Proceedings of the 2001 Physics Education Research Conference

I. Table of contents (to be assembled by printer)

II. Preface (html format)

III. Meeting Program (Word).

IV. Invited Papers

Emphasizing the Social Aspects of Learning to Foster Success of Students at Risk (Word)
Suzanne Brahmia and Eugenia Etkina

The Extended Physics program at Rutgers University provides a successful alternative to the traditional introductory courses for students at risk of failure. We discuss methods for addressing problems that students at-risk face in introductory physics with special emphasis on the social aspects of learning. We share our experience in creating an effective program within the structure of a research university.

An Investigation on the Impact of Implementing Visual Quantum Mechanics on Student Learning and Student Instructor Beliefs (Word)
Lawrence T. Escalada

Aspects of the Visual Quantum Mechanics instructional materials have been adapted and implemented into a university physical science course for pre-service elementary education majors and various high school physics classrooms. These materials utilize a learning cycle pedagogy involving interactive, simulation computer programs and inexpensive devices to introduce basic quantum physics ideas within the context of fundamental physics concepts. A brief description of how these materials and strategies were adapted and implemented in high school classrooms will be provided. The results found on student conceptual learning and student/instructor attitudes and beliefs will also be briefly discussed.

Context in the Context of Physics and Learning (Word)
Noah D. Finkelstein

This paper re-centers the discussion of student learning to focus on context. A theoretically-grounded understanding of context and the relation of context to student learning are developed. This work argues for a contextual constructivist model of student learning, in order to support efforts in creating and analyzing environments that support student learning in physics.

Observing students' use of computer-based tools during collision experiments (Word)
Elizabeth A. George, Maan Jiang Broadstock and Jesus VÂzquez-Abad
Problem Solving and Conceptual Understanding (Word, .pdf)
William Gerace

A framework for thinking about knowledge and its organization is presented that can ac- count for known expert-novice differences in knowledge storage and problem solving behavior. It is argued that interpreting any relationship between the ability to answer qualitative and quantitative questions requires a model of cognition, and that PER should seek to develop assessments that monitor component aspects of developing expertise.

Connecting concepts to problem-solving (Word, .pdf)
Stephen Kanim

Traditional quantitative problems of the type commonly found at the end of chapters in physics textbooks are assigned to students most introductory physics courses. Many students use a formula-driven approach to solve these problems that does not rely on understanding underlying physics concepts and that does little to encourage the problem-solving skills employed by experts. In another paper presented at this conference, we gave an example from electric circuits to illustrate the use of ìbridging exercisesî as part of studentsí homework to encourage students to solve problems by starting with developed physics concepts and models.1 In this paper, we describe our attempts to use the same approach in the context of electrostatics.

Questions First (Q1st): The challenges, benefits, drawbacks, and results of asking students questions prior to formal instruction (Word, .pdf)
William J. Leonard, William J. Gerace, and Robert J. Dufresne
Pretending not to be Alan Schoenfeld (.pdf)
Sanjoy Mahajan

I opened my big mouth and suggested that we invite Alan Schoenfeld to talk about mathematics education. He couldn't come to Rochester so the organizers (names concealed to protect the guilty) foolishly asked me to talk. Health warning: You get what you pay for.

Conceptual Development and Context: How Do They Relate? (Word)
Valerie Otero
Inductive Influence of Related Quantitative and Conceptual Problems (Word)
Phillip Dukes and David E. Pritchard

V. Contributed, Peer-reviewed papers (listed by author's last name)

Connecting concepts about current to quantitative circuit problems (Word, .pdf)
Stephen Kanim

This paper describes portions of an ongoing investigation into the relationship between conceptual knowledge and problem-solving ability in physics.1 To what degree do students apply conceptual knowledge to the solution of traditional examination and end-of-chapter physics problems? Are there instructional strategies that can facilitate this application? Finally, does an increased emphasis on developing conceptual understanding of the material underlying these problems have any impact on subsequent coursework?

Class Size Effects in Active Learning Physics Courses (Word)
Charles J. De Leone, Wendell H. Potter, Catherine M. Ishikawa, Jacob A. Blickenstaff and Patrick L. Hession

With the growth of the University of California, Davis, we have been forced to seek more space for our active learning based lower-division discussion/laboratories. Our new room holds twice as many students (48) as our existing laboratories. Since we still use the smaller rooms, students taking the one-year physics sequence have a chance to experience both the larger classroom environment and the smaller one. We took advantage of this situation to study the effect of class size on students and instructors in active learning physics courses. In this paper we report on the initial results of our study of these changes and offer some insight into the differences between larger and smaller active learning settings in physics.

