(2020) European Journal of Physics. 41, 5, 055701. Abstract
Grading can shape students' learning and encourage use of effective problem solving practices. Teaching assistants (TAs) are often responsible for grading student solutions and providing feedback, thus, their perceptions of grading may impact grading practices in the physics classroom. Understanding TAs' perceptions of grading is instrumental for curriculum developers as well as professional development leaders interested in improving grading practices. In order to identify TAs' perceptions of grading, we used a data collection tool designed to elicit TAs' considerations when making grading decisions as well as elicit possible conflicts between their stated goals and actual grading practices. The tool was designed to explicate TAs' attitudes towards research-based grading practices that promote effective problem solving approaches. TAs were first asked to state their goals for grading in general. Then, TAs graded student solutions in a simulated setting while explicating and discussing their underlying considerations. The data collection tool was administered at the beginning of TAs' first postgraduate teaching appointment and again after one semester of teaching experience. We found that almost all of the TAs stated that the purpose of grading was formative, i.e. grading should encourage students to learn from their mistakes as well as inform the instructor of common student difficulties. However, when making grading decisions in a simulated setting, the majority of TAs' grading considerations focused on correctness and they did not assign grades in a way that encourages use of effective problem solving approaches. TAs' perceptions of grading did not change significantly during one semester of teaching experience.
Science Teachers' Attitudes towards Computational Modeling in the Context of an Inquiry-Based Learning Module(2020) Journal of Science Education and Technology. Abstract
This study focuses on science teachers' first encounter with computational modeling in professional development workshops. It examines the factors shaping the teachers' self-efficacy and attitudes towards integrating computational modeling within inquiry-based learning modules for 9th grade physics. The learning modules introduce phenomena, the analysis of measurement data, and offer a method for coordinating the experimental findings with a theory-based computational model. Teachers' attitudes and self-efficacy were studied using survey questions and workshop activity transcripts. As expected, prior experience in physics teaching was related to teachers' self-efficacy in teaching physics in 9th grade. Also, teachers' prior experience with programming was strongly related to their self-efficacy regarding the programming component of model construction. Surprisingly, the short interaction with computational modeling increased the group's self-efficacy, and the average rating of understanding and enjoyment was similar among teachers with and without prior programming experience. Qualitative data provides additional insights into teachers' predispositions towards the integration of computational modeling into the physics teaching.
Graduate teaching assistants' views of broken-into-parts physics problems: Preference for guidance overshadows development of self-reliance in problem solving(2020) Physical Review Physics Education Research. 16, 1, 010128. Abstract
We examined physics graduate teaching assistants' views about introductory physics problem "types," i.e., different ways of posing the same underlying physics problem, within the context of a semester-long teaching assistant (TA) professional development course. Here, we focus on TAs' views about two types of broken-into-parts problems that involve the same underlying physics scenario. One of these problem types does not involve explicit calculation, while the other does. The TAs were asked to list the pros and cons of these two types of broken-into-parts problems, rank them compared to other problem types (e.g., traditional textbook problem not broken-into-parts, context-rich problem, and multiple-choice problem) with the same underlying scenario in terms of their instructional benefit and the level of challenge they might produce for their students, and describe when and how likely they would be to use these types of problems in their own classes in different instructional situations if they had complete control of teaching the class. TAs reported that they found the broken-into-parts problem type to be the most instructionally beneficial out of all the problem types because of the guidance such problems offer, and would use a broken-into-parts problem type often and in a variety of ways (e.g., homework assignments, exams, and quizzes). While providing guidance to students is an appropriate instructional approach, our findings from interviews suggest that many TAs may be motivated to assign broken-into-parts problems out of a desire to make the problem-solving process easy and/or less stressful for students, especially because they felt that introductory students may not be capable of breaking a problem into subproblems on their own. The instructional benefits of gradually removing the scaffolding support to help students develop self-reliance in solving problems appeared to be overlooked by most TAs. In particular, in written responses or in interviews, most TAs did not mention a long-term goal of helping students develop more independence in problem solving for which one may start with broken-into-parts problems and gradually transition to problems that are not broken into parts. While the study findings that provide a snapshot of TA views in the middle and at the end of a TA professional development course may only apply to graduate TAs at a similar large university, at those institutions, professional development of TAs should take into account these findings and help TAs reflect on the important role that removing scaffolding support gradually and providing adequate challenge can play in helping introductory students develop self-reliance and become independent, expertlike problem solvers.
