Physics Education Research Conference
Cognitive Science and Physics Education Research

August 1-2, 2007
University of North Carolina - Greensboro
Greensboro, NC


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Wednesday, August 1 from 8:00 - 10:00 p.m. in Sheraton Hotel, Grand Over West

(Posters will remain up all day Thursday, August 2)



Physics Problem Solving Component Skills and Evaluation

Adams, Wendy ( University of Colorado at Boulder

Wieman, Carl ( University of Brittish Columbia


Abstract: Problem solving is a highly coveted skill in the physics classroom; however, we do not currently have an evaluation tool that can be used to measure student’s problem solving skills. This missing tool is an indication of the complexity of the field. The most obvious and largest hurdle to evaluating physics problem solving skills is the physics content knowledge necessary to solve problems. We have found that by breaking problem solving into its specific component skills, it makes measurement possible. Over the past several years we have been developing a problem solving evaluation instrument at Colorado. We will report on the design and validation studies that have been undertaken during the development of this Evaluation Tool including a detailed description of 36 specific problem solving skills that students use while engaged in problem solving.

1. Supported in part by funding from National Science Foundation DTS. 




College Students’ Responses to Inquiry-based Group Work in a Reformed Pedagogy Classroom

Alber, Delores ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Puchner, Laurel ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Lindell, Rebecca ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville


Abstract: This research investigated the responses of students to working in groups on inquiry-based activities in an introductory astronomy course for non-astronomy majors.  We used semi-structured focus group interviews to probe students’ expectations for the course and their attitudes toward group work. Two sets of interviews, one near the beginning and one near the end of the course, show how expectations affect these students’ attitudes toward the coursework and how attitudes change over time. Results indicate strong and varied responses to group work as well as a link between epistemology and response to group work in some students.




New dimensions to probing student thinking about oscillations in two dimensions

Ambrose, Bradley ( Grand Valley State University


Abstract: Ongoing research being conducted in the context of junior-level mechanics courses has revealed the presence of specific conceptual and reasoning difficulties, many of which seem to be based on fundamental concepts.  This poster will describe recent results in probing student thinking about 2-D oscillations.  Evidence from different versions of pretests (ungraded quizzes administered before any modified instruction on the relevant topic) will be presented to illustrate the presence of specific incorrect reasoning patterns, some of which seem to depend upon the context of the pretest question and others that seem to be context-independent.  Implications for instruction will be discussed, including how these results have guided the refinement of tutorial materials designed for use in intermediate mechanics courses.  (Supported by NSF grants DUE-0441426 and DUE-0442388.)




Investigating Peer Scaffolding in Learning and Transfer of Learning Using Teaching Interviews*

Aryal, Bijaya ( Kansas State University

Zollman, Dean ( Kansas State University


Abstract: We present the effectiveness of group interaction in learning and transfer of learning. Teaching interviews were conducted with nine groups of students enrolled in an introductory level algebra-based physics course and consisted of two sessions ‘ a learning session and a transfer session. The students were engaged with hands-on activities to learn various physics ideas in the learning session. They were expected to apply the physics learning to understand positron emission tomography (PET) in a transfer session. Worksheets were provided and they were asked to write their responses before and after the group discussion. To present the dynamics of group learning and the influence of peer scaffolding we compared the results of this study with our prior study where students were engaged with a similar set of activities but individually. Results suggest that peers were effective in activating and challenging each other’s conceptual resources as well as facilitating transfer of learning.

*This work is supposed in part by the National Science Foundation under grant DUE 04-2675




Comparison of student perceptions of three different physics by inquiry classes

Aubrecht, Gordon ( Dept. of Physics, Ohio State University


Abstract: The setting of Physics by Inquiry (PbI) classes at the Ohio State University is the laboratory. Students do experiments as suggested by the text as well as doing their own experiments to test predictions they have made about nature’s behavior. This is guided inquiry, and students assessment of PbI classes reflect important aspects of inquiry, while not supporting others. Evaluation of laboratory classes is often disorganized and not useful. Formative evaluation can be accomplished utilizing a form of Q-sort assessment that eschews affective information. The assessment forces students to categorize the extent to which they think twenty-five descriptive statements characterize their laboratory class experience. They sort the statements from most to least characteristic of the course into bins of successive size 2, 6, 9, 6, 2 (forcing a 'normal' distribution). We report here on results from different versions of Physics by Inquiry courses (properties of matter, electric circuits, and astronomy by sight and optics) using the Laboratory Program Variables Inventory (LPVI), a Q-sort instrument.




Humans, intentionality, experience and tools for learning: Some contributions from post-cognitive theories to the use of technology in physics education.

Bernhard, Jonte ( Engineering Ed. Res. Group, ITN, Campus Norrköping, Linköping University


Abstract: In 1940 it was argued by Müller ‘There is little evidence to show that the mind of modern man is superior to that of the ancients. His tools are incomparably better’. This statement summarises very well the point I will make in my paper. Human cognition cannot be properly understood if we not take the use of tools into account. The English word cognition stems from Latin ‘cognoscere’ with the meaning ‘to become acquainted with’, ‘to come to know’. Following the original Latin meaning we cannot only study ‘what happens in the head’ if we want to study cognition. Experientially based perspectives, such as for example pragmatism, phenomenology, phenomenography, and activity theory, stress that we should study person ‘ world relationships. Technologies actively shape the character of human-world relationships. An emergent understanding in modern cognitive research is the co-evolution of human brain and human use of tools and the active character of perception. Thus I argue that if we do not analyse the role of technologies in physics education we will miss to use technologies as tools for learning to it’s full potential. I will give some examples from learning environments in physics to support my claim.




Scaffolded Reflection: A Chemist's View of Conceptual Change

Bhattacharyya, Gautam ( Department of Chemistry, Clemson University


Abstract: Conceptual change has been a mainstay in science education as a consequence of the field’s adoption of constructivism as its predominant learning paradigm. The most widely used theory of conceptual change is that proposed by Strike and Posner, which explicitly addresses epistemic change in the mind of the learner. Recent research completed by the author, however, suggests that ontological change in the minds of learners is necessary for students to construct meaningful, scientifically-valid knowledge. Using these results in addition to work in counseling and educational psychology, this poster will present a new theory of conceptual change called ‘Scaffolded Reflection.’ Furthermore, a method for implementing this theory in a classroom setting will be presented along with some data regarding its use in courses taught by the author.




Students' difficulties with concepts related to conductors and insulators

Bilak, Joshua ( University of Pittsburgh

Singh, Chandralekha ( University of Pittsburgh


Abstract: We examine the difficulties that introductory physics students and physics graduate students have with concepts related to conductors and insulators covered in introductory physics by giving written tests and interviewing a subset of students. We develop tutorials related to these topics and evaluate their effectiveness. We compare the performance of students who received tradition instruction vs. those who learned using tutorials on written pre-/post-tests and interviews. 




Different Types of Mathematical Justification in Upper Level Physics

Bing, Thomas J. ( University of Maryland

Gupta, Ayush ( University of Maryland

Redish, Edward F. ( University of Maryland 


Abstract: With mathematics use in physics classes, different modes of reasoning can serve as sufficient justification.  Sometimes a physical argument is made to defend the validity of a mathematical expression.  Other times a derivation is considered.  Even then, the level of mathematical detail that is treated as sufficient can vary widely.  The ability to easily transition among these various modes and levels of detail when using mathematics is an important component of expertise in physics.  We present several examples from the work of upper level physics majors where this often subconscious choice of where to search for justification has especially noticeable effects.  Where appropriate, we will draw parallels to similar work done on epistemic games within introductory physics students’ use of mathematics.  An epistemic game is a locally coherent activity that uses specific kinds of processes and knowledge, to the exclusion of others, to produce a certain knowledge form.

This work is supported by NSF grants DUE 05-24987 and REC 04-40113 and a Graduate Research Fellowship.




Mapping student reasoning about math- and physics-oriented differential equation solutions

Black, Katrina E. ( University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy

Wittmann, Michael C. ( University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy 


Abstract: In a series of interviews, we have studied how students solve isomorphic differential equations that are phrased in math-oriented and in physics-oriented language. The problem deals with a common topic in intermediate mechanics: the reaction of a moving object experiencing a velocity-dependent damping force. In the mathematics format, variables and initial conditions are chosen to match a typical math classroom. In the physics format, a physical situation and physically relevant variables (force and velocity) are used to phrase the question. We investigate how students with and without experience in a course on differential equations answer these questions. We describe results in terms of resources and symbolic forms and look at which tools are and are not used in each context. (Sponsored in part by grants REC-0633951 and DUE-0442388.)




Measuring Student Effort and Engagement in an Introductory Physics Course

Bonham, Scott ( Western Kentucky University


Abstract: Multiple scales reflecting student effort were developed using factor and scale analysis on data from an introductory physics course.  This data included interactions with an on-line homework system.  One of scales displays many characteristics of a metric of the individual level of engagement in the course.  This scale is shown to be a good predictor of performance on class exams and the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). Furthermore, normalized learning gains on the FCI are well predicted by this scale while pre-instructional FCI scores provide no additional predictive ability, agreeing with observations by Richard Hake.  This scale also correlates strongly with epistemological beliefs that learning is related to effort and is the responsibility of the student. The factors that enter into this scale, writing and mastering expert-like problem-solving, are consistent with this being a measure of individual levels of class engagement.




