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The Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center)

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No Question Left Behind Teacher Conference, 2013


Image Description: The Summit

Image Description: Outside Erickson Hall, Point Lookout

Image Description: View from cabin road at Point Lookout, 2013

Image Description: Welcome to the 2013 Center for Research in STEM Education No Question Left Behind Conference

Image Description: Susan McKay, Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, Opening Remarks

Image Description: Steve Kaback, a Maine Center for Reserach in STEM Education original

Image Description: Don't sneer at engineers

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Image Description: Learning Gene Sequencing with Legos

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Image Description: Workshop led by Misty Conrath

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Thesis Defense – April 9 – Shawn Firouzian


MST Candidate
Shahram Shawn Firouzian
Thesis Advisor: Natasha Speer

Thesis Committee:
Natasha M. Speer
Robert Franzosa
John Thompson

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Science in Teaching

May, 2014

Correlations Between Students’ Multiple Ways of Thinking About the Derivative and Their Abilities to Solve Applied Derivative Problems

There is extensive research on students’ understanding, thinking and difficulties with the derivative and applied derivative problems, however there are very little works correlating the two fields. In this study, the correlations between students’ multiple ways of thinking about the derivative and their abilities in solving the applied derivative problems such as related rate and graphing problems are investigated. Fine-grained analysis of the students’ written surveys and clinical interviews revealed that students’ having two or more ways of thinking about the derivative correlate to their higher abilities in solving applied derivative problems.



Wednesday, April 9, 2014
4:30 p.m.
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium, ESRB

RiSE Colloquium, April 7, 2014 – Eric Pandiscio

Maine Center for Research in STEM Education
(RiSE Center)
Colloquia & Seminar Series


Eric Pandiscio
Department of Exercise Science and STEM Education
Maine RiSE Center, University of Maine

 Differentiated student thinking while solving
a distance vs. time graph problem

 This study probes the thinking of students at different stages of mathematical experience: college students who have taken calculus; college students who have not taken calculus; current high school mathematics teachers; graduate students in a discipline-based mathematics education program.  The study asks:

Using a covariational framework (Carlson, Jacobs, Coe, Larsen & Hsu, 2002), preliminary data reveal many students have difficulty working with phenomena that display varying rates of change.  Data also indicate many students estimate answers, even when an exact answer is possible.  Data were collected via written surveys and semi-structured oral interviews.  This work builds on, yet diverges from, prior research in physics education (McDermott, Rosenquist & van Zee, 1987; Thornton & Sokoloff, 1990; Kim & Kim, 2005), and mathematics education (Chiu, Kessel, Moschkovich & Munch-Nunez, 2001; Moschkovich, 1996) that describes difficulties students have with graph interpretation.

  Monday,  April 7, 2014
3:00-4:00 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium, 165 Barrows Hall

RiSE Colloquium – March 17, 2014 – Lauren Barth-Cohen, Speaker

Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center)
Colloquia & Seminar Series


Lauren Barth-Cohen, PhD
Post-Doctoral Research and Teaching Associate
Center for Research in STEM Education, University of Maine

Evidence Construction in a Field Geology Environment

 Abstract: Evidence is key to many scientific practices including argumentation, explanation, and modeling. For learners engaged in scientific practices, often we aim for them to construct scientific evidence from observations in the world, but the details of how learners go from observation to verbal accounts of evidence in support of a claim in a complicated environment has been overlooked.  In this talk we argue that much can be learned about scientific practices from examining how evidence is constructed from human sensory data. We present a case of one teacher who was involved in an evidence construction activity as part of a professional development workshop in a field geology environment. Using theoretical machinery from coordination class theory we model the evidence construction process, specifically how observations as connected with prior knowledge turn into evidence for a claim.  Use this model we illuminate the teacher constructing evidence to support a claim for the relative ages of two types of rocks in the field, and we also use the model to illustrate her constructing hypothetical evidence to support an alternative claim. This case illustrates the importance of a commonly overlooked dimension of scientific practices, and implications suggest that  evidence construction is applicable to both instruction and professional development.

