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The Pathfinder Center Stories Project: Narratives from Student Experiences in College

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This paper considers what factors influence student interest, motivation, and continued engagement. Studies show anticipated extrinsic rewards for activity participation have been shown to reduce intrinsic value for that activity. This might suggest that grade point average (GPA) has a

This paper considers what factors influence student interest, motivation, and continued engagement. Studies show anticipated extrinsic rewards for activity participation have been shown to reduce intrinsic value for that activity. This might suggest that grade point average (GPA) has a similar effect on academic interests. Further, when incentives such as scholarships, internships, and careers are GPA-oriented, students must adopt performance goals in courses to guarantee success. However, performance goals have not been shown to correlated with continued interest in a topic. Current literature proposes that student involvement in extracurricular activities, focused study groups, and mentored research are crucial to student success. Further, students may express either a fixed or growth mindset, which influences their approach to challenges and opportunities for growth. The purpose of this study was to collect individual cases of students' experiences in college. The interview method was chosen to collect complex information that could not be gathered from standard surveys. To accomplish this, questions were developed based on content areas related to education and motivation theory. The content areas included activities and meaning, motivation, vision, and personal development. The developed interview method relied on broad questions that would be followed by specific "probing" questions. We hypothesize that this would result in participant-led discussions and unique narratives from the participant. Initial findings suggest that some of the questions were effective in eliciting detailed responses, though results were dependent on the interviewer. From the interviews we find that students value their group involvements, leadership opportunities, and relationships with mentors, which parallels results found in other studies.

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2018-05

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The Effects of Grade Inflation on Student Learning Outcomes

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Grade inflation in modern universities across the United States has been documented since the 1960's and shows no signs of disappearing soon. Responses to this trend have ranged from mild worry to excessive panic. However, is the concern justified? How

Grade inflation in modern universities across the United States has been documented since the 1960's and shows no signs of disappearing soon. Responses to this trend have ranged from mild worry to excessive panic. However, is the concern justified? How significant are the effects, if any, of grade inflation on students? Specifically, does grade inflation on the aggregate level have any effect on how much an individual will learn from their courses? This is precisely the question my project hoped to address. Grade inflation in U.S. colleges has played a central role in student-teacher relationships and the way university classrooms run. Through teacher interviews, student surveys, and a literature review, this paper investigates the nuanced effects grade inflation is having on student motivation and learning. The hypothesis is that the easier it is for a student to obtain their desired grade, the less they will end up engaging in and learning from a given course. Major findings of the literature include: grade inflation has robbed grades of their signaling power, grade inflation has helped create students are too grade-oriented, student evaluations of teaching have prompted higher grades, higher expectations for high grades induce greater study times, and open dialogue can help reverse grade inflation trends. The student surveys and faculty interviews agreed with much of the literature and found that professors believe grade inflation is real but do not believe its effects are significant, students admit to being primarily motivated by grades, and students find grades critically important to their future. The paper concludes that grade inflation is not as detrimental to student outcomes as ardent critics argue and offers practical ways to address it.

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2018-05

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Supplementing Traditional Symbolic Logic Instruction with Historical Background and Real-World Applications

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A thorough understanding of the key concepts of logic is critical for student success. Logic is often not explicitly taught as its own subject in modern curriculums, which results in misconceptions among students as to what comprises logical reasoning. In

A thorough understanding of the key concepts of logic is critical for student success. Logic is often not explicitly taught as its own subject in modern curriculums, which results in misconceptions among students as to what comprises logical reasoning. In addition, current standardized testing schemes often promote teaching styles which emphasize students' abilities to memorize set problem-solving methods over their capacities to reason abstractly and creatively. These phenomena, in tandem with halting progress in United States education compared to other developed nations, suggest that implementing logic courses into public schools and universities can better prepare students for professional careers and beyond. In particular, logic is essential for mathematics students as they transition from calculation-based courses to theoretical, proof-based classes. Many students find this adjustment difficult, and existing university-level courses which emphasize the technical aspects of symbolic logic do not fully bridge the gap between these two different approaches to mathematics. As a step towards resolving this problem, this project proposes a logic course which integrates historical, technical, and interdisciplinary investigations to present logic as a robust and meaningful subject warranting independent study. This course is designed with mathematics students in mind, with particular stresses on different formulations of deductively valid proof schemes. Additionally, this class can either be taught before existing logic classes in an effort to gradually expose students to logic over an extended period of time, or it can replace current logic courses as a more holistic introduction to the subject. The first section of the course investigates historical developments in studies of argumentation and logic throughout different civilizations; specifically, the works of ancient China, ancient India, ancient Greece, medieval Europe, and modernity are investigated. Along the way, several important themes are highlighted within appropriate historical contexts; these are often presented in an ad hoc way in courses emphasizing technical features of symbolic logic. After the motivations for modern symbolic logic are established, the key technical features of symbolic logic are presented, including: logical connectives, truth tables, logical equivalence, derivations, predicates, and quantifiers. Potential obstacles in students' understandings of these ideas are anticipated, and resolution methods are proposed. Finally, examples of how ideas of symbolic logic are manifested in many modern disciplines are presented. In particular, key concepts in game theory, computer science, biology, grammar, and mathematics are reformulated in the context of symbolic logic. By combining the three perspectives of historical context, technical aspects, and practical applications of symbolic logic, this course will ideally make logic a more meaningful and accessible subject for students.

