KSU Physics

Activities on Funded Projects


Department of Physics, 116 Cardwell Hall, Kansas State University
srebello@ksu.edu                              Phone: (785) 532-1539


Kansas State University                                                                                              2001 -              

FIRE: Exploring Visual Cueing to Facilitate Problem Solving in Physics (2011 -- 2014, P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello, Co-P.I. Lester C. Loschky):  This project strengthens an existing partnership between a cognitive psychologist mentor and physics education researcher mentee tests the hypothesis that appropriately designed visual cues provided on physics problems can improve students physics problem solving by exploring and exploiting the link between cognition and eye movements in the context of physics problem solving. Although this project focuses on problem solving in physics, the results of the research have implications for learning in other STEM disciplines where the use of images is important.  Beyond its immediate scope, the project will benefit the field of physics education research by infusing ideas from cognitive psychology regarding visual cueing into physics education research, It will also potentially change the ways visual media are used in physics and other STEM instruction to more effectively facilitate students' learning.

Enhancing Literacy in Science through Digital Text, Simulations, and Design Challenges (2011 – 2012, P.I. Sadhana Puntambekar, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, Co-P.I.s N. Sanjay Rebello, N. Hari Narayanan, Auburn University, Roland Hubscher, Bentley University): This is a collaborative project with faculty in Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  This project aims to implement a technology-rich, interactive learning environment consisting of multiple modes and representations, in the form of digital text, simulations, and design challenges. The overall goal of this project is to enhance digital and science literacy and deep understanding of science content by providing students with multiple opportunities to read, write, experiment, and explain science phenomena. Project materials address Common Core Standards in reading and writing, while at the same time providing opportunities for deepening science learning

GK-12: Evidence-based Inquiry into the Distant, Remote, or Past (EIDRoP): Linking Evidence to Inference in the Kansas Science Classroom (2009 – 2014, P.I.  Carolyn Ferguson, Co-P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello, Scott Tanona and others):  In this project Kansas State University (KSU) graduate fellows in the biological sciences, geosciences and physics work with mentor teachers at Junction City High School (USD 475) to develop and teach both discipline-specific and interdisciplinary lessons responsive to state standards in science as inquiry and the nature of science in order to enhance young scientists' abilities as effective communicators and as educational collaborators; improve science education for grade 9-12 students through the infusion of contemporary science research, an integrated emphasis on nature of science, interdisciplinary teaching modules and provision of scientist role models; enhance the knowledge of grade 9-12 teachers through teacher training, interaction with KSU students and faculty, and curriculum enrichment; strengthen USD 475’s partnerships with STEM departments at KSU; and expand collaborative partnerships within KSU and between KSU and K-12 education.

K-State TEACH Program -- Robert Noyce Scholarship (2009 – 2014, P.I. Christopher Culbertson, Co-P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello, Jacquelyn D. Spears, Carolyn Ferguson and others):  This project is increasing the supply of highly qualified middle and high school teachers (Grades 6-12) in biology, chemistry, earth and space science, and physics by providing opportunities for 20 freshmen and sophomores to work in informal STEM education settings both on and off campus; is increasing by 17 the number of undergraduates in the targeted STEM disciplines receiving licensure; and enabling 12 graduates in the targeted STEM disciplines to gain licensure through a newly established Graduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning. The evaluation plan includes the development of a database for maintaining demographic data; the Scholars' academic progress and perceptions of the usefulness of the program elements; the effectiveness of program elements, especially new teacher support; and subsequent teaching challenges in high need schools.

Trajectories of Learning & Transfer of Problem Solving Expertise from Mathematics to Physics to Engineering (2008 – 2012, P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello, Co-P.I. Andrew Bennett, Steve Warren, Dean Zollman):  This project is a step in creating a knowledge base on the evolution of students’ problem solving skills over the span of three years of STEM courses.  We investigate the development and transfer of problem solving skills in undergraduate mathematics, physics and engineering courses.  First we use individual semi-structured interviews to capture fine grained data about individual student’s problem solving.  Based on these insights we enhance an adaptive online system to collect data from large numbers of students and map students’ learning trajectories as they build toward problem solving expertise.  In each phase, we conduct longitudinal as well as cross-sectional studies in multiple courses in mathematics, physics and engineering.  Over three years we will investigate problem solving by over 3000 students in seven different courses in mathematics, physics and engineering.

