Montana State University
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Intercollege Programs for Science Education

Montana State University
P.O. Box 172805
Bozeman, MT 59717-2805

Tel: (406) 994-5679
Fax: (406) 994-5575
Location: 401 Linfield Hall


Dr. Peggy Taylor

2000 Capstone Project Abstracts

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Randall Carmel
Student-Generated Laboratory Work and Its Effect on Student Achievement in a High School Chemistry Course

One technique to encourage science inquiry is to use student-designed experiments in laboratory instruction. This project developed an instructional sequence of student generated laboratory activities for a high school chemistry class. Two classes were given a modified sequence of five laboratory activities modified from the current curriculum and designed to develop an aptitude in science inquiry, experimental design, hypotheses formation, organization, analysis and presentation of data, and independent thinking. To test the success of the instructional sequence, students were rated using a performance assessment before the sequence was administered, and at the conclusion of instruction. By comparing the pre-sequence assessment with the post sequence assessment, the success of the laboratory sequence was evaluated. Student comprehension of useful problem solving skills and abstract thought increased with exposure to student-lead experimentation.

Beverly R. DeVore
A Teaching Guide to the Yellowstone Hotspot

The Yellowstone Hotspot provides a setting for teaching plate tectonics in general, the North American plate motion for the approximately last 16 million years specifically, and geology of the Yellowstone Country and the Snake River Plain. Background information for the teacher as well as student information is provided in this self-contained teaching module. Basic plate tectonics and hotspot information is included as background to study Yellowstone National Park, it’s origin and relation to the Snake River Plain, and to predict future trends in surface manifestation of the Yellowstone hotspot. Standards-based activities for assessment, formative and cumulative, of student learning are included as well as examples of student work demonstrating their learning.

Ivanell George
Assisting Chemistry Students to Relate Laboratory and Classroom Concepts

This project focused on the difficulty students experience in relating laboratory activity concepts with classroom concepts. Students participated in a series of lab activities with Classroom Assessment Activities (CATs) designed to emphasize the link between classroom content information and laboratory activity concepts. The student’s perceptions and attitudes were examined as well as their performance on lab reports and test questions.

Jeffrey A. Greenfield
Chemistry Student Study Habits and Techniques to Promote Active Learning

This research analyzed the effect of systematic instruction in the use of “study-strategies” on high school chemistry students. The intent was to enhance student capacity as an active learner. The instructor introduced characteristics and traits of successful learners. Students monitored their study habits and received feedback on overall class habits in an enhance chemistry class. A focus was given to those traits that active learners use. The techniques used to engage students included a unit study-calendar, frequent self-check quizzes, and the use of “student-as-teacher” for selected topics. Each activity included a survey to determine student belief about their learning and a comparison of content test results for before and after study-technique work.

Mark D. Halvorson
A Teacher’s Guide to Volcanic Landforms Using the Example of Yellowstone National Park

The purpose of the project was to involve students in activities that provoke thinking about volcanoes. The volcanic nature of Yellowstone Park provided examples for an instructional unit related to volcanic landforms in Yellowstone National Park. Landforms emphasized included calderas and caldera formation, lava flows resulting from different modes of volcanism and relationships to the Snake River Plain (SRP) and other adjacent areas. Connections with plate tectonics were used to establish the relationship between the SRP and the Yellowstone Plateau. Student activities were designed to address national science standards including inquiry based learning, using science skills such as prediction, comparison and measurement, technology in education and science content areas (Earth and Space Science content standard D-Structure of the Earth System). Assessments monitored student learning for the first implementation of the teaching unit. Data included pre- and post- interest/knowledge surveys, two categorizing grids, and samples of student work. Students taught in the inquiry model were compared with students taught in a traditional instructional model. Assessments were evaluated and used to adjust the content and activities in the unit.

T.A. Hennard
The Use of Graphical Analysis Technology in Teaching International Baccalaureate (IB Higher Level Chemistry Kinetics and Reaction Order Determination

A small class of higher level IB students used graphical analysis software to determine reaction order from concentration and time data. Teacher observation, student surveys, laboratory report analyses and objective test analyses were used to determine if this experience helped the students become better able to determine reaction order from raw data, both with and without the use of graphical analysis software.

