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Oral Thesis Defense – Evan Chase – April 3


MST Candidate
Evan Chase

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Michael C. Wittmann

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

May, 2013


               While conversing, people typically produce hand gestures which can communicate additional information to the listener. To study how physics students use gestures in addition to their speech to explain a ball being tossed into the air, individual interviews were conducted with physics majors who had completed half of an eight-semester physics program at the University of Maine. These interviews conformed to the standards set by current qualitative education research. Students were asked to discuss kinematic quantities and forces associated with the motion of a ball thrown straight up, both with and without the force of air resistance. Video episodes were selected for detailed analysis which contained moments of students gesturing and speaking simultaneously, such that the referents of the speech and gesture did not appear to match. A more explicit methodology than that found in the current literature on gesture research in physics is defined. This methodology is used to show that these physics students were able to portray information about kinematics and force quantities simultaneously with gestures and speech, and in some cases were able to describe changes in one quantity with a hand and another quantity with the fingers on the same hand.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013
8:30 a.m.
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium, ESRB
165 Barrows Hall

Maine PSP Post-Doc Receives NARST Scholarship

MainePSP Post-Doc Receives NARST ScholarshipShirly Avargil, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Maine Physical Sciences Partnership

Shirly Avargil, a current postdoctoral research associate with the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership and the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, has recently been selected by the NARST Equity and Ethics Committee to receive the Jhumki Basu Equity Scholars Award.  As a 2013 Basu Scholar, she will receive a scholarship that supports the expenses of attending this year’s Annual NARST Conference that will be taking place this March in Puerto Rico.  Only 15 NARST members were chosen to receive this award, which supports advanced-level doctoral students and junior scholars from underrepresented groups in the United States.
The Basu Scholarship program is designed to not only provide a financial award to its recipients, but also to help support and develop their research skills.  This is carried out by requiring recipients to attend the NARST Conference and to participate in the Pre-Conference Workshop.
Avargil’s research focuses on teachers’ conceptions of progress in science education.  She is currently working on several research projects involving pre-service teachers at the University of Maine (teaching partners and chemistry students), and in-service teachers in rural Maine (teacher enactment of new science Framework and knowledge for assessment)

RiSE Center Colloquium, 18March – MacKenzie Stetzer

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



MacKenzie R. Stetzer
Assistant Professor of Physics
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Maine


New insights into student understanding of electric circuits and analog electronics

In recent years, large-scale undergraduate course transformation efforts have become an increasingly visible response to a well-documented need for improved STEM instruction at all levels.  The role that research-validated instructional materials play in such transformations, however, is sometimes overlooked.  As the focus of these efforts shifts from introductory to upper-division courses, there is an increasing need for the kind of in-depth studies of student understanding that may inform the development of effective instructional materials.  In this talk, I present examples from an ongoing, multi-year, multi-institutional investigation of student understanding of electric circuits and analog electronics.  The insights drawn from work conducted in both introductory and upper-division courses continue to guide efforts to minimize the disconnect between what we teach and what students learn in junior-level laboratory courses in analog electronics.


 Monday, March 18, 2013
3:00 – 4:00 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium
165 Barrows Hall

Special Talk – “Learning by Explaining Complex Systems” – Lauren Barth-Cohen

The RiSE Center
and the
University of Maine


Lauren Barth-Cohen, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley
Post-Doctoral Associate candidate

“Learning by Explaining Complex Systems”

In this talk I present work that focuses on students’ competencies in generating scientific explanations within the domain of complex systems, an interdisciplinary area in which students tend to have difficulties. During open-ended clinical interviews students were asked to reason about a variety of phenomena whose behavior is associated with complex systems. I focus on a case of a students’ shifting explanations as they become less prototypically centralized (a more naïve causality) and then become more prototypically decentralized over short time periods while explaining the movement of sand dunes. The analysis reveals how change can occur during the process of students generating a progression of increasingly sophisticated transitional explanations. This is important because it reveals that this shift may not be as difficult as some have presumed and will serve as a foundation for future work to build an instructional sequence on complex systems.


