A University of Maine professor helped develop an observation protocol that can document college instruction and student learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Michelle Smith, assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology and a member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, designed the classroom observation protocol with three researchers from the University of British Columbia.
Over a two-year period, Smith and her colleagues developed, tested and validated the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS) by which observers document instructor and student behaviors in two-minute intervals during the class period.
“Many observation protocols ask observers to rate instructor quality, but the COPUS focuses on how students and instructors are spending the time,” says Smith.
The resulting data, which can be put into pie chart form, informs professors of their behaviors and the behaviors of students during class. The information is valuable in light of research that indicates undergraduate college students learn more in courses with active-engagement instruction.
A total of 13 student behaviors are documented, including listening to instructor/taking notes, working in groups, answering a question with the rest of the class listening, and engaging in whole class discussion.
A total of 12 instructor behaviors are codified, include lecturing, asking a clicker question, listening to and answering student questions with class listening, guiding ongoing student work during active learning task, and one-on-one extended discussion with one or a few individuals.
Educators can use the information to better understand how they utilize classroom time, as well as identify possible professional development needs. Observation data can also be used to supplement faculty tenure/promotion documentation, Smith says.
Several Maine middle and high school teachers helped Smith and her colleagues test and modify the protocol. “The local teachers were enormously helpful,” says Smith. “They are very dedicated to partnering with UMaine to enhance the STEM education experience for all students.”
The researchers’ article, “The Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS): A New Instrument to Characterize University STEM Classroom Practices,” was published in the Winter 2013 edition of CBE-Life Sciences Education. The article was highlighted as an Editor’s Choice in the Feb. 7, 2014 edition of Science magazine.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
During March, the University of Maine Singers will perform five free public concerts in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Dennis Cox, UMaine director of choral activities, will lead the 70-member select choir on its annual spring trip, which will also include daytime performances at elementary, middle and high schools.
The public portion of the tour debuts at 7 p.m. Monday, March 10, at First Baptist Church of Bar Harbor, Maine. Several Singers will be performing in and near their hometowns throughout the tour, including Katherine Parsons of Bar Harbor and Sarah Stanley of Southwest Harbor on opening night.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, the Singers perform at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head, Maine. Eleven Singers hail from the vicinity — Sierra Ventura and Sarah Bowen of Belfast, Rosaleen Erwin of Brunswick, Morgan Cates of Camden, Dana Douglass of Phippsburg, Kristen Alberts of South China, Alecia Griffin of Randolph, Greg Kritzman of Topsham, Paige Courtney of Somerville and Sara Phillips of Thorndike.
The concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, is at the First Parish Church of Christ in Saco, Maine, which is the hometown of Singers Olivia Bean, Philip Kolmar, Cain Landry, Forrest Tripp and Katherine Lees and close to Allen Prout’s hometown of Biddeford.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, March 13, the Singers perform at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton, N.H., hometown of member Robert Laraway and adjacent to Northfield, hometown of Victoria Eaton. The tour concludes with a concert at 7 p.m. Friday, March 14, at Lasell College in Newton, Mass. Singers who hail from nearby communities are Hope Milne of Hamilton, Rebecca Bylaska-Davies of Worcester and Stephanie Beatrice of Ashburnham.
Every four years, the Singers perform abroad; in 2012, the group sang in Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Auditions are held each fall for the Singers, nearly half of who pursue majors outside of music.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
University of Maine students in an advanced art education course are facilitating an art-making and fundraising project to aid the purchase of musical instruments for a Bangor organization that works with youth who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.
Students in Constant Albertson’s Topics in Art Education class are teaching teen Shaw House residents how to use art in a beneficial way. UMaine students are helping the youth make ceramic pins that will be sold for $5 at The Rock and Art Shop and Metropolitan Soul in downtown Bangor. All proceeds will go to the Shaw House to buy instruments for the many residents who take music lessons from the staff and volunteers.
The UMaine students involved in the art service learning project are Charlotte Gaylord, Julie Roach and Lowansa Sprague Thompson. The goal of the future art teachers is to work collaboratively in the community to spread knowledge while inspiring creative, positive action.
