Using Motion Probes to Enhance Students’ Understanding of Position vs. Time Graphs A Project Presented to the Faculty of the College of Education Touro University In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the Degree of MASTERS OF ARTS In Educational Technology by Jefferson Hartman
Chapter III The focus of this research was to explore the effect of using motion probes andhow they may increase student understanding of motion graphs. Middle school sciencestudents need every advantage they can get in order to keep up with the mandatedCalifornia state curriculum. This study investigated the problem of graphingmisconceptions through a WISE 4.0 project called Graphing Stories that seamlesslyembedded the use of Vernier motion probes into a series of steps that teach students howto interpret position vs. time graphs. This MBL experience allowed students tosimultaneously perform a motion and see an accurate position vs. time graph produced ona computer screen. This program gave students an opportunity to learn graphingconcepts by the nature of its design. Students started with a firm foundation provided tothem by reviewing position and motion, were given significant practice through the useof the program and were required to take part in several forms of assessment. Observingmultiple classes of students while using the Graphing Stories program and the motionprobes, revealed that simply using this MBL type approach may not be enough to changehow students learn motion graphing. Preliminary evidence showed that while the use ofthe MBL tools to do traditional physics experiments may increase the students’ interest,such activities do not necessarily improve student understanding of fundamental physicsconcepts (Thornton and Sokoloff, 1990). Others suggested that the MBL approach worksonly if the technology is used correctly. This study tested the hypothesis of whetherstudents gain a better understanding of graphing concepts after working with Verniermotion probes and Graphing Stories than the students who work without the motionprobes.
Through the design of their curriculum, the science teacher guides students into acognitive process of discovery through experimentation. Piaget’s (1952) learning theoryof constructivism reinforced this idea by suggesting that a person’s “real” worldmanifests itself through a combination of all the events a person has experienced.Teachers must ensure students do not fill the gaps of knowledge with incorrect thoughtswhile learning from a “self-discovery” lesson. This idea of experimentation and “selfdiscovery” is known as inquiry-based learning which builds on the pedagogy ofconstructivism. Inquiry-based learning, when authentic, complements the constructivistlearning environment because it allows the individual student to tailor their own learningprocess (Kubieck, 2005). Motion probe usage involves students in an inquiry-basedlearning process. The literature suggested that there are benefits, Chiappetta (1997) and Colburn(2005), and problems, Deters (2005), with inquiry-based learning. In Deters, teachersgave reasons for not using inquiry: loss of control, safety issues, use more class time, fearof abetting student misconceptions, spent more time grading labs and students have manycomplaints. Even though many teachers were reluctant to incorporate inquiry-basedlessons into their curriculum, it was suggested that they may only need to utilize them afew times to be beneficial. Again in Deters, if students perform even a few inquiry-basedlabs each year throughout their middle school and high school careers, by graduation theywill be more confident, critical-thinking people who are unafraid of “doing science”. Theproposed study attempted to teach students how to interpret graphs utilizing an inquiry-based strategy in computer-supported environment.
To be successful in science, especially physics, it is imperative that studentsunderstand how to connect graphs to physical concepts and connecting graphs to the realworld. Since students consistently exhibit the same cognitive difficulty with graphingconcepts, teachers must incorporate the strategies stated in the interpreting graphs sectionof Chapter 2 into their curriculum, like giving students a variety of graphing situationsand choosing words carefully. The proposed study utilized probeware in the form ofVernier motion probes to help combat the difficulties of interpreting graphs. Metcalf andTinker (2004) did warn that in order for probeware to be successful, teachers must beproperly trained their usage.Background and Development of the Study Year after year, students come into the science classroom without the propercognitive tools for learning how to interpret graphs. Few students know what themathematical term slope is let alone how to calculate slope. Luckily adolescents aredeveloping their abstract thinking skills and learning slope is not a problem. One majorissue at work here is that the curriculum materials adopted by MJHS assume that eighthgrade students already know slope concepts. District mandated pacing guides allow notime for teaching the concept of slope. This study proposed that utilizing probeware,like Vernier motion probes, might equalize the cognitive tools the between the students. .Nicolaou, Nicolaidou, Zacharias, & Constantinou (2007) stated that real-time graphing,made possible by data logging software, helps to make the abstract properties beinggraphed behave as though they were concrete and manipulable. It was hoped that theexperience of using the motion probes and the software would also allow more time toaddress graphing misconceptions.
