understanding of acceleration, two of the teachers held opposing models (one of them being incomplete) about the implications of the sign of acceleration on the direction of an object’s motion and whether it was speeding up or slowing down. Failing to resolve the inconsistency between their individual models, the teachers wrote an assessment item for which both models would provide the same correct response, albeit for different reasons. The potential to elicit correct answers for incorrect reasons created ambiguity in the ability to recognize probable alternative conceptions. More specifically, the item had limited ability both to refine the teachers’ own conceptual understanding and to accurately inform their instruction, interventions, and feedback that would support students in identifying their mistakes.


Laverty MST on teacher knowledge

Dan Laverty
Investigating Teachers' Content Knowledge and Pedogogical Content Knowledge in a Middle School Physical Science Curriculum on Force and Motion

Teaching is a profession that requires the incorporation of many types of knowledge in order to create effective instructional experiences that promote student learning. Teachers need to blend their knowledge of the content with the methods for delivering that content and an understanding of their students' thinking. With increasing concern in the United States over student achievement in science and mathematics, there is ongoing discussion about which elements of teacher knowledge most directly correlate with effective instruction. How do specific strands of teacher knowledge blend to influence student learning outcomes? This study explores the roles of teacher content knowledge (CK) and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), particularly teacher knowledge of student ideas (KSI), in the context of a middle-school physical science curriculum on force and motion. The study takes place within the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP). The primary focus of the MainePSP is the professional development of physical science instructors in grades 6-9 via curriculum renewal using common instructional resources across multiple school districts in rural Maine.

Teachers and their students were given multiple-choice assessment items to examine teachers’ CK as well as the learning gains of their students. To measure teacher KSI, teachers were additionally asked to predict if a significant portion of their students [>10%) would select a multiple-choice option on a certain assessment item and to articulate student reasoning for selecting that choice. For both the CK and the KSI surveys, teacher performance varied widely, between 10% and 90% of the maximum score on each survey represented, with little to no correlation between CK and KSI scores. Overall results from the student assessment indicate that students come into the curriculum with incorrect ideas about force and motion, but are on par with comparable populations seen in the literature. Furthermore, there was little shift in student understanding of force and motion concepts after instruction of the curriculum. Additionally, teacher CK and KSI were not strong predictors of student performance when related to the narrow learning gains observed. We discuss possible factors to which this lack of correlation may be attributed, including the implementation process and elements of the curriculum itself, and also the resolution of the KSI instrument. Recommendations for future research are provided.

Recommended Citation
Laverty, Daniel Patrick, "Investigating Teachers' Content Knowledge and Pedogogical Content Knowledge in a Middle School Physical Science Curriculum on Force and Motion" (2015). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2410.


Nissen PhD on self-efficacy in intro physics, a gender study

Jayson Nissen

Self-Efficacy State Experiences in Introductory Physics: A Gender Study

Nationally, few undergraduates choose physics as a major, and among those who do, very few are women. One potential contributor to this problem is the impact that physics instruction seems to have on students’ self-efficacy, which is student’s thoughts and feelings about their capabilities to succeed as learners in physics. Self-efficacy plays an important role in student achievement in academics generally and in students pursuing STEM degrees. Conversely, research has shown that the self-efficacy of both men and women tends to be reduced after taking traditional and research-based physics courses. Moreover, self-efficacy tends to be reduced further for women than for men. However, it remains unclear whether the negative shifts in self-efficacy in physics are caused by physics instruction. It may be that the negative shift in self-efficacy reflects a broader trend in university education that has little to do with physics per se. I investigated this and other alternative explanations for negative shifts in self-efficacy in physics courses using an in-the-moment measurement technique called the Experience Sampling Method. The technique allowed me to collect students’ day-to-day feelings of self-efficacy, which I called states, and to compare students’ self-efficacy states in physics to those in other STEM courses. I found that students experienced much lower self-efficacy states in physics than in their other STEM courses. Moreover, this difference largely affected women who experienced physics, and only physics, with much lower self-efficacy states than men. Given that experiences are an established sources of self-efficacy beliefs and women also had much more negative shifts in their self-efficacy beliefs I concluded that the experience of physics instruction was probably a causal factor in women’s reduced self-efficacy. Further analysis found that the gender difference in self-efficacy states was more than twice that predicted by students’ pre-course achievement, attitudes and beliefs. Thus I tentatively concluded that the negative impact on women’s self-efficacy resulted from inequities in the physics-learning environment rather than preexisting gender differences. I present evidence that the physics course I investigated was similar to other research-based physics courses and tentatively I concluded that physics instruction in general is detrimental to women’s self-efficacy.


Smith, Mountcastle, Thompson on the Boltzmann factor

T.I. Smith, D.B. Mountcastle, and J.R. Thompson

Student understanding of the Boltzmann factor

Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 11, 020123 (2015).  

Published 23 September 2015.

