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 I Middle school teachers always search for new, exciting ways to engage theiradolescent audience. International comparison research showed that although U.S.fourth-grade students compare favorably, eighth-grade students fall behind their foreignpeers, particularly in their mastery of complex, conceptual mathematics, a cause forconcern about the preparation of students for careers in science (Roschelle et al., 2007).Producing and interpreting position vs. time graphs is particularly difficult because theyhave little to no prior knowledge on the subject. Nicolaou, Nicolaidou, Zacharias, &Constantinou (2007) claimed that despite the rhetoric that is promoted in manyeducational systems, the reality is that most science teachers routinely fail to helpstudents achieve a better understanding of graphs at the elementary school level. There is also a knowledge gap that has developed between the students who are inalgebra and students who are not. Algebra students have experience with coordinates,slope, rate calculations and linear functions. By the time motion lessons begin manystudents have had zero experience with linear graphs which make it nearly impossible forthem to interpret. When introducing motion a considerable amount of time is spent withrate and speed calculations. Algebra students excel and the others struggle. Withoutunderstanding rate and proportionality, students cannot master key topics andrepresentations in high school science, such as laws (e.g., F= ma, F = -kx), graphs (e.g.,of linear and piecewise linear functions), and tables (Roschelle et al., 2007). By sparkingtheir interest with technology, the knowledge gap between students regarding graphingconcepts should be reduced by the time they reach high school.
Statement of the Problem After teaching for several years, the researcher came to the conclusion that inorder for students to understand graphing concepts and combat graphing misconceptions,they must start with a firm foundation, practice and be assessed often. Both the degree ofunderstanding and the retention of this knowledge seemed to diminish only after a shortperiod of time when taught with traditional paper/pencil techniques. The researcherchose to concentrate on utilizing motion probes with simultaneous graphing via computersoftware because it is anticipated that this hands-on approach will provide a solidfoundation which in turn will reinforce knowledge retention. Sokoloff, Laws andThornton (2007) stated that students can discover motion concepts for themselves bywalking in front of an ultrasonic motion sensor while the software displays position,velocity and/or acceleration in real time. Simply using this MBL type approach may notbe enough. Preliminary evidence showed that while the use of the MBL tools to dotraditional physics experiments may increase the students’ interest, such activities do notnecessarily improve student understanding of fundamental physics concepts (Thorntonand Sokoloff 1990). Lapp and Cyrus (2000) warn that although the literature suggestedbenefits from using MBL technology, we must also consider problems that arise if we donot pay attention to how the technology is implemented. Bryan (2006) stated a general“rule of thumb” is that technology should be used in the teaching and learning of scienceand mathematics when it allows one to perform investigations that either would not bepossible or would not be as effective without its use.
Background and Need Much of the research suggested an improvement in student understanding ofgraphing using the MBL approach; yet warn how the technique is implemented. TheMBL approach refers to any technique that connects a physical event to immediategraphic representation. Some studies indicate that without proper precautions, technologycan become an obstacle to understanding (Bohren, 1988; Lapp, 1997; Nachmias andLinn, 1987). Beichner compared how a motion reanimation (video) with “real” motionand simultaneous graphing. Beichner (1990) stated that Brasell (1987) and others havedemonstrated the superiority of microcomputer-based labs, this may indicate that visualjuxtaposition is not the relevant variable producing the educational impact of the real-time MBL. Bernard (2003) reluctantly suggested that technology leads to better learning.Bernard advocated that it is important to focus on the cognitive aspects as well as thetechnical aspects. Although many researchers could not find conclusive evidence to saythat MBL techniques improve student understanding of graphing concepts, the researcherbelieved that most would agree that it does. This study attempted to show that the MBLapproach works. This study will also bring to light the general need for students to utilizedeveloping technologies which in turn prepares them for future uncreated jobs.Roschelle, et al. (2000) stated that schools today face ever-increasing demands in theirattempts to ensure that students are well equipped to enter the workforce and navigate acomplex world. Roschelle, et al. indicated that computer technology can help supportlearning, and that it is especially useful in developing the higher-order skills of criticalthinking, analysis, and scientific inquiry.
Purpose of the Study Luckily, students are somewhat enthusiastic about technology. This energy canbe harnessed by utilizing the technology of WISE 4.0 (Web Inquiry Based Environment)and the Vernier motion probe in order to test if an MBL approach increased studentunderstanding of position vs. time graphs. The researcher is responsible for teachingapproximately 160 eighth grade students force and motion. WISE is the commonvariable in a partnership between a public middle school in Northern California (MJHS)and UC Berkeley. UC Berkeley has provided software, Vernier probes, Macintoshcomputers and support with WISE 4.0. This unique opportunity to coordinate withresearchers from UC Berkeley is one reason this study was chosen. The other reason wasto prove that Graphing Stories is a valuable learning tool. Graphing Stories embeddedthis MBL approach without making it the soul purpose of the project. Students areimmersed in a virtual camping trip that involves encountering a bear on a hiking trip.Graphing Stories seamlessly supports the Vernier motion probe and software allowingstudents to physically walk and simultaneously graph the approximate motion of the hike.An added bonus is that students can instantly share their graph with other students whoare working on the project at the same time. This study tested the hypothesis that students will have a better understanding ofgraphing concepts after working with Vernier motion probes and Graphing Stories thanthe students who work without the motion probes. Both groups took a pre-test and apost-test. The researcher statistically compared the difference in the results between thepre and post-tests of the same group and the difference in results between the post-tests of
each group. The data collection portion of the project took approximately 7 school daysto complete.Research Questions This 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 came several secondary goals which included:utilize the unique opportunity of the partnership between UC Berkeley and MJHS,reinforce the idea that the project Graphing Stories is an inquiry based learning tool andutilize students’ enthusiasm for technology. The hypothesis as stated in the purpose of the project section above addressed theresearch question regarding how the MBL approach increases students understanding ofgraphing concepts. A student survey named Student Perception on Use of Motion Probeshelped to answer the research question regarding how motion probes increase studentengagement.Definition of TermsGraphing stories: a WISE 4.0 project that helps students understand that every graph hasa story to tell (WISE – Web-based Inquiry Science Environment, 1998-2010).MBL: microcomputer-based laboratory. The microcomputer-based laboratory utilizes acomputer, a data collection interface, electronic probes, and graphing software, allowingstudents to collect, graph, and analyze data in real-time (Tinker, 1986).
Vernier motion probes: a motion detector that ultrasonically measures distance to theclosest object and creates real-time motion graphs of position, velocity and acceleration(Vernier Software and Technology, n.d.).WISE: Web-based Inquiry Science Environment is a free online science learningenvironment supported by the National Science Foundation (WISE – Web-based InquiryScience Environment, 1998-2010).Summary The MBL approach has a positive effect on students’ understanding of graphingconcepts if used correctly. According the NSTA (1999), “Microcomputer BasedLaboratory Devices (MBLs) should be used to permit students to collect and analyzedata as scientists do, and perform observations over long periods of time enablingexperiments that otherwise would be impractical. It was hoped that students who useVernier motion probes in connection with Graphing Stories will show a deeperunderstanding of graphic concepts than students who did not use the motion probes. Thisstudy reinforced the unique relationship between UC Berkeley and MJHS. The use oftechnology will lessen the knowledge gap between algebra and non-algebra students andtheir graphing skills. In general, research suggested that technology is not a panacea andneeds to be accompanied by thoughtful planning and meaningful purpose.
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