At the time of this study, WISE 4.0 was new technology which seemed to have apromising future. The unique partnership of UC Berkeley (home of the WISE project)and the middle school site allowed teachers at the middle school to implement WISE 4.0curriculum without additional funds. UC Berkeley provided laptops computers, a wifirouter, probeware and graduate and post-graduate researchers for support. WISE 4.0 Graphing Stories was first available for use in fall 2009. Eighth gradephysical science students at the middle school research site were among the first studentsto participate in this innovative program. Teachers using the program immediately tooknotice of increased student engagement with the program and the motion probes. In2009, teachers did not compare results of students utilizing motion probes with studentswho did not. However, there was a general perception that motion probe usage wasbeneficial. The purpose of this study was to scientifically document whether thisperception was accurate.Components of the StudyThis project had two main research questions: • Does an MBL approach increases student understanding of graphing concepts? • Does motion probe usage increases student engagement?Along with the main research questions come several secondary objectives whichinclude: utilize the unique opportunity of the partnership between UC Berkeley andMJHS, reinforce the idea that the project Graphing Stories is an inquiry based learningtool and utilize students’ enthusiasm for technology. One purpose of technology is to improve the quality of our lives. This includesimproving the way teachers provide access to information for students. Today’s students
are digital natives (Prensky, 2001) and have enthusiasm for technology. The MBLapproach was developed in the 1980’s with the invention of microcomputers, which isconsidered old technology today. The microcomputer-based laboratory utilized acomputer, a data collection interface, electronic probes, and graphing software, allowingstudents to collect, graph, and analyze data in real-time. Use of MBL would seem to be anatural way to engage digital learners yet, it appears that this idea has not really caughton even though many agree that it is successful. Two reasons may be preventing itsusage: 1. It is expensive to set-up a MBL. 2. Teachers are not properly trained in and are not asked to implement an MBL approach. Research has not proven that an MBL approach is superior to traditional methods.The idea that technology is a valuable learning tool was supported by the literaturesurrounding the use of the MBL approach or probeware. In general, research suggestedthat MBL is helpful, but did not prove its benefits. Metcalf and Tinker (2004) suggested that the cost of probeware is part of thereason why more teachers are not using them. The secondary objective of utilizing theunique opportunity of the partnership between UC Berkeley and Martinez Junior HighSchool negates the issue of cost. WISE 4.0 has been funded by a series of grants writtenby Marcia Linn, the senior researcher for the WISE project. WISE 4.0 Graphing Stories,a free program accessible through wise4.telscenter.org, is considered to be an inquiry-based learning tool.
Inquiry-based learning is often considered the goal of science instruction. Thesecondary teaching objective to reinforce the idea that the project Graphing Stories as aninquiry based learning tool and utilize students’ enthusiasm for technology came aboutbecause of this method of delivery. Strategies and techniques that are used by successfulscience teachers include: asking questions, science process skills, discrepant events,inductive and deductive activites, information gathering and problem solving (Chiappeta,1997). These strategies, provided through Graphing Stories, indirectly push students intolearning science concepts through self-discovery. The motion probe and accompaningsoftware encouraged students to move around and create personalized position vs. timegraphs as many times as they pleased. This teaching objective was measured by askingstudents to report on their perception of how motion probes affected their engagement.Methodology This study examined whether the use of Vernier motion probes and relatedsoftware increased student understanding of position vs. time graphs. Since theresearcher taught 4 eighth grade classes, it was decided to utilize a convenience samplefor this study. Data collection took place from October 7-14, 2010. Two classes (n =64) were the control group; meaning that they did not use motion probes. The other twoclasses (n = 61) used the motion probes and related software. All classes were given apre and post-test and a post-instructional survey. The pre-test was administered prior toimplementing WISE 4.0 Graphing Stories. All classes worked through the project, whichtook 5 -50 minute sessions. Several steps in the project asked students to utilize motionprobes. The control group was asked to complete a task that that did not involve themotion probe. This allowed for both groups to have different graphing experiences but
