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
Location: 401 Linfield Hall


Dr. Peggy Taylor

2008 Capstone Project Abstracts

Right Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet. Pellentesque sit amet odio lectus, pharetra aliquet ante.Link Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc in placerat dolor. Donec sit amet lectus mi, a ultrices lectus. Pellentesque sit amet odio lectus, pharetra aliquet ante.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc in placerat dolor. Donec sit amet lectus mi, a ultrices lectus. Pellentesque sit amet odio lectus, pharetra aliquet ante.

Steve Alexander
Bridging Theory to Practice through Experiential:  Capstones in a Local Study Abroad Semester

Both liberal arts and environmental education have been criticized by antiquated pedagogical approaches too focused on knowledge. In an attempt to bridge academics and application, a three week experiential capstone with college undergrads was piloted. This study examined the effects, development, and facilitation of the students’ experiences. The results indicate a valuable experience highlighted by independence, personalization, and community interactions, with room for improvement to better facilitate reflection and synthesis.

Janelle Wilhelm Bailey
Is Mastery Learning Teaching Worth Mastering?  Implementing a Mastery Learning Cycle in an 8th Grade Physical Science Classroom

This project investigated the implementation of mastery learning in an eighth grade physical science classroom.  In mastery learning, students complete formative assessments to determine if they have mastered the content.  Once the students in the class have shown mastery of the content, then the class moves on.  Analysis of test scores, student surveys, and teacher journals indicate mastery learning can improve student performance and attitudes while providing the teacher with more insight into student learning.

Marlessa Benson   
Improving Integrated Science Process Skills in Freshman Biology Class

This study examined higher-level science process skills including forming a hypothesis, identifying variables, analyzing graphs, and drawing conclusions. Teaching techniques which utilized graphing predictions, anonymous hypotheses, and formative assessments were used along with cartoon character bell-ringers to improve student science skills. The effectiveness of several techniques was studied as well as the relationship between students’ skills self-assessments and their actual improvement. 

Jennifer Brashear
Improving Student Performance on Science Word Problems:  Unit Recognition, Drilled Practice, and Approach Strategies

As students progress through the sciences, the relationship between math and science deepens, and students’ ability to understand basic math skills becomes important.  This capstone project examined ways to move students from simply solving mathematical formulas to applying them in context.  This study found that when students began recognizing the units as part of the formula, they became more comfortable with problem solving.

Matthew Bryant
When Will We Ever Use This?  Increasing Relevance by Introducing Theme-Based Units in a General Chemistry Class

Students sometimes miss the connections between chemistry and their everyday lives.  This project was designed to address this problem by creating units around real-world themes such as Household Chemistry, Water, and Environmental Chemistry.  Although there was little indication of significant improvement in performance, results indicated that motivation and interest in the subject increased greatly as topics were linked to issues in students’ lives. 

Christopher Carucci   
Assessing the Effectiveness of Educational Blogging on Student Achievement in an Eighth Grade Science Class

In the fall of 2006 a new middle school was open in Dedham, Massachusetts that was designed to maximize the use of technology among teachers, students, and parents.  The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of utilizing educational blogs in increasing scores to open response questions, increasing the retention of science content, and improving the attitudes of students by encouraging collaboration with peers outside of the classroom.

Jennifer Crow   
Building Content Based Vocabulary in English Language Learners

Students who speak English as a second language often politely sit in the classroom, while terminology whizzes past them, unable to be comprehended.  This study explored the impact of teaching content specific vocabulary to ELL science students in a small group setting.  An additional focus included the correlation between vocabulary comprehension and confidence in volunteering during class. 

Deborah Dilloway
Chemistry: Does It Compute?

Does technology fit into the chemistry classroom, and if so, how?  To answer that question a variety of computer assignments were added to the curriculum of a high school chemistry class.  In Phase One students were taught the same unit twice, once with traditional methods and once with computer assignments.  In Phase Two computer assignments were blended with traditional methods.  Results indicate that computers can be effective if not overused. 

Tracy Durish   
Concept Maps:  Are They the Key to Learning and Retention in Biology I?