Last year, students in the class created and sold ceramic mugs to support educational programs for children at Hirundo Wildlife Refuge in Alton, Maine.
A new Maine Space Grant from NASA will put three 12-inch-square, remote-control quadcopters in the air on the University of Maine campus and in open fields in the area beginning this spring.
The $15,000, one-year grant awarded to UMaine professors Charles Hess and Sam Hess will involve undergraduate students. The goal of the grant is to increase student involvement in technology, providing hands-on experience in developing heat sensors and other innovations for environmental monitoring, including temperature gradation.
The students also will learn to fly the lightweight quadcopters, which have four small rotors, can carry payloads of up to 300 grams and remain airborne for up to 20 minutes.
University of Maine researchers are studying the most efficient way to commercially thin regenerating clearcuts from the spruce budworm outbreak of the 1980s that are starting to reach profitable size throughout northern Maine. With no consensus among foresters and those in the logging industry about how best to thin stands, the researchers are investigating commercial thinning treatments that are silviculturally effective.
Jeffrey Benjamin, associate professor of forest operations, and Robert Seymour, the Curtis Hutchins Professor of Forest Resources, teamed with Emily Meacham, now with American Forest Management, and Jeremy Wilson, executive director of the Harris Center for Conservation Education, to compare thinning methods.
In the team’s recent study, they compared two whole-tree and two cut-to-length systems in terms of residual stem damage, retention of downed woody material, product utilization and production cost. While initial results were mixed in terms of residual stand damage, more than four times more biomass was produced from the whole-tree operations. The study also found commercially available equipment can conduct these treatments with skilled operators, but at a high production cost. The best system silviculturally was also the most expensive.
The researchers say efforts to develop cost-efficient harvesting machines to treat the stands should continue. No matter what technological advances are made, logging contractors carry the biggest responsibility for success because they need to balance residual stem damage and crop tree selection with production costs, according to the researchers.
Details of the study were published in the December 2013 issue of the Society of American Foresters’ Northern Journal of Applied Forestry.
UMaine researchers seek to improve the teaching of thermodynamics and electronics in physics and engineering.
Researchers at the University of Maine hope to improve the teaching and learning of two central topics in physics and engineering that are critical to undergraduate programs through a three-year project.
John Thompson, an associate professor of physics and cooperating associate professor of STEM education, and MacKenzie Stetzer, assistant professor of physics and cooperating assistant professor of STEM education, have received $599,999 from the National Science Foundation to investigate student learning of thermodynamics and electronics — including electric circuits — in both disciplines.
“Only in the last 10 years or so have researchers really targeted student learning beyond the introductory level, including in laboratory settings. Interdisciplinary research that focuses on specific physics and engineering content is also relatively novel,” says Thompson of the project.
Both of the targeted areas are aligned with a recent National Research Council report on the status and future directions of discipline-based education research, Stetzer adds.
Undergraduate programs in physics and engineering often include parallel courses that teach the same topics, so the researchers want to determine the important differences between what students do and don’t learn in courses that cover the same material.
Thompson and Stetzer have previously conducted research on learning in STEM fields. Their research — along with studies conducted by many other researchers — confirm that if a student can correctly solve textbook problems, it doesn’t always mean they understand the underlying concepts.
The researchers plan to look at content in parallel courses across disciplines for similarities and differences; study student conceptual understanding across disciplines before and after instruction through written questions, interviews and classroom observations; and use research results to guide the modification and testing of existing instructional materials as well as the development of new materials for use across disciplines to help students learn difficult material in physics and engineering courses.
“Figuring out what works across disciplines and leveraging the strengths of effective instructional strategies employed in both disciplines are ways to increase the efficiency of these typically rather time-consuming research-based curriculum development efforts,” Stetzer says.
Physics Ph.D. students Jessica Clark and Kevin Van De Bogart are leading the work in thermodynamics and electronics, respectively; the research will be the focus of their dissertations. Donald Mountcastle, associate professor of physics and cooperating associate professor of biochemistry, and Wilhelm Alexander Friess, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of UMaine’s Brunswick Engineering Program are the project’s senior personnel. The research is taking place in courses in mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineering, as well as in physics.
