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Travis Hall wins Volunteer Leadership Award

The EqualityMaine Awards 30th Anniversary Celebration Banquet was held in Portland on Saturday, March 22, 2014. Our Elementary Science Partnership Project Coordinator, Travis Hall, won the “Out Front Volunteer Leadership Award”. To read more about Travis, please click on the link above. Way to go, Travis!!

Duke Alum Michael Wittmann Specializes in Physics Education Research

Like many physicists, Michael Wittmann (’93) was drawn to the subject because it’s a way of understanding how the world works. But Wittmann is also interested in understanding how teaching and learning work. “I come from a line of teachers and physicists and engineers,” he says. “So I grew up with dinner table conversation about both of those topics.”
To satisfy both of his interests, Wittmann specializes in physics education research (PER) at the University of Maine, where he was recently promoted to full professor. He is a member of the research group at the Physics Education Research Laboratory there, as well as the Center for Research in STEM Education, which he co-founded in 2001. He also co-chairs the biennial Foundations and Frontiers of Physics Education Research conference in Bar Harbor, Maine.
To Wittmann, there’s a little bit of physicist in everyone—or there ought to be. “It irritates me when I’m at a party and someone says, ‘What do you do?’ and I say, ‘I’m a physicist,’ and their response is, ‘Oooh, that’s hard.’ They are forgetting that they are scientists by nature—they have questions about the world, and we can answer them. As a teaching community, we’re missing the boat if people have that reaction.”
For more information, please click here.

Smith Leads a Science Transformation

     A University of Maine researcher is participating in five projects aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments.
Michelle Smith, assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, is the principal investigator on four projects and co-principal investigator on another granted $6.8 million in total funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF); UMaine’s portion is $1,012,269.
The projects, three of which are collaborative with other universities, involve UMaine administrators, faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates and area K-12 teachers. “All of these stakeholders … will contribute to national initiatives to improve science education,” says Smith, a member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education (Maine RiSE Center).
For more information, please click here.

No Question Left Behind Teacher Conference, 2013

The Summit  Outside Erickson Hall, Point Lookout  View from cabin road at Point Lookout, 2013  Welcome to the 2013 Center for Research in STEM Education No Question Left Behind Conference  Susan McKay, Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, Opening Remarks   Steve Kaback, a Maine Center for Reserach in STEM Education original  Don't sneer at engineers    Learning Gene Sequencing with Legos                Workshop led by Misty Conrath     

Thesis Defense – Zachary Batz


MST Candidate
Zachary Batz

Thesis Advisor: Michelle K. Smith

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

August, 2014

 Reaching Struggling Introductory Biology Students with a
Targeted Peer Tutoring Program

Low persistence in STEM majors has long been an area of concern for institutions and educational researchers. The transition from introductory to advanced courses has been identified as a particularly “leaky” point along the STEM pipeline. Students who struggle early in an introductory STEM course rarely show significant improvement over the remainder of the semester. This poor early performance can damage self-efficacy and result in disengagement in the course, negative perceptions of the field, and reduced persistence in the course. This study examined the wide impact of an optional peer tutoring specifically targeted at these students who experience early difficulties in a large-enrollment, introductory biology course. Outcomes were measured using a combination of course performance, course management system data, and self-report surveys. Students who regularly attended peer tutoring were found to have increased engagement in the course, more expert-like perceptions of biology, better exam performance, and increased persistence relative to their peers who were not attending the peer tutoring sessions. Implications of these findings for universities looking to offer targeted academic assistance are discussed within.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014
12:00-1:00 pm
113 Estabrooke Hall



Commencement Speaker 2014 – Justin D. Lewin

Justi D. Lewin
College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture
Bachelor of Science in Biology

