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2022 Project Descriptions

Each year, we gather an amazing team of mentors who develop potential projects for REU students. Read through these descriptions to get a sense of what we do each summer and pick out your three favorites! You'll need that for the application - we match students with projects and mentors to help ensure a successful summer for everyone!

(1) SMASH!!: Using the Microbiology Concept Inventory to Facilitate Curricular Reform
Faculty Mentor: Danielle Condry
Graduate Student Mentor: Johnny Nguyen

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to hit the most confusing class you’ve ever taken with a metaphorical sledgehammer? The Microbiology Concept Inventory is a test that was created with the purpose of assessing how well students really understand microbiology. Its wide, yet focused breadth of coverage allows examiners to see exactly which areas of microbiology seem to give examinees trouble. When applied to curriculum, it can be possible to identify specific courses (or even lessons!) that are falling short with students. This. This is your sledgehammer. Join this project and receive one*, free of charge! Now take it and... uh... metaphorically smash?

The researcher on this project will:
-Develop an understanding of concept inventories through relevant literature
-Reinforce core understanding of microbiology
-Practice research-driven communication by articulating progress, setbacks, and concerns to collaborating researchers
-Break down open responses into quantifiable categories
-Draw conclusions based on findings in analysis
-Suggest future directions that may lead to curricular reform
-Synthesize and present a scientific poster based on the culmination of the summer’s work

*Disclaimer: actual sledgehammers not included

(2) Why is Human Anatomy and Physiology so difficult? 
Jennifer Momsen and Tara Slominski, mentoring team

Why is Human Anatomy & Physiology (HA&P) such a hard class? We are currently exploring this question here at NDSU, and your REU project will focus on an important piece of this larger question.

We are interested in whether students reason differently about human physiology versus, well, non-human physiology (like plants and animals). In other words, does the context of a question change the way a student reasons? By comparing responses across different versions of the same assessment, we will explore how item context impacts the ways students explain biological events. We will also analyze interview data, allowing us to explore how item context affects the way HA&P students reason about physiological phenomena.

You will collaborate with Jenni and Tara to code and analyze student data about student reasoning in HA&P. Through this research experience, you will:
-Develop a deeper understanding of Human Anatomy and Physiology
-Learn qualitative and quantitative research techniques
-Develop research questions and a plan for data collection and analysis
-Communicate your science to our community of researchers
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster to be presented at the conclusion of the program

(3) 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 extend initial 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’ understanding of calculus concepts (especially integration), linear algebra concepts, and differential equations in a first-semester quantum mechanics course, as well as a first-semester electricity and magnetism course.

Conducting research at the upper-division necessarily requires a focus on qualitative research due to the small number of students typically enrolled in upper-division physics courses. The REU student on this project will analyze previously collected interview and group work data to better understand students’ nuanced thinking about their mathematical understanding. The student will also develop an interview protocol that investigates both mathematics and physics thinking, and then conduct interviews among graduate students and, potentially, physics faculty.

Research questions include: 
(1) How do students use mathematics to solve math and physics problems in the context of math and physics classrooms?
(2) What can a theoretical framework of resources and framing tell us about how students use mathematics in the upper-division?

Through participation in this project students will:
-Read literature across the domain of mathematics and physics education research
-Analyze video data and learn to make claims based on qualitative evidence
-Attain skills in Interview protocol development 
-Conduct interviews with physics and mathematics students and faculty
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster to be presented at the conclusion of the program

(4) Tough Decisions: WWSD (What Would Students Do?)
Faculty co-mentors: Kimberly Booth, Jennifer Momsen

Students encounter socio-scientific issues every day. Should I receive the COVID-19 vaccine? Do I really need to wear a mask? The ability to make evidence-based decisions about socio-scientific issues is a crucial skill that instructors emphasize, yet we know very little about the reasoning students actually use when making these decisions. Understanding students’ reasoning is especially critical for non-science students as they comprise the majority of the voting population. In this project, our research goal is to characterize student reasoning used to inform decisions on important socio-scientific issues by collecting and analyzing students’ written responses from an undergraduate non-majors biology course. Do students use evidence-based reasoning from concepts learned in biology, or perhaps other aspects of their lives such as religious or political ideologies? By determining what information students use when making decisions, we hope to provide targeted instruction that emphasizes the importance of making evidence-based decisions. 

After completion of this project, the REU students will be able to: 
-Code and analyze students’ written responses
-Learn to use and apply basic statistics to detect change in a population
-Make scientific claims based on the analyzed data 
-Synthesize and present a scientific poster
-Develop new scientific questions for further research 

(5) How Green is your Chemistry? National survey of green chemistry integration into organic chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Alexey Leontyev
Graduate Student Mentor: Krystal Grieger

While instruction in green chemistry is becoming more common, it is not well represented in the textbooks, leaving instructors responsible for deciding what to include and how to include it. Therefore, to evaluate how green chemistry is currently incorporated into the organic chemistry curriculum and factors affecting its implementation, a nationwide survey was administered via Qualtrics.