Voltage is the most difficult subject for students in Physics by Inquiry’s electric circuits module

Bowman, Carol ( The Ohio State University at Marion

Aubrecht, Gordon ( The Ohio State University at Marion 


Abstract: We report on the investigation of multiple sets of data from an electric circuits Physics by Inquiry course on students’ ranking of topic difficulty. Students ranked the difficulty of the preceding class almost every class day and they ranked the difficulty of various course sections on a diagnostic (one diagnostic per section). In the OSU Physics by Inquiry (PbI) class, a majority of education undergraduates ’work in groups, and are checkpointed as they do experiments in a section. In addition, there is a question of the day at the beginning of almost every class. Here, students are also asked to rank the difficulty, but of the preceding day’s classwork. These ‘difficulty rankings’ and student grades (used as a measure of performance) constitute our dataset. We compiled data from four sections of the Spring 2006 and one section of the Spring 2007 Physics by Inquiry electric circuits class. The sections on potential difference appear to be the most difficult.




Do Introductory Astronomy Texts Promote Higher Order Thinking?

Bracey, Georgia ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Lindell, Rebecca ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville  


Abstract: Much research has been done concerning the best ways to teach ‘Astro 101’ courses, specifically focusing on cognitive learning theory, active learning, and learner-centered classrooms in order to promote meaningful understanding and higher order thinking.  But how well do introductory astronomy texts support higher order thinking?  We reviewed eight introductory astronomy texts: Bennett et al., The Cosmic Perspective; Chaisson and McMillan, Astronomy; Fraknoi et al., Voyages Through the Universe; Freedman and Kaufmann, Universe; Koupelis and Kuhn, In Quest of the Universe; Schneider and Arny, Pathways to Astronomy; Seeds, Horizons; Seeds and Backman, Perspectives on Astronomy; and Shawl et al., Discovering Astronomy. We randomly selected 5 topics from the general astronomy course: Light/ Electromagnetic Spectrum, Solar System Motions, Moon Phases, Stellar Evolution, and Cosmology / Big Bang. We examined each chapter for questions that required higher order thinking as defined by Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Preliminary results will be presented.




Improving the spread of PER-based instructional approaches: A case study of dissemination within the Modeling Physics Project

Brewe, Eric ( Hawaii Pacific University

Dancy, Melissa ( University of North Carilina at Charlotte

Henderson, Charles ( Western Michigan University 


Abstract: The dissemination of proven reforms in physics teaching is a problem currently facing the Physics Education Research (PER) community.  One of the most successful examples of the dissemination of PER-based reforms is the Modeling High School Physics Project at Arizona State University.  More than 2000 high school teachers nationwide have participated in at least one 15-day Modeling workshop.  Of the teachers who participated in the full two-summer program, more than 90% indicated that it had a highly significant influence on the way they teach.  This talk will present the preliminary results of a case study designed to better document and understand the reasons behind the success of the modeling approach to dissemination.  Data sources include interviews with key personnel and written documentation of the program.  Appropriate connections will be made to relevant theories of personal and systemic change.




The Dynamics of Students’ Behaviors and Reasoning during Collaborative Physics Tutorial Sessions

Conlin, Luke D. ( University of Maryland, College Park

Gupta, Ayush ( University of Maryland, College Park

Scherr, Rachel E. ( University of Maryland, College Park

Hammer, David ( University of Maryland, College Park


Abstract: We investigate the dynamics of student behaviors (posture, gesture, vocal register, visual focus) and the substance of their reasoning during collaborative work on inquiry-based physics tutorials.  Scherr and Hammer [1] have characterized student activity during tutorials as observable clusters of behaviors separated by sharp transitions, and have argued that these behavioral modes reflect students' epistemological framing of what they are doing, i.e., their sense of what is taking place with respect to knowledge.  We analyze students’ verbal reasoning during several tutorial sessions using the framework of Russ [2], and find a strong correlation between certain behavioral modes and the scientific quality of students' explanations. We suggest that this is due to a dynamic coupling of how students behave, how they frame an activity, and how they reason during that activity. This analysis supports the earlier claims of a dynamic between behavior and epistemology.  We discuss implications for research and instruction.     [1] R. E. Scherr and D. Hammer, 'Observing students' framing of tutorials.' In preparation.   [2] R. S. Russ.  A framework for recognizing mechanistic reasoning in student scientific inquiry. Unpublished Doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park. (2006)

This work supported in part by NSF grant REC 0440113.




The Use of Hands-On and Minds-On Modeling Activities in Improving Students’ Understanding of Microscopic Friction

Corpuz, Edgar ( Department of Geology & Physics,  University of Texas -- Pan American

Rebello, N. Sanjay ( Physics Department, Kansas State University  


Abstract: Microscopic friction plays an important role in nanoscience and technology and in fact is a hot area of current scientific research. When asked to explain friction at a microscopic level, most students are found to use macroscopic experiences and ideas to explain friction and the factors that influence it.  Here we discuss the development and validation of a hands-on and minds-on modeling activities geared towards improving students’ understanding of microscopic friction. We will also present our investigation on the relative effectiveness of the use of the developed instructional material with two lecture formats- traditional and videotaped lecture.  Results imply that through series of carefully designed hands-on and minds-on modeling activities, it is possible to facilitate the refinement of students’ ideas of microscopic friction. Results also show that there is a statistically significant improvement in students' performance using the hands-on/minds-on activities rather than the traditional or videotaped lectures. 




Problem solving behaviors of math and science teachers: Striving for an answer or for understanding

D'Angelo, Cynthia ( Arizona State University


Abstract: When faced with a problem, there are many way to approach finding its solution. Is the goal a specific answer or a better understanding of the conceptual underpinnings of the problem? This research presents findings from a study of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics process and dispositional behaviors of high school math and science teachers. The teachers were in a professional development program consisting of four graduate courses aimed at changing their teaching practice to use more inquiry-based methods. The findings suggest that orientation to and motivation in problem solving have a significant impact on learning outcomes. In order to be most productive towards achieving the programs goals of deeper conceptual knowledge and inquiry-based teaching, teachers needed to be engaged in inquiry while problem solving and also be striving for understanding of the concepts involved rather than striving for an answer to the problem.




From FCI to CSEM to Lawson Test: A report on data collected at a community college.

Diff, Karim ( Santa Fe Community College, Gainesville FL

Tache, Nacira ( Santa Fe Community College, Gainesville FL 


Abstract: As part of an ongoing assessment of our introductory physics courses, we have administered the Force Concept Inventory (FCI)  and the Conceptual Survey of Electricity and Magnetism (CSEM) in the three different levels of physics courses offered at Santa Fe Community College: Applied physics, algebra-based physics and calculus-based physics.  This poster presents data collected over the past few years, including an analysis of the correlations between normalized FCI  and CSEM gains. In addition, we report results obtained this past year in a study of correlations between the Lawson classroom test of scientific reasoning and gains on the FCI and CSEM.  This study attempts to identify a relationship between normalized gains on standard assessment instruments and the reasoning abilities of students in introductory physics courses. 




The Effectiveness of a Physical Science by Inquiry Program for K-12 Teachers*

Endorf, Robert ( University of Cincinnati

Koenig, Kathleen ( Wright State University


Abstract: We have studied the effectiveness of our Physical Science by Inquiry Program at the University of Cincinnati by measuring the gains in conceptual understanding for the teachers participating in the program. The University of Cincinnati has been conducting Physical Science by Inquiry Professional Development Programs for K-12 teachers in Southwest Ohio every year since 1996. A four-week 120-hour graduate course in Physics by Inquiry is held each summer for teachers in grades 5-12. A separate two-week 60-hour course is also held for teachers in grades K-5. Both courses use Physics by Inquiry1 modules developed by Lillian McDermott and the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington. These modules were developed to address results obtained from cognitive science research. Pretest and posttest data will be presented to demonstrate that our program provides large gains in the teachers’ conceptual understanding of physical science.

* Supported by The Improving Teacher Quality Program administered by the Ohio Board of Regents.  1. Physics by Inquiry, L.C. McDermott and the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington,




Spending time on design: Does it hurt physics learning?

Etkina, Eugenia ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education

Van Heuvelen, Alan ( Rutgers, University, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Karelina, Anna ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education

Ruibal Villasenor, Maria ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education


Abstract: This poster is the first in the series of three describing a controlled study ‘Transfer of scientific abilities’. The study was conducted in a 180-student introductory physics course taught via Investigative Science Learning Environment. Its goal was to find whether designing their own experiments in labs affects students’ approaches to experimental problem solving in new areas of physics and in biology, and their learning of physics concepts. The theoretical framework for the design of the study was based on transfer theories such as ‘preparation for future learning’, ‘actor-oriented transfer’, ‘transfer of situated learning’’ and ‘coordination classes’. In this poster we describe the design of the study and present data concerning the performance of experimental and control groups on MC and open-ended exam questions and on the lab exams that assesses student understanding of the physics and the reasoning processes used in the lab experiments.    The project was supported by NSF grant DRL 0241078.

Co-authors: David Rosengrant, and Cindy Hmelo-Silver,  Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education 




Design and non-design labs: does transfer occur?

Karelina, Anna ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education

Etkina, Eugenia ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education

Ruibal Villasenor, Maria ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education

Rosengrant, David ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education


Abstract: This poster is the second in the series of three describing a controlled study ‘Transfer of scientific abilities’. The study was conducted in a 180-student introductory physics course taught via Investigative Science Learning Environment. Its goal was to find whether designing their own experiments in labs affects students’ approaches to experimental problem solving in new areas of physics and in biology, and their learning of physics concepts. This poster reports on the part of the study that assesses student work while solving an experimental problem in a physics content area not studied in class. For a quantitative evaluation of students’ abilities, we used scientific abilities rubrics. We studied the students’ lab reports and answers to non-traditional exam problems related to the lab. We evaluated their performance and compared it with the performance of a control group that had the same course but enrolled in non-design labs instead of design labs.   The project was supported by NSF grant DRL 0241078.

Co-Author: Alan Van Heuvelen, Rutgers University, Department of Physics and Astronomy. 




