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REU 2017 Project Descriptions

CiDER faculty at North Dakota State University engage in discipline-based education research at the undergraduate level in biology, chemistry, math, and physics. These faculty have compiled brief REU project descriptions across three broad foci, (1) Context and Student Reasoning, (2) Conceptual Reasoning, and (3) Instructional Innovations. Each REU student will work closely with associated project mentor(s), taking ownership of a portion of the research. As part of your application and to help ensure a good research experience this summer, we will ask you to identify your top 3 project choices.

1. Context and Student Reasoning


Project 1
Plants versus Zombies: Exploring the effects of item context on student reasoning about natural selection
Faculty mentor: Jenni Momsen
Graduate student mentors: Rachel Salter, Jon Dees

Dobzhansky famously wrote, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. While evolution is a foundational theory in biology, student reasoning about evolution is often inconsistent. We are interested in understanding this inconsistency and posit that the context of the question (e.g., plants or animals, gaining or losing a trait) may impact student reasoning. To explore this idea, we asked hundreds of biology students one of two simple questions: explain how a sensitive plant evolves -or- explain how a springbok evolves.

In joining our project, you will code students’ written reasoning about evolution to help us understand whether and how item context (plant or animal) matters. You will also learn to:
-Work as part of a team
-Analyze data and build your statistical knowledge
-Develop hypotheses and design experiments
-Synthesize literature
-Present your ideas and findings to a diverse scientific community

Project 2
Investigating the role of context in student reasoning across science domains
Faculty mentors: John Buncher, Warren Christensen, Jenni Momsen, James Nyachwaya

Science is science, right? Or maybe not… Research indicates that student reasoning about scientific ideas isn’t consistent within or across biology, chemistry, and physics. For example, students’ ability to interpret and reason about a graph is dependent on context, e.g., biology or physics.

You will join a diverse research team to work with discipline-based education research faculty in biology, chemistry, and physics to explore student reasoning within and across science domains. Your project will contribute to our emerging understanding of how context impacts student reasoning. You will also learn to:
-Analyze and categorize students’ written responses,
-Develop and test hypotheses,
-Develop new questions for future study,
-Make and support claims from the data collected,
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster to be presented at the conclusion of the program, and
-Present their research progress in lab group meetings.

Project 3
Effects of item context on reasoning about human physiology
Faculty mentor: Jenni Momsen
Graduate student mentor: Tara Slominski

Why is human anatomy and physiology such a hard class? Does the focus on the human body and its functions present unique learning challenges? This is a question we are currently exploring at NDSU. Your REU project will focus on an important piece of this larger question. We are interested in whether students reason differently when answering a question on human physiology versus the same question written without any physiology context. We will compare student reasoning on both questions (physiology and no physiology) to determine if context matters. Your role in this REU will be to help us validate our assessments – that is, determine whether students understand the task at hand and answer in rich and meaningful ways. As part of this project, you will analyze interview data and student responses. You will also gain experience conducting research in a collaborative environment and will:
-Develop a deeper understanding of Human Anatomy and Physiology
-Learn qualitative and quantitative research techniques
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster to be presented at the conclusion of the program

2. Conceptual Reasoning


Project 4
The rise of the “super bug”: What will you do about it?

Faculty mentor: Kimberly Booth
Post-doc mentor: Lisa Wiltbank

Antibiotic resistance is becoming an increasing problem as every year, 2 million Americans fall ill to antibiotic-resistant infections (CDC). Citizens are faced with daily decisions on how they interact with antibiotic products. For example, will they use warm water and soap or antibacterial sanitizer to clean their hands? Because the majority of people in society are not scientists, teaching non-major biology students about antibiotic resistance is critical. For this project, you will identify what decisions non-major biology students make regarding their interactions with antibiotic products both before instruction on antibiotic resistance and after. You will also examine and categorize student reasoning behind those decisions. After completion of this project, you will be able to:
-Analyze, categorize, and quantify students’ written responses
-Complete basic statistics to determine statistical significance
-Make scientific claims based on the analyzed data
-Synthesize and present a scientific poster
-Develop new scientific questions for further research

Project 5
Students’ conceptual understanding of fundamental chemistry concepts

Faculty mentor: James Nyachwaya

Conceptual understanding in chemistry is a goal that many instructors have for their courses and students. One way of measuring the level of conceptual understanding is through assessment. Research in chemistry education has consistently shown that while most students show mastery of facts and memorized procedures, they struggle to demonstrate true, conceptual understanding. Through student responses to open ended questions, we seek to characterize students’ conceptual understanding of basic, fundamental chemistry concepts. Our data are drawn from a general chemistry course.

Research Question: What is the nature of general chemistry students’ conceptual understanding of fundamental concepts such as the particulate nature of matter?

In the course of the research experience, participants will:
-Synthesize literature on conceptual understanding in chemistry,
-Analyze student data to determine the nature of understanding,
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster to be presented at the conclusion of the program, and
-Present their research progress in lab group meetings.