In an attempt to help students construct scientifically applicable, well integrated meanings in biology, concept maps were incorporated in Biology I for one semester.  This study addressed two goals.  First, concept maps were used at the end of textbook chapters to help students learn new biology concepts.  Second, concept maps were also used between chapters to help students integrate new information and prior knowledge.  In addition, student and teacher attitudes toward the use of concept maps for learning and retention in Biology I were evaluated. 

Ayn Eklund   
Can High School Students Overcome Their Misconceptions About The Nature of Science?

Twenty-seven students in a sophomore biology class were given surveys to determine any misconceptions that the students had about evolution prior to the unit on natural selection.  After completion of the unit, students were re-surveyed and interviewed to determine if any changes in their misconceptions occurred.  Unit assessments were also analyzed to see if misconceptions had an adverse effect on student grades. 

Andrew Gelman
The Impact of Field Trips and Guest Speakers

This project measured the impact of field trips and guest speakers on student attitudes towards science.  Further, it measured student ability to retain and connect scientific concepts learned through field trips and guest speaker presentations to what they had learned in science class. The results of this study indicate that, for some students, field trips and guest speakers improve the attitudes and awareness of science in the community.

John Getty
Implementing Inquiry Methods in the Laboratory Electronics Sequence at Montana State University

Physics education research and the development of "inquiry" teaching methods over the last 20 years have significantly reduced misconceptions and improved student understanding in physics.  But, adoption of the method at the university level has been slow. This action research project sought to determine whether benefits of the inquiry method could be achieved in a sophomore electronics course for physics majors.  The results suggest the answer is yes. 

Molly Godar   
Effects of the RAFT Writing Method on Students’ Science Writing

The focus of this study is to evaluate the effects of the RAFT (R- role, A-audience, F- format, T- topic) method of prewriting support to improve high school students’ technical science writing. This method was used for nine weeks as a guide for 18 students to write science observational journals.  Some findings indicate increases in students’ interest for science writing and their ability to scientifically observe details and describe objects. 

John Gordon
Just Tell Me the Answers:  The Effects of Inquiry-based Instruction on Students and Teacher in a Science Classroom with Extreme Disparity in Academic Achievement

Although inquiry is a requirement in the state standards, little is known of its effects on the teacher and students in a classroom of low achieving students.  The purpose of this research was to address the question, “What are the effects on students and teacher when an inquiry-based teaching strategy is implemented in a science classroom with extreme disparity in student achievement?”  The study focused on four students who engaged in inquiry science throughout the year.  The results revealed student strengths and weaknesses, effects on student engagement, teacher guidance needed, and constraints encountered throughout the inquiry process. 

Paul Halfpop
Engaging High School Science Students through Multiplication Drills

This project focused on the use of a warm-up activity to start both 9th grade Physical Science classes and 12th grade Physics classes.  The activity was a variation of the "mad minute" multiplication drill.  It was found that as a result of using these drills, students were more on task throughout the class period. 

Martin Hudson
Improving Memory Using Graphically Organized Review Sessions:   Do Graphically Organized Lessons Help The Brain Recall Information?

In this investigation the effectiveness of graphically organized review lessons were compared to traditional question and answer review lessons.  Review lessons were used as a short five to ten minute review at the start of class to help stimulate memory.  The three types of graphic organizers used were concept maps, Venn diagrams, and flow charts.  Results of the study demonstrate that students scored higher and felt better prepared for assessments when they used graphic organizers.

Louise Jones   
Academic Science Vocabulary Notebooks for the Food Science Classroom

There are many terms specific to science, food science or to general academics that are not readily understood by high school students, and this can affect their overall performance. It is proposed that creating an academic notebook, where all difficult terms can be recorded, defined and refined, will have a positive impact on students. It was found that while grades did not improve dramatically, staff and student attitudes did.

Tim King
The Effects of Guided-Inquiry Activities on Learning Core Science Concepts

The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the impact of guided-inquiry activities on the learning, long-term memory of concepts, engagement, and motivation of middle school students.  Physical science concepts taught with a teacher-centered approach, including demonstrations and “cook-book” labs, were compared with concepts taught with a student-centered approach utilizing guided-inquiry activities.  Data collected using observations, student surveys, interviews, and various assessments offered valuable information about these instructional approaches. 

