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Katrina Black dissertation defense, Aug 23, 2pm

Katrina Black will be defending her Ph.D. dissertation on Monday, August 23, at 2 pm, in Bennett Hall room 102.

Multiple Perspectives on Student Solutions to Air Resistance Problems

Physics Education Research uses multiple theoretical perspectives to describe student reasoning and behavior. I use two common lenses, difficulties and knowledge pieces, to examine the methods students use when solving first order separable differential equations in the context of air resistance problems. I discuss several difficulties students have when incorporating boundary conditions. Additionally, using air resistance as a context, I expand upon resources, a model of student thinking that falls into the pieces paradigm. I introduce procedural resources as a type of resource, give several examples of procedural resources used in the incorporation of boundary conditions. Finally, I extend existing links between the resources model and epistemic games, showing how procedural resources can be organized to create epistemic game facets.

UPDATE: Congratulations, Dr. Black!

Frank published in ICLS 2010 conference proceedings

A copy of Brian Frank’s peer-reviewed ICLS conference proceedings paper has been posted online at

Multiple Conceptual Coherences in the Speed Tutorial: Micro-processes of Local Stability
Brian W. Frank
Proceedings of the 9th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2010) – Volume 1, Full Papers, pp.873-881

Researchers working within knowledge-in-pieces traditions have often employed observational approaches to investigate micro-processes of learning. There is growing evidence from this line of work that students’ intuitive thinking about physical phenomena is characterized more so by its diversity and flexibility than its uniformity and robustness. This characterization implies that much of the dynamics of students’ thinking over short timescales involve processes that stabilize local patterns of thinking, later destabilize them, and allow other patterns to form. This kind of “change” may only involve dynamics by which the system of intuitive knowledge settles into various states without changing the system structure itself. I describe a case study in which a group of college students shift their thinking about motion several times during a collaborative learning activity. Instead of focusing on micro-processes of change, I describe these dynamics in terms of mechanisms that contribute to local stability of students’ conceptual coherences.

Wittmann published in ICLS conference proceedings

A copy of Michael Wittmann’s peer-reviewed ICLS conference proceedings paper has been posted online at

Using conceptual blending to describe emergent meaning in wave propagation
Michael C. Wittmann

Students in interviews on a wave physics topic give answers through embodied actions which connect their understanding of the physics to other common experiences. When answering a question about wavepulses propagating along a long taut spring, students’ gestures help them recruit information about balls thrown the air. I analyze gestural, perceptual, and verbal information gathered using videotaped interviews and classroom interactions. I use conceptual blending to describe how different elements combine to create new, emergent meaning for the students and compare this to a knowledge-in-pieces approach.

Thompson and Wittmann co-PIs on $12M NSF Math Science Partnership grant

John Thompson and Michael Wittmann are co-PIs on an NSF Math Science Partnership grant, led by the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, that will target the teaching and learning of physical sciences in grades 6-9 and the preparation of science teachers at the University of Maine.  This $12-million project will fundamentally affect the activities of the PERL and the RiSE Center, putting much more emphasis on research on precollege teaching and learning and the preparation and professional development of grades 6-12 physical science teachers.

The Maine Physical Sciences Curriculum Partnership brings together forty-two rural Maine schools, the University of Maine, three Maine non-profits with expertise in science education, and science and technology leaders at the Maine Department of Education.

From the grant proposal Project Summary:

The partners in this project will collaboratively select, refine, and implement coherent, research-supported curricula and then provide the ongoing intensive professional development requisite for strong implementation.  Also, students preparing to teach science from the University and other Maine colleges and universities will be participants in the curriculum selection process, professional development, and implementation, and will assist as teaching partners in the classroom as teachers begin to use the curriculum. Thus, at the core of this project is a partnership that focuses on the implementation of proven curricular resources along with the full range of critical supports. In this way, the implementation work to be carried out in these rural districts also provides a powerful context for the preparation of future teachers as well as a rich venue for research that both informs the project and helps document the essential design features of the underlying approach.

Wittmann and Frank at ICLS 2010

At the end of this month, Michael Wittmann and Brian Frank will be attending the International Conference on the Learning Sciences in Chicago, IL.

Michael will be presenting on “Using conceptual blending to describe emergent meaning in wave propagation” in Crystal Ballroom, Salon 12, as part of a session held between 5:00 and 6:30 on Wednesday, June 30.

Brian will be presenting on “Multiple Conceptual Coherences in the Speed Tutorial: Micro-processes of Local Stability” in Crystal Ballroom, Salon 2, as part of a session held between 1:10 and 2:40 on Thursday, July 1.

Hope to see you there!

Conferences in June 2010 at UMaine

There are two interdisciplinary conferences taking place on campus in June 2010.  First is Transforming Research in STEM Education (TRUSE), co-organized by John Thompson.  TRUSE is a research conference for researchers in undergraduate physics, mathematics, and chemistry education, with the intention to foster and support interdisciplinary research projects.  

The second is Integrating Science and Mathematics Education Research into Teaching (V), co-organized by John Thompson and Michael Wittmann, and run by the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center).

These conferences occur back-to-back in June:  June 14-18 for TRUSE, and June 20-23 for the Center conference.

See our meetings page for more details.

New publications: Hayes & Wittmann; Springuel, Wittmann & Thompson

We have been remiss in sharing evidence of our publications here.

Hayes and Wittmann on the use of signs in mechanics problem solving, April 2010 in The Physics Teacher.

Springuel, Wittmann, and Thompson with Erratum: Applying clustering to statistical analysis of student reasoning about two-dimensional kinematics [Phys Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 3, 020107 (2007)], which refers back to this paper.

Another poem…. “Publish or Perish”

Trevor ended group meeting today with a poem, shared with all of you, below:

Publish or Perish

Writing a paper: what a time!
Copying’s easy, but it’s also a crime.
Making up thoughts is elusively hard,
Especially when others are ready to discard
The work that you’ve done in favor of better:
Poetics worthy of an Associate of Letters.
But sooner or later it’s sure to be through,
And you’ll slump in your chair with a well-deserved “Phew!”
The paper is done, and wasn’t it fun.
The next is sure to be written at the point of a gun.

NaPoWriMo: On developing an interview task

It’s National Poetry Writing Month, and we at UMaine PERL have decided to engage, each in our own way.

As I sat to write the question I remembered his suggestion,
And I thought of what he mentioned ere the meeting was adjourned:
“This,” he said was of great import, to which I promptly did retort,
“How then could we help support the lesson that we hoped they’d learned?”
Sitting, thinking, all a-wonder, ’bout the topic that was under
Consideration. Lest I blunder, to the research then I turned.
Luckily did I soon find, a revelation of the mind
Which was of the peculiar kind that cannot be quickly spurned.
Informed was I of what was needed to ensure they all succeeded.
All my hopes have been exceeded; honor will I surely earn.

———- Trevor I. Smith

NaPoWriMo: thermo limerick

It’s National Poetry Writing Month, and we at UMaine PERL have decided to engage, each in our own way.

Here’s a poem Trevor wrote on his work:

The student could answer the question,
but he humored us and suffered the lesson.
And near to the end,
he said to his friend,
“Look, it’s the origin of Boltzmann!”

The Physics Education Research Laboratory
Phone: (207) 581-1237 and (207) 581-1030
E-mail: and
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469