Lauren Barth-Cohen earned a Ph.D. from the Graduate Group in Science and Mathematics Education (SESAME) at the University of California, Berkeley in December 2012 and a BA in physics from Smith College in 2005. She is currently a visiting scholar in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. Her research interests include learning, conceptual change, scientific explanations, physics education, and video-analysis. In her dissertation she studied students’ learning, in the context of students’ generating scientific explanations about complex systems.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013
12:00-1:30 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium

Light lunch provided at 12:00 pm
Talk starts at 12:30 pm

RiSE Colloquium, Monday, February 18 at 3:00 pm – Michelle Smith

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


Michelle Smith
Assistant Professor, School of Biology and Ecology
University of Maine

Identifying and Changing Persistent Conceptual Difficulties in Undergraduate Biology Courses

As biology faculty transform their courses to align with the recommendations in the NSF-AAAS report Vision and Change and other national calls to action, it is important that they use valid assessments to measure whether their changes are impacting student learning.  In this talk, I will discuss the development of one such assessment called the Genetics Concept Assessment and show how it has been used to document student conceptual difficulties and measure whether particular incorrect ideas are more likely to persist than other incorrect ideas. In addition, I will discuss the development of a new assessment called Bio-MAPS (Biology-Measuring Achievement and Progression in Science), which is designed to be administered at multiple points in the biology curriculum in order to monitor student progress and enable targeted curricular reform.


Monday, February 18, 2013
3:00 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium
Room 165, Engineering and Science Research Building

Refreshments will be served in the ESRB Lobby at 2:45 pm

RiSE Colloquium, Monday, February 4 at 3:00 pm – Erin Furtak

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


Erin M. Furtak
Assistant Professor, School of Education
University of Colorado at Boulder

Exploring the Role of Disciplinary Knowledge, Language, and Practices in Collaborative Formative Assessment Design

While Black & Wiliam (e.g. 1998) and others often cast the process of formative assessment as a domain-independent activity, Coffey et al. (2011) and Bennett (2011) have argued that formative assessment design and enactment are best considered within a disciplinary space. We explore the conversations that occurred within a department of high school biology teachers as they engaged in the process of developing, enacting, and revising common formative assessments over the course of two years. Taking videotapes of professional development sessions as our primary data source, we explore the disciplinary aspects of teachers’ conversations and how such disciplinary engagement supported teachers’ generation and revision of the formative assessments.

Erin Marie Furtak, Sara C. Heredia, Deb Morrison & Ian Parker Renga
School of Education, University of Colorado, Boulder

Erin Marie Furtak is Assistant Professor of Education specializing in Science Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She worked as a high school biology and earth science teacher in the public schools near Denver and has experiences in many other venues of education, including middle school, administration of professional development, and curriculum design. Her struggles to successfully implement inquiry-based teaching methods inspired her to pursue a career in educational research to make reforms more attainable for science teachers. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, and Spencer Foundation, and has appeared in a number of journals. In the summer of 2012 she was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by President Obama.

Monday, February 4, 2013
3:00 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium
Room 165, Engineering and Science Research Building

Refreshments will be served in the ESRB Lobby at 2:45 pm

RiSE Center Seminar, January 30 at Noon, Sarah Nelson

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


Sarah Nelson

Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Environmental and Watershed Research
and School of Forest Resources

Who’s the expert here?  Collaborative mercury research in the Acadia Learning Project

Acadia Learning is a joint program of the SERc Institute, the University of Maine, and Maine Sea Grant. The program brings scientists, teachers, and students together in partnerships that result in useful research and effective science education. One of the signature Acadia Learning projects is focused on using dragonfly larvae as sentinels for mercury (a global pollutant) in lakes, streams, and wetlands across the Northeast. This project began as exploratory research, where teachers and students helped identify and narrow the focus for subsequent years; after five years, the project has grown both laterally and longitudinally, providing several models for engagement in formal science education (FSE) and citizen science (informal science education, ISE). We have proposed a new model to distinguish ISE from FSE; in our model of engagement, program design and implementation are shared, whereas goals, outputs, and outcomes are distinct between teachers/students and scientists. Consistent with this model, teachers who have participated over multiple years have developed their own networks, materials, funding, and curricula to better focus the project on their own student learning goals. One teacher has designed a novel experimental research project based on the fundamental science question, which involves raising dragonfly larvae from eggs to document patterns of bio-accumulation. In this project, the participating teacher and students have taken the lead on method development and have become the experts in culture and rearing of these biota. In parallel, ISE has developed with participation from 14 National Parks across the US, where park interpreters work with citizen scientists to collect dragonfly larvae and ship them to UMaine for analysis for mercury. Despite success in mastering the subject matter related to the FSE and ISE projects, practitioners in both efforts still struggle with cross-cutting scientific practice topics such as data literacy and research communication and translation to citizen scientists and students. This talk will conclude with examples of these challenges.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013
12:00-1:30 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium
Room 165, Engineering and Science Research Building


A light lunch will be served at the back of Hill Auditorium at 12:00 pm, and the talk will start at 1:00 pm



