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Thesis Defense – Levi Lucy

The Maine Center for Research in STEM Education

Oral Thesis Defense

Levi Lucy
Advisor: Michael Wittmann

Friday, October 18, 2013
Hill Auditorium, ESRB, Barrows Hall
9:00 am

Correlations Between Teachers’ Knowledge of Students and Energy,
and Students’ Performance on Assessments

Research in energy education is an important area due to increased attention in recent standards. Within education research, looking at the different knowledge teachers have and use while teaching is also growing. This study was a pilot study in looking at how the different knowledge teachers have and use correlates with student performance, in an effort to help focus professional development and pre-service teacher programs.  A single survey was used to measure two different types of teacher knowledge: knowledge of common content, and knowledge of content and students, as well as student performance. The results show that where correlations between teachers knowledge and student performance could exist, they did. Teachers who gave more detailed responses in a free response question had students who performed better after instruction. Additionally, teachers who were able to predict and explain student misconceptions on the same questions, had students who performed better after instruction. Modifications are needed to the teacher assessment tools to investigate teachers knowledge of energy more deeply, and to engage teachers more in the tasks.

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



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

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