Montana State University
The Graduate School> MSSE Home > Capstone Abstracts

Intercollege Programs for Science Education

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

Tel: (406) 994-5679
Fax: (406) 994-5575
E-mail: msse@montana.edu
Location: 401 Linfield Hall

Director:

Dr. Peggy Taylor

2004 Capstone Project Abstracts

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Kimberly Atkins
Implementing Weekly Lab Activities into a Middle School Science Classroom

Frustrated with an inability to manage poor behavior in eighth grade Earth Science class, lab activities had been abandoned. This project used videotapes of lab activities and student interviews for review. Strategies were then adopted to manage student behavior so that at minimum one lab activity per week could be added to the course.

Chris Cox
Implementing a Problem-Based Learning Curriculum

This project focused on how to improve classroom instruction by utilizing problem-based learning in an advanced biology class. Content material was presented through a series of cases or stories to motivate and give context to learning. This technique focused on the student. It handed over learning responsibility to the student, allowing the teacher to become a facilitator to assist the students resolve problems. The technique has been shown to increase interest in subject matter, as well as making academic content relevant through real world examples. Research showed Problem-based learning (PBL) increased collaborative group dynamics, problem solving techniques, and critical thinking skills.

Kelley Davis
Using Portfolios to Assess Process Skills and Metacognition

The focus of this study was “How will the use of a portfolio assessment system affect my teaching and my student’s attitudes towards laboratory assessment?” Seventh grade students were given an assignment to reflect on the quality of the work in their lab books. Sixth graders were given a process skill “scavenger hunt”. Both assignments were deemed successful and generally viewed positively by students. It was determined that portfolios were better to assess metacognitive skills, and performance assessments were better to assess process skill development. A second assignment had students reflect on and critique samples of their work to determine whether they were able to accurately articulate their own strengths and weaknesses. Process skills were evaluated with performance assessments embedded in first semester exams.

Kirsten DeHart
Cooperative Groups in First-Year Physics

In this research, a former "sage on the stage" whole-class lecturer/discussion leader adopted the alternative role of coach/facilitator in a first-year physics classes. After years of engaging only a portion of students through Socratic dialogue, I was ready for a radical change. The students were organized in heterogeneous cooperative groups (determined by test scores) and group roles were assigned. Guided discussion sheets were used to teach course content, including times for student-managers to check-in with the teacher. Group quizzes were instituted before individual tests. The study was a resounding success - students were very positive about the teaching format, as were administrators. The teacher was overjoyed with the change. Though discussion sheets took a tremendous amount of time and effort to write, in-class time was more enjoyable.

Patricia DiEduardo
The Use of Daily Student Feedback to Improve Student and Teacher Experiences

Teachers often ask themselves “How much of what I’m teaching are students learning?” but fail to ask their students that same question. The effectiveness of student feedback was studied with a freshman science class. The Minute Paper was used to assess what students knew, or not, and allowed students to ask questions about subject matter. I was alerted to gaps in knowledge or misconceptions and adjusted instruction and flow to address these issues. Providing students the opportunity to communicate directly with the instructor actively involved them in their own learning. Inevitably, the teacher is better able to meet student needs. This project produced results which included overwhelming student support for the use of the Minute Paper. Students confirmed that use of Minute Papers made me more responsive to their needs.

Theresa Edinger
Use of Rubrics for Students’ Data Collection in the Science Classroom

One important tool for learning in the science classroom is student lab activity. However, teacher observation shows that often students are not deliberate or accurate with data collection technique. This leads to inaccurate measurement, which in turn results in false conclusions. In this study, students were given a rubric to use during data collection for various lab activities in 8th grade honors physical science. The rubric focused on execution of measurements during the activity. Students were graded on the quality of the data collected by comparing it to the rubric. The results showed that students were more focused on data collection technique when using a rubric.

Mary Margaret Eraci
Does the Use of Computer-Based Technology Improve Student Learning and Attitudes in an Advanced Placement Biology?