Steven S. Lockyer
Instructional Strategies for Spatial Learners in High School Biology

This project developed and evaluated methods to positively impact the conceptualization and understanding of biology topics for students that may learn best with non-traditional instruction. The study assumes that for a significant population of high school students a textbook driven curriculum does not sufficiently engage students to maximize their learning potential. The focus was on strategies to better incorporate visual and graphic techniques for those learners. Data collection and analysis included pre and post content questionnaires, use of test modifications, and evaluation of authentic student performance. Research was done in three sophomore biology classes during the 1999-2000 school year.

Ann Lukey
Genetics Connections—Integrating Internet Resources into Grade 12 Biology Research Papers

High school science students, especially those pursuing post-secondary education, are facing a crucial need to access, comprehend and even compose scientific writing. The Alberta Biology 30 (Grade 12) curriculum includes the study of various intriguing genetic topics which presents an excellent opportunity to develop student research, writing and critical-thinking skills. Since genetics information is rapidly evolving and some print materials become obsolete quickly, the Internet can provide current sources of information on both common and rare genetic conditions.

A long-term project at Ecole Secondaire Beaumont Composite High School was initiated whereby each student chose a genetic condition and authored their own research paper using both print and Internet resources. In conjunction with computer education students and teachers, Biology 30 students from 1998 through 2000 posted their genetics research abstracts on our school webpage.

Four research questions were addressed: students’ general background with Internet, whether students find the Internet to be a valid and useful source of information for research and writing on genetics, whether students find their Internet resources credible and if students are more aware of genetic conditions by using Internet resources compared to print resources. Student progress was monitored and evaluated by survey and computer log sheets which tracked time on-line at genetics websites and students’ impressions.

Students were interested in doing computer work but were unsure initially how to determine validity of websites. By using computer log sheets, students gained confidence in judging website validity and usefulness which indicates that the logsheets were important in developing critical-thinking skills. Students identified problems such as finding specific information during on-line searches and demonstrated a preference for using Internet and print resources combined. This highlights the need for more student training in conducting on-line searches, more computer time, and continued access to print resources. Whether students are more aware of genetic conditions from print of Internet requires further investigation.

Improving students’ analytical skills for assessing quality and usefulness of Internet information afforded various learning opportunities. Genetic conditions are but one of many areas students can investigate using on-line information.

Lisa Mahony
What is the Effect of Block Scheduling on At-Risk Students in a Small Alternative High School?

In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education published “A Nation at Risk.” This report included recommendations for changes in instructional strategies, curricula, and time use. Until recently, administrators and teachers have been working hard at addressing the issues concerning instructional strategies and curricula. Today, many schools are experimenting with a variety of block schedules. Most of the studies have focused on the effect of block scheduling on middle schools. The results from these studies have been mixed, but many schools have reported the change to block scheduling as beneficial. Time is always a resource in short supply, and anyway to get “more time” from the day deserves investigation. I had the opportunity to conduct a double period class this year for one block. The rest of my classes remained on the one period schedule. I covered the same topics in two of my classes during the first semester. One of those classes, the control class, was a traditional 50-minute class, and only met once a day for 50 minutes. The other class was my experimental block class. The block class met once a day, but for a continuous 105 minutes. The 50-minute class covered the material in approximately two quarters, and the 105-minute class covered the material in approximately one quarter. The students in both classes were assessed for concept mastery, interest and self-confidence in science topics, and concept retention. Application cards, embedded assessment, inventories and interviews were used to gather data. Some of the assessments suggested that there were no differences between the two classes, and some of the assessments suggested the block class had better concept mastery and retention. Interviews with students, staff and my administrator revealed support and enthusiasm for the block class.

Craig S. Messerman
Teaching Yellowstone Geology: Analysis and Math Modeling of Earthquake, Caldera and Geyser Data

This project explored Yellowstone geology and involved graphing and mapping of earthquakes, caldera movements, and geyser observations with the goal of giving high school students exposure to real geologic data and basic math modeling. The teaching module created included teacher background on related Yellowstone geology, and standards-based student activities with teaching tips resulting from action research. The activities were piloted by mixed freshman/sophomore Earth Science classes. Assessments included minute papers, pre- and post- surveys, a traditional quiz and metacognitive probes, which were then analyzed to assess the effectiveness of the lesson.