From physics to biology: Helping students attain all-terrain knowledge

Ruibal Villasenor, Maria ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education

Etkina, Eugenia ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education

Karelina, Anna ( Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education

Rosengrant, David ( Rutgers University, Graduate school of Education


Abstract: This poster is the third in the series of three describing a controlled study ‘Transfer of scientific abilities’. The study was conducted in a 180-student introductory physics course taught via Investigative Science Learning Environment. Its goal was to find whether designing their own experiments in labs affects students’ approaches to experimental problem solving in new areas of physics and in biology and their learning of physics concepts. The part of the project presented in this poster involves students in the experimental and control group solving a biology-related problem that required designing an experiment and evaluating the findings. We found that students who were in the sections where they had to design their own experiments during the semester were able to transfer the abilities they acquired in physics laboratories to solve a novel biology problem.    The project was supported by NSF grant DRL 0241078.

Co-authors Rebecca Jordan, Rutgers Univeristy, Cook College, Alan Van Heuvelen, Rutgers University. 




Visual Physics: A Case Correlation for Introductory Calculus-based Physics Re-Design

Ezrailson, Cathy ( Texas A&M University

McIntyre, Peter ( Texas A&M University

Kamon, Teruki ( Texas A&M University

Loving, Cathleen C ( Texas A&M University


Abstract: This study correlates the effect(s) of Introductory Calculus-based Physics course reform. Case correlations are made between the instructors, TAs and their students in the treatment group with instructors, TAs and their students in the control group. Examined were instructor instructional preferences, including methods of problem-solving in recitation and lab using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol, video analysis, interviews and surveys. Also examined were attitudes about teaching and beliefs about the nature of physics and physics teaching using the MPEX2, interviews, video analysis and other quantitative and qualitative assessments applied periodically. Student learning was measured tracking the solution of context-rich problems with a CIPS (Coordination in Problem Solving) tool. Surveys and common elements on exams were also applied. Results seem to indicate that students learned best when the instructor interacted consistently and explicitly with individual students and small groups, and when cooperative groups were ‘healthy’ interacting consistently and fruitfully. Course redesign also appears to work best with all elements of the introductory course 'reformed.'

Also Petra Sauer, Post-doc Texas A&M University,




Using a Recognition Memory Test to Measure Expert-Novice Differences in the Encoding of Physics Diagrams.

Feil, Adam ( University of Illinois

Mestre, Jose ( University of Illinois


Abstract: It has long been known that physics experts categorize physics problems based on the underlying physics principles involved and physics novices tend to categorize physics problems based on surface-features. This current study used a recognition memory test and specially constructed pairs of physics drawings to measure differences between physics experts and novices in the way simple physics diagrams are encoded.  Results show that physics experts encode some aspects and features of physics pictures that novices do not, and in some cases, novices encode features that experts do not. Physics experts were more likely to encode features of pictures that were more relevant to the physics depicted. This suggests that the knowledge and experience of physics experts influences the way in which they conceptualize physics pictures, even in the absence of a question prompt.   These results suggest that one factor which may limit the effectiveness of introductory physics instruction is that physics novices may pay attention to, and remember, aspects of examples shown that are not particularly relevant to the physics principle being explained. Future studies will examine methods that may help direct novices’ attention to relevant features of problems and examples.




Using Models of Student Thinking to Predict Variability in Responses to Motion Questions

Frank, Brian ( University of Maryland

Kanim, Stephen  New Mexico State University

Ortiz, Luanna  Arizona State University 


Abstract: We describe the results of an experiment to test predictions about introductory students' responses to questions about motion based on a model of their thinking in terms of the cuing of resources students have for reasoning about kinematics. Over 300 students enrolled in an algebra-based physics course at the University of Maryland responded to two variations of questions about projectile motion ‘ one that  emphasized  the object's initial speed and one the object's distance traveled. Our model-based predictions concerning the variation in the distributions of incorrect answers for these questions were supported by the experiment. We describe the model in detail along with its shortcomings, and discuss refinements that are suggested from results of the experiment

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. REC-0440113, DUE 05-24987, DUE 03-41289, and DUE 03-41333.




Exploring Student Application of Deductive Reasoning Resources in a Physics Context

Gaffney, Jon D. H. ( North Carolina State University

Weatherford, Shawn A. ( North Carolina State University

Chabay, Ruth W. ( North Carolina State University 


Abstract: The use of multiple-choice polling questions in physics classes has become prevalent.  One potential use of polling questions is to lead students through a deductive chain of reasoning about a specific physics concept with the intention that students will apply such reasoning to similar situations.  However, casual observations have indicated that such sequences, even when carefully constructed to reduce the number and difficulty of logical steps, often fail to accomplish this goal.  In this work in progress, we are investigating where such failure occurs.  This pilot study focuses on how students reason in a specific sequence involving circular motion.  Our preliminary data suggest that some students do not apply logic in the way intended by the instructor.  This may be due to underdeveloped logical resources, or it may be due to a failure to recognize the logical enterprise and tap such resources.




Do They See What We See? College Students Impressions Images of Lunar Phases

Garner, Brian ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Baker, Erin ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Lindell, Rebecca ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville 


Abstract: Lunar phases may be one of the most difficult topics in astronomy to teach.  To better understand college students’ difficulties with this concept, members of our research group have conducted interviews with nearly 50 undergraduate astronomy and elementary education students.  As part of these interviews, students were asked to interpret several different textbook images of the moon, including phases of the moon, time-lapsed photos of lunar and solar eclipses, time-lapsed photos of the motion of the moon, as well as its apparent motion. They were also asked to explain what they believed they were observing and their understanding of the cause of the phenomena observed.  Analysis of these interviews showed surprisingly interesting alternative understandings of not only what the images represented, but also of the cause of the phenomenon observed.  Preliminary results of this project will be presented.




Beyond expert-novice distinctions: the problem solving characteristics of physics majors

Gire, Elizabeth ( University of California, San Diego

Price, Edward ( California State University, San Marcos

Jones, Barbara ( University of California, San Diego 


Abstract: Studies of physics problem solving have primarily focused on expert/novice comparisons. The present study probes intermediate stages of expertise by examining the problem solving behaviors of undergraduate physics majors during talk-aloud interviews. The students’ problem solving is analyzed in terms of their initial approaches, preferred solution paths, mathematical abilities and the types of reasoning they engage in when stuck. The results are compared to expert/novice problem solving literature, and the physics major participants are found to exhibit a mix of expert and novice characteristics. For example, though nearly all students expressed a preference for solutions using energy conservation, they tried kinematical approaches first. 




Priming epistemological framing in introductory physics students

Goertzen, Renee Michelle ( University of Maryland

Hutchison, Paul ( University of Maryland

Hammer, David ( University of Maryland 


Abstract: Research on framing (i.e. Tannen, 1993) shows that how individuals interpret the  nature of activity influences how they understand meaning and how they participate. Thus, one might wonder how physics students' framing is influenced by the problems they are solving. We examined this question by using different versions of a multiple choice survey designed to prime different framings. We expected that the different framings would activate different student stances toward knowledge (personal epistemologies), which would be detectable by students' answers on a target question. Our results suggest that our success priming particular framings in students is influenced by the instruction they receive and that context should be considered when student learning in the classroom is assessed.

Tannen, D. (1993). Framing in Discourse. New York: Oxford University Press.  This work is supported in part by NSF grant REC 0440113.




Coordination of Mathematical and Physical Resources by Physics Graduate Students

Gupta, Ayush ( Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park

Redish, Edward F. ( Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park

Hammer, David ( Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park


Abstract: We investigate the dynamics of how graduate students coordinate their mathematics and physics knowledge within the context of solving a homework problem for a plasma physics survey course. Students were asked to obtain the complex dielectric function for a plasma with a specified distribution function and find the roots of that expression. While all the 16 participating students obtained the dielectric function correctly, in one of two equivalent expressions, roughly half of them (7 of 16) failed to compute the roots correctly.  All seven took the same initial step that led them to the incorrect answer. We note a perfect correlation between the specific expression of dielectric function obtained and the student's success in solving for the roots. We analyze student responses in terms of a resources framework and suggest routes for future research.

This work supported in part by NSF grants REC 0440113 and DUE 0524595.




A Dynamic Model of Expert and Novice Ontologies in Physics

Redish, Edward F. ( Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park 

Gupta, Ayush ( Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park

Hammer, David ( Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park


Abstract: In a series of well-known papers [1], Chi and Slotta have suggested that one reason for students’ difficulties in learning physics is that they think about concepts in terms of 'things' rather than 'processes', and that there is a significant barrier between these two ‘ontological categories’. We contest this work in two ways:  (1) it reflects a misunderstanding of expert knowledge, and (2) reasoning by experts and novices often traverses ontological categories in both professional and everyday contexts. We cite examples from research articles as well as classroom discussions to illustrate that experts as well as novices hop across ontological boundaries to make sense of physical phenomenon. This suggests a dynamic context-dependent model of a person’s ontological view. To promote one ontological description in physics instruction, as suggested by Slotta and Chi [2], could suppress an essential skill for the development of expertise.

[1] M.Chi and J. Slotta, Cog. & Instr. 10, 249-260 (1993).  [2] J. Slotta & M. Chi, Cog. & Instr. 24, 261-289 (2006).    This work supported in part by NSF grants REC 0440113 and DUE 0524595.



Cognitive Science and Physics Education Research: ‘What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate.’

Hake, Richard ( Indiana University Emeritus


Abstract: Cognitive scientist (CS) Collins (1999) wrote: ‘Recently researchers have begun to study teaching and learning in the context of real-world learning environments,’ evidently unaware that Physics Education Researchers (PER’s) had been doing classroom research for about three decades (McDermott & Redish, 1999).  Then CS Olsen (2004) maintained that the search for 'what works' in education is folly, contradicting PER results; and CS’s Klahr & Nigam (2004) purported to show the superiority of what they called ‘direct instruction’ (DI), defining DI - in a sense unknown to PER’s - as virtually the same as PER’s ‘Interactive Engagement’ (IE). But CS's Kirschner et al. (2006) outdid non-recognition of PER by Collins, Olsen, and Klahr & Nigam by not only defining DI as IE, but also proclaiming the ‘failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching,’ despite PER evidence for the effectiveness of all but 'discovery.'  Will this conference assuage, to any extent, past failures of CS's to communicate with PER's and vice versa?    For the references please see:  Hake, R.R. 2004. 'Design-Based Research: A Primer for Physics Education Researchers,' submitted to the ‘American Journal of Physics’ on 10 June 2004 but immediately rejected without sending to reviewers; online at  <> (310kB).