[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Upper Division Physics Courses.] We present results of our investigation into student understanding of the physical significance and utility of the Boltzmann factor in several simple models. We identify various justifications, both correct and incorrect, that students use when answering written questions that require application of the Boltzmann factor. Results from written data as well as teaching interviews suggest that many students can neither recognize situations in which the Boltzmann factor is applicable nor articulate the physical significance of the Boltzmann factor as an expression for multiplicity, a fundamental quantity of statistical mechanics. The specific student difficulties seen in the written data led us to develop a guided-inquiry tutorial activity, centered around the derivation of the Boltzmann factor, for use in undergraduate statistical mechanics courses. We report on the development process of our tutorial, including data from teaching interviews and classroom observations of student discussions about the Boltzmann factor and its derivation during the tutorial development process. This additional information informed modifications that improved students’ abilities to complete the tutorial during the allowed class time without sacrificing the effectiveness as we have measured it. These data also show an increase in students’ appreciation of the origin and significance of the Boltzmann factor during the student discussions. Our findings provide evidence that working in groups to better understand the physical origins of the canonical probability distribution helps students gain a better understanding of when the Boltzmann factor is applicable and how to use it appropriately in answering relevant questions.

Smith, Christensen, Mountcastle, and Thompson on entropy, heat engines, and the Carnot cycle

Trevor I. Smith, Warren M. Christensen, Donald B. Mountcastle, and John R. Thompson

Identifying student difficulties with entropy, heat engines, and the Carnot cycle

Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 11, 020116 – Published 23 September 2015

[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Upper Division Physics Courses.] We report on several specific student difficulties regarding the second law of thermodynamics in the context of heat engines within upper-division undergraduate thermal physics courses. Data come from ungraded written surveys, graded homework assignments, and videotaped classroom observations of tutorial activities. Written data show that students in these courses do not clearly articulate the connection between the Carnot cycle and the second law after lecture instruction. This result is consistent both within and across student populations. Observation data provide evidence for myriad difficulties related to entropy and heat engines, including students’ struggles in reasoning about situations that are physically impossible and failures to differentiate between differential and net changes of state properties of a system. Results herein may be seen as the application of previously documented difficulties in the context of heat engines, but others are novel and emphasize the subtle and complex nature of cyclic processes and heat engines, which are central to the teaching and learning of thermodynamics and its applications. Moreover, the sophistication of these difficulties is indicative of the more advanced thinking required of students at the upper division, whose developing knowledge and understanding give rise to questions and struggles that are inaccessible to novices.

Wittmann and Black on procedural resources in mathematics

Michael C. Wittmann and Katrina E. BLack

Mathematical actions as procedural resources: An example from the separation of variables.

Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 11, 020114 - Published Sept 23, 2015

[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Upper Division Physics Courses.] Students learning to separate variables in order to solve a differential equation have multiple ways of correctly doing so. The procedures involved in separation include division or multiplication after properly grouping terms in an equation, moving terms (again, at times grouped) from one location on the page to another, or simply carrying out separation as a single act without showing any steps. We describe student use of these procedures in terms of Hammer’s resources, showing that each of the previously listed procedures is its own “piece” of a larger problem solving activity. Our data come from group examinations of students separating variables while solving an air resistance problem in an intermediate mechanics class. Through detailed analysis of four groups of students, we motivate that the mathematical procedures are resources and show the issues that students must resolve in order to successfully separate variables. We use this analysis to suggest ways in which new resources (such as separation) come to be.


Barth-Cohen and Wittmann on student model revision with Energy Theater

Lauren Barth-Cohen and Michael C. Wittmann

Mismatches between Represented Science Content and Unmet Expectations as a Mechanism of Model Revision.
Peer reviewed conference proceedings of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching 2015.

Models and modeling are a growing topic in science education. We focus on one of the sub-processes of modeling: model revision. The process of model revision is typically underdefined in specially designed modeling curricula. There are many ways to conceptualize model revision, but here we focus on model revision due to mismatches between the science content represented in a model and unmet expectations about that same model. Drawing on the knowledge-in–pieces theoretical framework, we present five cases of such model revision in the context of 9th graders modeling the steady state energy of the Earth using an embodied modeling instructional activity. These mismatches led students to modify both the conceptual content and how it was represented in their model. This mechanism for model revision may be applicable to model revision in other classroom instruction settings.


Bajracharya and Thompson on the Application and Understanding of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus in Physics

R. R. Bajracharya and J. R. Thompson
Student application and understanding of the fundamental theorem of calculus at the mathematics-physics interface
Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conference on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, pp. 43-54 (Mathematical Association of America, 2014).

We studied students’ understanding of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus (FTC) in graphical representations that are relevant in physics contexts. Two versions of written surveys, one in mathematics and one in physics, were administered in multivariable calculus and introductory calculus-based physics classes, respectively. Individual interviews were conducted with students from the survey population. A series of FTC-based physics questions were asked during the interviews. The written and interview data have yielded evidence of several student difficulties in interpreting or applying the FTC to the problems given, including attempting to evaluate the antiderivative at individual points and using the slope rather than the area to determine the integral. The interview results further suggest that students often fail to make meaningful connections between individual elements of the FTC.