Extending the Boundaries of High-School Physics: Introducing Computational Modeling of Complex Systems(2019) Physics Teaching and Learning. Sunal C. S., Sunal D. W., Harrell J. W. & Shemwell J. T.(eds.). Charlotte, NY: . p. 111-134 Abstract
PROBLEM SOLVING VS. TROUBLESHOOTING TASKS: THE CASE OF SIXTH-GRADE STUDENTS STUDYING SIMPLE ELECTRIC CIRCUITS(2014) International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education. 12, 6, p. 1341-1366 Abstract
We compared the materialization of knowledge integration processes in class discussions that followed troubleshooting (TS) and problem-solving (PS) tasks and examined the impact of these tasks on students' conceptual understanding. The study was conducted in two sixth-grade classes taught by the same teacher, in six lessons that constituted a third of a unit on simple electric circuits. In these lessons, one class was assigned PS tasks where students were asked to solve conceptual problems. Later they were asked to share their work in a class discussion. The other class was assigned TS tasks where students were asked to identify, explain, and correct the mistakes in "teacher-made" erroneous solutions to these same problems. They were also engaged later in a class discussion. We found that students' performance on subsequent transfer problems was significantly higher for the TS class, in particular for students with low prior knowledge. We account for the difference in learning outcomes by the differences in the learning process: the TS tasks elicited more na <ve ideas both in students' worksheets as well as in class discussions, and the TS discussions involved more episodes where students developed criteria to discern scientifically acceptable and naive ideas. We also found differences in the format of students' participation, where lower-achieving students participated in the TS discussions. The implications of these findings for future research are discussed.
(2014) Journal of Chemical Education. 91, 3, p. 380-385 Abstract
When a system exchanges energy with a constant-temperature environment, the entropy of the surroundings changes. A lattice model of a fluid thermal reservoir can provide a visualization of the microscopic changes that occur in the surroundings upon energy transfer from the system. This model can be used to clarify the consistency of phenomena such as crystallization or similar phase transitions with the second law of thermodynamics; in those phenomena, students intuitively grasp that the system entropy decreases, but may not have a clear picture of how it is compensated by an increase in the reservoir entropy. The model may be used in the classroom to visually demonstrate how processes in which the entropy of the system decreases can occur spontaneously; specifically, it shows how the reservoir temperature affects the magnitude of the entropy change that occurs upon energy transfer from the system.
(2013) Journal of Science Education and Technology. 22, 4, p. 463-474 Abstract
A troubleshooting activity was carried out by an e-tutor in two steps. First, students diagnosed a mistaken statement and then compared their diagnosis to a teacher's diagnosis provided by the e-tutor. The mistaken statement involved a widespread tendency to over-generalize Ohm's law. We studied the discourse between pairs of students working with the e-tutor to examine whether and how the activity attained its objective of engaging students in knowledge integration processes; namely to elicit students' ideas, add scientifically acceptable or non-acceptable ideas and support them in developing criteria to sort out their ideas. We focus here on two case studies involving a pair of students with high prior knowledge and a pair with poor prior knowledge. The micro-analysis of these two pairs shows how the activity triggered students to explicate multiple alternative interpretations of the principles and concepts involved and attempts to align conflicting conceptions. We discuss how successive emendations gradually culminated in the elaboration of the students' understanding of these concepts.