How Elementary Teachers use what we Teach

Harlow, Danielle ( Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, UC-Santa Barbara


Abstract: Compared to traditional courses inquiry-based physics curricula developed by the PER community appear to improve learning gains on tests of conceptual understanding. However, less is understood about what teachers actually transfer from such courses into their teaching practices. I present the results of an investigation of how a professional development course based on the Physics for Elementary Teachers (PET) curriculum affected the teaching practices of five case study teachers. The findings of this study show that the each teacher transferred different content and pedagogical aspects of the course into their science teaching. The range of transfer is explained by considering how the individual interacted with the learning context and their initial ideas about teaching science.




Student Categorization of Problems ‘ an Extension*

Harper, Kathleen A ( Dept. of Physics, The Ohio State University

Hite, Zachary D. First-Year Engineering Program, The Ohio State University

Freuler, Richard J. First-Year Engineering Program, The Ohio State University

Demel, John T. First-Year Engineering Program, The Ohio State University


Abstract: As part of gathering baseline data for a study on problem categorization, we interviewed first-year engineering honors students who had recently completed a two-quarter sequence in physics.  The primary task in this interview was much like the problem categorization study described by Chi et al.1  There were, however, at least two distinct modifications:  1) in addition to the problem statements, solutions were included on the cards to be sorted  2)  the problems were written such that they could also be grouped according to the nature of information presented in the problem statements and/or the number of possible solutions. We discuss the results of this baseline study and compare the actions of these students to those of the novices described by Chi et al.     

1Chi, Feltovich & Glaser, ‘Categorization and Representation of Physics Problems by Experts and Novices’ Cognitive Science 5, 2, 121-152 (1981).   

2Harper, Freuler, & Demel, ‘Cultivating Problem-Solving Skills via a New Problem Categorization Scheme,’ in Proceedings of the 2006 Physics Education Research Conference, McCullough, Hsu, and Heron, eds. (AIP, 2007).    

* sponsored by NSF grant DUE-0633677




Students’ Ideas About a Blender and Perceptions of Scaffolding Activities

Haynicz, Jacquelyn J. ( Kansas State University

Rebello, N. Sanjay ( Kansas State University


Abstract: Research has shown that students can be motivated to learn science by demonstrating its connection to everyday life.  We investigate students’ understanding of an everyday blender.  We have previously reported on students’ progression through a series of hands-on activities designed to facilitate learning about how the blender works [1].  Here, we report on the ideas about the blender expressed by students after completing the sequence of activities and the students’ perceptions of the activities themselves.

[1] J. J. Haynicz, P.R. Fletcher, and N. S Rebello, presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, 2006 (unpublished).




Evaluation of the Physics and Astronomy New Faculty Workshop

Henderson, Charles ( Western Michigan University


Abstract: Between 1996 and 2006, 759 new physics and astronomy faculty have participated in the New Faculty Workshop.  This represents approximately 25% of all new physics and astronomy faculty in the US.  The workshop is jointly administered by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the American Physical Society (APS) with funding from the National Science Foundation.  The goal of the workshop is for participants to learn about new developments in physics and astronomy pedagogy and to integrate these ideas and materials into their instruction.  During the spring of 2007 a web survey was administered to all former workshop participants as part of an evaluation of the impact of the New Faculty Workshop.  This poster will present selected results from this survey.




Overcoming undergraduate student difficulty in understanding Curl through feedback learning materials

Jung, Kyesam ( Department of Physics Education in Seoul National University

Lee, Gyoungho ( Department of Physics Education in Seoul National University


Abstract: During upper-level mechanics course, we observed that many students’ concepts about the curl were unstable and incorrect. It is important to understand curl in Physics subject matter. However, there is little research on how students experience difficulties and how students overcome them in learning curl. For these reasons, we developed feedback learning materials to address students’ difficulties. We also developed questionnaires to investigate what students know about curl and how their difficulties are changed. Questionnaires are consisted of explanation form and Likert scale (degree 0 to 4) form. In the pretest, average of students’ difficulties was about 2.95. Then, we applied the first learning material to students. The average of the first learning material effect was about 2.09. At last, we modified the first learning material and applied it to same students. The average of the second learning material effect was about 1.05.




An explanatory framework for popular physics lectures

Kapon, Shulamit ( Department of Science Teaching, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Ganiel, Uri ( Department of Science Teaching, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Eylon, Bat Sheva ( Department of Science Teaching, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel 


Abstract: Popular physics lectures provide a 'translation' that bridges the gap between the specialized knowledge that formal scientific content is based on, and the audience's informal prior knowledge. This paper presents a grounded theory explanatory framework for Translated Scientific Explanations (TSE) in such lectures.  The framework is derived from a comparative study of three exemplary popular physics lectures from two perspectives: the explanations in the lecture (as artifacts), and the design of the explanation from the lecturers' point of view. The framework consists of four clusters of categories: 1. Conceptual blending (e.g. metaphor). 2. Story (e.g. narrative). 3. Content (e.g. selection of level). 4. Knowledge organization (e.g. structure).   The framework shows how the lecturers customized the content of the presentation to the audience's knowledge. Lecture profiles based upon this framework can serve as guides for utilizing popular physics lectures when teaching contemporary physics to learners lacking the necessary science background.




Out of the Lab and into the Classroom: An Evaluation of Reflective Dialogue in Andes

Katz, Sandra ( Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh

Connelly, John ( Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pttsburgh


Abstract: Several laboratory studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of presenting students with ‘Reflection Questions’ immediately after they have solved quantitative problems.  These questions, and the feedback that students receive on their responses, are designed to reinforce students’ understanding of the concepts and principles associated with a just-solved problem.  The main goal of the experiment described in this poster was to determine if the positive results of post-practice reflection from laboratory studies hold up in an actual classroom setting. We added prototype, natural-language reflective dialogues to the Andes physics tutoring system and evaluated them in a physics course at the US Naval Academy.   Consistent with prior research, the reflective dialogues promoted conceptual understanding of physics.  However, measures of transfer to problem-solving ability did not show any effect of completing the dialogues.      This poster addresses the conference theme by focusing on a well-documented problem in physics education: students often learn to solve problems by rote, with little understanding of physical concepts and principles.  It also addresses classic issues in cognitive and learning science: how qualitative and quantitative knowledge are related and how to support students in integrating these two forms of knowledge.




Research-based Practices For Effective Clicker Use

Keller, Christopher ( University of Colorado at Boulder & i>clicker (BFW Publishing)

Finkelstein, Noah ( University of Colorado at Boulder

Pollock, Steven ( University of Colorado at Boulder

Turpen, Chandra ( University of Colorado at Boulder


Abstract: Adoption of clickers by faculty has spread campus-wide at the University of Colorado at Boulder from one course in 2001 to presently 19 departments, 80 courses, and over 10,000 students.  Specifically, we study at the campus level: common pedagogical practices among faculty and attitudes and beliefs among student clicker-users. Data were collected via online surveys given to both faculty and students in the Spring 2007 semester. Additionally, we report on student perceptions of clicker use relative to the ways in which this educational tool is used by faculty. These data suggest practices for effective clicker use that can serve as a guide for faculty who integrate this educational tool into their courses.




Categories of students' responses to an Anomalous section in Symon Mechanics: Critique to the conservation laws

Kim, Eunsun ( Department of Physics Education, Seoul National University

Lee, Gyoungho ( Department of Physics Education, Seoul National University


Abstract: This is common that students regard physics knowledge as true. They think that geniuses have already accomplished physics knowledge. For this reason, they become passive learner. However, science knowledge is tentative, partly the product of human imagination and creativity. Students can become active learners if they understand the nature of science. There are many studies on students' views on the nature of science. However, there are little research on how students' respond to the NOS ideas comparing with their own beliefs. Thus, the purpose of this study was to find and categorize students' responses to the tentative feature of conservation law for linear momentum. We will discuss the implications of our findings.

sponsor: Brain Korea 21 Science Education for Next Society




Expert and novice use of multiple representations in physics problem solving

Kohl, Patrick ( University of Colorado, Boulder

Finkelstein, Noah ( University of Colorado, Boulder


Abstract: It is generally believed that students should use multiple representations in solving certain physics problems.  In this study, we interview expert and novice physicists as they solve two kinds of multiple representations problems:  those in which multiple representations are provided for them, and those in which they must construct additional representations on their own.  We analyze in detail the types of representations subjects use and the order and manner in which they are used, and identify characteristic features of expert and novice multiple representation use.  Both groups make significant use of multiple representations.  Some differences emerge: Expert use of multiple representations is denser in time, and novices tend to adhere to stricter patterns.   In addition, we find that an examination of multiple representation use alone is inadequate to fully characterize a problem-solving episode; one must also consider the purpose behind the use of a particular representation.




Investigating the Source of the Gender Gap in Introductory Physics

Kost, Lauren E. ( Department of Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder

Pollock, Steven J. ( Department of Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder

Finkelstein, Noah D. ( Department of Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder


Abstract: Our previous research showed that despite the use of interactive engagement techniques at our institution, the difference in performance between men and women on a conceptual learning survey persisted from pre to post test.  This paper reports on a three-part follow-up study that investigates what factors contribute to the gender gap.  First, we analyze student grades in different components of the course and find that men and women’s course grades are not significantly different (p>0.1), but men outscore women on exams and women outscore men on homework and participation.  Second, we compare average post test scores of men and women who score similarly on the pretest and find that there are no significant differences between men and women’s average post test scores (p>0.1).  Finally, we analyze other factors in addition to the pretest score that could influence the post test score and find that gender is not a significant factor when a measure of mathematics performance is included.  These findings indicate that the gender gap exists in interactive physics classes, but is due in large part to differences in preparation, background, and math skills.




