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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



RiSE Colloquium – Nicole Gillespie – April 1

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


Nicole Gillespie, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Knowles Science Teaching Foundation


Inquiry and Teacher Professional Development: Lessons Learned
from the KSTF Teaching Fellowship Program

Recent work argues that professional development intended to develop teachers’ Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) must be tightly connected with teacher practice (Van Driel & Berry, 2010). Professional development for beginning secondary mathematics and science teachers at the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) involves collaboratively studying a concept and how to teach it. This modified lesson study work situates teacher learning at the intersection of science or mathematics content knowledge, pedagogy and individual classroom practice. In this presentation, I will share KSTF’s practices and lessons learned for two parallel strands of inquiry: beginning science and mathematics teachers’ collaborative inquiry into their own teaching through lesson study, and the fellowship staff’s inquiry into our practice of facilitating and supporting this work. I will conclude with a synthesis of what KSTS has learned about practitioner inquiry more broadly by engaging in this collaborative process.


As the Executive Director of the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, Dr. Nicole Gillespie leads KSTF in its efforts to strengthen the teaching profession and improve the state of US STEM education. Nicole previously directed the KSTF Teaching Fellowship, the foundation’s signature program that supports Teaching Fellows in the fields of biology, physical science and mathematics education nationwide. She joined KSTF in 2004 and has helped develop several of the foundation’s key initiatives, including its Research and Evaluation Program and Alumni Program.

Monday, April 1, 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

Oral Thesis Defense – Ryan Weatherbee – April 8


MST Candidate

Ryan Weatherbee

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Sara Lindsay

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

May, 2013

Shedding light on marine science education:
A Cross-Sectional Assessment of Student Content Knowledge in an Undergraduate Marine Science Program

Program-level assessment within undergraduate education provides information on student learning that is not easily accessible from in-class metrics. For example, information about where in a program understanding is obtained and mastered and the degree to which knowledge is retained over time can be measured. This project encompasses the development of an assessment tool for measuring student content knowledge specific to the curriculum of the School of Marine Sciences’ (University of Maine) undergraduate program and evaluation of the assessment results from a full-scale pilot deployment.

Monday, April 8, 2013
9:00 am
Arthur St. John Auditorium
(165 Barrows Hall)

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

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