The majority of the project’s research staff are members of UMaine’s Physics Education Research Laboratory (PERL) and the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center). The PERL consists of about 15 faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students in physics and science education. The RiSE Center includes faculty from several STEM departments and houses programs for a master of science in teaching and a Ph.D. in STEM education.
The researchers say due to the project’s interdisciplinary nature, it has the potential to improve the teaching and learning of physics and engineering at not only UMaine, but beyond, including internationally.
“The development of effective instructional materials based on research is particularly challenging. While many individual faculty develop their own materials and strategies, they usually don’t have time to thoroughly research how well that all works and iteratively refine the materials,” says Thompson, who is also co-director of the PERL.
The modified materials created from the project will be designed to be easily integrated into existing courses and won’t require instructors to implement an entirely new curriculum.
“Coming from a physics perspective, we’ve already begun to see reasoning approaches in engineering classes that we hadn’t observed when working with physics students,” Stetzer says. “We expect to see a similar phenomenon as we collaborate more fully with our engineering colleagues in the project and begin to ask engineering-based questions in physics courses.”
The findings are expected to positively affect all disciplines engaged in teaching thermodynamics and electronics, and could lead to the development of a more coherent educational experience, especially for undergraduates in physics and engineering, the project proposal states. The documentation of differences in instructional approaches and learning outcomes could become a valuable resource for instructors, textbook authors, curriculum developers, education researchers and governing bodies in both disciplines.
“Our findings on student difficulties and the effectiveness of different instructional approaches should inform more nuanced studies within each discipline. This will in turn produce new results that can improve the learning and teaching of these topics more broadly,” Thompson says.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
Understanding more about the relationship between weather and maple sap flow, and how Maine syrup producers will adapt to climate change is the focus of research being conducted by a University of Maine graduate student.
Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the UMaine School of Biology and Ecology, is attempting to unravel the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. The goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future.
Shrum plans to collect on-site weather station data and sap flow rates at three test sites and to interview small- and large-scale producers to determine if those who have been managing sugar maple stands for years will be more or less resilient to climate change, and if large-scale producers will be better equipped to adapt. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation and EPSCoR through UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative and its Effects of Climate Change on Organisms research project.
The physiological process for sap flow is not completely understood, Shrum says. It involves a complex interaction between freezing and thawing of the xylem tissue within the tree, and the molecule sucrose which maple trees use to store carbohydrates between seasons.
“When the tree defrosts, the frozen liquid in the tree becomes fluid and that provides a medium for the sugars that are stored in the trunk to get to the branches,” Shrum says, adding that in order to continue flowing, the ground also has to be defrosted so the tree can pull in water during the next freeze cycle and recharge the positive pressure in the trunk to restart sap flow.
Sugar maple trees grow as far north as New Brunswick and as far south as Georgia, yet maple syrup is only produced commercially in the 13 most northern states because of the colder weather, Shrum says.
In Maine and other northern areas, more than one freeze-thaw event happens during the winter. This lets the process repeat and allows the season to last between six and eight weeks as opposed to a few days, which is likely in southern states such as Georgia and Missouri, where maple trees grow but aren’t commercially tapped. Warm weather or microbial build-up in taps usually ends the season, according to Shrum.
In Maine, the season usually starts sometime between the middle of February and the middle of March, and continues for about six weeks, Shrum says.
“This winter has been really weird; we’ve had really warm weather and really cold weather and as far as sap flow, that might be a good thing,” Shrum says. “But not enough is known.”
One change that has been proven is the start time of the sap season.
“Studies are starting to show that the preferred block of time for tapping is starting earlier if you base it on ideal temperatures,” Shrum says, citing a 2010 Cornell University study by Chris Skinner that found that by 2100, the sap season could start a month earlier than it does now.
For big-time operations, Shrum says an earlier season probably won’t be a problem because they can just tap their lines earlier, but she’s not sure how smaller Maine operations will adapt.
