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REU 2018 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) Conceptual Reasoning, (2) Math in Science, 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 ask you to identify your top 3 project choices.

CONCEPTUAL REASONING

Project 1. Human anatomy and physiology
Faculty mentor: Jenni Momsen
Grad mentor: Tara Slominski

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

We are interested in whether including human physiology context in a question changes the way students reason about a situation or phenomenon. By comparing student performance across the same assessment, differences in student responses could be attributed to context, not cognitive ability or task proficiency.

Students will work closely with a graduate student and faculty member to code and analyze student data from a real HA&P course. This project is a part of an ongoing research project investigating 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
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster to be presented at the conclusion of the program

 

Project 2. 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 3. Curiosity killed the cat! Or did it?
Faculty co-mentors: Kimberly Booth, Jennifer Momsen 
Grad mentor: Nicole Snyder

Asking questions about the world around us lies at the core of the scientific method. What makes us feel hungry? How does caffeine work as a stimulant? Why do tree leaves turn color in the fall? Curiosity questions like these are what fuels the process of scientific discovery. Yet, little attention in the undergraduate science classroom is dedicated to developing scientific questioning skills. Development of this skill is especially valuable for non-science students. Often, the goal of a non-science majors course is not necessarily content-related, but rather emphasizing the application of the material in society. By highlighting the application of material, educators hope to promote scientific curiosity and develop scientific questioning skills students need to understand the world around them. In this study, we will analyze written questions generated by non-majors biology lab students through a weekly reflection activity. By analyzing student responses, our goals are to: 1) classify question complexity, 2) determine if question complexity changes throughout the semester, and 3) determine if question complexity relates to academic performance. Achieving these goals will inform instruction on cultivating scientific questioning skills in non-science major students.

After completion of this project, the REU students 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 4. Context matters: Investigating the role of context in student reasoning across science domains
Faculty mentor: Warren Christensen; Faculty collaborators: Jenni Momsen, John Buncher, 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. This project will join discipline-based education research (DBER) faculty from biology, chemistry, and physics to explore student reasoning within and across science domains to develop an emerging understanding of how context impacts student reasoning. 

Students working on this project will be able 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 5. Physics, biology or both? Coding context and content for questions in Introductory Physics for Life Sciences
Faculty Mentor: Warren Christensen 

Introductory Physics courses for Life Science majors has been a major focus for research-based reform efforts in recent years. At the heart of many of these courses is the interest in using physics content, questions, and problems that calls on students’ understanding of biology and other life sciences. We seek to develop and implement a coding scheme that assesses the extent to which questions are authentically biological in nature or perhaps are more physics in nature. We have found that often the context of a problem can be highly superficial, and we seek to document how often questions probe beyond superficial biological contexts into more meaningful biological content. The research questions for this project are:

-What are common features of authentically rich biological questions in physics courses?
-How prevalent are superficial biological questions in reformed IPLS physics courses?

The researcher on this project will be able to:
-Develop and implement coding schemes
-Summarize data and make statistical claims based on data
-Apply and customize a coding scheme for a multitude of questions/problems

 

Project 6. Vector addition & subtraction: Consistency of student responses 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 patters in how students answered the various questions.  Do students always answer 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 the form of a scientific poster to be presented at the conclusion of the program.

INSTRUCTIONAL INNOVATIONS

Project 7. Measuring LA impact
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

MATH REASONING IN SCIENCE

Project 8. Assessing student reasoning about Non-Cartesian coordinate systems in mathematics and physics
Faculty Mentor: Warren Christensen
Grad Mentor: Brian Farlow

In conjunction with the development of a research-based curriculum for students use of mathematics in upper-division physics courses, we seek to investigate how students at the end of a Calculus III course think about non-Cartesian coordinate systems. Recent investigations have shown that Calculus textbooks feature very few problems with Cartesian coordinates, yet many physics courses require students to use them successfully to solve problems. Very little is understand about how students think about non-Cartesian coordinates in these Calculus III courses. We intend to administer free-response questions to Calculus students and will analyze student thinking from those free-responses. The researcher on this project will be able to:
-Analyze student written responses and develop codes for common answers
-Work with a faculty and graduate student mentor
-Contribute a crucial piece of research within a broader study
-Become familiar with research and literature across disciplinary lines

Project 9. Why are we doing math in biology? Investigating correlations between students’ quantitative anxiety and performance on mathematical and statistical activities
Faculty Mentor: Matthew Smith 

Despite using basic mathematical (algebra) concepts, students in our sophomore-level Plant and Animal Diversity course still have a great deal of anxiety and reluctance to work through quantitative questions designed to further their understanding of complex biology systems. This project’s goals are to: (1) examine how the students’ anxiety and previous quantitative abilities change during the course of a semester in a class that heavily relies on quantitative examples during the learning process, (2) examine correlations between students’ prior experiences and their quantitative anxiety, (3) assess how the use of quantitative formative assessment influences the students’ ability to evaluate theories in biology and synthesize new ideas on course topics.

The researcher on this project will be able to:
-Develop and test hypotheses
-Make and support claims from previously collected data
-Develop new questions for future study


Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

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