Cool Star Lab Presents Work at 2016 Physics Education Research Conference

Mike Lopez, Isabela Rodrigues and Adam Burgasser presented their early analysis of an experimental Physics course at the 2016 Physics Education Research Conference in Sacramento, CA. This was the first PERC for all three researchers. In addition, former Cool Star Lab member Dianna Cowern was on hand for the overlapping American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) meeting presenting her work on the Physics Girl video series.

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Past and present Cool Star Lab members at the 2016 PERC; from left to right: Isabela Rodrigues, Dianna Cowern, Adam Burgasser and Mike Lopez.

The primary research presentations focused on analysis of an experiment conducted in Fall 2015 to implement Cooperative Problem Solving (CPS) in the large Physics 1A Introductory Mechanics course. The current course format, which is lecture-based, does not specifically build up students’ problem solving skills, skills that students often struggle with and which may benefit them more in their other majors and in their future careers. Inspired by work being done by Thomas Gredig at CSU Long Beach, I implemented a form of CPS as described in Heller & Heller (2010) as a flipped-format course, with online video lectures providing the primary instruction and class time primarily devoted to problem-solving skills and techniques.  To validate the model, Adam taught 9 sections of the CPS course with 1 (large) section of interactive lecture. The work presented at the PERC was a preliminary analysis of student outcomes.

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Adam presented a summary of the course structure and results in his poster, “Relevance and Responsibility: Preliminary Results from an Implementation of the Cooperative Problem-Solving Model in a Large Introductory Physics Course.  He describes the structure of the two models and various course elements, including lectures, worksheets (“training sets”), scaffolds, and team-based projects.  He then described some basic outcomes, including comparing exam scores, Force Concepts Inventory (FCI) performance, and performance in subsequent courses, and video viewing statistics.  Exam scores were similar between the models, with the exception of Week 1 where CPS students performed worse, reflecting a higher work load. FCI pre- and post-scores, and long-term course performance were also similar, although CPS students were much more likely to continue the Physics 1 sequence than lecture students. Video viewing was erratic in the first part of the course, due to excessive work. After the team projects were reduced in scope, videos were viewed more consistently. While both models appear to have had similar overall learning outcomes, the CPS students finished the course with many more skills, which were unfortunately difficult to measure in the assessments performed.

 

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Mike presented his poster, “Measuring Problem Solving Skill Gains in a Flipped Cooperative Problem-Solving Model Introductory Physics Course at UC San Diego”, on detailed analysis of student exam scores, breaking down by category of problem. Specifically, he coded questions based on whether they about pure concepts, estimation, definition, simple calculation, or complex calculation, and then examined the students’ scores on these problem types across exams. While overall exam scores were similar between the lecture and workshop courses (with the exception of Exam 1), there were significant differences in student’s scores on pure concept questions (lecture > workshop) and complex problems (workshop > lecture), suggesting a trade-off in concept vs. problem-solving learning. However, as there were no differences in students’ performance on the FCI, a standard test of conceptual learning in mechanics, so the difference in concept scores may simply have reflected lecture students having been previously exposed to specific exam problems.

 

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Isabela’s poster, “Thinking about Thinking: Preliminary Analysis of Students’ Metacognition Reflections in a College Physics Course”, summarized her analysis of student metacognition, the weekly writing students in both the lecture and workshop courses completed to self-assess their learning. She used word frequency tools in Voyant to track students’ perceptions of the difficulty of the course, their acquisition of physics-specific terms, and what their writings indicated in their views of major course elements over the course of the quarter.  One interesting difference she found was that lecture students appear to have ceased mentioning group studying around week 8, while the workshop students started talking about it then, suggesting a surprisingly anti-correlated shift in study habits.

 

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Dianna Cowern speaking in her AAPT session.

Meanwhile, Dianna Cowern spoke in her own session “Physics Beyond the Formulas: Creating and Sharing Demonstrations”, presenting what she has learned from her PBS YouTube series Physics Girl. She spoke on the “demonstration” aspect of her videos, reflecting on the characteristics of the most popular demonstration videos and why they might resonate with viewers. She also spoke more generally about the collaboration and feedback elements of her videos, and how users have helped her refine their topics and structure. In addition to showing clips of her most popular videos (including the break-out video on vortex tubes created in a swimming pool), she performed some live demonstrations, with audience participation!

 

The PERC was a great learning experience for everyone who attended, providing the opportunity to make connections with new colleagues. We have also submitted a conference proceedings, under review, on the highlights of our preliminary analysis. More can be found at the experiment home page.

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