Kathleen Ryan Napp
An Analysis of the Effects of a Skills Based Treatment on the Line Graphing Ability of Middle School Students

The focus of this research was to identify the specific line graphing skills that my seventh grade students were having difficulties with, complete a series of activities which targeted the specific skills, and then reassess student competencies with these skills. Near the start and the end of the second semester the Test of Graphing Skills (TOGS) and an additional graphing assessment were given in order to: determine the necessary graphing activities to be used; analyze the effects of the skills based treatment; and draw conclusions about improvement regarding student graphing interviews in order to analyze how students interpret various line graphs and a graphing confidence survey was also taken by all students both before and after the series of graphing activities.

Sandy Shutey
A Pilot Integration of Math, Science, and English Classes for High School Seniors

This project explored a pilot class integrating mathematics, language and science for a group of 15 students at Butte High School. Trigonometry, Senior English and Physics were taught in a three-hour block for the integrated class, while the typical student enrolls in three separate courses. The goal was creation of a course where students: (a) find practical connections in their study of mathematics, English and science; (b) become engaged in learning through thematic projects; and (c) learning is enhanced by the integrated class configuration. The study explored the need for subject area integration, developed curricula, and collected data from students in the pilot class and from students in separate subject classes to determine if pilot course goals were met.

Lisa Snyder
Mathematics/Science Integration in Seventh Grade Science

This study determined if students in an integrated math/science class show observable differences in analyses of quantitative laboratory data compared to students taking traditional (separate) math and science classes. The study compared the performance of two student groups on open-ended assessments involving mathematics and science. Both groups were enrolled in separate mathematics and science classes and both groups were given the same science laboratory experiences. The only difference in instruction between the two groups was, for certain units, students in the integrated group used their own “real” science data in mathematical calculations. This study compared the two group populations with regard to “pre-study” student profiles, including mathematics and science achievement, and performance differences on open-ended assessments after completion of a series of integrated units.

James Temple
Does the Use of an Inquiry Approach of Instruction in Kinematic Concepts Increase Student Understanding in My High School Physics Class?

This reaction research compared an inquiry approach to a lecture-lab format of instruction. Two classes of junior-senior level physics participated in this project; one course inquiry-based, the other traditional lecture-lab. The project focused on student understanding of displacement, velocity and acceleration both qualitatively and graphically. Data collected included student performance on materials developed by the University of Washington Physics Education Group, selected Force Concept Inventory questions, and student responses in video-taped interviews. The study demonstrated that students from the inquiry course achieved at a higher level than students from the traditional lecture-lab course.

Melanie J. Vinion
The Effects of a Self-paced Mastery Oriented Learning Approach on the Attitudes and Achievement of Freshman Science Students

This study investigated attitudes and achievement of ninth grade science students using a self-paced, individualized, mastery learning approach. The self-paced method consisted of a modified Keller Plan arrangement in which students progressed through small instructional units of a larger Chemistry unit. The Keller plan was based on the Montessori Method of education. Student attitudes and student learning were monitored for two years through student surveys, questionnaires, portfolios, and traditional assessments. A comparison of learning was done with students from previous years and from the first half of the year, which used a traditional method of instruction. An increase in science achievement and attitudes toward science was demonstrated for the students in the self-paced course compared to counterparts in a traditional course.

Chrystel Wells
Teaching the Particulate Nature of Matter: a Method to Increase Student Understanding

This study developed and evaluated the effectiveness of an innovative method to teach high school chemistry students about the particulate phenomena behind the symbols used in chemical formulae and equations. Students often master the mechanics of writing chemical formulae and balancing equations without an understanding of fundamental particulate concepts. The researcher-created method, called “Pekes and Vals,” used puzzle-like cards in the context of an inquiry based lesson to introduce students to both the concepts and rules involved. While exploring an imaginary alien civilization of beings called “Chemyons,” students explored the workings of “polite Chemyon society” to develop a set of rules for using the Pekes and Vals cards. Ultimately, students were required to make the transition to developing rules for the formation of neutral ionic compounds, writing chemical formulae, and to demonstrate the atomic and ionic rearrangement which accompanies chemical reactions and equations. The method was evaluated for it’s effectiveness in teaching the desired concepts and skills, as well as for its effectiveness in improving student confidence.