“They might not be able to change their season,” she says. “A lot of the smaller operators have multiple jobs; they make money off maple syrup, but also in other fields such as woodcutting or construction. It just so happens maple syrup is a block of time when they’re not doing anything else, so it makes sense. But if that season changes, it might not fit into their schedule as well.”
Shrum will interview a variety of producers — small- and large-scale operators, people who have been tapping trees for 30 or more years and people who started within the past five years — to learn the reasons for tapping and better understand resilience within these groups.
To record weather and sap flow data, Shrum, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Humboldt State University, will deploy weather stations at maple tree stands in Albion, Dixmont and Orono. She’s also using iButtons to record soil temperatures and time-lapse photography of the buckets to record hourly sap flow rates. She can then relate flow rates to variables the weather stations record, such as temperature, precipitation and sunlight.
Although climate change is likely to affect sap flow, Shrum is confident there will always be maple syrup made in Maine.
“None of the climate change scenarios that have come up result in maple trees not growing in Maine. We’re definitely still going to have freezing events in Maine; it’s not going to get so warm that that’s not going to happen,” she says.
Shrum says maple syrup could become a big commodity in Maine if more of a market was created through government incentive plans, and if the state decided to make it a priority — similar to Vermont.
“Everything is good about maple syrup. There’s very little that’s controversial about it, and the biology is fascinating,” Shrum says.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
A team of researchers from the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center won the Best Paper Award from the Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers at the 19th Offshore Symposium, Feb. 6 in Houston. The paper, “VolturnUS 1:8 — Design and Testing of the First Grid-Connected Offshore Wind Turbine in the U.S.A.,” was written by Anthony Viselli, Habib Dagher and Andrew Goupee, and outlines UMaine’s design, fabrication, deployment and testing of the prototype, deployed in June 2013 off Castine, Maine. The prototype serves to de-risk the technology as it transitions to a commercial project planned for 2017.
Michelle Hale of Bangor has been named project leader of Maine Career Connect, a Bangor-based nonprofit program of the University of Maine Rising Tide Center.
Maine Career Connect, funded by a $284,093 grant from the National Science Foundation, will work to network a consortium of employers in central and eastern Maine with newly relocated professional families, with an emphasis on spousal employment.
Hale has a decade of experience in nonprofit work, most recently with United Way of Eastern Maine, where she coordinated local community initiatives. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work and is completing a graduate certificate in business at the University of Maine. Hale also is a participant in the 2014 Bangor Region Leadership Institute.
Maine Career Connect will work with newly relocating professionals and employers of the region to ensure successful integration into the community. Dual career spouses will have access to high-level professional networking with employers that align with their professions in an effort to accelerate their job search process.
Professionals will receive networking assistance, both in seeking employment and also building social connections. Customized portfolios of vetted local resources will be offered to help families meet their particular needs outside the workplace.
The program, based on an innovative model adopted by Tech Valley Connect in Troy, N.Y., will benefit the region by helping to attract and retain talented professionals in a variety of fields.
For more information on Maine Career Connect, call 949.0098.
Contact: Michelle Hale, 207.949.0098; Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745
The Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center is offering a six-day residential non-partisan training program to educate and empower undergraduate women to become civic and political leaders.
The 2014 Maine NEW Leadership Summer Institute will be held at the University of Maine from May 30 to June 4 at no cost to participants. Graduating seniors are also eligible to apply.
Tailored to reflect Maine’s political culture and climate, the program is based on a curriculum developed by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Participants engage with a variety of women leaders in politics and civic organizations, interact with faculty-in-residence, spend a day at the Maine State Legislature and participate in a hands-on political action project. The program aims to create opportunities for women to become engaged and experienced in public speaking, coalition building, networking, advocacy and running for office.
Applications must be postmarked or hand-delivered by March 21, 2014. Program and application information can be found at the 2014 Maine New Leadership Summer Institute website. For more information, contact Eva McLaughlin, the program coordinator at email@example.com or 207.581.1646.