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

2001 Capstone Project Abstracts

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Robert E. Beese
Instructional Strategies to Increase Student Awareness of Their Personal Learning Styles in the Science Classroom

When students have an awareness of their personal learning style they are better equipped to adjust their physical and social environments to support their learning experience. This project focuses on assisting students to develop self-awareness of their own individual learning style preferences. Students are introduced to learning styles through the Dunn, Dunn and Price Learning Style Inventory and several activities. Follow-up assessments indicate the degree to which self-awareness has increased. Armed with a greater awareness of personal learning styles, students adjust their environment to the specific task at hand for optimal performance. I recommend that all schools include training for both teachers and students on personal learning styles.

Rod Benson
Can a Virtual Field Trip to a Familiar Landmark be an Effective Way to Enhance Geology Education in Earth Science Classes?

One of the Montana Standards for Science challenges students to ". . . describe the formation and composition of Earth's external features in terms of the rock cycle." With that goal in mind, this project focuses on the development and use of a virtual field trip to Crown Butte, a scenic remnant of Montana's volcanic past. Crown Butte was chosen because it is familiar to those who have traveled through central Montana, and it displays many fascinating geologic features. This study examines the use of the virtual field trip with freshman Earth Science classes. Several aspects of the activity were investigated, including design considerations, accessibility, educational value, and student attitude toward the experience. The project is available online at

Jeff S. Berg
A Model for Assessing an Inquiry Unit

Guided Inquiry is an effective approach for engaging students in the process of science. The inquiry approach has been found effective and has been accepted as a fundamentally sound way to help students achieve understanding and practical use of scientific concepts. However, determining ways to assess what students have learned in the inquiry unit has been a difficult task.

This capstone presentation looks beyond traditional assessment to a possible model for assessing student understanding after participating in an inquiry based unit. Freshman integrated science students used motion detectors and computer software to better understand the concepts of velocity and acceleration. They were assessed through the use of misconception checks, journal entries, performance and written assessments to try and ascertain what they had learned and where problems in learning had occurred along the way.

This project is based upon the concept of Action Research, in which the focus on the research is on the teacher not the students. Although, student performance was measured, the research looked to the effects that the change in assessment techniques ultimately had on the teacher. How was the teacher's classroom performance effected? What changes did the students, administrators, teacher and colleagues find was affected by the use of this assessment model? Furthermore, although the focus was on an individual teacher and his classroom, hopefully others will find ways in which this model may be applicable to their own classroom situation.

Larry Bice
Using Concept Maps in Biology Instruction

This study focused on 52 general biology students to determine if concept maps assist general biology students learning the structure, physiology and functional impact of the role of DNA in life and reproduction. This study investigated the question: Does use of concept maps enhance student understanding? Students were instructed in the use of concept maps and constructed a series of maps of the DNA unit over an eight-week period. Maps were assessed and compared to determine student improvement in mapping skill over time. Concurrently, student knowledge was assessed through open-ended essay questions. Questions were designed to assess students’ conceptual understanding and critical thinking relative to the topic. Essay tests were scored and compared to determine student improvement in understanding. Student surveys and student interviews were conducted at the end of the 8-week period to reflect student opinion regarding the value of concept maps for their own learning progress. A teacher introspective analysis was done in collaboration with professional associates to gauge the effectiveness of this project on my teaching practices.

Penny L. Blue
How Will Reading in the Content Area Impact Student Learning?

Expository reading assignments were used in conjunction with Double Entry Journals and reading question worksheets to enhance physical science instruction. The results of the study and the impact on student learning will be shared.

Kathy Buchanan Brown
Effects of Small, Collaborative Testing Events on Retention and Performance During Larger, Individual Tests

Dialogue plays a central role in learning, in that language is a means of knowledge acquisition and the method by which we organize our thoughts. Knowledge is created and recreated between people as they bring personal experiences and information derived from other sources to bear in problem solving activities. Theoretically then, increasing opportunities for meaningful discussion should increase the degree of learning and translate into improved performance on tests.

To facilitate meaningful discussion opportunities among freshman science students, capstone research activities assessed whether collaborative work on small quizzes would improve retention and performance on chapter tests which were administered individually. Collaborative groups, consisting of three to four randomly selected freshmen, were formed for units on electricity and chemistry, and chapter test data was compared to student performances on similar chapter exams that did not involve collaborative quizzes. Students from the three freshmen classes were also surveyed to determine their perception of the effects of collaborative testing.