Project 6
Investigating the interplay of students’ mathematics and physics thinking

Faculty mentor: Warren Christensen

Despite four or more semesters devoted to learning calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations in mathematics classrooms, students often encounter substantial challenges when asked to perform physics tasks that require the use of what should be learned skills from math. This project will further develop investigations into students thinking about mathematics within the context of middle-division of math and the upper-division of physics classes. Topics of interest include investigations into students’ construction of and interpretation of integrals for physical systems, understanding of linear algebra concepts and their application in a first-semester quantum mechanics course, and concepts of coordinate systems in the context of electricity and magnetism. Conducting research at the upper-division necessarily requires a focus on qualitative research due to small number of students typically enrolled in upper-division physics course. The REU student on this project will analyze previously collected interview data to better understand students nuanced thinking about their mathematical understanding. The student may also participate in conducting interviews among undergraduates, graduate students and, potentially, physics faculty.

Project 7
Vector Addition & Subtraction: Consistency of student solutions in different representations
Faculty mentor: John Buncher

Vectors, objects having both a size and a direction, are extremely useful in modeling the physical world. They can describe things such as the velocity of the wind, the direction to go down a hill the fastest, or the forces acting on an object. A key goal of an introductory physics class is for students to be able to visualize the manipulation and combination vectors in different formats, but this is often surprisingly difficult for students to master. In an effort to understand some of the difficulties students have with vectors, we asked students to add and subtract two vectors in a variety of problems to see how they performed.

As a part of this project, you will be looking for patterns in how students answered the various questions. Do students always solve similar types of questions correctly? Incorrectly? Do they always make the same type of mistake on similar questions, or do they make different kinds of mistakes? By answering these questions we will gain insight into what students find difficult about vector addition and subtraction.

In the course of the research experience, participants will:
-Synthesize literature on student understanding and performance on vectors,
-Learn quantitative methods, such as network analysis, to quantify the connections between student answers,
-Present their research progress in lab group meetings
-Present their research progress as part of an oral presentation to their fellow REU participants and other faculty mentors, and,
-Synthesize research findings in a scientific poster to be presented at the conclusion of the program.

3. Instructional Innovations


Project 8
What makes group work work? Testing the effect of group composition on achievement in active learning environments

Faculty mentor: Jenni Momsen
Graduate student mentor: Kurt Williams

Students come to our classes with a wide range of backgrounds, personalities, abilities, habits, attitudes, and skills. We are trying to understand how to best help these students work together to learn science. The central questions driving our research are:
-What makes an effective group?
-Why do some groups succeed and others don’t?
-How can instructors help student groups to be more successful?

You will be working on a project that explores the dynamics and interactions of small groups in a large lecture class. We are collecting data from a classroom where group composition is diverse! You will analyze data from four different types of groups: 1) groups of high-performing students, 2) groups of average-performing students, 3) groups of under-performing students, and 4) mixed groups, containing a high-, an average-, and an under-performing student.

By working on this project, you will gain the following skills:
-Reading, analyzing, and synthesizing literature
-Analyzing data using qualitative and quantitative approaches
-Generating hypotheses and building theoretical models
-Developing teamwork skills
-Presenting research findings

Project 9
Rapid response rubric (3R): A novel tool for instructors

Faculty mentor: Jenni Momsen
Graduate student mentor: Rachel Salter

How do you know when you understand something? One way is when an instructor gives you feedback. Feedback helps you, as a learner, compare your ideas to instructor expectations. This opportunity for comparison is important because it gives you a chance to refine your answer or add new information to your ideas.

This project will focus on a new tool for feedback, a rapid response rubric (3R). This rubric, built from extended research on student learning, clarifies expectations for the learner and, by extension, promotes meaningful learning. You will investigate the relationship between student understanding of evolution and instructor use of the 3R. Through this project, you will also develop:
-Best practices in generating and using feedback
-Increased evolution understanding
-Qualitative and quantitative research skills
-Experience working collaboratively, in an active DBER research lab

Project 10
Measuring the impact of Learning Assistants
Faculty mentor: Jeff Boyer

Active learning is a term generally used to describe interactive innovations in undergraduate science teaching. There is strong evidence that the implementation of active learning methods in undergraduate science courses can lead to increased student conceptual understanding and course achievement. Learning Assistants (LAs) are undergraduates who facilitate learning of their peers in an active learning classroom while developing their understanding of how people learn. There is also evidence that LAs can support the use of active learning methods in the large lecture science classroom. The goal of this project is to examine the interaction of active learning methods and LA support in undergraduate science courses. Our research questions are:
-What are the activities employed in undergraduate science courses?
-How are LAs involved in supporting these activities?
-How does engaging in these activities with LA support contribute to student learning?

While working on this project, you will develop the following skills:
-Reading, analyzing, and synthesizing research literature
-“Cleaning” collected data in preparation for data analysis
-Analyzing and summarizing data using R and other statistical tools
-Testing hypotheses against data sets
-Presenting evidence-based findings

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

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Last Updated: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 6:32:23 PM
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