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What Do Middle and High School Students Understand about Photosynthesis, and What do Their Teachers Think They Know?
By: Katie Clegg
Photosynthesis is a fundamental concept in any life science curriculum, and is included in National Science Content Standards as well as the Maine Learning Results for both middle and high school grades several times at all grades. Research has shown that there are several common misconceptions regarding photosynthesis as well as its counterpart, respiration. MEA results from 2002-2005 suggest that students have difficulty understanding what is needed for photosynthesis, how photosynthesis is tied to the carbon dioxide cycle, and that respiration occurs in all organisms. These MEA results and my review of the research literature have led me to investigate three major research questions: 1) What misconceptions about photosynthesis persist between middle and high school students? 2) What do teachers find difficult to teach about photosynthesis? 3) What do teachers think their students know about photosynthesis after teaching the unit? To find the answer to these questions I am surveying middle and high school students and their teachers before and after their photosynthesis unit is taught.

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Student Understanding of the Cardiovascular System
By: Nitisha Mitchell
An Introductory course in Anatomy and Physiology is an essential body of knowledge for students ranging from Pre-med to Medical Assisting. Although, there are a range of professional careers that require students to take Anatomy, 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 Michaels and his colleagues found that students have difficulty understanding the relationship between cardiac output, mean arterial pressure, and peripheral resistance. With this information I developed a ten-question survey where each question altered one or more variables in the equation: Cardiac Output = Mean arterial Pressure / Peripheral Resistance. This was done to address the previous research done on student understanding of these variables and their relationships with one another.

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Pre-semester social interaction and its influence on the formation and efficiency of study groups in a freshman undergraduate Biology course
By: Elizabeth Whitmore
The purpose of this research project is to observe the effects of the Schoodic Experience on the attitudes and academic performances of undergraduate Biology students. Through survey data I will look at the effects of a pre-semester social experience on student study habits. The information gathered by this research will show how students prepare for exams and the types of resources they use. This information can then be used to determine if creating a sense of community at the beginning of the semester will help students throughout the semester.

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Marine Sciences



A longitudinal assessment of student content knowledge in an undergraduate marine science program
By: Ryan Weatherbee

Within the School of Marine Sciences’ (UMaine) undergraduate program, the concept of primary production (the production of organic compounds via photosynthesis) is a central tenant to the curriculum. There is, however, no program-wide methodology in place to assess student understanding of this topic. This project involves developing and implementing a content knowledge assessment tool that will be used to track changes in student’s understanding of primary productivity throughout the program. The development phase of the project will involve gathering information about the undergraduate curriculum via faculty interviews. These data will help identify what aspects of the topic are currently taught as well as the difficulty level of the subject matter at each year level. Another component of the development phase will be identifying common misconceptions on this topic using an extended response questionnaire previously completed by a subset of the Marine Science undergraduates. These sources of information will aid the construction of a mixed selected-response/extended-response survey. The resulting survey will be deployed to all Marine Science majors over the course of an academic year. Results of the assessment will identify how well the student population understands the concept of primary production, where in the program the knowledge is least/most advanced, as well as identify persistent and emergent misconceptions which might aide instructional decision making within the program.  Additionally, the assessment protocol will provide a foundation for further content assessment development and implementation within the School of Marine Sciences.

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STEM Education



Making Scientific Observation Meaningful
Jon Shemwell, Emily Silver, Thanh Le, Dan Capps (University of Georgia), Christine Voyer (Gulf of Maine Research Institute)

Learners stand to benefit from observing phenomena for themselves. As novices, however, they lack essential knowledge needed for observation, so it easily goes awry. Existing solutions to this problem focus on language-based activities that build concepts meant to guide observation. In this project, we  proposed an alternative in which students learned at the level of perception during observation. In our approach, derived from perceptual learning theory, learners used contrasts to differentiate features they were supposed to observe, learning them as a field of closely associated alternatives. Potentially, awareness of this field would influence students’ reasoning about what they observe. We tested this potential in three studies involving middle school students. They observed unknown plants and animals with the help of field guides, and they used their observations in written arguments establishing the specimens’ identities. We manipulated the guides to vary the degree of support for perceptual differentiation of specimen features. We found that with greater support for perceptual differentiation, students used their observations to write better reasoned identification arguments. We concluded that perceptual differentiation is an effective way to make observation a meaningful activity. More generally, the theory of perceptual learning offers a valuable set of ideas for structuring students’ encounters with novel phenomena.

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Can Investigations Using Air-Temperature Data Help Improve Students’ Understanding of the Scientific Process and Their Ability to Write Scientific Explanations?
By: Mary Jean Jones
The Camden to Katahdin Temperature Study is a long-term research project involving temperature observations made by classes in ten Maine Schools. The project aims to create a higher geographic resolution of temperature records along a transect of schools from Camden to Limestone, Maine. A short-term goal of this project is to provide an opportunity for students to work with automatic data loggers, learn the protocol for taking accurate measurements, and investigate questions about the thermometers and data they gather.

Working closely with three or four teachers and their students, my research goal is to study what students learn about science by participating in the Camden to Katahdin Temperature Study. The temperature study is ongoing and, while the results will guide my project, this research is supplemental to the study. More specifically, I plan to: (1) survey students and teachers prior to the Temperature Study investigations, (2) work with the classes using a combination of guided inquiry, tutorials, and lectures as they investigate questions using ice-out and temperature data, and (3) survey them again for learning gains following these activities.

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