be engaged an equal amount of time. The post-test was given after both groupscompleted Graphing Stories. The purpose of collecting qualitative data from the studentsurvey, Student Perceptions of Motion Probes (see Appendix B), was to get a sense ofstudents’ opinions regarding the use of motion probes when they learn how to graphmotion. It was hoped that both motion probe users and non motion probe users wouldfeel that motion probe usage increased student engagement. Sequence of events. 1. All students given a pre-test (see Appendix A) 2. All students participated in Graphing Stories exercise in which they are given a graph and a story that matches a. Experimental group used Vernier motion probes to test their prediction of how the graph was created in real time b. Control group did not do this step 3. All students asked to write a personal story involving motion and to create a matching position vs. time graph a. Experimental group used Vernier motion probes to test their prediction of how the graph was created in real time b. Control group did not do this step 4. All students given a post-test (see Appendix A) 5. All students given the student survey, Student Perceptions of Motion Probes (see Appendix B) The pre-test (Appendix A) consisted of twelve questions that asked students todraw various simple position vs. time graphs. The post-test (Appendix A) consisted of
the same twelve questions as the pre-test plus a graph depicting a race followed by sixquestions that tested for understanding.Results In Figures 5 and 6, the motion probe users were compared to non motion probeusers. Figure 5 shows a frequency distribution of the scores all students earned on thepre-test. The scores were grouped into ten percent intervals. The range of scores on thepre-test was from 12.5% to 100%. Of the motion probe users, 10% had already masteredthe interpretation of position vs. time graphs as compared to12% of the non motion probeusers. Figure 6 shows a frequency distribution of the scores all students earned on thepost-test. The score were again grouped into ten percent intervals. The range of scoreson the post-test was from 6% to 100%. Of the motion probe users, 37% had mastered theinterpretation of position vs. time graphs as compared to 34% of the non motion probeusers. Since the pre-tests were given anonymously, it was impossible to present the datain matched pairs. Unexpectedly, one student from each group performed at a lower levelthan they had in the pre-test.
Pre-Test Scores motion probe user non motion probe user 25 23 23 20 number of students 15 13 12 10 8 7 6 6 6 5 5 5 5 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 0 0 0-9% 19-10% 29-20% 39-30% 49-40% 59-50% 69-60% 79-70% 89-80% 100-90% test scoresFigure 5. Frequency distribution of the pre-test scoresNon motion probe users n = 64; motion probe users n = 61 Post-Test Scores motion probe user non motion probe user 14 12 12 12 11 10 10 10 10 10 number of students 8 8 7 7 6 6 6 4 4 4 3 2 2 2 1 0 0 0 0-9% 19-10% 29-20% 39-30% 49-40% 59-50% 69-60% 79-70% 89-80% 100-90% test scoresFigure 6. Frequency distribution of the post-test scoresNon motion probe users n = 67; motion probe users n = 62
Tables 1, 2 and 3 show the frequency distribution of student responses to thesurvey questions regarding the usefulness of motion probes, motion probes and studentengagement and the advantage of motion probes.Table 1Frequency Distribution of Responses to the Questions Regarding the Usefulness ofMotion Probes. made it Would more not be difficult able to for motion learn probe without very not users to them helpful helpful helpful learnQuestion 1 MOTION PROBE USERMotion probe user: How useful do youthink the motion probes were inhelping you learn about position vs.time graphs? 5 20 37 1 0Question 7 NON-MOTION PROBEUSER NOT a motion probe user:How useful do you think using themotion probes is for learning how tointerpret position vs. time graphs?Remember you are making a judgmentfor those who actually used them. 1 15 47 8 1totals for both groups 6 35 84 9 1
Table 2Frequency Distribution of Responses to the Questions Regarding Motion Probes andStudent Engagement. motion motion motion motion probes probes did probes probes made made the not made the the lesson lesson necessarily lesson something to more engage less remember engaging them engaging Question 4 MOTION PROBE USER Motion probe user: Did using motion probes help you become more engaged in the learning process? 11 45 5 0 Question 10 NON-MOTION PROBE USER NOT a motion probe user: Do you think using motion probes made the lesson more engaging for the student who used them? 6 35 13 0 totals for both groups 17 80 18 0Table 3Frequency Distribution of Responses to the Questions Regarding the Advantage of aMotion Probe. no do not advantage advantage knowQuestion 5 MOTION PROBEUSER Motion probe user: Do youfeel you had an advantage over thestudents who did not utilize themotion probes in learning how tointerpret position vs. time graphs?Please explain 52 8 0Question 11 NON-MOTIONPROBE USER NOT a motion probeuser: Do you feel students who usedthe motion probes had an advantageover the students who did not utilizethe motion probes in learning how tointerpret position vs. time 42 11 1totals for both groups 94 19 1