Investigative Science Learning Environment: Using the processes of science and cognitive strategies to learn physics (Word)
Eugenia Etkina and Alan Van Heuvelen

Does reading fifteen textbook chapters, listening to one lecturer, doing prescribed labs, answering someone else's questions, and solving well-defined problems resemble in any way a five-month schedule of activities for a person in a science related field in the 21st century workplace? Several recent studies concerning the knowledge and skills needed in the workplace indicate that there is a serious mismatch between traditional physics instruction and the needs of the workplace. Even active engagement methods (such as used for many years by the authors) do not really satisfy the needs of the workplace. In this paper, we describe briefly an Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) introductory physics learning system that attempts to replicate more closely the processes used in the real world of science and engineering. We hope that ISLE students' learning better meets the needs of the workplace. We will describe the method, including goals of the instruction, techniques used to assess the achievement of these goals and preliminary results of this assessment from courses taught by different instructors.

Assessing Problem Solving With Diana (Word)
Kathleen Andre Harper

Experts and novices completed an interview task where they evaluated a student's solution to a mechanics problem. Instructors were more likely to make specific criticisms, where the students spoke more in generalities. Additional evidence indicates that novice problem solving knowledge consists of both conscious and tacit pieces.

Instructors' Beliefs and Values about Learning Problem Solving (Word)
Patricia Heller, Kenneth Heller, Charles Henderson, Vince H. Kuo and Edit Yerushalmi

This paper presents preliminary hypotheses about a common core of faculty beliefs about how their students learn to solve problems in their introductory courses. Using a process of structured interviews and a concept map based analysis, we find that faculty appear to believe that students learn problem solving primarily through a process of reflective introspection (educators call this process metacognition) while they practice solving problems and getting assistance from example problem solutions.

Instructors' Ideas about Problem Solving - Setting Goals (Word)
Charles Henderson, Kenneth Heller, Patricia Heller, Vince H. Kuo and Edit Yerushalmi

This paper presents preliminary hypotheses about the relationship between faculty goals for the introductory calculus-based physics course and their beliefs about student learning of problem solving. All faculty have problem solving as a major goal for their course. There appears to be however, an instructional paradox. When discussing how students learn to solve problems in their own courses, faculty indicate that reflective-practice skills are a necessary prerequisite, and that average students enter the course with these skills. When discussing general problem solving skills, however, faculty seem to believe that similar reflective-practice skills cannot be learned in an introductory physics course, and should be a long-term goal of university education.

Instructors' Ideas about Problem Solving - Grading (Word)
Vince H. Kuo, Kenneth Heller, Patricia Heller, Charles Henderson and Edit Yerushalmi

The Physics Education Research Group at the University of Minnesota has developed an interview tool to investigate physics faculty views about the learning and teaching of problem solving. In the part of the interview dealing with grading, faculty members were asked to evaluate a set of five student solutions and explain their reasons for the grades that they assigned. Preliminary analysis on two of the five student solutions was done on six physics faculty members from a large research university. The results seem to indicate that faculty members hold conflicting beliefs when grading: between valuing reasoning in student solutions and wanting to give students the benefit of the doubt. This paper will illustrate the hypothesis that physics faculty hold conflicting values when grading, and describe how the research university faculty resolved their conflicts.

What can we learn from minority-serving institutions? (Word)
Apriel Hodari, Jeffery Saul, and Beth Hufnagel

Despite the decades since the Civil Rights movement, women and minorities are still greatly under-represented in mainstream science education and practice, with physics being one of the fields of lowest participation. In the face of this, 84 schools do successfully serve under-represented minorities and women. These 84 schools include 34 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that grant 60% of all physics bachelors earned by African-Americans.1 Similarly, 16 Women's Colleges and Universities (WCUs) grant 5% of such degrees earned by women.2 It is our thesis that the 84 institutions we are targeting have something to teach the rest of us about promoting the success of under-represented minorities and women.3 Based on our previous research4 of introductory physics courses at HBCUs and WCUs, we propose two separate projects to carefully examine these institutions for admissions, curricular, and environmental practices that could improve majority institutions' ability to promote the success of women and minorities in physics. This paper discusses the background to our proposals, and lists key features of the proposed research. We seek input regarding our focus, experimental design, and research methodologies.

Graduate and undergraduate students' views on learning and teaching physics (Word)
Gyoungho Lee and Lei Bao

This study describes graduate and undergraduate students' views on learning and teaching physics. We conducted this research with thirteen junior-level graduate students and four undergraduate students using web-based surveys and interviews. The results indicate that most graduate students use themselves as `templates' for good learning methods and implemented them in their teaching practice expecting that the undergraduate students could do the same. On the other hand, undergraduate students have difficulties in learning physics and they need different teaching approaches from traditional methods.

Use of in-class physics demonstrations in highly interactive format (Word)
Kandiah Manivannan and David Meltzer

We show how traditional classroom demonstrations may be converted into active-learning experiences through linked multiple-choice question-and-answer sequences. Sample question sequences and worksheet materials are presented, as well as preliminary assessment data.

Self-reflection, epistemological beliefs, and conceptual gains (Word)
David May and Eugenia Etkina

Twelve honors introductory physics students were chosen for having exceptionally high or low gains on standard conceptual surveys. Their weekly written journals were analyzed for the quality of reflection on what and how they learn. The high-gain students tended to write more than the low-gain students and showed reflection that was more epistemologically sound.