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2018-05

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The Mathematical Successes and Failures of Students in an Introductory Physics Course

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A working knowledge of mathematics is a vital requirement for introductory university physics courses. However, there is mounting evidence which shows that many incoming introductory physics students do not have the necessary mathematical ability to succeed in physics. The investigation

A working knowledge of mathematics is a vital requirement for introductory university physics courses. However, there is mounting evidence which shows that many incoming introductory physics students do not have the necessary mathematical ability to succeed in physics. The investigation reported in this thesis used preinstruction diagnostics and interviews to examine this problem in depth. It was found that in some cases, over 75% of students could not solve the most basic mathematics problems. We asked questions involving right triangles, vector addition, vector direction, systems of equations, and arithmetic, to give a few examples. The correct response rates were typically between 25% and 75%, which is worrying, because these problems are far simpler than the typical problem encountered in an introductory quantitative physics course. This thesis uncovered a few common problem solving strategies that were not particularly effective. When solving trigonometry problems, 13% of students wrote down the mnemonic "SOH CAH TOA," but a chi-squared test revealed that this was not a statistically significant factor in getting the correct answer, and was actually detrimental in certain situations. Also, about 50% of students used a tip-to-tail method to add vectors. But there is evidence to suggest that this method is not as effective as using components. There are also a number of problem solving strategies that successful students use to solve mathematics problems. Using the components of a vector increases student success when adding vectors and examining their direction. Preliminary evidence also suggests that repetitive trigonometry practice may be the best way to improve student performance on trigonometry problems. In addition, teaching students to use a wide variety of algebraic techniques like the distributive property may help them from getting stuck when working through problems. Finally, evidence suggests that checking work could eliminate up to a third of student errors.

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Date Created
2016-12

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Investnet: Investing Education Made Easy

Description

Millennial involvement levels in the stock market are startlingly low. But what has caused this disconnect between America's younger generation and the financial sector? Stress from past financial crises, distrust of Wall Street, corporate greed, or a dislike of capitalism

Millennial involvement levels in the stock market are startlingly low. But what has caused this disconnect between America's younger generation and the financial sector? Stress from past financial crises, distrust of Wall Street, corporate greed, or a dislike of capitalism could surely all be viable culprits. Through our mutual experiences and research, however, we have found that most millennials aren't cynical anarchists avoiding the stock market in an attempt to fight against the system. Rather, they are individuals who have the desire to learn about investing but are clueless as to where/how to start. We both began investing in the stock market early in our college careers by opening online brokerage accounts and developing investment portfolios based on knowledge we learned within our Finance degrees and through independent research. Word of our involvement in the stock market began to spread in our social circles and people would consistently approach either of us and ask a variety of questions regarding investing. Questions such as: Can you sit down and help me open up an account and pick some stocks? What type of things do you invest in? How do I get started? How much money have you made? (always a favorite). Pre-med students, engineers, business, science, and technology majors alike all showed interest in the stock market. The more and more we talked to people, the more we realized that the problem was not a lack of desire or a lack of intellect. The problem was a lack of logically presented information, and barriers to entry that were far too high. We want to fix that. Investnet will be an online educational platform that will teach anyone the basics of investing, in plain, easy to understand terms. Whether the individual has absolutely zero knowledge of finances, or has some familiarity with investing, Investnet will provide them with the knowledge and confidence necessary to start investing in the stock market (or choose not to, but at least they'll know how).

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Date Created
2016-05

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The Signaling Effect of College Quality to Employers

Description

Upon hiring a new college graduate, employers are left with limited information about the true productivity of the individual, mainly based on the information provided via resume and other related documents. Based on the information, which may include (and is