Daniel R. Campbell
Inquiry-Action Research

Teaching using inquiry-based science and concept mapping creates an encouraging atmosphere in which students can learn. The research involved changing the existing curriculum and basing all instructional methods on an inquiry approach. Student questions often drove the conceptual alignment. The inquiry questions came from student responses that had misconceptions or incorrect processing. The use of concept maps allowed the students to create links between the concepts that were being learned and crossing over to multiple classes and cross-curricular areas. As a result, teaching became challenging and creative, and the students became more demanding and creative. The excitement level for the overall class went up. Interactions and support from the administration have created an increase in funding for my program and has improved the curriculum outlook.

Sharon Fox
The Effects of Using Rubrics on Middle School Science Students

It is widely acknowledged that rubrics are an excellent grading tool teachers can use to insure fairness and consistency. But one question arises, How do rubrics benefit the students? This capstone project investigates the value of implementing rubrics in seventh grade science. Students were given the opportunity to use rubrics on various assignments. Comparisons were made between students who used rubrics and students who did not use rubrics. Student performance on lab reports, projects, other assignments and student surveys provided a basis for analysis. The results illustrated some of the impacts rubrics had on student learning and retention.

Ashton T. Griffin, IV
Teaching Important Concepts in Earth Science by the Use of Internet - Based Student Activities and Projects

For the past year, I have been using specific Internet web sites to teach my students about important concepts in earth science. Through the use of directed scientific inquiry activities, projects and the Internet, I have introduced my students to a variety of topics in astronomy, geology and meteorology. Some of the specific topics that will be discussed include Messier objects, constellations of the zodiac, earthquakes and volcanoes, national parks, state soils and hurricanes.

Taylor W. Hansen
The Effects of Student Designed Laboratory Experiments and Models on Student Performance and Achievement in High School Earth Science

The constructivist view of student learning contends that real knowledge is gained only if learners construct that knowledge in their own minds. Seventy-five high school freshmen students in three different sections of earth science classes were given the task of designing seven laboratory activities. Data from the student laboratory reports was collected and analyzed. Students demonstrated a higher level of problem solving, ability, and interest when they were required to design their own experiments than when they simply followed procedures in "cookbook" type experiments.

Deana Hill
Learning Logs in the Science Classroom

This study focused on the effectiveness of learning logs in the science classroom. Two classes of general science students used learning logs as part of their regular class routine. A student survey was conducted to determine perceptions on the effectiveness of the learning logs. Surveys were used to determine if the learning logs assisted students in taking ownership of their learning and if the logs motivated them to seek answers to previously unanswered questions in their homework. At the same time the learning logs were evaluated to determine if they helped to focus instruction and improve communication with the science teacher.

Richard Dennis Lahti
Improving Understanding of Atoms, Molecules, and Bonding Through Computer Simulations

The topics of atomic structure, bonding, and balancing equations can be difficult for students to comprehend. Some of this problem centers on the ability to visualize abstract ideas. Through the use of computer programs and websites, models were provided that could make these topics more concrete. Some websites merely provided models, however, the programs and some applets allowed student interaction. Based on student feedback, these interactive programs were more successful. This paper includes a discussion of technology-related barriers along with possible solutions, both important to educators attempting to use programs of this kind.

Sanford E. MacSparran
Effect of Teaching Organizational Skills to High School Principles of Technology Students

Highly unmotivated students are usually difficult to teach and keep
involved. This study examined how teaching students organizational skills and placing them in a highly organized environment would increase their involvement. The participants were high school students enrolled in three Principles of Technology A courses. Throughout the duration of the study, both the teacher and the students recognized the importance organizational skills played in student participation.

Bradley Piroutek
Modifications to an Inquiry Approach: Adapting Inquiry to Middle School Learners

Recently there has been a revived emphasis to shift the approach of science education from a lecture/laboratory based model to a constructivist approach utilizing discovery or inquiry methods. The inquiry approach is designed to move students away from rote learning and increase an emphasis in concept building with hypothetical-deductive and experimental design activities. Students engage in learning about and reflecting on the processes of science inquiry while still covering a substantial amount of content.

As a middle school teacher, my interest is to adapt an inquiry approach developed for older students for appropriate use in a middle school classroom. My students are undergoing or completing the shift from concrete to formal operational learner. This means the inquiry approach used by older students had to be significantly adapted. This presentation includes the results of a study of learning and instruction with modifications used to successfully implement inquiry learning with middle school students.