Supporting teachers who introduce curricular innovations into their classrooms: problem-solving perspective(2013) Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research. 9, 1, Abstract
When classroom teachers introduce curricular innovations that conflict with their former deeply rooted practices, the teachers themselves experience a process of change. One professional development framework intended to support this change is the customization workshop, in which teachers cooperatively customize innovations to their own classroom contexts, reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of classroom implementation, and refine their innovations. Two goals sometimes conflict in such workshops: developing teachers' skills as reflective practitioners (process) and maintaining crucial characteristics of the original innovations (product). This paper explores how to meet both challenges using the insights from a perspective that provides a striking parallel: developing expertlike problem-solving skills (process) as well as conceptual understanding (product) in the physics classroom. We apply this perspective by (a) characterizing an expertlike approach to pedagogical problem solving in the context of customization workshops, (b) determining the nature of pedagogical problems best suited for developing such an expertlike approach, (c) suggesting how to design customization workshops that support teachers to develop an expertlike approach to pedagogical problem solving. In particular, we hypothesize that applying cognitive apprenticeship in customization workshops in a manner similar to its application in the teaching of expertlike problem solving in the physics classroom should effectively help teachers approach the pedagogical problem of customization in an expertlike manner. We support our hypothesis with an empirical study of three year-long cooperative customization workshops for physics teachers that differed in terms of mentoring approach. We examined the questions (a) under which mentoring approaches did teachers perform an expertlike pedagogical problem-solving process and (b) which practices and perceptions emerged through execution of this process?
(2013) Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research. 9, 1, Abstract
As part of a larger study to understand instructors' considerations regarding the learning and teaching of problem solving in an introductory physics course, we investigated beliefs of first-year graduate teaching assistants (TAs) regarding the use of example solutions in introductory physics. In particular, we examine how the goal of promoting expertlike problem solving is manifested in the considerations of graduate TAs' choices of example solutions. Twenty-four first-year graduate TAs were asked to discuss their goals for presenting example solutions to students. They were also provided with different example solutions and asked to discuss their preferences for prominent solution features. TAs' awareness, preferences, and actual practices related to solution features were examined in light of recommendations from the literature for the modeling of expertlike problem-solving approaches. The study concludes that the goal of helping students develop an expertlike problem-solving approach underlies many TAs' considerations for the use of example solutions. TAs, however, do not notice and do not use many features described in the research literature as supportive of this goal. A possible explanation for this gap between their belief and practices is that these features conflict with another powerful set of values concerned with keeping students engaged, setting adequate standards, as well as pragmatic considerations such as time requirements and the assignment of grades.
Design guidelines for adapting scientific research articles: an example from an introductory level, interdisciplinary program on soft matter(2013) 2012 Physics Education Research Conference. 1513, 1, p. 23-26 Abstract
We present design guidelines for using Adapted Primary Literature (APL) as part of current interdisciplinary topics to introductory physics students. APL is a text genre that allows students to comprehend a scientific article, while maintaining the core features of the communication among scientists, thus representing an authentic scientific discourse. We describe the adaptation of a research paper by Nobel Laureate Paul Flory on phase equilibrium in polymer-solvent mixtures that was presented to high school students in a project-based unit on soft matter. The adaptation followed two design strategies: a) Making explicit the interplay between the theory and experiment. b) Re-structuring the text to map the theory onto the students' prior knowledge. Specifically, we map the theory of polymer-solvent systems onto a model for binary mixtures of small molecules of equal size that was already studied in class.
What do students do when asked to diagnose their mistakes? Does it help them? I. An atypical quiz context(2012) Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research. 8, 2, Abstract
"Self-diagnosis tasks'' are aimed at fostering diagnostic behavior by explicitly requiring students to present diagnosis as part of the activity of reviewing their problem solutions. Recitation groups in an introductory physics class of about 200 college students were distributed into a control group and three intervention groups in which different levels of guidance were provided for performing self-diagnosis activities. We investigated how well students self-diagnose their solutions in the different interventions and examined the effect of students' self-diagnosis on subsequent problem solving in the different intervention groups. We found that in the context of an atypical quiz, while external support altered the self-diagnosis performance, the self-diagnosis score was not correlated with subsequent problem-solving performance on a transfer problem. We discuss possible explanations for our findings.
(2012) 2011 Physics Education Research Conference. 1413, p. 97-100 Abstract
Individual interviews are often considered to be the gold standard for researchers to understand how people think about phenomena. However, conducting and analyzing interviews is very time consuming. This paper presents the Group Administered Interactive Questionnaire (GAIQ) as an alternative to individual interviews and discusses the pros and cons of each data collection method. Use of GAIQ will be discussed in the context of a study that seeks to understand teaching assistants' reasons for the design of problem solutions for introductory physics.
