A Learning Progression Approach to Understanding Students’ Conceptions of the Structure of Matter

TitleA Learning Progression Approach to Understanding Students’ Conceptions of the Structure of Matter
Publication TypeConference Presentation
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsWilson, M, Black, P, Morell, L
The aim of this paper is to contribute to the discussion and debate concerning the topic of learning progressions in the context of a learning progression in the area of Students’ Conceptions of the Structure of Matter. We will respond to the questions outlined in the introduction, concentrating, especially on the multiple roles that assessment can play in that development.
We developed a research question: “What is the nature of the learning progression in the content domain of Structure of Matter?” To address this research question, we first put forth a hypothesized progression, based on previous work published on how students understand the structure of matter (AAAS, 2001; Black, Wilson, & Yao, 2011; Duschl, Maeng, and Sezen, 2011; Johnson 1998; Renstrom, Andersson, and Marton, 1990; Smith, Wiser, Anderson, & Krajcik, 2004; and Talanquer, 2009;). Six constructs (or smaller parts) were articulated into the learning progression that features multiple links among the levels of the constructs.
The constructs for the learning progression are: (1) Macro and Micro Properties; (2) Measurement and Data Handling; (3) Density and Mass & Volume; (4) Changes of State and Other Physical Changes; (5) Particulate Explanations of Physical Change; (6) Particulate Explanations of Chemical Change.
Researchers developed paper and pencil assessments to measure eighth grade students’ understanding of the theorized constructs that compose the structure of matter learning progression. Before the assessments were administered on a large scale, (a) items were paneled by teams of teachers and assessment experts, (b) think-aloud interviews were conducted with middle school students, and (c) mini-administrations, called trials, were conducted to refine items and ensure respondents perceived test questions as intended. Data were analyzed for each construct using the Rasch partial credit model (Wright & Masters, 1982) using ConQuest (Wu, Adams, and Wilson, 1998).
Throughout the process of developing and detailing the learning progression, assessment was used as a driving mechanism to create and test ideas of ways of student thinking. Along the way, researchers, along with teacher-collaborators, grappled with how the learning progression approach addresses larger questions, how the learning progressions integrate content and practice, how they get developed, and the role assessment plays in their development. In addition, special issues arise when considering validity questions of the learning progression – especially content validity. Finally, throughout the process we were led to think critically about how the learning progression could contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning of science. This included considerations for making the aim(s) of student achievement clear in materials from the beginning and then expressing those expectations through assessment measures clearly linked to the overall aim(s).
This research makes a significant contribution to building an empirically grounded learning progression that is focused on foundational and generative ideas within science and at extending and improving the repertoire of items available to assess student progress. The paper serves as an example of how a learning progression can be built with the use of assessment.

annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco

Presentation or Publication date: 
Sunday, April 28, 2013