This research evaluated computer-based technology use. The research examined technology impact on student learning and comprehension, as well as student attitude. The computer-based tools included a web page, Internet based websites and animations, and teacher generated PowerPoint presentations. Data collection involved pre-treatment and post-treatment surveys, and quizzes/tests for specific curriculum topics. Post-treatment interviews were conducted. Data supported the premise that technology impacted student learning, but student attitude and performance indicated that students need other resources for learning. Students require learning tangibles, such as classroom discussions, one-on-one teacher interaction, and supplementary materials. When integrated with other teaching resources, computer-based technology positively impacted student performance, learning and attitude.

Randy Farchmin
Metacognition in Small Groups: Use of Small Work-Groups for Error Analysis and Remediation

This study investigated the use of small group-work to conduct peer-assisted analysis and remediation of errors. Student errors in problem-solving were identified and marked prior to returning papers. Working in groups of three or four, students identified the sources of error, made corrections, and justified the corrections. Justifications required that the students determine and document the source of the error (lack of process knowledge, misapplication of process, calculation error, etc.), as well as demonstrate their mastery of an effective process for solving the problem. Students' attitudes and opinions about the activity and its impact on their confidence in problem solving were examined. Performance on subsequent tests and assignments was examined for evidence of remediation and retention for basic concepts and processes.

Dona Furrow
Creating Order Out of Disorder

Assessment rubrics were integrated into group activities to improve both instruction and assessment. The study involved the use of rubrics to determine if both student and teacher performance might improve with this intervention. The results revealed that rubrics helped direct teacher focus by promoting better organization and establishing clearer goals. Furthermore, the students benefited as a result of the clarity of defined expectations.

Larry Gursky
Learning to Score - Scoring to Learn

Assessment and accountability are two of the hottest words in education today. ESEA has put educators into a mode where we need to “prove” our students have learned that which we claim they learned. Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) uses 2 and 4 point open ended questioning to assess student thinking and process. Can teaching students to use scoring rubrics for released items help them write more complete answers? Does familiarity with questions reduce anxiety that comes from the pressure of high stakes testing?

Emmylou Harmon
An Analysis of the Effects of Implementing the MURDER Study System

Are study skills important? This research focused on Dansereau’s MURDER study system implementation. The MURDER study system was taught and practiced by the students in a first year physical science class. Questions included: Do teaching study skills improve student self-confidence? Does knowledge of study skills affect student academic achievement? Data was collected through student surveys, papers, a journal, and weekly grade collections. Data illustrated that knowledge of study skills is an integral part of academic success. Teaching students study skills was beneficial, but no change in student self-confidence was observed.

Penny Juenemann
"Let's Talk." Discussions in a Biology Classroom

This project focused on incorporating more meaningful discussions into a biology classroom and assessing the effect on teaching and learning. The hypothesis was that student discussion would lead to learning at a higher level on Bloom's taxonomy. The most obvious change needed was an increase in the opportunities for discussion. In addition, the class was physically arranged into discussion groups; more cooperative learning techniques were implemented; and higher order questions were presented. The number of discussions on socially and ecologically significant issues was increased. As a result, students talked more about science, enabling them to construct knowledge in more meaningful ways.

Lauren Kane
The Power of Choice: Giving Students More Options

Middle School students are at an age where they typically want to have more control of their lives. This project determined if giving middle school students more choice in the classroom setting might have benefits. A traditional unit, where students did a standard set of assignments, was compared to a treatment unit where students had choice about what assignments they wished to complete. Analysis was done to determine which style of unit the students preferred and if the treatment unit was academically successful.