(2012) American Journal of Physics. 80, 1, p. 51-60 Abstract
We describe an elective course on soft matter at the level of introductory physics. Soft matter physics serves as a context that motivates the presentation of basic ideas in statistical thermodynamics and their applications. It also is an example of a contemporary field that is interdisciplinary and touches on chemistry, biology, and physics. We outline a curriculum that uses the lattice gas model as a quantitative and visual tool, initially to introduce entropy, and later to facilitate the calculation of interactions. We demonstrate how free energy minimization can be used to teach students to understand the properties of soft matter systems such as the phases of fluid mixtures, wetting of interfaces, self-assembly of surfactants, and polymers. We discuss several suggested activities in the form of inquiry projects which allow students to apply the concepts they have learned to experimental systems. (C) 2012 American Association of Physics Teachers. [DOI: 10.1119/1.3647995]
(2010) Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research. 6, 2, 20108. Abstract
This study investigates how the beliefs and values of physics faculty influence their choice of physics problems for their students in an introductory physics course. The study identifies the goals these instructors have for their students, the problem features they believe facilitate those goals, and how those features correspond to problems they choose to use in their classes. This analysis comes from an artifact-based interview of 30 physics faculty teaching introductory calculus-based physics at a wide variety of institutions. The study concludes that instructors' goals and the problem features they believe support those goals align with research-based curricular materials intended to develop competent problem solvers. However, many of these instructors do not use the beneficial problem features because they believe these features conflict with a more powerful set of values concerned with clarity of presentation and minimizing student stress, especially on exams.
Self-Diagnosis, Scaffolding and Transfer in a More Conventional Introductory Physics Problem(2009) 2009 Physics Education Research Conference. 1179, p. 23-26 Abstract
Previously we discussed how well students in an introductory physics course diagnosed their mistakes on a quiz problem with different levels of scaffolding support. In that case, the problem they self-diagnosed was unusually difficult. We also discussed issues related to transfer, particularly the fact that the transfer problem in the midterm that corresponded to the self-diagnosed problem was a far transfer problem. Here, we discuss a related intervention in which we repeated the study methodology with the same students in the same intervention groups, using a new quiz problem which was more typical for these students and a near transfer problem. We discuss how these changes affected students ability to self-diagnose and transfer from the self-diagnosed quiz problem to a transfer problem on the midterm exam.
Effect of Self Diagnosis on Subsequent Problem Solving Performance(2008) 2008 Physics Education Research Conference. 1064, p. 53-56 Abstract
Self-diagnosis tasks aim at fostering diagnostic behavior by explicitly requiring students to present diagnosis as part of the activity of reviewing their problem solutions. The recitation classes in an introductory physics class (similar to 200 students) were split into a control group and three experimental groups in which different levels of guidance were provided for performing the self-diagnosis activities. We have been a) investigating how students in each group performed on subsequent near and far transfer questions given as part of the exams, and b) comparing student's initial scores on their quizzes with their performance on the exams. as well as comparing student's self-diagnosis scores with their performance on the exams. We discuss some hypotheses about the students' ability to self-diagnose with different levels of scaffolding support and emphasize the importance of teaching students how to diagnosis their own mistakes. Our findings suggest that struggling with minimal Support during in-class self-diagnosis can trigger out-of-class self-diagnosis. Students therefore may be motivated to make sense of the problem they may have not been able to self diagnose, whether independently or in a collaborative effort.
Physics faculty beliefs and values about the teaching and learning of problem solving. I. Mapping the common core(2007) Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research. 3, 2, Abstract
In higher education, instructors' choices of both curricular material and pedagogy are determined by their beliefs about learning and teaching, the values of their profession, and perceived external constraints. Dissemination of research-based educational reforms is based on assumptions about that mental structure. This study reports the initial phase of an investigation of the beliefs and values of physics professors as they relate to the teaching and learning of problem solving in introductory physics. Based on an analysis of a series of structured interviews with six college physics faculty, a model of a common structure of such beliefs for all physics faculty teaching introductory physics was constructed. This preliminary model, when tested and modified by future research, can be used by curriculum developers to design materials, pedagogy, and professional development that gain acceptance among instructors.
