SC 130 Physical Science assessment grid

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Program Learning Outcomes

The relevant program learning outcomes are from the general education core.

Course Learning Outcomes

Learning themes cut across all activities and explorations in the course. These learning themes are the first three items on the course outline.

Students will be able to...

Learning Themes
Outcome Materials Sample Evidence
Explore physical science systems using scientific methodologies Syllabus Laboratory reports from laboratory 14 final practical laboratory. Students were given a system to study and no further guidance on how to analyze the system.
Generate mathematical models for physical science systems Math relations
Write up the results of experiments in a formal format using spreadsheet and word processing software Generic rubric

Specific learning is centered on the laboratory experiences. Laboratory reports cited above are considered a primary measure of student performance in the course. Through the weekly laboratory reports, the course integrates writing into the core of the course curriculum.

Documenting actual activity during the laboratories is difficult. The laboratories are intended and designed to engender cooperative learning in scientific teams of exploration. One of the design intents is that the acquisition of scientific knowledge is a journey, not a destination. Science is not about a set of accumulated and memorized facts. Science is a process of discovery, careful thought and analysis. Science is about finding and testing explanations for systems, in physcial science those explanations are typically mathematical models.

Tests can document acquired facts. Documenting the journey, as opposed to the acquired facts, is difficult. The table further below uses links to photo documentation as indirect evidence of science as an exploration.

The final includes single numeric problems typifying that area of study. Each final utilized a spreadsheet to randomly generate data values. A mail merge was used to produce individually unique final examinations for each and every student. The merge also generated an answer sheet for each student final, these were separated from the final and used to mark each unique exam paper.

The results of an item analysis (IA) for the spring 2008 final and the fall 2008 final are in the table further below. Twenty-nine students took the spring final, twenty-eight students took the fall final. The item analysis is the percent of students answering the question in that area correctly.

Specific Learning
Outcomes Laboratory Photo documentation Fx IA 81 Fx IA 83
Explore dynamics of motion including performing calculations of velocity, acceleration, momentum, and kinetic energy, generating appropriate mathematical models such as linear regressions, making calculations of the conservation of momentum and energy Linear Rolling balls 0.62 0.89
Acceleration Falling balls 0.62 0.39
Momentum Marbles 0.59 0.57
Experiment with and determine the heat and electrical conductivity of materials Heat Conduction 0.90 0.86
Determine latitude, longitude, and find the mathematical relationship with standard linear measures; determine universal time Lat Long Lat Long 0.17 0.36
Observe and identify clouds, be able to describe precipitation processes in Micronesia such as collision-coalescence, Bergeron, and orographic precipitation; list the phenomenon associated with El Niño and La Niña Clouds Cloud formation and shape 0.48 0.79
Determine the speed of sound and perform experiments with sound Sound Echoes and waves 0.21 0.14
Explore reflection and refraction, determining the mathematical relationships for reflected image depths, angles, and refracted image angles Optics Optics 0.72 0.36
List the primary and secondary colors of light, generate other colors from primary colors, explore systems of specifying colors Colors of light 0.34 0.36
Develop a mathematical model using measurements of current versus voltage across a resistance; determine and sketch open, short, and closed circuits Electricity Circuits 0.72 0.64
Determine whether substances are acids or bases using locally available pH indicator solutions Chemistry Acids and bases 0.52 0.86
Average: 0.54 0.57

Comments and notes spring 2008

The core of the course are the activities and laboratories. The laboratories involve a write-up using spreadsheet and word processing software. The laboratories are marked using a rubric. The course focuses on physical science as a process and method, an exploration in search of mathematical models of system behavior.

The item analysis success rate is directly related to the complexity of the problem. Students tend to perform strongest on questions that involve the direct recall of a single fact. Calculations which require only a single step such as calculations of velocity had the next highest rate of success. Questions involving multiple calculation steps had the lowest rate of success. The table includes success rates for both the spring (Fx IA 81) and fall terms (Fx IA 83) 2008. The sample size for this data is 29 students for spring term, 28 students for fall term.

ComplexityFx IA 81Fx IA 83
Fact 0.900.84
Single 0.620.62

Fall 2008 problems which required only memorized recall of a single fact such as the heat conductivity of a material saw 84% of the students answering correctly. Calculations which require only a single step such as calculations of velocity had a 62% success rate. Problems which involved multiple steps and internal conversions such as determining the number of meters per minute of longitude or the speed of sound based on echo times had a 31% success rate.

Term-to-term changes are not necessarily comparable as the questions were not the same term-to-term. Until more terms have been completed, term-to-term variability is not yet known. There is no reliable way to determine whether the changes are statistically significant. At this point the differences do not appear to be significant given the small underlying sample sizes.

The one trend that is statistically real is that as a problem adds steps necessary to solution, the success rate falls. Recollection of a simple fact results in a high rate of success. Having to perform a single mathematical operation - typically division or multiplication - drops the rate by an averge of 20%. Adding a third or fourth mathematical step to the problem drops success rates to 31%, half of that for a single step.

Observational comments

During the spring of 2008 many of the laboratories were redesigned and rewritten to focus on mathematical relationships. On the midterm practical laboratory the students had success at finding the mathematical relationship between volume and mass for variety of glass spheres. The relationship was a positive relationship with a high correlation.

On the final practical laboratory the students were presented with a system that had a negative relationship with a moderate correlation. The system could be modeled by a linear expression, yet only a quarter of the students chose to do so. The rest deemed that the points were randomly scattered. The students have difficulty realizing a system could be linear even when the points are not colinear.

The students have difficulty distinguishing when a set of coordinate points forms a pattern that can be mathematically modeled and when the points are merely random. A contributing factor may be that no laboratories are designed to generate a random relationship. In terms of content, unrelated variables are not usually studied in physical science. Where there are two variables being studied there is usually a relationship.

The fall 2008 term also featured a sharper focus on physical dimensionality early in the term: time, space, matter and the fundamental units used to measure these quantities. The sharper focus reflected observations the prior year that students were unfamiliar with the philosophical framework by which physical scientists view the world. This led to difficulties in reading graphs, remembering to report units of measurement in laboratories, and including units in answers on tests.