Justin D. Lewin of Castle Hill, Maine, majored in biology. He also began graduate work toward a Master of Science in Teaching. His numerous academic honors include an Armed Forces Communication & Electronics Association STEM Teachers for America’s Future Scholarship and Maine PSP Summer Undergraduate Research Assistant Fellowship, both in 2012, and a UMaine Center for Undergraduate Research Fellowship in spring 2013. This spring, with a grant from the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, Mr. Lewin interned at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. His work in a reproductive biology lab there focused on better understanding spermatogenesis that may lead to potential targets for infertility treatment and/or male contraception. On campus, Mr. Lewin’s research in the School of Biology and Ecology included collaboration with Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Michelle Smith, analyzing the effectiveness of clickers — personal response systems — in middle school science education classes. He also was a teaching partner at Leonard Middle School and a tutor at Stillwater Montessori School, both in Old Town, Maine. Mr. Lewin was active in UMaine’s Peer Tutor Program, served as president of the Community Governing Board and as a UMaine resident assistant. He also was an active community volunteer. He expects to complete his master’s degree in 2016 and hopes to be a public school teacher of life science or physical science.

RiSE Colloquium – Monday, April 28 – Speaker, Vicki Sealey, Dept of Mathematics, WVA University

Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center)
University of Maine, Orono, Maine


Vicki Sealey

Department of Mathematics
West Virginia University

Lessons Learned from Research on Student Understanding of the Definite Integral


Abstract:  The Riemann sum and definite integral have numerous applications in the sciences and certainly are important to the mathematical community, in their own right.  Over the years, my goal has been to develop research-based curriculum materials for first-semester calculus courses that support students’ conceptual development of the definite integral, promote mathematical sophistication, and encourage students to see the connections in applications in the sciences.  In this talk, I will highlight several of the lessons learned over the past ten years of studying the teaching and learning of the Riemann sum and definite integral among first-semester calculus students.  Specifically, we will discuss several of the obstacles students have when developing an initial understanding of Riemann sums, definite integrals, and the connection to area under a curve.

Bio:  Dr. Vicki Sealey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics at West Virginia University, where she coordinates the calculus sequence and conducts research in mathematics education.  She completed a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at West Virginia University, a master’s degree in applied mathematics at the University of Washington, and a PhD at Arizona State University where she studied undergraduate mathematics education.


Monday, April 28, 2014

3:00-4:00 pm

Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium

Room 165, Engineering and Science Research Building

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

Thesis Defense – Jon Janelle


MST Candidate
Jon Janelle
Thesis Advisor: Natasha Speer

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

May, 2014


                                         Mathematicians and mathematics education researchers have consistently asserted the crucial and multifaceted roles that deductive reasoning and proof play in mathematics. In contrast, students at many levels of education have been found hold severely limited views of proof that may lead them to view mathematics as a rigid, formal, and largely meaningless discipline. Improving students’ understandings and attitudes of reasoning and proof is necessary to motivate a greater number to consider careers in STEM fields and to prevent attrition in mathematically-intensive degree programs.

This study consisted of an investigation into 59 undergraduate calculus students’ views about the nature and purposes of mathematical proof, the forms of empirical arguments they perceived as valid proofs, and the connection between their proof construction and validation practices. Previous studies of student proof conceptions have primarily focused on three groups: students in secondary geometry courses, pre-service and in-service teachers, and advanced undergraduate and graduate students who have received formal instruction in the creation of deductive proofs. However, little attention has been given to the connection between students’ proof constructions and validations or to examining students’ conceptions after the completion of a high school geometry course, but before enrollment in proof-based mathematics course. Using data obtained from written surveys and interviews, this study was designed to fill this gap in the literature.

Findings suggest that a majority, more than 80%, of college calculus students believe that the inspection of a few examples and the testing of a single extreme case are valid forms of mathematical proof. In addition, students who incorrectly validated empirical arguments as proofs were significantly more likely than their peers to construct empirical arguments when asked to verify a conjecture. Consistent with the findings of past researchers, approximately half accepted false arguments based on their proof-like surface features, for example the use of variables or formal mathematical language. While two-thirds of students were able to describe at least one purpose for proof consistent with descriptions generated by the mathematical community, many were unable to acceptably describe a single meaningful use. The pedagogical implications and limitations of these findings are discussed.


Thursday, April 17, 2014
2:00-4:30 pm
207 Boardman Hall

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:

  • what is the nature of student thinking when solving a distance/time graph problem?
  • do students with different levels of mathematical experience solve graph problems differently from each other?

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

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