In this project, a REU student will help analyze the data collected from the nationwide Qualtrics survey. This analysis will include statistical analysis of the close-ended questions, coding the open-response questions, identifying trends in the data that illustrate green chemistry’s integration, and visualization of results.

(6) To mix or not to mix? Exploring how to support the learning of key-term definitions
Faculty mentor: Katie Wissman

Students are expected to learn (and remember!) a lot of information. One strategy shown to support memory is interleaving, which involves practicing items from two topics at the same time in an alternating fashion. However, no research has evaluated how this study strategy impacts the learning and retention of key-term definitions. This is surprising since key-term definitions are one of the most common types of information students are expected to learn across academic disciplines and that classroom instruction is often directed at teaching key-term definitions. This project explores the extent to which interleaving enhances the learning and retention of key-term definitions from two topic areas in psychology, and whether (and why) students report using interleaving when studying on their own. Outcomes from this project will help us better understand how to support and improve learning for students. 

After completing this project, REU students working on this project will be able to: 
-Acquire an understanding of key concepts and methodologies used in cognitive psychology
-Code and analyze student responses from data collection
-Communicate knowledge and findings to our community of researchers
-Develop research questions for future avenues of exploration
-Synthesize and present findings in the form of a scientific poster

(7) Students’ Conceptual Understanding of Fundamental Chemistry Concepts
Faculty mentor: James Nyachwaya

Conceptual understanding in chemistry is a goal that instructors have for their courses and students. One way of measuring or ascertaining 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 is 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 presented at the conclusion of the program 
-Present their research progress in lab group meeting at least once during the summer

(8) Assessment Showdown! Investigating whether question format impacts student reasoning about natural selection
Mentoring team: Jenni Momsen and Caitlin Anderson

How often do you find yourself taking a biology test and think: am I answering the same question again? In biology classes, we often ask students to demonstrate their understanding of concepts in different ways, through essays, drawings, and even models. In this project, we are exploring whether the format of a question (e.g., essay or model) impacts the responses students construct in the context of evolution by natural selection. Will essays or models reign supreme? Join us to find out! 

You will collaborate with Caitlin and Jenni to:
-Develop a deeper understanding of evolution by natural selection
-Learn several qualitative research techniques including content analysis, thematic analysis, and model architecture analysis
-Learn and apply basic statistics
-Make scientific claims based on quantitative and qualitative data
-Develop new scientific questions for further research
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster presented at the end of the program

(9) Why Do I Need to Know This? Evaluation of Utility Value Intervention in Undergraduate Organic Chemistry Course
Faculty Mentor: Alexey Leontyev
Graduate Student Mentor: Ariana McDarby

Social psychological interventions (SPIs) aim to change the way that students think and feel about school. Utility value interventions are a type of SPI that aims to help students connect topics they learn in class to aspects of their everyday life and even future career path. This project specifically examined the implementation of content summaries and utility value interventions, and the effects they had on students’ attitude towards chemistry and their performance in a one semester survey of organic chemistry class.

In this project, an REU student will gain experience analyzing data collected from Likert scale survey questions and multiple-choice questions, along with looking at students’ exam scores. The student will learn statistical analysis, visualizations of the processed data, and present a poster at the end of the program.

(10) Outreach for Recruitment in Geosciences 
Mentoring team: Stephanie Day, Lydia Tackett, Annaka Clement

In an article published in 2021, researchers indicate that as high school students plan their futures with altruism in mind, seeking majors and careers that will provide societal benefits.  While most scientists can articulate how their research makes a difference in the world, we often choose to emphasize different aspects of what it is like to be a scientist when doing outreach or recruitment (i.e. working outside, travel, fun, etc). Across the country, low enrollments in Geoscience degree programs is troubling. This may be due, in part, to limited outreach efforts that show how the field is critical to society and a lack of geoscience classes in most high schools. With predicted shortages of people with geoscience expertise it is critical we reverse trends in enrollments and find novel ways to recruit future scientists to the field. 

In this REU experience participants will: 
-Analyze survey data from community outreach events,
-Develop literature-based best practices related to outreach and recruitment to STEM disciplines,
-Make modifications to an outreach activity to improve its effectiveness in communicating societal benefits and career paths, and
-Synthesize findings in a poster and presentation.

(11) Vector Addition & Subtraction: Interpreting what Students Do
Faculty Mentor: John Buncher
Graduate Student Mentor: Nekeisha Johnson

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 of vectors as arrows, 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 by looking at their written work. Do they always answer similar types of questions correctly? Do they always make the same type of mistake on similar questions, or do they make different kinds of mistakes? By examining students' written work and their multiple-choice responses, we can gain insight into why certain aspects of vector addition & subtraction are difficult, and why some interventions meant to assist students are ineffective.

In the course of the research experience, participants will:
-Synthesize literature on student understanding and performance on vectors,
-Learn quantitative methods, such as statistical analysis, to quantify the conclusions about student responses,
-Learn qualitative methods, such as coding written responses and/or interview data
-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 the form of a scientific poster to be presented at the conclusion of the program.

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

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Last Updated: Wednesday, November 17, 2021 10:16:12 AM
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