Monday,  March 17, 2014
3:00 pm

 Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium, 165 Barrows Hall

Image Description: Maine Center for Research in STEM Education

Natasha Speer – October 7 Colloquium

The Maine Center for Research in STEM Education
(RiSE Center)


Natasha M. Speer, Department of Mathematics & Statistics and Maine RiSE Center,
The University of Maine
Brian Frank, Department of Physics & Astronomy,
Middle Tennessee State University

Monday, October 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm
Arthur St. John Hill, ESRB, Barrows Hall

Developing knowledge for teaching velocity and acceleration

Over the past two decades education researchers have demonstrated that various types of knowledge, including pedagogical content knowledge, influence teachers’ instructional practices and their students’ learning opportunities. Findings suggest that by engaging in the work of teaching, teachers acquire knowledge of how students think, but we have not yet captured this learning as it occurs. We examined whether novice instructors can develop such knowledge via the activities of attending to student work and we identified mechanisms by which such knowledge development occurs. Data come from interviews with physics graduate teaching assistants as they examined and discussed students’ written work on problems involving rates of change. During those discussions, some instructors appear to develop new knowledge–either about students’ thinking or about the content—and others did not. We compare and contrast three cases representing a range of outcomes and identify factors that enabled some instructors to build new knowledge.



Natasha Speer is faculty member in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UMaine and is also a member of the Maine Research in STEM Education Center. The focus of her work is on the teaching and learning of college level mathematics. She researches the knowledge teachers use when teaching calculus. In particular, she examines the kinds of knowledge needed by teachers to facilitate mathematically productive classroom discussions. She also conducts research into how graduate students learn to teach and is involved in a variety of projects to develop and provide teaching-related professional development for novice teachers of college mathematics.

Brian Frank is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Middle Tennessee State University, where he conducts physics education research and prepares future physics teachers. His research focuses on knowledge development in pre-service physics teachers and student engagement with physics outside of the classroom.

Oral Thesis Defense – Nitisha Mitchell

The University of Maine and the
Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center)


MST Candidate: Nitisha Mitchell
Thesis Advisor: Leonard Kass

An Abstract of the Thesis Submitted
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Master of Science in Teaching

August, 2013

Student Understanding of Cardiovascular Physiology:
The relationship between pressure, flow, and resistance

An Introductory course in Anatomy and Physiology is an essential body of knowledge for students ranging from nursing to pre-medical training. Although, there are a range of professional careers that require students to take anatomy and physiology, not much research has been done to examine content issues students may have.  An investigation of students enrolled in an introductory anatomy and physiology course and an advanced physiology course, at the University of Maine, will be used to determine if this population of students understands cardiovascular phenomena, such as pressure/flow/resistance, or do they simply memorize terms associated with the physiology of the system?  A previous study done by Michael’s and his colleagues, in 2002, found that students have difficulty understanding the relationship between cardiac output, mean arterial pressure, and peripheral resistance.  With this information I developed ten-question survey where each question altered one or more variables in the equation: Cardiac Output = Mean arterial Pressure / Peripheral Resistance.  The present study was conducted in order to examine whether the findings from that previous research could be applied to physiology coursework delivered at the University of Maine.  Recommendations are made based-upon these findings.

Monday, July 1, 2013
1 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium
165 Barrows Hall

Post-Doctoral candidate seminar in Hill Auditorium, Thursday, June 13 at 11 a.m.

Eric Kuo
University of Maryland – College Park

candidate for the Physical Sciences Partnership Post-Doctoral Research Associate position

Thursday, June 13
Location: Hill Auditorium, 165 Barrows Hall
11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

“A role for conceptual understanding of equations in problem solving”

Research in expert problem-solving practice in physics has pointed out the important role of well-structured conceptual knowledge and initial conceptual analyses. Yet, these conceptualizations of problem-solving expertise do not attend to possible benefits of a conceptual understanding of the equations. In this talk, I will give an example of how use of symbolic forms (Sherin, 2001), cognitive elements that blend intuitive understanding with mathematical symbols, can support heuristic shortcut solutions that avoid explicit algorithmic computations and demonstrate problem-solving expertise.  I also argue that symbolic forms use is connected to epistemological stances – views towards what it means to learn and understand – that value coherence between everyday thinking and formal physics ideas.  Drawing from this study and one other, I suggest that this connection between mathematical reasoning and students’ epistemologies has implications for interdisciplinary education and for considering what factors support transfer of knowledge across disciplines.

Bio: Eric Kuo graduated Summa Cum Laude from Brandeis University with a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in Mathematics in December of 2007. He went on to receive his M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Maryland, College Park. In that time, he has been a researcher and a graduate research assistant, designing research agenda and co-designing a curriculum targeted at mathematical sense-making in physics, winning a grant for this research in 2010.