Differences in male/female response patterns on alternative-format versions of FCI items (Word)
Laura McCullough and David Meltzer

A modified version of the FCI was created using female and daily-life contexts instead of the male and school-oriented contexts in the original. Both modified and original versions were adminis-tered in class. Differences among responses of males and females to both versions are discussed.

Student reasoning regarding work, heat, and the first law of thermodynamics in an introductory physics course (Word, .pdf)
David Meltzer

Written quiz responses of 653 students in three separate courses are analyzed in detail.

An Activity-based Curriculum for Large Introductory Physics Classes: The SCALE-UP Project (Word)
Jeffery Saul and Robert Beichner

The Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP) Project offers instructors of large introductory science classes an economical and effective alternative to the lecture/laboratory format. Basically, North Carolina State University, the University of Central Florida, and a group of collaborating schools are utilizing the collaborative, interactive, research-based instruction that works so well in smaller class settings and finding ways to economically accommodate studio-style classes of up to 100 students. Lecture and laboratory are blended together in an approach that uses technology and minimal lecturing to create a highly collaborative, technology-rich, hands-on, interactive learning environment. In addition to developing classroom designs and management techniques, the project involves the development, evaluation, and dissemination of curricular materials for introductory physics that support this type of learning.

An assessment of the Andes tutor (Word)
R. N. Shelby, K. G. Schulze, D. J. Treacy, M. C. Wintersgill, K. VanLehn and A. Weinstein

Andes is an intelligent problem-solving tutor for classical physics. It was used in the fall semester of 1999 and 2000 by a group of approximately 150 students. An assessment of its effectiveness was made using: 1) comparative results on a free-response test taken by the Andes group and a control group, 2) portfolios of the students' work and 3) student opinion surveys. The results of the assessment highlight some strengths and weaknesses of Andes.

Students' conceptual knowledge of energy and momentum (.pdf)
Chandralekha Singh and David Rosengrant

We investigate student understanding of energy and momentum concepts at the level of introductory physics by designing and administering a 25-item multiple choice test and conducting individual interviews. We find that most students have difficulty in qualitatively interpreting basic principles related to energy and momentum and in applying them in physical situations. The test development process and a summary of results are presented.

Preliminary studies on students' understanding of electricity and magnetism for the development of a model based diagnostic instrument (Word)
Rasil Warnakulasooriya and Lei Bao

Learning is context dependent. Hence, the development of diagnostic tools should follow from extensive qualitative research that reveals the subtle relations between contexts and the development of students' knowledge. In this paper, we present initial results within the framework of developing a model based diagnostic instrument on electricity and magnetism.

Student understanding of density: a cross-age investigation (Word)
R. E. Yeend, M. E. Loverude and B. L. Gonzalez

Results of a density assessment administered to 787 middle school, high school, and college students indicate that students harbor numerous alternate conceptions, particularly a tendency to associate mass, volume, and density with size.

The role of work-energy bar charts as a physical representation in problem solving (Word, .pdf)
Xueli Zou

An energy process can be represented by verbal, pictorial, bar chart, and mathematical representations. This multiple-representation technique has been introduced and used in the work-energy part of introductory college physics courses. Assessment indicates that the work-energy bar charts, as a physical representation of a work-energy process, play an important role in student problem solving: they help students 1) reason about work-energy problems conceptually first, 2) set up the generalized work-energy equation correctly and easily, and 3) make inferences and evaluate their problem solutions. One important goal of this investigation is to provide a research base for the design of instruction to help students develop expertise in solving work-energy problems.

Significant Reduction in Gender Grade Disparities in a Reformed Introductory Physics Course (Word)
Wendell H. Potter, Charles J. De Leone, Catherine M. Ishikawa, Jacob A. Blickenstaff, and Patrick L. Hession

In 1996 we switched from a traditionally structured introductory physics course for biological science majors at the University of California, Davis to a reformed course incorporating the implications for instruction that follow from a constructivist view of learning. In the traditional course there was a persistent and stable pattern of course letter-grade distributions in which males received a disproportionate share of high grades and females received a disproportionate share of low grades. This gender disparity has been significantly reduced for the same population of students in the reformed course. This paper is a preliminary report of this data.

Development of an Introductory Physics Problem-Solving Assessment Tool (Word)
Timothy French and Karen Cummings

The physics education research group at Rensselaer is currently working to develop an assessment tool that will measure the problem-solving ability of introductory physics students. In its final form, the tool will consists of approximately 30-40 multiple-choice questions related to a limited number of classical mechanics topics. There are currently four types of questions included in the exam: attitudinal questions, quantitative problems that require students to identify the underlying principles used in solving the problem but not an explicit solution, questions that ask students to compare posed problems in terms of solution method, and quantitative problems requiring solution. Although the assessment is still under development, we have performed preliminary validation studies on questions requiring students to identify underlying principles. Specifically, both an ANOVA and a Fisher LSD test have been preformed. These evaluations showed (at the 98% and 95% confidence level, respectively) that wrong answers on assessment questions correlate to below average performance on the problem solving portion of the final course exam.