The data from the survey entitled, Student Perceptions of Motion Probes, revealed thefollowing preceptions of motion probes: • 93% (125/135) of the students felt the motion probe was useful (motion probe users) or thought it would be useful (non motion probe users) for learning about position vs. time graphs, and 7% (10/135) felt the motion probe was not useful. • 84% (97/115) of the students felt the motion probe made the lesson more engaging, and 16% (18/115) felt the motion probe made the lesson either not engaging or less engaging. • 83% (94/113) of the students felt the motion probe users had an advantage over non motion probe users in learning how to interpret position vs. time graphs, and 17% (19/113) felt there was no advantage.Analysis The unpaired t-test was used to compare the motion probe users and the nonmotion probe users groups for both the pre and post-test. The unpaired t-test was chosenbecause the sample sizes between the groups were not equal. Results of the pre-test. There was no significant difference between the motionprobe users and the non motion probe users in initial knowledge of how to interpretposition vs. time graphs (t = 1.3256, d.f. = 123, P = 0.1874 p = .05). This result supportedthe desired outcome of having the two groups start with equal understanding of positionvs. time graphs. Results of the post-test. The post-test results showed no significant differencebetween the motion probe users and the non motion probe users (t = 0.6595, d.f. = 127, P
= 0.5107 p = .05) in knowledge of how to interpret position vs. time graphs. This resultdid not give results to support the desired outcome of having the two groups end withunequal understanding of position vs. time graphs, i.e. the group that used the motionprobes was expected to perform better. The researcher must accept the null hypothesiswhich states that students will not have a better understanding of graphing concepts afterworking with Vernier motion probes and Graphing Stories than the students who workwithout the motion probes. Results of student survey. Although the pre and post-test results suggested thatan MBL approach does not necessarily increase student understanding of graphingconcepts, the student survey, Student Perceptions of Motion Probes(see Appendix B), didhelp answer the research question regarding motion probe usage and student engagement.The answers given by both the motion probe and non motion probes users clearlydemonstrated that motion probe usage was beneficial in terms of increasing studentengagement when working with position vs. time graphs. An informal review of students’ actions while utilizing the motion probesrevealed valuable insight to how they view position vs. time graphs. Similar to Lapp andCyrus (2000), students did not understand the information the graph was presenting (Fig.7). Instead of moving back and forth along a straight line to produce a graph thatmatched the distance time information given, students typically walked in a path thatresembled the shape of the original graph, Lapp and Cyrus (2000). The probe is not ableto detect the path of motion many students tried to follow (Fig. 8).
Figure 7. Distance Time Graph for Student Investigation. Reprinted from D. Lapp & V.Cyrus (2000). Using Data-Collection Devices to Enhance Students’ Understanding.Mathematics Teacher, 93(6) p. 504.Figure 8. Path of Walker. Reprinted from D. Lapp & V. Cyrus (2000). Using Data-Collection Devices to Enhance Students’ Understanding. Mathematics Teacher, 93(6) p.504. Summary The responsibility of teaching eighth grade students how to interpret position vs.time graphs has been slowed by a significant hurdle. The California State Standards
assumes that eighth grade students know how to interpret and calculate slope. It isconsidered an abstract concept and not taught until well into the algebra curriculum.Many students do not even take Algebra until high school. Physical science curriculumrequires students to understand slope prior to it being taught how to graph motion.Working with UC, Berkeley, MJHS teachers have been lucky to utilize WISE 4.0,specifically Graphing Stories. The researcher discovered a new technology (GraphingStories and Vernier motion probes) and decided to use it. Even though research of theMBL approach has failed to prove its worth, many still claim it to be beneficial providedthat it is used correctly. This study was based on the hypothesis that motion probes usagewould help students interpret position vs. time graphs better than student who did not usemotion probes. Analysis of data revealed that the Vernier motion probe did not give itsusers an advantage over the non-users in interpreting motion graphs. A student survey,however, found that students felt the motion probes made the lesson more engaging.
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