Scientific Inquiry Using a Computer Simulation: Similarities and Differences in Students’ Learning Processes at an International School

Lee, Yu-Fen ( Department of Learning and Instruction, SUNY at Buffalo

Liu, Xiufeng ( Department of Learning and Instruction, SUNY at Buffalo


Abstract: This case study investigates the use of a computer simulation for inquiry learning at an international school in Beijing, China. The purpose of this study is to examine in depth the similarities and differences in students’ learning processes in the context of thermal physics learning. Although common problems were found across students of different characteristics, apparent differences also existed between the stronger and weaker students. While stronger students tended to consider the phenomenon under investigation from more holistic viewpoints, take responsibility for their own understanding and have better mathematic skills, weaker students tended to demonstrate incomplete reasoning, mechanically learn the material and have poorer mathematic skills. Suggestions to physics teaching and learning are made in response to the students’ difficulties found in the present study.




Re-conceiving how teachers teach, and how students learn physics with analogies

Lin, Yuhfen ( the Ohio State University

Brookes, David ( University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


Abstract: Analogy is an important tool of scientific discovery. Over the last thirty years, cognitive scientists have dedicated a lot of research to understand the role of analogy in human thought and reasoning. In physics education, instructors have long been using analogies to help students to understand new ideas in terms of what they already know. However, analogical transfer studies show that students often fail to transfer the provided concepts into a new situation. In this paper we wish to reframe the role of analogy in learning physics in terms of the goal of helping students to develop scientific abilities and construct their knowledge in the manner of practicing physicists.  Using the current research on the features of successful analogy construction we suggest that we help students identify knowledge domains on which they are already ‘expert’ and encourage students to learn methods of evaluating their analogical mapping.




Exploring the Intersections of Personal Epistemology, Public Epistemology, and Affect

Lising, Laura ( Towson University


Abstract: This paper describes a survey instrument designed to explore the divide between students’ stances toward their own learning and their perceptions of what is productive for the scientific community (sometimes called ‘personal epistemology’ and ‘public epistemology').   The survey also contained an array of items in the affective dimension (motivation, preferences, and other emotional variables) so that correlations with these and the personal/public epistemology split could be explored.   The survey development and data analysis were informed by cognitive and psychological research and theory.   During survey design, careful attention was given to place items in a single context to avoid some of the interpretive challenges that arise with surveys that have mixed or unspecified contexts.   The purpose of this survey is to explore a few correlative hypotheses and provide guidance for qualitative studies.   Preliminary data and results will be described.




Future Elementary Teachers' Epistemological Beliefs and Views About The Nature of Science Before & After A 'Reformed' Conceptual Physics Course

Mamolo, Charles ( Physics Department, Kansas State University

Rebello, N. Sanjay ( Physics Department, Kansas State University


Abstract: We administered EBAPS (Episetmological Beliefs in the Physical Sciences) and VNOS (Views of the Nature Of Science) at the beginning and end of a physics course for future elementary teachers.  The course was taught in a learning cycle format and involved hands-on activities and active learning in the classroom.  We report on the EBAPS and VNOS results and compare them with each other as well as with students' performance in the course as measured by traditional measures of assessment such as tests and exams.




Students’ Perceptions of Case-Reuse Based Problem Solving in Algebra-Based Physics

Mateycik, Fran ( Kansas State University

Hrepic, Zdeslav ( Fort Hays State University

Jonassen, David ( University of Missouri, Columbia

Rebello, N. Sanjay ( Kansas State University


Abstract: Problem solving is an important goal in almost all physics classes.  In this study we explore students’ perception and understanding of the purpose of two different problem solving approaches.  In Phase I of the study, introductory algebra-based physics students were given an online extra credit problem-solving assignment.  They were randomly assigned one of three problem-solving strategies: questioning, structure mapping, and traditional problem solving.  In Phase II of the study, eight student volunteers were individually assigned to work problems using one of the strategies in two sessions of semi-structured interviews.  The first session investigated students’ general problem solving approaches a few weeks after they had completed the online extra-credit assignment.  The second session investigated students’ perceptions of problem solving strategies and how they relate to the extra credit assignments.  In this article, we describe students’ perceptions of the purpose of the activities and their underlying problem solving techniques.




Investigating Students’ Ideas about Wavefront Aberrometry*

McBride, Dyan ( Kansas State University

Zollman, Dean ( Kansas State University


Abstract: We describe a qualitative study of student understanding of the functions of the human eye, and the resources used in understanding wavefront aberrometry, a relatively new method of diagnosing vision defects.  Twelve students enrolled in an introductory physics class participated in a semi-structured clinical interview in which the functions of the eye, traditional diagnosis methods such as the eye chart, and wavefront aberrometry were discussed.  Results from this study indicate that students do not initially understand the subjective nature of traditional diagnosis techniques, and that the use of physical models of the eye and aberrometer can facilitate the transfer of prior knowledge to these concepts.

*This work is supposed in part by the National Science Foundation under grant DUE 04-2675.




Students creating mathematical meaning in mechanics: Signs in scalar equations

McCann, Kate ( University of Maine Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research

Wittmann, Michael C. ( University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy


Abstract: Small groups of students have been observed and videotaped working on tutorials throughout a semester of an intermediate Mechanics course [1]. We find several instances where students have difficulty determining the sign of variables in scalar equations. Topics include conservative forces and air resistance, and problems are common to all students. Many of these difficulties arise in the typically unwritten work of creating scalar equations from a physical situation that can be described by vector quantities. Students often cannot decide whether a negative or positive sign is intrinsically part of a variable itself or if sign is a quality determined independently of the magnitude of the variable. Our observations may indicate students' fundamental problems with thinking about variables in general. (Sponsored in part by NSF REC-0633951.)     [1] Ambrose, B.S., Am. J. Phys, 72, 453-459




A Preliminary Investigation of College Astronomy Students Understanding of Spectroscopy

McGarrahan, Andrew ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Garner, Brian ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Nepf, Candice ( Edwardsville High School

Lindell, Rebecca ( Southern Illinois University Edwardsville


Abstract: Without spectroscopy, astronomers would not know nearly as much as they do about the universe. For being so fundamental, college astronomy students often struggle with this concept. Little research has been conducted in this area. Most studies only suggest that misconceptions exist and fail to correlate why students have difficulties in this area. To address this issue, we have performed a qualitative investigation that involves open-ended, structured interviews of college-astronomy-student understanding of this phenomenon both before and after instruction. These interviews were designed to determine college student's explanations of the cause of spectroscopic phenomena and to determine their understandings of spectral phenomena itself. In this poster we will present the analysis of these interviews revealing information about students' difficulties with this phenomenon.




Constructing Models in Quantum Mechanics

McKagan, S. B. ( University of Colorado


Abstract: Physicists have developed many abstract model systems for teaching quantum mechanics.  The development of these models, such as infinite square wells and square barriers, is based on extremely sophisticated reasoning and approximations.   Standard instruction teaches students to manipulate these models, but is not explicit about how to build the models or what they represent.  I argue, based on interviews and observations of students in modern physics courses, that most students are not able to construct an understanding of these models on their own.  As a result, students often leave modern physics courses with an ability to solve computational problems, but with very little understanding of what these problems actually represent.  I suggest possible techniques for helping students develop a deeper understanding of the models used in quantum mechanics.




An Exploration of Student Understanding of the Connection between Particulate Models and Macroscopic Properties of Gases

Monteyne, Kereen ( California State University Fullerton

Gonzalez, Barbara ( California State University Fullerton

Loverude, Michael ( California State University Fullerton 


Abstract: The idea that matter is made up of small particles is among the most fundamental concepts in physical science. Students are expected to use small-particle models to explain the behavior of the observable, macroscopic world. This interdisciplinary project assessed the extent to which students in general education courses across two departments understood the assumptions of small-particle models of gases and the ways in which these models relate to measurable properties such as pressure or temperature. Over the past two semesters, we posed conceptually-oriented questions on written assessments. Questions were drawn from the published literature in chemical and physics education and developed by the project team. The results of this project provide a baseline measurement of the extent to which a diverse population of students in introductory physical science courses developed a robust model of the particulate nature of matter.




Peer-assessment of homework using rubrics

Murthy, Sahana ( Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA


Abstract: An assessment system that supports student learning involves participation in productive activity, distribution of effort evenly across topics and weeks, communication of clear expectations, and detailed, frequent and quick feedback that reinforces learning goals. One way to meet the above goals is by means of peer assessment. This also engages students in the process of evaluating scientific information. In an introductory calculus-based physics class at MIT, students peer-assess each other's weekly homework problems. To guide students through the process, we provide them with rubrics containing descriptors for various criteria that each problem is assessed on. The criteria include: physics content, relevant representations, modeling the situation, problem-solving strategy and reasonableness of answer. In this poster I explore questions regarding the reliability of the peer assessment process, possible factors that affect the quality of the assessment, students’ development of evaluation abilities, and factors that students struggle with during the peer-assessment process.




