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Physics Education Research Laboratory


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Savvy Lodge-Scharff graduates with a Master of Science in Teaching

Congratulations, Savvy!

Investigating Student Mental Models at the Intersection of Mathematics and Physical Reasoning in Physics
Savannah E. Lodge-Scharff

Thesis for the Master’s of Science in Teaching (MST)

A significant challenge in learning science and mathematics is coordinating different types of mental models, such as mathematical and physical mental models, that represent different aspects of a given phenomenon. This challenge is illustrated in the present study, in which we observed a small number of college students reasoning about forces as both physical and mathematical quantities as they reasoned about a physical system. Using video analysis of the students’ gesture and as they reasoned qualitatively and mathematically about the system, we documented the construction and coordination of participants’ mental models. We found that participants constructed mathematical mental models as imagined lines uniquely to physical mental models as imagined pulls. Moreover, students rarely exhibited the coordination of these two mental models. These findings suggest that instructors that they cannot assume that students generate models, even circumstances designed to support them.

Recommended Citation
Lodge-Scharff, Savannah E., “Investigating Student Mental Models at the Intersection of Mathematics and Physical Reasoning in Physics” (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2718.
http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/etd/2718

Billy Ferm graduates with a Master of Science in Teaching

Congratulations, Billy!

Examining Student Ability to Follow and Interact with Qualitative Inferential Reasoning Chains
William N. Ferm (Billy)

Thesis for Master’s of Science in Teaching (MST)

The effectiveness of scaffolded, research-based instruction in physics has been extensively documented in the literature. However, even after such instruction, students who demonstrate a solid conceptual understanding on one physics task may subsequently perform poorly on another, closely related task requiring the application of that same conceptual understanding. Research on such inconsistencies has suggested that poor performance may primarily be attributed to difficulties related to reasoning rather than those of a conceptual nature. To gain insight into this phenomenon, further work is required, specifically focusing on the design and testing of tasks that may be used to document the extent to which students are able to follow, replicate, evaluate, and generate coherent chains of qualitative inferential reasoning before, during, and after scaffolded, research-based instruction.

In response to this need, we have designed and implemented tasks to assess the extent to which introductory physics students are able to logically follow and interact with the reasoning chains of hypothetical students in a variety of physics contexts. In this thesis, we describe several of these tasks, including a “Follow Reasoning” task in which students are asked to infer the conclusions that would be drawn from different lines of reasoning articulated by hypothetical students and to provide justification for those inferences. We also share work from an experiment in which students were first prompted to answer a physics question before completing a “Follow Reasoning” task, which itself contained reasoning associated with the same physics question (leading to either the correct or an incorrect answer). Finally, we describe the construction, implementation, and analysis of a pair of isomorphic “Follow Reasoning” tasks in which the same lines of reasoning are articulated by hypothetical students but the physics context in which the reasoning is presented is different.

Results show that the majority of students were able to predict the logical concluding statement when provided with a hypothetical student reasoning chain (HSRC), suggesting that they were in fact capable of following the reasoning of others. Several overall trends were identified, and they provided insight into how students interact with HSRCs. In addition, we found that students who demonstrated requisite conceptual understanding were better able to follow correct reasoning leading to the correct answer but showed no such enhancement when considering incorrect reasoning leading to a common incorrect answer. Finally, data collected from isomorphic “Follow Reasoning” tasks suggest that student ability to follow particular lines of reasoning may, in fact, be independent of physics context and content. Key findings from this work have numerous important implications for instruction.

Recommended Citation
Ferm, William N. Jr., “Examining Student Ability to Follow and Interact with Qualitative Inferential Reasoning Chains” (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2662.
http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/etd/2662

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.


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Contact Information

Physics Education Research Laboratory
Department of Physics and Astronomy, 5709 Bennett Hall
Phone: 207.581.1033; 207.581.1030; 207.581.1237E-mail: mackenzie.stetzer@maine.edu; thompsonj@maine.edu; mwittmann@maine.edu
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
207.581.1865