Upon hiring a new college graduate, employers are left with limited information about the true productivity of the individual, mainly based on the information provided via resume and other related documents. Based on the information, which may include (and is not limited to) education years, grade point average(s), the institution one attended, majors, etc., employers attempt to differentiate between the candidates. Existing employer learning literature, such as Altonji and Pierret (2001) and Peter Arcidiacono, Patrick Bayer, and Aurel Hizmo (2010), have found that employers statistically discriminate upon hiring and estimate wages based on expected productivity conditional to observable characteristics--specifically education. As one's work experience accumulates, the wages are adjusted to the newly learned characteristics correlated with productivity. Thus, college graduates are more appealing as job candidates than high school graduates, with little learning done with experience in the labor market as employers have a more accurate depiction on productivity with more education years. With rising demands for high-skilled labor, there is a growing interest on what employers learn about from the name of the college listed on one's resume, as varying ability students sort into varying quality colleges. I include a one-dimensional index of college quality, as similarly constructed by Eleanor Dillon and Jeffrey Smith (2015), to measure the effects of attending a highly-selective institution in predicting individual ability. This paper provides additional support for the employer learning model on college graduates, with an emphasis on the direct role that college quality has at the start of one's career. Although college quality appears to be influential in providing employers additional information on one's productivity, unlike education, the weight placed on it by employers does not change with experience in the labor market. I further investigate within the college market and provide possible explanations behind learning on the basis of college quality, including: the possibility of information explained by quality unrelated to one's ability and the effects of attending a highly selective college.

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2016-05

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Innovative strategies used to teach mathematics: A look at educators and classrooms across six countries

Description

Mathematics is an increasingly critical subject and the achievement of students in mathematics has been the focus of many recent reports and studies. However, few studies exist that both observe and discuss the specific teaching and assessment techniques employed in

Mathematics is an increasingly critical subject and the achievement of students in mathematics has been the focus of many recent reports and studies. However, few studies exist that both observe and discuss the specific teaching and assessment techniques employed in the classrooms across multiple countries. The focus of this study is to look at classrooms and educators across six high achieving countries to identify and compare teaching strategies being used. In Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and Switzerland, twenty educators were interviewed and fourteen educators were observed teaching. Themes were first identified by comparing individual teacher responses within each country. These themes were then grouped together across countries and eight emerging patterns were identified. These strategies include students active involvement in the classroom, students given written feedback on assessments, students involvement in thoughtful discussion about mathematical concepts, students solving and explaining mathematics problems at the board, students exploring mathematical concepts either before or after being taught the material, students engagement in practical applications, students making connections between concepts, and students having confidence in their ability to understand mathematics. The strategies identified across these six high achieving countries can inform educators in their efforts of increasing student understanding of mathematical concepts and lead to an improvement in mathematics performance.

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2014-12

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Ways of Thinking for Developing an Understanding of Covariational Reasoning in Undergraduate Calculus Students

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Previous research discusses students' difficulties in grasping an operational understanding of covariational reasoning. In this study, I interviewed four undergraduate students in calculus and pre-calculus classes to determine their ways of thinking when working on an animated covariation problem. With

Previous research discusses students' difficulties in grasping an operational understanding of covariational reasoning. In this study, I interviewed four undergraduate students in calculus and pre-calculus classes to determine their ways of thinking when working on an animated covariation problem. With previous studies in mind and with the use of technology, I devised an interview method, which I structured using multiple phases of pre-planned support. With these interviews, I gathered information about two main aspects about students' thinking: how students think when attempting to reason covariationally and which of the identified ways of thinking are most propitious for the development of an understanding of covariational reasoning. I will discuss how, based on interview data, one of the five identified ways of thinking about covariational reasoning is highly propitious, while the other four are somewhat less propitious.

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2014-05

Achieving a Flow State in Piano Performance by Redefining Technical Challenges

Description

This project is a small scale investigation of various factors concerning "Flow" in Piano Performance. "Flow" is the sweet spot where ability and challenge are about equal, and usually high (Csikszentmihalyi 1990). Piano performance is a state of playing the

This project is a small scale investigation of various factors concerning "Flow" in Piano Performance. "Flow" is the sweet spot where ability and challenge are about equal, and usually high (Csikszentmihalyi 1990). Piano performance is a state of playing the piano with some intent to perform. In this case, the intent is to create something new or improvise. Improvisation is one form of expressive creativity on the piano stemming from some knowledge and extrapolation upon that knowledge (Nachmanovitch 82). Creativity is essential to the development of new music, and though extensive literature exists on both creativity and music independently, there is a gap in research regarding links between the two (Macdonald et al. 2006). This project aims to address some of these gaps by working with piano players and non-musicians of various technical skill levels to examine the "Flow" state in improvisation as well as potential factors affecting creative performance. Factors such as listening, self-confidence, frustration in methodology, and meditation practices were found to correlate positively with technical skill. Participants who completed the practice program were able to reconstruct challenges and enter the "Flow" state in improvisation regardless of high or low technical scores.

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2016-05

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District Wealth and Arizona School Voucher Program Participation

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This study estimates the effect of district wealth on Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program participation using data from the Arizona Department of Education. We find that students from poor districts are not more likely to participate as school performance

This study estimates the effect of district wealth on Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program participation using data from the Arizona Department of Education. We find that students from poor districts are not more likely to participate as school performance decreases.Conversely, those from wealthy districts do increase participation as school performance decreases. We briefly try to explain the observed heterogeneity through survey results and commenting on the program design.

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2021-05