The cognitive structure of beginning secondary physics teachers' content knowledge: a nature of physics construct

Neakrase, Jennifer J. ( Arizona State University

Luft, Julie ( Arizona State University

Roehrig, Gillian ( University of Minnesota


Abstract: In the beginning years of teaching secondary science teachers are developing a coherent knowledge of subject matter.  Through this process individuals construct a view of what physics means and how physics should be taught and learned by students.  This view of the nature of physics interacts with views of the nature of science in general, and teachers form an epistemology of physics.  Beginning secondary science teachers may have a view of the nature of science commensurable with their views of the nature of physics or they may differ.  How teachers view physics and science may effect how they represent each in their classroom.  This study examines how beginning secondary science teachers view the nature of physics as a discipline.  It then looks at how these views of the discipline of physics influence in-field and out-of-field physics teachers’ representation of physics in their classroom.




Using Artificial Neural Networks to Predict How Students Answer Questions in Physics

Ortiz, Edgardo ( Department of Physics, Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst

Beatty, Ian ( Scientific Reasoning Research Institute, Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst

Dufresne, Robert ( Scientific Reasoning Research Institute, Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst

Gerace, William ( Department of Physics, Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst


Abstract: There is a necessity in physics education to construct efficient and effective instruments for assessing students’ knowledge of physics and for guiding instruction. In this work we explore the possibility of using artificial neural networks as assessment tools, by training a network to predict how students answer conceptual questions. A web-based instrument consisting of a term-association task and a set of conceptual questions is used to collect data. Using data from a subset of students who participated in the study, we have trained an artificial neural network to predict students' answers to conceptual questions. We found that the network can predict how other students answer the questions, with a success rate significantly higher than random. Thus, we found that a neural network can serve as an instantiated mathematical model of students' physics knowledge. A large-scale study, with 120 students participating, is currently underway.




Learning to Think Like Scientists with the PET Curriculum

Otero, Valerie ( University of Colorado at Boulder

Gray, Kara (


Abstract: Instructional techniques based on research in cognitive science and physics education have been used in physics courses to enhance student learning. While dramatic increases in conceptual understanding have been observed,  students enrolled in these courses tend to shift away from scientist-like views of the discipline (and views of learning within the discipline) and toward novice-like views. Shifts toward scientist-like views are found when course materials and instruction explicitly address epistemology, the nature of science, and the nature of learning. The Physics and Everyday Thinking (PET) curriculum has specific goals for helping non-science majors explicitly reflect on the nature of science and the nature of science learning. We show that in PET courses with small and large enrollments, shifts toward scientist-like thinking ranged from +4% to +18% on the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey. These results are compared to results from other studies using a variety of similar assessment instruments.




Disseminating The Results Of Cognitive Studies Through Graduate Teaching Assistant Training Focusing On Knowledge For Teaching

Pellathy, Stephen ( University of Pittsburgh


Abstract: Cognitive studies in physics education research (PER) have been driven by their direct and immediate relevance to teaching physics [1]. My research focuses on extending this success with a broad, long-term strategy of dissemination through graduate teaching assistant trainings. Organizing results of PER and cognitive science through the lens of knowledge for teaching [2], I design practice-based [3] trainings to prepare teaching assistants (TAs) for the challenges of introductory physics. The trainings are primarily rooted in research on student thinking such as students’ preconceptions, and offer multiple representations of problems and concepts as an effective teaching tool. I use both quantitative and qualitative methods to look for evidence of TAs’ responsiveness to student thinking in my study. I also explore TAs’ attitudes and beliefs about teaching [4] and recitations in order to better understand their practices.

[1] Redish (1994) Am. J. Phys. 62(9)  [2] Grossman (1988) unpublished dissertation  [3] Smith (2001) NCTM, Reston, VA  [4] Henderson & Dancy (2006) submitted Physical Review ST-PER




Using Clickers in Upper-division Physics Courses: What do students think?

Perkins, Katherine ( University of Colorado at Boulder

Turpen, Chandra

Finkelstein, Noah

Keller, Chris


Abstract: The use of clickers and concept tests in introductory courses in physics is becoming more and more popular among faculty at institutions across the US; however, the use of these tools in upper-division physics courses is more limited. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, a handful of faculty have started incorporating these teaching approaches and tools into upper-division courses. In this talk, we report on students’ response to the use of clickers in these upper-division courses. We examine how useful and enjoyable students find the clickers/concept tests for their learning compared to other aspects of the course. Preliminary results show that students in an upper-division course taught by a non-PER faculty member are overwhelmingly supportive of the use of clickers, with 85% recommending or strongly recommending their use. We report on how this response varies with the course-level (sophomore through senior) and how the clickers were implemented in the classroom. Finally, we report on students’ perception of the characteristics of clicker use they find most valuable for their learning.




Salience of Representations and Analogies in Physics: How do students know what to know?

Podolefsky, Noah ( University of Colorado at Boulder

Finkelstein, Noah ( University of Colorado at Boulder 


Abstract: Analogical reasoning is one cognitive process by which students can use what they already know to learn new material. In prior large-scale studies (N>100) on student use of analogies, we found significant differences in student reasoning about EM waves for students taught (1) with vs. without analogies, [1] and (2) with analogies but using different representations. [2] This poster builds on these findings and focuses on the dynamics as student reason about electromagnetic waves using analogies. We describe a cognitive model, analogical scaffolding, [1] and apply this model to describe the dynamics of student reasoning about EM waves in an interview. The present fine-grained analysis confirms prior large-scale findings that representations and analogy can play key and complementary roles in student reasoning, and extends prior work demonstrating the utility of the analogical scaffolding model to interpret student reasoning in a dynamic fashion.

1. N.S. Podolefsky and N.D. Finkelstein, Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res.,3,010109 (2007)  2. N.S. Podolefsky and N.D. Finkelstein, In review (see Paper 03 available at




A Longitudinal Study of the Impact of Curriculum on Conceptual Understanding in E&M

Pollock, Steven ( University of Colorado, Boulder


Abstract: We have collected extensive data on upper-division E&M student performance in Electricity and Magnetism (E&M) at CU Boulder since we introduced the Washington Tutorials in Introductory Physics in 2004 as part of our freshman curriculum. In the earliest semesters, all upper-division students had themselves taken a non-Tutorial introductory Physics, providing a baseline at this upper-division level surprisingly close to post-scores in our reformed introductory course. More recently, the population in the upper-division is mixed with respect to freshman experience, with over half having been taught with Tutorials as freshmen. We track those students and find that on average, their individual BEMA scores do not change significantly over time. However, we do find a significantly stronger performance at the upper division level for students who went through Tutorials compared to those who had other introductory experiences, and stronger scores still for students who taught in the introductory sequence as Learning Assistants, indicating a long-term positive impact of Tutorials on conceptual understanding.




Will a student construct a free-body diagram to solve this problem?

Rosengrant, David ( Department of Physics and Biology, Kennesaw State University

Etkina, Eugenia ( Graduate School of Education, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Van Heuvelen, Alan ( Physics Department, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 


Abstract: Our previous work has shown that more students construct free-body diagrams (FBDs) to help solve exam problems when they are in a reformed, representation rich course [1] than in traditionally taught courses.  However, maybe certain features of a problem in addition to the mode of instruction affect whether students will construct FBDs to solve it.  In one of our previous studies [2] we found a pattern that supported this statement.  For example, if the problem asked students to find a magnitude of force as opposed to acceleration, time, etc., then more students constructed an FBD.  Conversely if there was a picture associated with a problem then fewer students constructed an FBD.  We investigated these two relationships in a new study.  We found that neither feature influenced students, but upon further analysis we found that higher achieving students construct significantly more diagrams when solving problems than lower achieving students.  The project was supported by NSF grant DRL 0241078.    1. D. Rosengrant, E. Etkina, and A. Van Heuvelen, National Association for Research in Science Teaching 2006 Proceedings, San Francisco, CA (2006).  2. D. Rosengrant, E. Etkina, and A. Van Heuvelen, edited by L. McCullough, L. Hsu and P. Heron, 2006 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, Syracuse, NY, 2006, 149-152.




Comparing FCI normlized gain, pre-instruction scores, and scientific reasoning ability for PER-based and traditional lecture instruction in introductory mechanics classes

Saul, Jeff ( Florida International University Department of Physics

Pamela, Priscilla ( Florida International University Department of Physics

Kramer, Laird ( Florida International University Department of Physics

O'Brien, George ( Florida International University Department of Science Education


Abstract: In Coletta and Philips recent article [1], they found a significant, positive correlation between normalized FCI gains and preinstruction scores for classes using PER-based curricula. This seems to contradict Hake's finding [2] of no correlation between normalized gain and preinstruction scores. However, similar results have been previously recorded in studies of studio classes. They also found a strong correlation between normalized gain and results from Lawson's Test of Scientific Reasoning (TSR) [4]. In this paper, we plan to discuss the results of trying to reproduce the Pre FCI vs. normalized gain results using the CHEPREO project's database of pre-post diagnostics from classes using 3 different PER-based and traditional lecture curricula in introductory mechanics classes at over 4 undergraduate institutions and 1 high school. We will also look at results of Lawson TSR results and FCI normalized gain from ASU-style modeling classes at FIU and high schools.  Our hypothesis is that the correlation between normalized gain and preinstruction scores is due to the nature of PER-based instruction and not an artifact of the test or the measure of normalized gain. The correlation of FCI normalized gain with TSR results suggest that inproving student reasoning skills may lead helping high gain classes break the 0.70 barrier.  Work supported by NSF Award #0312038.

[1]  V. Coletta and J. Phillips,  Am. J. Phys. 73 (12), 1172 (2005).  [2]  R. Hake,  Am. J. Phys. 66, 64 ( 1998) .   [4]  A.




