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Barth-Cohen and Wittmann publish in Science Education

Lauren Barth-Cohen (post doc from 2013-2014) and Michael Wittmann have published a paper in Science Education. It shows how one can apply coordination class theory to the problem of students working in Energy Theater as they model the roughly constant temperature of the Earth, in 9th grade Earth Science classrooms. Click here for more.

PERC 2016 publications!!

This year, like last, we published 5 papers in the Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings for 2016. Click on the links below for more.

Alvarado Wittmann Rogers Millay on Teacher knowledge of coldness

Ferm Speirs Stetzer Lindsey on using reasoning chains

Schermerhorn and Thompson on symbolic forms and differential length elements

Speirs Ferm Stetzer Lindsey on reasoning chains

Wittmann Alvarado Millay on facets and metaphors of teacher knowledge of student ideas

Nissen and Shemwell publish in Phys Rev

As part of the Focused Collection on Gender in Physics, in Phys Rev PER, Jayson and Jon published a paper on “Gender, experience, and self-efficacy in introductory physics.” Click here for more.

ABSTRACT: There is growing evidence of persistent gender achievement gaps in university physics instruction, not only for learning physics content, but also for developing productive attitudes and beliefs about learning physics. These gaps occur in both traditional and interactive-engagement (IE) styles of physics instruction. We investigated one gender gap in the area of attitudes and beliefs. This was men’s and women’s physics self-efficacy, which comprises students’ thoughts and feelings about their capabilities to succeed as learners in physics. According to extant research using pre- and post-course surveys, the self-efficacy of both men and women tends to be reduced after taking traditional and IE physics courses. Moreover, self-efficacy is reduced further for women than for men. However, it remains unclear from these studies whether this gender difference is caused by physics instruction. It may be, for instance, that the greater reduction of women’s self-efficacy in physics merely reflects a broader trend in university education that has little to do with physics per se. We investigated this and other alternative causes, using an in-the-moment measurement technique called the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). We used ESM to collect multiple samples of university students’ feelings of self-efficacy during four types of activity for two one-week periods: (i) an introductory IE physics course, (ii) students’ other introductory STEM courses, (iii) their non-STEM courses, and (iv) their activities outside of school. We found that women experienced the IE physics course with lower self-efficacy than men, but for the other three activity types, women’s self-efficacy was not reliably different from men’s. We therefore concluded that the experience of physics instruction in the IE physics course depressed women’s self-efficacy. Using complementary measures showing the IE physics course to be similar to others in which gendered self-efficacy effects have been consistently observed, we further concluded that IE physics instruction in general is likely to be detrimental to women’s self-efficacy. Consequently, there is a clear need to redress this inequity in IE physics, and probably also in traditional instruction.

Kranich defends his MST – teacher assessment of accelerated motion

Greg Kranich completed his Master of Science in Teaching with Michael Wittmann – click on the link below to read the abstract and for a link to the full document:

Kranich MST

Greg is off to work in leading the STEM Ambassador program that is part of 4-H here on campus.

Almuni Trevor Smith submits paper on Model Analysis

Our alum, Trevor Smith, sent word that he’d submitted a paper on error analysis when using Lei Bao’s Model Analysis. You can get a pre-print version of the paper at

Rabindra and John publish about epistemic games

Analytical derivation: An epistemic game for solving mathematically based physics problems

Rabindra R. Bajracharya and John R. Thompson
Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 12, 010124 – Published 30 March 2016

Problem solving, which often involves multiple steps, is an integral part of physics learning and teaching. Using the perspective of the epistemic game, we documented a specific game that is commonly pursued by students while solving mathematically based physics problems: the analytical derivation game. This game involves deriving an equation through symbolic manipulations and routine mathematical operations, usually without any physical interpretation of the processes. This game often creates cognitive obstacles in students, preventing them from using alternative resources or better approaches during problem solving. We conducted hour-long, semi-structured, individual interviews with fourteen introductory physics students. Students were asked to solve four “pseudophysics” problems containing algebraic and graphical representations. The problems required the application of the fundamental theorem of calculus (FTC), which is one of the most frequently used mathematical concepts in physics problem solving. We show that the analytical derivation game is necessary, but not sufficient, to solve mathematically based physics problems, specifically those involving graphical representations.

Mac co-edits a Focused Collection for Phys Rev

Editorial: Focused Collection: Preparing and Supporting University Physics Educators

Rachel E. Scherr and MacKenzie R. Stetzer
Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 12, 010002 – Published 22 February 2016

Click on the link to get the full text…

2015 PERC Proceedings publications!

Wonderful news! PERL published 5 papers in the 2015 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings. You can find links to them here:

Van de Bogart, Dounas-Frazer, Lewandowski, and Stetzer on metacognition in troubleshooting

Dounas-Frazer, Van De Bogart, Stetzer, and Lewandowski on troubleshooting in electronics labs

Wittmann, Alvarado, and Millay on PD and teachers’ goals for teaching energy

Axthelm, Wittmann, Alvarado, and Millay on Idea Use Curves

Kranich, Wittmann, and Alvarado on teacher content knowledge affecting assessments

Michael and Katrina write about resource creation in Phys Rev

Mathematical actions as procedural resources: An example from the separation of variables

Michael C. Wittmann and Katrina E. Black
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 11, 020114 – Published 23 September 2015

[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Upper Division Physics Courses.] Students learning to separate variables in order to solve a differential equation have multiple ways of correctly doing so. The procedures involved in separation include division or multiplication after properly grouping terms in an equation, moving terms (again, at times grouped) from one location on the page to another, or simply carrying out separation as a single act without showing any steps. We describe student use of these procedures in terms of Hammer’s resources, showing that each of the previously listed procedures is its own “piece” of a larger problem solving activity. Our data come from group examinations of students separating variables while solving an air resistance problem in an intermediate mechanics class. Through detailed analysis of four groups of students, we motivate that the mathematical procedures are resources and show the issues that students must resolve in order to successfully separate variables. We use this analysis to suggest ways in which new resources (such as separation) come to be.

Boltzmann factor and heat engines papers accepted to Physical Review: Smith et al. (2015), and Smith et al. (2015)

Two papers from the thermal physics project have been accepted for publication in Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research.  Phys. Rev. ST – PER is publishing a Focused Collection on Physics Education Research in Upper Division Courses.

The two papers are both from the dissertation work of Trevor Smith.

  • T.I. Smith, D.B. Mountcastle, and J.R. Thompson, “Student understanding of the Boltzmann factor.”
  • T.I. Smith, W.M. Christensen, D.B. Mountcastle, and J.R. Thompson, “Identifying student difficulties with heat engines, entropy, and the Carnot cycle.”
Physics Education Research Laboratory
Department of Physics and Astronomy, 5709 Bennett Hall
Phone: 207.581.1033; 207.581.1030; 207.581.1237
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469