Scaffolding Student Use of Multiple Representations for Science Learning (2008 – 2012, P. I. Sadhana Puntambekar, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Co-P.I.s N. Sanjay Rebello, N. Hari Narayanan, Auburn University, and Roland Hubscher, Bentley University): The central premise of this project is that a careful integration of multiple representations within an instructional unit, and the design of scaffolding that enables translation between representations, will lead to a deeper conceptual understanding. Our main objective therefore is to develop and evaluate a novel approach to science instruction that engages multiple representations – text, hands-on experimentation and interactive computer simulations, which incorporates scaffolding both by the teacher and the computer, in order to immerse middle school students in these practices of science. Specific goals of the proposed research are to: (i) promote deeper conceptual learning by integrating multiple representations and activities that engage students in scientific practices; (ii) investigate how scaffolding built into (a) instructional materials and (b) the design of representations will lead to deeper science understanding and representational competence; and (iii) explore how teacher facilitation can help students connect and translate between representations.  Our focus is on integration of representations within an instructional unit and on helping students to translate between representations with the aim of developing deeper conceptual understanding and representational competence. Our approach involves both classroom studies in middle schools as well as teaching interviews with middle school students, pre-service science teachers and undergraduate science students.

Case Reuse in Problem Solving (2006 – 2009, P.I. David H. Jonassen, University of Missouri – Columbia, Co-P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello): This collaborative project with faculty in Educational Psychology at the University of Missouri – Columbia, will conduct design-based research on methods for supporting case reuse when learning to solve problems in physics; develop more and scalable comprehensive methods for assessing different dimensions of problem-solving performance; and design, develop, and disseminate instructional materials for supporting problem solving in various levels of introductory physics; and contribute to a developing theory of problem solving in physics.  Our research builds on existing research efforts in analogical transfer, case-based reasoning, questioning strategies, verbal protocol analysis, and structural mapping that contribute to pedagogy of case reuse.  The strategies and technology-based materials that we create can be used effectively to facilitate the acquisition of problem-solving skills among diverse kinds of problems in physics and the transfer of those skills to solving more complex workplace problems.

Integrating Digital Text in Design-Based Science Classrooms (2004 – 2009, P.I. Sadhana Puntambekar, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Co-P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello, Roland Hubscher, Bentley University): This is a collaborative project with faculty in Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  The project has two major goals. First is aim to further the understanding of integrating conceptual learning from informational text with the experimental and hands-on activities in a design based classes.  The enactment of the intervention across different contexts will be systematically studied by examining the variations in teacher practices, student characteristics, project challenges and aspects of classroom culture that enable students to take advantage of the affordances of both design activities and the use of multiple electronic texts.  Second is the aim to understand students’ changing representations as they use multiple texts in their science explorations.  As electronic texts become ubiquitous in educational settings, there is an increasing need to understand how students in project-based and design-based classrooms engage in learning from multiple texts in the context of an inquiry classroom.  This project aims to examine students’ learning trajectories by taking into consideration the strategies that students use, student characteristics such as prior knowledge, their group interactions and the relationships of these to navigation and learning.  The methodology includes rigorous analytical tools systematically studying the enactment of the intervention in a classroom context starting with a focus on classroom dynamics and sequencing.

Curriculum Resources for Physics Instruction Using Interactive Technologies and Digital Formats (2004 – 2005, P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello): This project developed and delivered instructional materials online to Kansas physics teachers.  The materials included content and pedagogical strategies for middle and high school teachers in the area of contemporary physics.  The materials created could potentially form a component of a graduate course taken by in-service teachers.  The materials included interactive computer programs, written materials for teachers and students and forums for online discussion and consultation with the course instructors and other personnel at Kansas State.  As the project progresses, we will study the teacher and student use of these online materials, their user-friendliness and impact on teaching and learning.

Use of Feedback Response Systems in Large Lecture Classes (2004 – 2005, P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello):  Using a technology grant from Hewlett Packard, we obtained state-of-the-art wireless devices (Pocket PCs) to be used in our large enrollment classes as a classroom interaction system.  We have been using these devices in the classroom and have study their user-friendliness as well impact on teaching and student learning.