Physics faculty beliefs and values about the teaching and learning of problem solving. II. Procedures for measurement and analysis(2007) Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research. 3, 2, Abstract
To identify and describe the basis upon which instructors make curricular and pedagogical decisions, we have developed an artifact-based interview and an analysis technique based on multilayered concept maps. The policy capturing technique used in the interview asks instructors to make judgments about concrete instructional artifacts similar to those they likely encounter in their teaching environment. The analysis procedure alternatively employs both an a priori systems view analysis and an emergent categorization to construct a multilayered concept map, which is a hierarchically arranged set of concept maps where child maps include more details than parent maps. Although our goal was to develop a model of physics faculty beliefs about the teaching and learning of problem solving in the context of an introductory calculus-based physics course, the techniques described here are applicable to a variety of situations in which instructors make decisions that influence teaching and learning.
Physics learning in the context of scaffolded diagnostic tasks (I): The experimental setup(2007) 2007 Physics Education Research Conference. 951, p. 27-30 Abstract
For problem solving to serve as an effective learning opportunity, it should involve deliberate reflection, e.g., planning and evaluating the solver's progress toward a solution, as well as self-diagnosing former steps while elaborating on conceptual understanding. While expert problem solvers employ deliberate reflection, the novices (many introductory physics students) fail to take full advantage of problem solving as a learning opportunity. In this paper we will focus on self-diagnosis as an instructional strategy to engage students in reflective problem solving. In self-diagnosis tasks students are explicitly required to carry out self diagnosis activities after being given some feedback on the solution. In this and a companion paper, we will present research exploring the following questions: How well do students self-diagnose, if at all, their solutions? What are the learning outcomes of these activities? Can one improve the act of self-diagnosis and the resulting learning outcomes by scaffolding the activity?.
Teachers' investigation of students' self-perceptions regarding physics learning and problem-solving(2005) 2004 Physics Education Research Conference. 790, p. 181-184 Abstract
Transfer is required in nearly every activity of problem solving. It spans from transferring procedures within a finite set of similar "end of the chapter problems" to applying problem solving strategies in completely unfamiliar problems. Students' self-perceptions, in the context of problem solving and learning, influence the success of instruction promoting transfer. Hence, teachers have to attend to such self-perceptions. We conducted a cooperative inquiry workshop to support teachers who modify their instruction in problem solving to better achieve transfer goals. As part of the workshop, the teachers raised the need to develop a questionnaire examining students' self-perceptions in the context of problem solving and learning in physics. The development of the questionnaire was supported by educational research, in a manner reflecting the teachers' motivation and time limits. In this paper, we describe the process of developing the questionnaire, present findings from a validation analysis of the questionnaire, and discuss its role in the teachers' professional development.
(2004) American Journal of Physics. 72, 2, p. 164-169 Abstract
Grading sends a direct message to students about what is expected in class. However, often there is a gap between the assigned grade and the goals of the instructor. In an interview study of faculty teaching calculus-based introductory physics, we verified that this gap exists and identified three themes that appear to shape grading decisions: (1) a desire to see student reasoning, (2) a reluctance to deduct points from a student solution that might be correct, and (3) a tendency to project correct thought processes onto a student solution. When all three themes were expressed by an instructor, the resulting conflict was resolved by placing the burden of proof on either the instructor or the student. The weighting of the themes with the burden of proof criterion explains our finding that although almost all instructors reported telling students to show their reasoning in problem solutions, about half graded problem solutions in a way that would likely discourage students from showing this reasoning. (C) 2004 American Association of Physics Teachers.
Assessing reflection on practice: A problem solving perspective(2004) 2003 Physics Education Research Conference. 720, p. 153-156 Abstract
Reflection on practice (ROP) serves to support teachers that introduce innovative instruction into their classrooms. There is an inherent dilemma between competing goals in ROP workshops: developing teachers' skills as reflective practitioners (process), vs. developing specific favored practices (result). This dilemma affects the evaluation of such workshops, as evaluation methods should align with the goals. In this paper we will gain insight on how to resolve the dilemma from the perspective of teaching scientific problem solving, where a similar dilemma between process and result is sharply manifested and thoroughly explored. Assessment methods and tools derived from this perspective were applied in a formative evaluation of a workshop for high school physics teachers. We will show how these analysis tools enabled us to identify differences in outcomes between versions of yearlong workshops that used different approaches to guidance of ROP. Our research can contribute to the planning and evaluation of ROP workshops.