Dan Kloster
Aligning Assessments with District Standards for Chemistry

Standards-based reform has become a concern for teachers at all levels of education. But is it effective for increasing student learning? Or is it merely a political means of school accountability? This project was conceived with the idea that more data was needed to justify a standards-based approach. An important part of standards-based education is the development of assessments that serve as the measurement for the standard. Summative assessments were developed prior to instruction and aligned with district standards for chemistry. The purpose of the research was to determine if developing the assessments prior to instruction would impact student learning and drive instruction. The primary question was: What impact will developing assessments prior to lesson planning and instruction have on student learning?

Karen Krieger
Do Popular Science Fiction Movie Clips Motivate “At Risk” Students to Arrive on Time to Science Class?

Many “at risk” students at the Bridger Alternative High School tend to be tardy to class, yet cannot afford to miss class time. Students were surveyed to determine what “bell ringer” activities would motivate them to arrive on time. A pre-interest survey indicated that watching popular science fiction movie clips, related to the topic being taught, would motivate students to arrive on time. A treatment plan was implemented varying the daily “bell ringer” activity to include popular science fiction movie clips, current event readings, and graded board questions. Post-interest survey results were correlated with tardy records to verify if students were motivated to arrive on time to science class.

Deanna Meyer
Preparing and Presenting Essential Questions to Improve Student Understanding

Most students are concerned with their “letter” grade and often memorize pieces of information to assure solid test scores. However, when asked thought-provoking, inquiry- questions on exams, the same students fall short of the intended outcome when unable to mesh content information. They have difficulty articulating what they really understand. The project goal was to establish student understanding of key concepts that endures by creating understanding through the use of “essential questions.” Essential questions have content depth. Students received instruction in three units of study using essential questions. Students wrote written responses to the essential questions before and after each unit and were assessed on their understanding of the topics two to six months after completion of the units.

Lee Moss
Using Vee Maps to Identify and Address Student Misconceptions in Astronomy

This project addressed problems with lab reports in junior high school Earth Systems Science. Traditional laboratory reports had not assisted students with processing concepts. Two major problems were identified. First, traditional lab reports did not identify student’s misconceptions; and second, students became proficient in doing work to earn a satisfactory grade, yet failed to make connections between the lab activity and content. “Just tell me what I need to do to get an A” was a common student response. In this study the traditional lab report was replaced with a Vee Diagram. This gave students the opportunity to use graphic organizers, concept mapping, connections to prior knowledge, and extensions within a lab report, rather than the typical linear text format. Results indicate that Vee reports helped students build accurate models, the curriculum became more meaningful, and misconceptions were revealed.

Michael Mulligan
Can Field Experiences Lead Students Toward Making Connections Between Principles of Geology and Biological Processes?

The focus of this research was to determine how geologic principles and biological processes can be interwoven with field trips as a tool for making desired connections. Caves, glacial deposits and an ancient Permian estuary in the Atlantic rain forest of Southeastern Brazil provided students with field sites for data collection. Four field trips allowed students to examine the geologic profile of each site and the biological influences of the sedimentary deposits studied. Revisiting microorganisms, which were a central focus during the previous year’s science class, helped students better understand ties between life science and earth science.

Katharine Murphy
Integration of Physical Science Concepts into Biology

This study focused on the problem of compartmentalized science teaching. As the only science teacher in a rural South Dakota school, I integrated physical science concepts into biology lessons in an attempt to present a more holistic picture of science. Student work, interviews, questionnaires, and journal entries were used to evaluate the effectiveness of integrated teaching. This study showed an increase in teacher and student awareness and understanding for the connections between sciences. Data revealed an increased emphasis on prior knowledge and higher order thinking skills, as well as, student retention of content knowledge. The project helped me to become a more reflective teacher, focused on meaningful learning using a more holistic approach to teaching science.

DeAnn Neal
Integrating Local and Real-time Earth Science Data in a Ninth Grade Curriculum

This study determined if ninth grade Earth Systems students would perceive local and real-time data activities as being more relevant than a traditional curriculum. The focus was on student perception because current literature indicates that students learn more when they perceive learning to be relevant to their lives. The added local and real-time data-driven activities centered on: ozone; soil moisture; salinity of the Great Salt Lake; and the hardness of local water.