Assessing Student Transfer and Retention of Learning in Mathematics, Physics and Engineering Courses (2002 – 2007, P.I. Andrew Bennett, Co-P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello):  This study was in collaboration with faculty members in the Mathematics Dept. and the College of Engineering.  We have focused our efforts on investigating student transfer and retention from Engineering Physics and courses in the College of Engineering.  We began by surveying engineering faculty members about the topics and concepts that they feel students should be familiar with after they have taken a physics course and just as they enter the engineering courses mentioned above.  Based on these responses, we constructed surveys that addressed these topics.  We drew from research-based instruments that were already being used elsewhere, but found that no one instrument would address the topics listed by the engineering faculty members.  Our research instruments included open-ended questionnaires to faculty members in engineering as well as multiple-choice surveys followed by more in-depth, semi-structured interviews.  We have also focused our efforts on understanding how students transfer their knowledge from trigonometry to algebra-based physics and calculus to calculus-based physics.  We utilized data from online homework, in-class surveys and clinical interviews to understand how students transferred their learning from mathematics to physics courses.

Research on Students' Mental Models, Learning and Transfer as a Guide to Application-Based Curriculum Development and Instruction in Physics (2002 – 2007, P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello -- CAREER/PECASE Award):  The overarching goal is to investigate the students’ mental models of everyday devices and phenomena and how they apply these mental models in various contexts.  Based on this research we developed application-oriented curricular materials for introductory undergraduates.  We pilot-tested these curricular materials and instructional strategies and investigated their impact on students’ mental models and how students transfer these models from one context to another.  We explored students’ ideas of everyday devices such as bicycles, light bulbs, musical instruments and electrical appliances.  In addition, we explored student understanding of friction at the microscopic level, which has implications for nanoscience education.  We have also developed instructional materials that address students’ models of these devices and phenomena.  To better understand the cognitive processes and mediating factors, we have adapted a new research methodology – the teaching/learning interview (or experiment) that gives us the opportunity to learn how students construct knowledge when provided with certain resources such as hands-on experiences, information from the instructor, etc. Therefore, it provides a rich context in which to explore students’ knowledge construction and transfer. Thus, it forms a useful bridge between clinical research and curriculum development.  Synergy with the project below includes developing a framework to analyze student reasoning.

Technology & Model-Based Conceptual Assessment: Research in Students’ Applications of Models in Physics & Mathematics (2001 – 2004, P.I. Dean Zollman):  The overarching goal of the project was to understand the ways in which students construct models of physical phenomena and the extent to which they transfer and transform these models in different contexts as they proceed through instruction.  One area of focus was student use of Newton’s II Law across a two-semester introductory course sequence.  We found that students use two principal mental models (Newtonian and Aristotelian) in contexts spanning topical areas of mechanics, electrostatics and magnetism.  Some students might use conceptions from both models depending upon the context, i.e. they are in a mixed model state.  Another focus of research in this project was to investigate the effect of question order on student responses on a survey.  Our research shows that the order of questions and the inclusion of an unrelated question have a statistically significant effect on student responses to both survey as well as interview questions.

Clarion University                                                                                                       1998 - 2001

Implementing the Workshop model and other research-based strategies in the algebra-based physics course (1999 – 2002, P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello) Collaborated with faculty in Physics and Mathematics departments and led an effort to completely overhaul the General Physics sequence of courses from a traditional lecture with a separate lab, to an integrated Workshop model, incorporating various research-based pedagogy and conducting research on the learning and affective impact on students.

Incorporating modern physics into a conceptual physical science course (1998 – 1999, P.I. N. Sanjay Rebello) Modified the curriculum in a Physical Science course for Elementary Education majors by adapting and implementing instructional materials and strategies developed in an earlier project (Visual Quantum Mechanics) at Kansas State.

Kansas State University                                                                                              1995 - 1998

Visual Quantum Mechanics: (P.I. Dean A. Zollman, Post-doc N. Sanjay Rebello).  Collaborated with undergraduate, graduate, post-doctoral and faculty researchers in creating, testing and evaluation of curricular material consisting of computer programs, experiments, and documentation, aimed at teaching quantum physics to high school and introductory college students who do not have any background in higher level mathematics or quantum physics.  These materials emphasize interactive visualization and hands-on learning in an activity-based environment where students create their own knowledge.  Responsibilities included design, development and pilot-testing of the instructional materials – written materials, experiment kits and software; interacting and supporting field-testers and evaluating student understanding as they used these materials, and conducting workshops at local regional and national meetings.