FCI-based Multiple Choice Test for Investigating Students’ Representational Coherence

Savinainen, Antti ( Kuopio Lyseo High School/University of Jyväskylä

Nieminen, Pasi ( University of Jyväskylä

Viiri, Jouni ( University of Jyväskylä

Korkea-aho, Jukka ( University of Jyväskylä


Abstract: We have developed a multiple choice test - the Representation Test - which evaluates students’ representational coherence on some aspects of gravitation and Newton’s third law. Representational coherence means that a student can use consistently multiple representations and is able to move between different representations.   The Representation Test consists of 23 questions addressing verbal, graphical, bar chart, and vectorial representations. It was developed on the basis of five questions taken from the Force Concept Inventory. High school student data (n = 54) on the Representation Test are discussed from the point of view of representational coherence. Correlations between the Representation Test data and the Lawson test data are also presented. Hence, our presentation has two important links to the conference theme: both multiple representations and students’ reasoning ability are being investigated also within cognitive science.

Additional co-author: Aku Talikka ( of Jyväskylä




Factors influencing student models of the Lorentz force on a charged  particle

Scaife, Thomas ( The Ohio State University Department of Physics

Heckler, Andrew ( The Ohio State University Department of Physics 


Abstract: We examine student understanding of the magnetic force exerted on a charged  particle and report three findings from a series of tests administered to  introductory physics students. First, we expand on previous findings that many  students believe in ‘charged’ magnetic poles and find that although students  may answer according to a model where a positive charge is attracted to a  south pole and repulsed by a north, these students may not believe that the  poles are charged.  Additional models produce identical answer schemes, the  primary being magnetic force parallel to magnetic field. Second, the  representation format affects responses: when the magnetic field is portrayed  by field lines, students’ answers are correct more frequently than when  portrayed by magnetic poles. Third, the robustness of the charged pole  conception is examined via multiple testing.  It is found that while the  ‘misconception’ diminishes with instruction, it persists and even rebounds  after instruction.




Multiple modes of reasoning in physics problem-solving, with implications for instruction

Schuster, David ( Western Michigan University

Undreiu, Adriana ( Western Michigan University

Adams, Betty ( Western Michigan University


Abstract:  Teaching physics problem-solving, if done explicitly at all, often consists of ‘going over’ worked-out  solutions as a systematic stepwise application of physics principles. While this does represent the  physics structure of the final solution, it does not reflect how people actually think when tackling  problems. We find that both learners and experts use multiple modes of cognition in problem- solving. Three significant modes are principle-based reasoning, case-based reasoning and  experiential-intuitive reasoning.  Although our instruction emphasizes the power and generality of working from basic principles, we  found that many students instead tried ‘mapping across’ results recalled from previous cases. Some  even ‘bent the basics’ to get the kinds of result expected. Our first response was to re-emphasize  principles.  However, it became clear that experts too used case-based reasoning, extensively and  effectively, drawing on rich case knowledge plus applicability conditions.  We investigated reasoning in detail for geometrical optics problems. Problem tasks were new  variants of class examples, constituting unfamiliar cases involving the same underlying principles.  Research methods included analysis of written solutions, reflections on thinking, individual  interviews and observations of group sessions. The cognitive modes and sub-modes emerged from our exploratory pilot research. They were then  used, together with case-knowledge elements, to code individuals’ problem-solving modes and trajectories. Case-based reasoning played a pervasive role, mostly unrecognized in  final solutions.  Implications for more effective instruction are that it should reflect what we know about real  cognition and the nature of expertise. This includes teaching case-based as well as principle-based  reasoning and making such thinking ‘visible’. We are doing this in optics, identifying topic knowledge  ‘sub-assemblies’ and case variations, and modeling their use in problems.




Explicit Reflection in an Introductory Physics Course

Scott, Michael ( University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Stelzer, Tim ( University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Gladding, Gary ( University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 


Abstract: The goal of instruction is to help shift a novice to a more expert-like state in matters of knowledge, understanding, and thinking. One important behavior of expert thinking is time spent reflecting upon the meaning and structure of things learned and of tasks worked. In this poster I will discuss a classroom implementation in which explicit reflective activities supplemented the problems students worked during class. This intervention spanned a 14 week period and was evaluated based on the relative performance between a control and treatment group. Instruments used in this study to assess performance included the Force Concept Inventory (FCI), a physics problem categorization test, and four class exams. I will discuss fully our implementation of the reflective exercises along with results from the accompanying measures.




Introducing ill-structured problems in physics recitations

Shekoyan, Vazgen ( Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Etkina, Eugenia ( Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey


Abstract: One of the critical aspects of physics instruction is problem solving. Depending on types of problems assigned to students, besides enhancing the content knowledge, problems can help students develop different cognitive abilities and skills. As opposed to traditional ‘end of chapter’ well-structured problems, we will focus here on ill-structured problems. These problems do not have one right answer and thus the student has to examine different possibilities, assumptions and evaluate the outcomes. To solve these problems one has to engage in a cognitive monitoring level called epistemic cognition. It is an important part of thinking in real life. Physicists routinely engage in epistemic cognition when they solve problems. We present a framework for introducing ill-structured problems in introductory physics courses and discuss its implications on students' problem-solving performance, as well as on their level of epistemic cognition.




Analyzing the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation using Model Analysis

Smith, Trevor I. ( University of Maine Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research

Wittmann, Michael C. ( University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy

Carter, Tom ( College of Dupage 


Abstract: We present the use of model analysis methods developed by Bao and Redish[1] to analyze student responses on the FMCE. To perform this analysis we proposed three modifications to standard FMCE analysis[2]: 1) redefined clusters of questions that group by question content and presentation; 2) consideration of facets of students' mental resources activated for incorrect responses; and 3) correlation of responses to various questions to determine students' modes of thinking. We present the details of this analysis as well as some results of a study conducted at the College of DuPage. Additional results are reported in an accompanying poster. (Supported in part by NSF DUE-0510614 and REC-0633951).    [1] L. Bao & E. F. Redish, Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res., 2:010103, 2006  [2] Using the template created by Wittmann available at: available at:




Comparing cluster analysis and traditional analysis methods in PER

Springuel, R. Padraic ( University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy

Wittmann, Michael C. ( University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy

Thompson, John R. ( University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy 


Abstract: We present a comparison between two in-depth analyses of a single data set using both cluster analysis and traditional PER analysis methods. Data for this analysis is taken from a pretest on motion in two dimensions administered to an algebra based introductory physics course. We report on the validity of cluster analysis as well as the implications this holds for the use of cluster analysis within PER. (Sponsored in part by NSF REC-0633951.)




Symbols: Weapons of Math Destruction

Torigoe, Eugene ( University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Gladding, Gary ( University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Abstract: Student difficulties with symbolic physics problems are commonly ascribed to problems with algorithmic algebraic manipulations such as solving two equations and two unknowns.  Our research involving both student interviews and statistical studies of nearly 900 students has revealed important differences between numeric and symbolic physics problems that are unrelated to difficulties with algorithmic manipulations.  We have identified differences in the way meaning is encoded by symbols in the contexts of numeric and symbolic physics problems.  We differentiate the encoding of meaning related to physical representation from the encoding of symbol states related to problem solving.  We will describe how subtle shifts in notation can affect how students think about and approach solving physics problems.  We will also discuss the connections between these findings and success in introductory physics.




Understanding Faculty Use of Peer Instruction

Turpen, Chandra ( University of Colorado, Boulder

Finkelstein, Noah University of Colorado, Boulder

Keller, Chris University of Colorado, Boulder


Abstract: We investigate the spread and use of PER-based instructional tools and examine efforts to sustain the use of these innovations. Specifically, we focus on analyzing the local use of Peer Instruction[1] and the varying implementation among six different physics faculty members. We analyze the classroom practices of six different large enrollment introductory physics courses from an activity theoretic perspective[2]. We find that professors’ diverse actions frame this classroom activity differently and identify critical themes that begin to capture the observed variation in faculty practice.  These themes include but are not limited to: the role of student discussion, the value of correct and incorrect responses to ConcepTests, and faculty and student roles during Peer Instruction. Furthermore, marked variations in faculty practices along these dimensions are described and we speculate on potential effects concerning student engagement.

[1] Mazur, E. (1997). Peer Instruction. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.  [2] Engestrom, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach. Helsinki, Finland: Orienta-Kon




Comparing Student Use of Mathematical and Physical Vector  Representations

Van Deventer, Joel ( University of Maine Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research

Wittmann, Michael C. ( University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy 


Abstract: Research has shown that students have difficulties with vectors in introductory physics courses and high school physics courses[1,2].   We have used these results, in part, to design isomorphic  mathematics and physics free-response vector tests to evaluate  student understanding of vectors in both contexts. To validate our test, we carried out task-based interviews with introductory physics students. We used our results to develop a multiple choice version of the vector test which was then administered to introductory physics students. We report on our test, giving examples of questions, and report on our findings from these interviews and multiple choice tests. (Sponsored in part by NSF REC-0633951.)    [1] Ngoc-Loan Nguyen and D.E. Meltzer, Am. J. Phys., 71 (6), 630 ? 638 (2003)  [2] P. S. Shaffer and L. C. McDermott, Am. J. Phys. 73 (10), 921-931 (2005)




Optimizing Student Learning of Evaluation Abilities

Warren, Aaron ( Purdue University - North Central 


Abstract: The ability to evaluate information relies on the use of several strategies, such as special-case analysis, that assess information according to some established criteria.  Previous research has demonstrated that these abilities can be developed by students in an introductory algebra-based physics course by including specially designed activities (called 'evaluation tasks') on recitation and homework assignments [1].  Building on such work, we study the use of evaluation tasks in group-work and individual-work environments in an effort to optimize their efficiency.  Data from this study are also used to investigate how the learning efficiency of evalaution tasks in group- and individual-work environments may be contingent upon the learning styles of the students.  Further techniques for studying the importance of student personality and social role within the group-learning context are briefly explored.