Jeannine Paszek
The Use of Project-based Homework in Physical Science Class

The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of a shift from traditional homework assignments to more creative unit-projects. This was intended to accommodate a large percentage of at-risk students. It was apparent that changing to project-based assignments meant virtually all students were on-task during the class period, especially during those critical first few minutes of the period. More students participated in the homework/assignment process and had an improved attitude toward science class. Although unit projects were more difficult and time consuming to create, it was worthwhile to improve the class experience. The results showed the use of project-based assignments was an effective classroom strategy with a positive effect on both students and teacher.

Glen Peterson
Inquiry Activity Effect on Student Engagement in Chemistry

The level of student engagement during inquiry activities was compared to regular laboratories and lecture. Five Chemistry topics were considered in this study. Each topic or “set” contained one inquiry lab or activity, one regular lab and one lecture. Each of the three activities per set was developed for comparison purposes. Fifteen activities (3 per topic) were evaluated to determine level of student engagement. Overall, laboratory work was consistently rated higher for engagement than lecture. Inquiry activities were rated slightly higher, for student engagement, than any other class activity.

Kimberly Popham
Does the Use of Local Geologic Features to Teach Common Geologic Principles Increase Student Interest and Retention?

For the past several years, my students appeared bored during the geology unit and performed poorly on unit tests. This study examined the effect of using local geologic features to teach common geologic principles in order to improve student interest and retention. Four geology lessons were chosen and taught in the traditional manner and then redesigned to include local geologic features to teach the same concept. Surveys and quizzes were administered following each lesson to determine pre- and post-treatment interest and to measure retention. In addition to using surveys and quizzes, pre- and post-treatment interviews were conducted to further determine any increase in student interest in learning about geology. Evidence indicated that use of local geologic features did, in fact, increase student interest, but not retention.

Mary Porter
Science Fair Success for All Students

Science Fair participation is required for all science students at Revere High School, but historically a large number of students failed to complete the requirement, or did weak projects. In this study, the performance of tenth grade chemistry students was researched over two years as specific project requirements were increased in rigor, and additional after-school support was provided. For both years (2003 and 2004), three class sections completed the same pre and post fair confidence surveys, and project components were assessed with the same rubric. In the second year, an After School Science Fair Resource Center was offered twice per week, on a voluntary basis, and student participation was recorded.

Gordon Powell
Improving Teaching Methods in the Science Classroom

The purpose of this study was to determine if I could improve my classroom teaching through the use of concept mapping and Vee diagrams. The research was conducted over two school years with Biology I classes. Concept maps and Vee diagrams were introduced prior to a unit on osmosis and diffusion. Student attitudes were recorded with Likert surveys, direct observations, and interviews. A comparison was made between class test scores. Results indicated improvement in the quality of student laboratory experience. Concept maps and Vee diagrams helped students make meaningful and correct interpretations. Student interviews indicated a strong correlation between concept mapping and success in relating textbook concepts to laboratory observations. Test scores improved on an average by 14%. Many students attributed their improvement to the additional thought process required.

Charles Shepard
Using Electronic Portfolios and Determining Affect

Students from three science courses constructed web-page based electronic portfolios in a unit covering molecular biology and cellular organelles. Before and after the study student attitudes were assessed using questionnaires, surveys, and interviews. In addition, I documented observations concerning my teaching. Results indicated that students were motivated by the creativity and sense of ownership cultivated by this project. Construction of electronic portfolios was a legitimate means to deliver instruction and provide an opportunity to work directly with students.