Jill Hughes-Koszarek   
Changing Misconceptions in Astronomy:  A Study in Assessing and Altering Student Misconceptions

Research indicates that student misconceptions are resistant to conceptual change.  A previous course taught in astronomy revealed the difficulty of displacing student misconceptions in the content area. Summative assessment scores indicated little change in student responses to questions pre and post study on Moon phases and Earth's seasons. This study investigated conceptual changes in misconceptions brought about through the implementation of formative assessment probes. 

Jonell Prather
The Effects of Engaging Vocabulary Acquisition Strategies on Student Achievement and Attitude in Biology

This project investigated the impact of using various vocabulary learning strategies with first year biology students.  Word walls, semantic feature analysis, word roots, and semantic concept mapping were the strategies used during a unit on cell biology.  Analysis of pre and post treatment data (self-evaluations, attitude scales, interviews, observations, and tests) indicated that these strategies had a positive effect on students’ academic performance and attitudes. 

Charles Reade   
Visual Cues as a Tool to Learn and Understand Scientific Vocabulary

A key challenge in learning and understanding scientific vocabulary is making a connection between the actual term and its meaning. The focus of this project was to provide diagrams or pictures with newly introduced vocabulary as an aid to learning.  Results indicate moderate improvement by students in their retention of new terminology with use of the treatment.

Laura Ritter
Examining the Effects of Computer-Based Assessment Tools on Students’ Conceptual Understanding of Physics Topics

This project was designed to determine the usefulness of DIAGNOSER Tools, a web-based assessment instrument.  During selected instructional units, students took the website’s pre-tests and post-tests, which were designed to provide both students and teacher with immediate feedback about the students’ conceptual understandings.  During some units, instructional interventions were introduced based on student pre-test responses.  Students’ attitudes and scores were compared for each pre-test and post-test. 

Frank Ruiz   
An Educator Performing Scientific Research:  Agave as Spider Habitat, Vizcaino Subsection of the Sonoran Desert, Baja California, Mexico

Educators rarely have the opportunity to perform authentic scientific research outside the classroom.  These research experiences can make science more applicable and relevant to the teacher, and to the student through an enhanced curriculum.  Such an opportunity was provided through an original study investigating spider habitat in a species of Agave in Baja California, Mexico.  The research conducted furthers the understanding of spiders in a unique desert habitat.

Kristina Sappenfield
Inquiry-Based Science Instruction with Target Questions and Learning of Science Concepts

This project compared the effects of using a traditional instructional method, with only textbook non-inquiry lessons, to the effects of using an inquiry-based method, with targeted questions, on the learning of science concepts with fourth-grade students. The students' long-term memories of concepts and attitudes and motivation to learning science were also assessed.  Data were collected using pre and post assessments, surveys, and interviews.

Eric Sawtelle
Learning through the Landscape:   The Effects of Problem-Based Field Investigations on Student Motivation and Achievement

This investigation compared student interest and achievement levels between traditional lessons and problem-based field studies within the surrounding school ecosystem. Two treatment lessons were conducted: one in earth science and one in biology. Data evaluated included pre- and post-treatment attitude surveys, application cards, student interviews, assessment scores, and a teacher journal.  Results indicated an overall increase in student attitude and a slight improvement in achievement.

Donald Selusnik
The Use of Lab Notebooks versus Rubric Based Lab Reports in Student Achievement

This study investigated whether the use of a rubric-based lab report or the use of a lab notebook was more effective in meeting learning objectives in Chemistry I lab. Sub-questions examined the benefits of a post-lab discussion with the rubric report and lab notebook, student perceptions, the use of journaling, and the effectiveness in lab writing and analysis skills.  Results indicated that the use of lab notebooks with a discussion improved achievement. 

Linda Smith   
Teaching Chemistry with the 5E Instructional Model

This study explored the effects of implementing the 5E instructional model in chemistry classrooms.  Data were collected on students’ learning and memory of concepts, higher order thinking skills, and attitude towards chemistry using pre, post, and delayed assessments, concept map interviews, and student surveys.  The assessments were further analyzed according to Bloom’s Taxonomy and the study was concluded with debriefing interviews with students about results. 

