AAS 207th Meeting, 8-12 January 2006
Session 92 Astronomy Education: Collaborations and Research
Oral, Tuesday, 10:00-11:30am, January 10, 2006, Balcony B

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[92.07] Student Gains in Understanding the Process of Scientific Research

T.A. Rector (U. of Alaska Anchorage), C. Pilachowski (Indiana University), M.J. Young (M.J. Young & Assoc.)

Research-Based Science Education is a method of instruction that models the processes of scientific inquiry and exploration used by scientists to discover new knowledge. It is "research-based" in the sense that students work together in self-guided, cooperative groups on a real research project. In other words, in order to learn science, students are given the opportunity to actually do science.

Here we present the results of a study of undergraduate students that were given the opportunity to work on a research project underway to search for novae in Local Group galaxies. Students analyzed images obtained regularly from the WIYN 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak. Novae were found by blinking these images. Aperture photometry was used to generate light curves and measure decay rates. Students then explored individually chosen questions, such as comparing the location of novae in the galaxy and their rates of decay. Students then wrote research papers and gave oral presentations to the class.

To assess their development in the understanding of science as a process, students completed pre and post concept maps on the topic of "scientific research." Each map was assessed for an understanding of the following ten concepts. Scientific research is: a process (i.e., a series of many steps over time), based upon prior knowledge or previous research, based on a hypothesis/question, uses experimentation, data collection, data representation (e.g., charts, tables and graphs), requires equipment, analysis/interpretation, generates results/conclusions, and results link back to modify the initial hypothesis iteratively. Overall, students made significant gains on the concept maps, showing greater depth in the number of concepts and their relationships. On average, students increased the number of the ten understood concepts listed above from 2.8 before the class to 5.4 afterwards.

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