Molly Schauffler, University of Maine Climate Change Institute and RiSE Center

Bill Zoellick, SERC Institute

Hannah Webber, SERC Institute

Ed Lindsey, Old Town High School

Thesis Defense, Kara Soule, 1/11/2013

The University of Maine
the Maine RiSE Center


MST Candidate
Kara Marie Soule
Thesis Advisor: Dr. Molly Schauffler
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Science (in Teaching)
May, 2013


        Scaffolding students’ understanding of how carbon is used to make energy available to
organisms, the biological processes involved, and the effects those processes have on systems at
many scales (e.g. cells, organisms, the biosphere), is important to helping them make informed
decisions as citizens — from personal health to public policy. This research investigates two
laboratory activities designed to enhance student understanding of carbon transformation in
plants. The undergraduate students participating in this study were enrolled in the Introductory
Biology course at the University of Maine in fall 2011. Student learning was compared among
three laboratory sections using two sets of pre-post surveys containing diagnostic question
clusters (DQC)s. Students in the comparison lab section (Class 1) followed the standard inquiry-based
laboratory procedures for the Cell Structure and Photosynthesis Labs. Students in the two
other lab sections did the standard activity plus one or both of two additional activities designed
to confront common misconceptions. Some students used a pH indicator, bromothymol blue
(BTB) for visual evidence that an Elodea plant produces CO2 through cellular respiration. A
third group of students did the BTB experiment and observed and reasoned about the feeding
behavior of a photosynthetic sea slug (Elysia chlorotica).

        Students who engaged in the trial lab activities had the greatest learning gains on pre-post
questions about the movement of carbon and energy through plants via photosynthesis,
biosynthesis and cellular respiration. Students who experimented with BTB and Elodea (Class 2
and Class 3) were also better than Class 1 at the end of the semester, in terms of applying their
understanding to reason about the loss of mass in plants, whether or not they observed the sea
slug. Results suggest that students’ understanding of carbon and energy flow through plants via
photosynthesis and cellular respiration can be enhanced through activities involving BTB with
Elodea and a photosynthetic sea slug.

Friday, January 11, 2013
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Edward Bryand Global Sciences Center
Room 100

Ashley Young Thesis, Dec. 19

The University of Maine,
the College of Education and Human Development,
and the Maine RiSE Center



By Ashley Young
Thesis Advisor: Dr. Daniel K. Capps

An abstract of the Thesis Presented
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Master of Science (in Teaching)

May, 2013

Although national standards call for teaching science through inquiry, many teachers do not understand what inquiry is. In an attempt to specify what is meant by inquiry, the new Framework for K-12 Science Education articulates eight scientific practices that are used by scientists. To gain a better understanding of highly motivated science teachers’ knowledge of inquiry and reported use of scientific practices, we surveyed 149, K-12 science teachers at the 2012 National Science Teachers Association annual conference. Findings indicated the majority of these teachers had an understanding of inquiry that did not align with descriptions of inquiry in reform documents.  Few teachers equated inquiry with the scientific practices from the Framework, and those who did only mentioned a subset of the practices.  Surprisingly, most of these motivated teachers had not read key reform documents about inquiry. Results also suggest teachers had difficulty distinguishing between some of the scientific practices. Several factors were correlated with teachers’ reported use of inquiry, including teachers’ background experience, such as if they have read national standards, and school characteristics, such as if the curriculum they use supports inquiry-based instruction.  Results from this study can be used to inform the science education community about highly motivated teachers’ understanding of inquiry and the use of scientific practices in classrooms across the country.  Further, they may help explain how these practices are influenced by teacher knowledge and other background factors.  Finally, this research will provide important information for teacher education programs and teacher professional development.


 Wednesday, December 19, 2012
316 Shibles Hall
10:00 am – 12:00 pm

Dec. 11 Thesis Defense – Sarah Rizzo

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



MST Candidate
Sarah E. Rizzo

Thesis Advisor: Natasha Speer

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

May 2013


 Geometric transformations are difficult for students to perform. Often known as shifts, flips, turns, and stretches, transformations include translations, reflections, rotations, and dilations. Research indicates that pre-school through high school students have great difficulty performing and constructing transformations. Common strategies students use to construct the answers they give have also been documented by researchers. However, little is known about why students give the answers they do. The goals of this study are to understand how college students, some of whom are pre-service elementary, middle and high school teachers, perform transformations and to determine if a change of phrasing of the questions changes students’ performance. Student performances as well as verbalized thought process were utilized during analysis to investigate the research questions. Categories were developed based upon participant rationale and performance of the placement of the transformed triangle. A group of students’ performances were compared when given directions in formal mathematical language and when given directions in informal mathematical language.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

10:00 am – 12:00 pm

Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium, 165 ESRB



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