Dorothy Gange Smith
Improving Teaching with Vee Heuristic Diagramming

The process of Vee Diagramming, a meta-cognitive device developed by Bob Gowin, was implemented in a beginning level chemistry class. This tool helped to develop guided-inquiry labs and activities to promote student higher-level thinking and reasoning skills. Students were given the focus question and materials, but used prior knowledge to develop their laboratory procedure and data tables. After students implemented their procedure, they transformed data into knowledge and value claims. This method allowed the teacher to change her traditional role, from teacher-driven lessons, to that of facilitator. The nature and extent of the teacher’s questioning during the Vee process was documented, as well as changes in student ownership and responsibility for learning.

Bernie Smith
Authentic Performance Assessments in an Environmental Science Class

This project investigated incorporation of authentic performance assessments into an environmental science class. Would this affect my teaching and student learning? The research considered various authentic performance assessments, including field research by students on Short horned lizards (Phrynosoma hernandesi) and their habitat.

Scotty Stalp
Case Studies and Critical Thinking in High School Biology

This study determined the value of case study use in a high school biology class. Specifically, data was collected on students at Heidelberg American High School regarding critical thinking and interest change with respect to units including case studies. Results focused on student change in content knowledge over the course of three curriculum units. This research identified factors relating to those who benefited from the case study method. Factors not related to change in critical thinking and content knowledge change, with respect to case studies, was considered.

Kim Walker
Using Math Manipulatives in 9th Grade Science

All freshmen in my high school are required to take 9th grade physical science, no matter their math abilities. This causes problems for students still in pre-algebra and those with no algebra experience. Most students learn at a concrete level before they can apply concepts at the abstract level, so math manipulatives were introduced to teach background content necessary for physical science. This project determined if the use of math manipulatives would improve problem solving skills and student self perception of math and algebra skill. Kinesthetic learners were of special interest.

Erika Wells
Emphasizing the Main Idea and Higher Order Concepts to Improve Teaching and Learning in a Noxious Weed Outreach Program

This project focused on improving outreach education practice by emphasizing major concepts in school presentations for a noxious weed education program in Teton County, Wyoming. As noxious weed program coordinator, I worked with schools to increase awareness for the negative impact that non-native, noxious weeds have on our ecosystem. Although it was intimidating to work in other teacher’s classrooms, it became a very rewarding process. The feedback received, from regular classroom teachers and their students, was valuable data to guide the process. Emphasizing higher order concepts and a main idea or central theme improved teaching and learning. This research helped to establish a successful noxious weed education program.

Kyle Welty
Implementing Multiple Methods of Instruction

Based on Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, this study investigated the influence of multiple methods of instruction on both student achievement and motivation. Three methods of instruction (lecture, discovery, and concept mapping) were implemented in two sophomore biology classes. Each method was utilized twice during the course of the study. Achievement was measured with weekly review essays, laboratory investigations, and a post-test for each method. Motivation was measured with a Likert questionnaire. The results indicated no difference in either overall achievement or motivation with the various instructional methods, but individual students showed preference for different instructional methods.

Jeff Youker
Teaching Chemistry as Inquiry Abstract

This study analyzed changes in teaching and learning that resulted from changing a traditional Chemistry course to an inquiry-based approach. Despite challenges, inquiry methods were implemented as the primary method of instruction. Chemistry students created personal meaning for science concepts through the analysis of teacher-led demonstrations and formative assessment data. Students wrote their own laboratory procedures. These students scored slightly better than in previous Chemistry classes on standardized chemistry exams and were more engaged in higher-level thinking. This research emphasized the benefit of student-centered instruction.

Brian Zeiszler
Use of Focus Groups to Improve Science Concept Communication

This project was done to determine if using regular student focus groups, following an assignment or assessment, might improve comprehension of science concepts for biology students. Focus groups consisted of 3-4 students who answered and discussed questionnaires pertaining to a recent previous assignment or assessment. Information was used to “fine tune” student communication in verbal and written forms. In addition to improved communication, students developed valuable self-regulatory learning skills and became an integral partner in the education process. The project renewed fervor for self-reflection and professional collaboration, as well as providing an alternative to formative student assessment.