Lisa Skilang   
Keeping it Real:  Assessing the Impact of Problem-Based Field Work on Understanding and Attitudes Toward Environmental Management Issues

The intent of this research was to expose students to theoretical content in the classroom and show its relevance to the environment through problem-based field work, data analysis and interpretation.  Interviews, attitude and confidence surveys, observations, and performance assessments were used to compare classroom and field components of two units.  Data indicated positive results in student learning and attitudes toward environmental management issues. 

Katherine Pfeifer Solberg
The Impact of Layered Curriculum on Student Learning, Attitude, and Motivation

The average science classroom consists of students with differences concerning content knowledge, reading and writing abilities, preferred learning styles, personality styles, and attitudes towards education. Can educators differentiate successfully for all students? The Layered CurriculumTM  provides a framework needed to differentiate learning around student choices and learning preferences. This project evaluated the impact of the Layered CurriculumTM model on student learning, attitude, and motivation.

J.J. Swan   
Lab Performance Assessments and Students’ Confidence to Do Science

Do lab performance assessments impact students’ confidence in science? This action research project explored the impact of lab assessment on middle school students’ confidence levels.  The results show that students increased their confidence and overall performance, and they appreciate when a teacher seeks feedback related to their learning.  The project also inspired the author to assess her own attitudes as a science teacher and how she impacts her students. 

Angela Swanson
Identification of Learning Styles and the Use of Study Skills on Student Achievement

This study looked at how the use of activities designed around learning styles affected student achievement.  In addition to class activities and homework, students were encouraged to use learning style techniques when studying and completing projects for other core subjects.  In addition to improvement in class scores, students expressed more confidence when preparing for or taking tests and projects. 

Nathan Whelham
Effects of Cattle Grazing on Small Mammal Communities at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

This project is the culmination of research designed to investigate the response of small mammal communities to cattle grazing at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Lima, Montana. Research procedures, analysis and results will be presented with a summary of how being a teacher/researcher has impacted classroom pedagogy. Future student & teacher research opportunities at Red Rock Lakes NWR is also a possible question and answer topic. 

Laura Wick
Developing Inquiry Processes in the Outdoor Classroom

The purpose of this study was to determine if science activities designed for outdoors would improve 4th graders’ inquiry skills. Students were taken outside to observe, question, and conduct investigations. The types of questions generated by the students were analyzed, and rubrics were used to evaluate students’ behaviors and observations. The results indicate that when they worked outdoors, students generated a greater number of investigable questions and detailed observations. 

Kathleen Woldtvedt
Current Events as a Tool and Its Effect on Scientific Literacy

Today’s students will be grappling with innumerable scientific and technologic issues during their adult lives.  They must have a strong level of scientific literacy to handle the challenge.  The focus of this project was to explore the use of current events as a tool to improve scientific literacy in a high school biology classroom.  Current events activities modeled desired behaviors and skills with mixed results. 

Jaime Wolfe
The Effects of Integrating Art into Junior High Earth Science as a Multiple Intelligence Approach to Learning

This study investigated how student motivation and achievement changed through the application of Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  To accomplish this, language arts, fine arts, and music were incorporated into the curriculum.  Instead of traditional homework, students chose art projects to complete based on their multiple intelligence profiles.  Students’ pre- and post-treatment attitudes and test scores were compared.  Results indicated an improvement in motivation, but not test scores. 

Wendy Worrall
Using Inquiry in First-Year University Biology Laboratory Activities

The purpose of this study was to determine the impact of a hybrid inquiry model on students’ understanding of concepts, skills utilized, and engagement in the scientific process.   A hybrid inquiry model (integrating guided inquiry with open-ended inquiry) for doing first-year university biology labs was compared to the traditional lab approach.  The effect on science major and non-major students was also compared.  Lab topics included enzymes, photosynthesis, and cellular respiration. 

June Wozny
Do Students Become More Scientifically Literate When Writing Lab Reports?

Scientific literacy is a topic of much interest to educators.  Teachers search for techniques that will improve scientific literacy.  This study sought to determine whether writing lab reports in the 6th grade science class would increase scientific literacy.  Lab reports were analyzed for comprehension, connections to every day life, and the ability to communicate lab results.  Data indicates that writing lab reports contributes to overall scientific literacy.