Faculty, students, and staff are invited to attend this presentation,
and to partake in a light luncheon.

Dr. Jeong-Yoon Jang, Post-doctoral candidate, June 3 at 11 am in DPC 107, UMaine

The Maine Physical Sciences Partnership

Dr. Jeong-Yoon Jang
University of Iowa
Post-Doctoral candidate

“Using Language as a Learning Tool to Promote Scientific Argument to Construct Science Knowledge”

Abstract: My research has been focused on how we can use language as a learning tool to improve students’ understanding of science and help them to learn about and use scientific argument to construct science knowledge. In this presentation, I will share my longitudinal project that is based on the question of how to promote students’ performance in standardized test, critical thinking skills, and conceptual understanding of science through language embedded in an argument-based inquiry approach. Focusing on both the broad level (quantitatively) and the fine grain level (qualitatively), this on-going longitudinal project have been tracking standardized science tests with respect to science, the development of students’ critical thinking skills, writing samples and students’ interview.

Short Bio:
Ph.D. (2007-2011), Dept. of Teaching & Learning, The University of Iowa
DISSERTATION: The Effect of Using a Structured Reading Framework on Middle School Students’ Conceptual Understanding within the Science Writing Heuristic Approach
Advisor: Dr. Brian Hand

Monday, June 3, 2013
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Donald P. Corbett Building, Rm. 107

Thesis Oral Defense – Mary Jean Jones


MST Candidate

Mary Jean Jones
Thesis Advisor: Molly Schauffler
An Abstract of the Thesis Presented
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Master of Science in Teaching

August, 2013


           Proficiency in science learning involves mastering skills and language that are used in communicating about data. Working with data includes analyzing data tables, developing hypotheses, creating graphs, and explaining if and how those graphs support a hypothesis, all of which are part of data literacy. In this study, I examined the extent to which students (a) produced mechanically correct graphs, (b) referred to statistical vocabulary when discussing data and (c) interpreted those graphs by way of producing scientific explanations. After conducting preliminary classroom observations, I selected a survey that aligned with (a) the aspects of data literacy with which students seemed to have difficulties and (b) the current math and science education research. Students tend to perform better at interpreting graphs than constructing them and tend to be lacking in their abilities to produce sufficient evidence and reasoning for their claims. The survey contained two sets of data, each with a hypothesis. Participants were asked to create a graph helping them determine whether or not the data supported the hypothesis. Sixty-four ninth grade students participated in the survey. The majority of students in this study produced mechanically correct graphs. An additional twelve students participated in interviews. Findings from survey and interview data suggest that students can use statistical vocabulary such as mean and range when discussing data but lack the conceptual understanding of those terms to create accurate and adequate scientific explanations.

Friday, April 19, 2013
1:00 pm
117 Donald P. Corbett Building


Oral Thesis Defense – Adi Conlogue – April 12

The University of Maine and the
Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center)

Present an


MST Candidate
Adi Levy Conlogue
Thesis Co-Advisors: Natasha M. Speer and Roy M. Turner

 Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Science in Teaching

May 2013

Students’ thinking about recursion:
When do they use it and why?


Recursion is the process of repeating items in a self-similar way. Recursion is a key concept in Computer Science field and is used in programming. It is a powerful tool for solving programming tasks and has features that sometimes make it a superior choice over other approaches. Students learn recursion during their first programming course and other courses throughout the curriculum. Research has shown that recursion is challenging and findings reveal students’ difficulties in understanding and applying it to solve problems. But very little is known about when students choose to use recursion to solve programming tasks and why they do or do not choose to use it. Investigating students’ thinking about the use of recursion is the focus of this study. Participants included 17 undergraduates and three graduate students. Task-based clinical interviews were the sources of data. Findings indicate that students do not write functions that use recursion to solve programming tasks even though they are actually able to successfully use recursion when asked to do so. The analysis sheds some light on various reasons why students who are capable of using recursion choose not to use it. Implications for teaching, limitation of study and further research will be discussed.


Friday, April 12, 2013

11:00 am

130 Little Hall




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Contact Information

The Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center)
5727 Estabrooke Hall
Orono, Maine 04469-5727
Phone: (207) 581-4672 | Fax: (207) 581-9555E-mail:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469