[1] Warren, A., "Developing and  Assessing Student Evaluation Abilities and Their Effects," Ph.D. Dissertation, Rutgers University, 2006




Ausubel & Piaget:  A Contemporary Investigation

Williams, Karen ( East Central University

Marek, Edmund University of Oklahoma 


Abstract: One section of college students enrolled in an algebra-based physics course was randomly selected for a Piagetian-based learning cycle treatment while a second section studied in an Ausubelian-based meaningful verbal reception learning treatment.  This study examined the students’ overall (concept +  problem solving +  mental model) meaningful understanding of force, density/Archimedes Principle, and heat. Also examined were students’ meaningful understanding as measured by conceptual questions, problems, and mental models.  In addition, students’ learning orientations were examined.  There were no significant posttest differences between the groups for students’ meaningful understanding or learning orientation.  Piagetian and Ausubelian theories explain meaningful understanding for each treatment. Students from each treatment increased their meaningful understanding.  However, neither group altered their learning orientation.  The results of meaningful understanding as measured by conceptual questions, problem solving, and mental models were mixed.         This research also examined four variables (treatment, reasoning ability, learning orientation, and prior knowledge) to find which best predicted students’ overall meaningful understanding of physics concepts.  What the results of this research suggest is that although Piaget and Ausubel used different terminology to explain learning, these theories are very similar.  This research attempted to blend the two theories; illustrating that the theories did not explain meaningful understanding in significantly different ways.      This research significantly addresses the conference theme of cognitive science (Piaget & Ausubel were cognitive theorists) in the PER setting.




Using Students’ Design Tasks to Develop Scientific Abilities

Zou, Xueli ( California State University, Chico


Abstract: To help students develop the scientific abilities desired in the 21st century workplace, four different types of student design tasks’observational, testing, application, and investigation experiments’have been developed and implemented in our calculus-based introductory courses. Students working in small groups are engaged in designing and conducting their own experiments to observe some physical phenomena, test a physics principle, build a real-life device, solve a complex problem, or to conduct an open-inquiry investigation. This work is supported in part by NSF (DUE #0242845) and in collaboration with the Physics and Astronomy Education Research Group at Rutgers University. In this poster, examples of the design tasks will be shown and assessment results of students’ achievements will be reported.



Student Spatial Reasoning and Physics Problem Solving - A Preliminary Study

De Leone, Charles J.  ( California State University, San Marcos

Gire, Elizabeth. University of California, San Diego


Abstract: Non-algebraic representations, such as force diagram and graphs, are generally useful in solving physics problems. In a typical introductory physics course, a significant amount of instructional effort is focused on using these representations to improve problem solving, yet students have varied willingness and abilities to use these representations when solving physics problems. Psychometric tests show that people have varied spatial reasoning ability, a talent that may be useful in using non-algebraic representations. In this talk we will report the results of a preliminary study about the relationship between students' spatial reasoning abilities and their use of non-algebraic representations when solving physics problems.



Pedagogical Tools to Help the Leaners Organized Their Ideas

Hamed, Kastro ( University of Texas at El Paso  

Abstract: In a Physical Science class for pre-service k-8 teachers, I direct the students to utilize several pedagogical tools to help them organize their concepts, and to monitor their progress.  Two of these pedagogical tools are the focus of this paper: The Daily Reflection Cards with three C's, and the Group Constructed Concept Maps.  This paper presents and discusses how these tools are used, and the Students' feedback and reflections on their effectiveness in facilitating and improving learning in our class.


Assessing Student Expertise in Physics with Isomorphic Problems

Singh, Chandralekha ( University of Pittsburgh 

Abstract: We analyze written responses to paired isomorphic problems given to introductory physics students and discussions with a subset of students about them.  We examine the effect of a few parameters as potential factors on Problem Solving and Transfer.  Misconceptions associated with friction in some pairs were sometimes so robust, that pairing  them with isomorphic problems not involving friction did not help students fully discern the underlying similarities of the paired problems and benefit from such a pairing.


Continued Discussion of the Correlation Coefficient and R2-Value Survey

Marx, Jeffrey ( McDaniel College, Westminster, MD

Abstract: When formally reporting summative statistics, it is crucially important that both the reader and the reporter agree on what such statistics represent about the larger data set they are meant to characterize. Over the past year I have circulated a short survey about correlation coefficients and R2-values to academics. The survey had three types of items: multiple-choice items based on graphs of data sets, three-point Likert-scale items asking responders to comment on the confidence of their answers, and open-end questions. Over forty educators anonymously completed and returned the surveys. Not one survey was answered entirely correctly and many were almost entirely incorrect. (Despite the fact that most responders were at least "Confident" if not "Very confident" with their answers.) In this presentation, I will present the survey and my results to date, as well as discuss what these results might imply about an important component of the dialogue in our community.


Why is Physics Hard?

Pyper, Brian A. ( BYU-Idaho

Humpherys, Candice BYU-Idaho

Abstract: The phrase “physics is hard” is common enough to cause educators some concern. Why do students find physics to be hard? There is a theoretical basis in Piaget’s work for the notion that people at earlier stages of cognitive development have a harder time with highly conceptual disciplines like physics. Some research has been done by Coletta and Phillips1 as to whether students’ level of cognitive development influences their performance on the FCI (Force Concept Inventory). To identify a student’s reasoning level, they used the Lawson Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning which includes questions on conservation, proportional thinking, identification of variables, probabilistic thinking, and hypothetico-deductive reasoning. Our research also uses the Lawson test and FCI in hopes of finding some correlation between reasoning ability and FCI performance that might provide insight into why so many students think physics is hard and also might provide justification for innovation in current approaches to physics education.


An Analysis of Asynchronous Online Homework Discussions in Introductory Physics Courses

Kortemeyer, Gerd ( Michigan State University

Abstract:  Students discussing physics with their peers in-class has proven to be an effective way of teaching, and the practice has found wide-spread acceptance. Using online forums, the practice can be extended outside the classroom. Over the past years, we have been using an online system where the threaded discussion forums are directly attached to randomizing online problems. In this study, we are attempting to systematically analyze the student discussion contributions using discourse analysis, in particular with respect to properties of the courses, the students, and the problems. We also describe how these online discussions can be used as a self-transcribing source of data to research other aspects of physics learning.


Transfer of Learning in Medical Image Reconstruction: Group Teaching Interviews

Kalita, Spartak ( Kansas State University

Zollman, Dean, Kansas State University

Abstract:  Based on our previous research on pre-med students’ models of X-rays we designed a hands-on lab using semi-transparent Lego bricks to model computer assisted tomography. Without “surgery” (i.e. without intrusion into the Lego “body”) students determined the shape of an object, which was built out of opaque and translucent Lego bricks and hidden from view. A source of light and a detector were provided upon request. Using a learning cycle format, we introduced CT scans after students successfully have completed this task. By comparing students’ ideas before and after teaching interview with the groups of 2 or 3 participants, we have investigated transfer of learning from basic physics and everyday experience to a complex medical technology and how their peer interactions affect this process.


Comparing student understanding of physics and mathematics in P-V diagrams

Evan B. Pollock, Department of Physics and Astronomy and Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research University of Maine, Orono, ME

John R. Thompson, Brandon R. Bucy, Donald B. Mountcastle, Department of Physics and Astronomy and Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research University of Maine, Orono, ME

Abstract:  Based on our previous research on pre-med students’ models of X-rays we designed a hands-on lab using semi-transparent Lego bricks to model computer assisted tomography. Without “surgery” (i.e. without intrusion into the Lego “body”) students determined the shape of an object, which was built out of opaque and translucent Lego bricks and hidden from view. A source of light and a detector were provided upon request. Using a learning cycle format, we introduced CT scans after students successfully have completed this task. By comparing students’ ideas before and after teaching interview with the groups of 2 or 3 participants, we have investigated transfer of learning from basic physics and everyday experience to a complex medical technology and how their peer interactions affect this process.


Student Estimates of Probability and Uncertainty in Advanced Laboratory and Statistical Physics Courses

Donald B. Mountcastle, Department of Physics and Astronomy and Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research University of Maine, Orono, ME

Brandon R. Bucy, and John R. Thompson, Department of Physics and Astronomy and Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research University of Maine, Orono, ME

Abstract:  Equilibrium properties of macroscopic systems are highly predictable as n, the number of particles approaches and exceeds Avogadro’s number; theories of statistical physics depend on these results. Typical pedagogical devices used in statistical physics textbooks to introduce entropy (S) and multiplicity (w) (where S = k ln(w)) include flipping coins and/or other equivalent binary events, repeated n times. Prior to instruction, our statistical mechanics students usually gave reasonable answers about the probabilities, but not the relative uncertainties, of the predicted outcomes of such events. However, they reliably predicted that the uncertainty in a measured continuous quantity (e.g., the amount of rainfall) does decrease as the number of measurements increases. Typical textbook presentations assume that students understand that the relative uncertainty of binary outcomes will similarly decrease as the number of events increases. This is at odds with our findings, even though most of our students had previously completed mathematics courses in statistics, as well as an advanced electronics laboratory course that included statistical analysis of distributions of dart scores as n increased.



Comparing advanced undergraduate reasoning about entropy across disciplines

Brandon R. Bucy, Department of Physics and Astronomy and Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research University of Maine, Orono, ME

John R. Thompson, and Donald B. Mountcastle, Department of Physics and Astronomy and Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research University of Maine, Orono, ME

Abstract: We have developed diagnostic questions to assess student understanding of entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics in the context of ideal gas processes. Having administered these questions to students in various upper-level undergraduate science courses, including classical thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, thermal physics, physical chemistry, and engineering thermodynamics, we see evidence of several discipline-specific reasoning patterns. Different student populations place a stronger emphasis on either the thermodynamic or the statistical interpretation of entropy in solving problems. Both approaches present students with certain advantages as well as specific obstacles to effective reasoning about entropy changes. Additionally, the role of entropy as a state function in students’ reasoning differs across disciplines, as does the perceived relevance of entropy and Second Law considerations. Discussion will include strategies for combining the approaches of each discipline into a robust student conception of entropy.

*Supported in part by NSF Grant #PHY-0406764


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