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Impact of the Learning Assistant Experience in a High School Physics Classroom

Susan Nicholson-Dykstra, Joshua H. Cuchiaro, Valerie K. Otero Streamline to Mastery Program, University of Colorado at Boulder AAPT / PERC 2011

My School
• predominantly Latino • low proficiency on Colorado math and science assessment

My Students
• 4 Conceptual Physics Classes • n = 113 students • 37% English Language Learners • 33% Free & Reduced Lunch

LA Model of Experiential Learning in the University Learning Assistants (LAs):
Undergraduate students who facilitate small-group interactions in large-enrollment courses




Previous Research in Physics Education:

Impact of LA program at University Level: [1-3]
• LAs demonstrate higher performance in advanced courses • LAs show significant shifts in attitudes about learning science

Predicted Outcomes of an LA program in High School
• Increased content understanding

• Increased agency
• Increased awareness of teaching and learning processes

1 2 3

Gray, KE, Webb, DC and Otero, VK. 2011. Effects of Learning Assistant Experience on In-Service Teachers’ Practices. PERC Proceedings/Submitted poster. Otero, V., & Nathan, M. (2008). Pre-service elementary teachers’ conceptions of their students’ prior knowledge. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45 (4), 497-523. Otero, V., Pollock, S., & Finkelstein, N. (2010). A Physics Department’s Role in Preparing Physics Teachers: The Colorado Learning Assistant Model. Accepted to American Journal of Physics, doi: 10.1119/1.3471291

Modified LA Model in the High School
High school LAs create a 10-minute lesson plan for students, practice with peers, then implement lesson in elementary classroom.

High School LAs in conceptual physics course study content (Newton’s Laws, energy, electrostatics)



High school LAs learn backward lesson design and formative assessment.

Preparation: Establish an Elementary School Partnership
• 2nd grade team • similar demographics • higher poverty

Practice: LA Experience
• LAs practice pedagogy by creating lesson plans and scripts

• Implement lesson plans (2 field experiences per team)

• Debrief experience
• written reflections • summarizing discussions (video)

Research Methods: Data Collection: Lesson Design Teacher Observation Student Reflection

Data Analysis:

Comparison of 1st and 2nd Field Experiences


Preliminary Findings

Preliminary Findings: Student Reflections 8 Emergent Themes

First Experience

Second Experience

First Experience

Second Experience

Preliminary Findings: Student Survey
Self-Assessment of Impact on Community
100 90

% of students (n=55)

80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0

Students Reporting That They Have Made a Positive Impact on their Community

Before LA Experience

After LA Experience

Conclusions and Implications LA experience yields positive impact on High School Students:
• Increased metacognition and awareness of learning process • Increased sense of positive impact on the community

Conclusions and Implications

Elementary Teacher Feedback:
• Increased excitement for science content • Teacher revisions of science instruction

Next Steps: Improve Structure of LA Experience: • LA awareness of elementary classroom rituals and routines

• Alternative (non-teaching) roles during LA experience
• Student-designed content assessments

I would like to thank:  Members of the Streamline to Mastery program at the University of Colorado, Boulder

 Arturo Vasquez and the Second Grade Team at our partner school
 Funding Sources:  NSF grant DUE 937941  ING Unsung Heroes Award

PER at Colorado
Faculty: Melissa Dancy Michael Dubson Noah Finkelstein Valerie Otero Kathy Perkins Steven Pollock Carl Wieman (on leave) Postdocs/ Scientists: Charles Baily Danny Caballero Stephanie Chasteen Julia Chamberlain Kelly Lancaster Laurel Mayhew Emily Moore Ariel Paul Rachel Pepper Noah Podolefsky Benjamin Zwickl Grad Students: Stephanie Barr Kara Gray Lauren Kost-Smith (PhD May 11) May Lee Mike Ross Ben Spike Ben Van Dusen Bethany Wilcox Teachers / Partners / Staff: Shelly Belleau Jackie Elser Trish Loeblein Susie Nicholson-Dykstra Sara Severence Emily Quinty Mindy Gratny, Kate Kidder John Blanco, Sam Reid Chris Malley, Jon Olson Oliver Nix, Nina Zabolotnaya