Rebecca Reno
Teaching Earth Science Students Using Constructivist Teaching Strategies

The purpose of this project was to determine whether constructivist-teaching methods would improve student learning in two freshman earth science classes. Implemented constructivist methods included discovery learning, problem solving and cooperative learning in contrast to prior approaches focused on teacher-centered lectures, activities, and labs. Students were engaged in various activities that asked higher-level questions and probed for student understanding of energy, energy resources, and energy conservation topics. The constructivist-teaching strategies allowed the teacher to facilitate student learning during the entire project rather than the teacher being the sole provider of new content material. Students were encouraged to connect and summarize concepts by analyzing, predicting, justifying, and defending their ideas through journal writing, small group discussion, and class discussion. Student journal, a teacher journal, and pre- and post-survey answers were analyzed to assess the effectiveness of constructivist teaching strategies. The project took place in a rural setting with a limited number of students, therefore lacking a feasible situation to compare student gain in content throughout the project. Student and teacher perception results were analyzed. The results indicated that constructivist-teaching methods increased student learning of new material as evidenced by a pre-student survey, a post-student survey, teacher’s journal, and student journal entries.

David A. Robbins
Will Student-led Conferences, Using Portfolios Compiled by Students as Tools, be Valuable Educational Experiences for Students?

This research project effort tried to validate whether or not student-led conferences, using portfolios as tools, offered valuable educational experiences to grades seven and eight science students at the International School of Kenya (ISK). Is this an educational practice that I should utilize in my teaching? The project helped to answer these questions. It also served as a means of giving the ISK middle school parents, teachers, and students an in-depth and welcomed look at an alternative method of assessing student progress. Two types of student-led conferences were piloted and assessed. There was a Home Conference, in which all my science students discussed their science progress at home with parents, and a School Advisee Conference, in which class advisees took part and discussed their progress in all their core subjects at ISK, also with parents. Parent, student, and teacher surveys were conducted pre- and post-traditional and student-led conferences to assess attitudes and opinions regarding the purpose and educational values of these conferences. Colleagues were interviewed to appraise the merit of this project on my teaching practice.

Jack T. Schoonen
Inquiry Instruction in an 8th Grade Physical Science Classroom

This project incorporated inquiry-based instruction into an eighth grade physical science classroom. I used three different inquiry-based activities. The first two activities were designed to introduce my students to the inquiry-based approach. The first activity was on metals and lasted for 1 1/2 class periods. The second activity dealt with lasers and lasted for 2 1/2 class periods. The third activity investigated forces and lasted for 1 1/2 weeks. My capstone project examines each of these activities in depth.

Wendy Michelle Sink
Evaluating a Strategy for Improving Student Performance on a Statewide Standardized Test

Thirty students from the Michigan School for the Deaf participated in a series of lessons designed to improve their written responses to items on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP). In a pre-test/treatment/post-test format, students learned to identify the questions asked, and to assess their own and other students' writings for correctness and completeness of response. Pre- and post-tests were scored by a group of independent science teachers who are not teachers of the deaf.

Clint Stephens
Traditional vs. Authentic Assessment: Which Method Best Enables Students to Retain Knowledge?

The merits of authentic, project, or portfolio assessment have been highly recommended in the redesign of modern science education practices. However, are these methods effective in enabling the student to retain what they have learned over the long-term? In the use of this approach a second question is posed: Is it more important to assess every aspect of a unit with a traditional exam, or can evaluation of student achievement on a portion of a unit with greater depth using alternative assessment methods be more valuable?

This project looks at student achievement in the short-term and long-term utilizing both traditional exams and alternative assessment methods. Examples of student projects will be presented, along with strategies used for implementing these types of assessments. Student input regarding the best or preferred method is also considered and discussed.

Kathleen M. Thorsen
Problem-Based Learning in the Chemistry Classroom

Students of all ability levels need a variety of instructional strategies to comprehend the abstract concepts inherent to chemistry. As a result, I have incorporated a new teaching strategy into my accelerated (honors) first year chemistry classes. Problem-based learning (PBL) utilizes problems that are as close to real-life situations as possible to teach the students specific content. This approach to learning allows students to direct their own activities and gives them more responsibility during the learning process. The role of the teacher using the PBL method becomes more of a facilitator in the learning process rather than a distributor of information. Results of the project in terms of student engagement and student preference of PBL over traditional teaching strategies will be shared.

Marilyn C. Tucker
Yellowstone's Fossil Forests: A Study of the Permineralization Process

The basic objective of this project was to teach middle school students about the petrification process while introducing them to Yellowstone National Park via the park’s famed fossil forests. Originally intended as an inquiry-based module to be written by the researcher, the plan became data-driven after results of a student survey about teaching methods were analyzed. What ensued was a multi-method approach that included labs, videos, hands-on activities, and integration of technology, along with some intriguing results for the researcher and the school’s technology program.