CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS (CONT.)

The Students' Point of View

Anecdotes from the students' journals

The first phase or step of the project required students to learn Internet search techniques using Altavista's World Wide Web search engine in order to find sources and images for their literature review. At the conclusion of each activity in the computer lab, the students answered the following prompts in their journals. The prompts helped them to describe what they did and how they felt about every activity.

Prompts (see Chapter Three)

  1. Describe the work you accomplished today.
  2. Describe how you felt while you were working on this task--was anything particularly rewarding or frustrating?
  3. What will you be (or not be) looking forward to doing the next time we work on the projects in class?
  4. In what way will your work today in class influence the work you will do tonight (or this week)?

The comments in the journals regarding Internet searching were coded for being generally positive, negative or neutral and then graphed. The “radar” graph (Figure 1) helps gauge the attitude of the students toward this activity. Note that the variables for each axis are numbers of students and that only 23 students responded to the prompts in their journals during this activity.

Figure 1: Internet Searching

A representative sample of positive and negative anecdotes from the students' journals regarding Internet searching is included:

“Positive” anecdotes

Jeff

It was cool when [I] found a site about exactly what [my research was about]. I am looking forward to doing the science project.

Danny

I thought it was pretty cool that I could not only find a source ... but I was also able to send [the bookmarks via email]. I am looking forward to finding more sources using the Internet. The feeling of accomplishment was great.

“Negative” anecdotes

Isis

At one point I was very frustrated because I could not find an image relating to my topic.

Bari

I accomplished finding one image for my science fair project. I thought it was interesting looking at different pictures, but I got frustrated trying to put everything together. I will be looking forward to finding more images.

Jennifer

It was extremely frustrating trying to create the bookmark file when I didn't know what to do! And it is also extremely frustrating when I can't find [sources] relating to my topic when I type in a general word. But in the end it was OK when I found a couple of sites that might help. I won't be looking forward to using the computer search engine Altavista because it doesn't seem to work as well as some other engines [including] Yahoo.

The next phase in the project was for the students to convert their finished literature review from a word processed document to an html document or Web page. For the most part, it is simply a matter of opening the documents with the Web page authoring software. Because of the variety of word processors used and two operating systems--Macintosh and Windows 95--there were many conversion problems to overcome; consequently, there was a high level of frustration. The comments in the students' journals for this activity were coded for frustrating, rewarding and neutral and then graphed (Figure 2). Fifteen students responded to the prompts in their journals about making file conversions.

Figure 2: File Conversions

A representative sample of “frustrating” and “rewarding” anecdotes concerning making file conversions from the students' journals is included:

“Rewarding” anecdotes

Andrew

The ease which I converted the Word Perfect document into a Word document made me feel more confident than I had before. And because I was able to convert [to] rich text format, I felt `invincible'! However, the computer's inability to open my document frustrated me.

“Frustrating” anecdotes

Flynn

It is frustrating not to be able to get into our documents on these computers, but for the most part, it is just frustrating to work with the computers because they are difficult to get into. I will be looking forward to better success next time.

Chris

Today was frustrating because so little seemed to be accomplished. The same problems that we have been having all week prevented us from doing any real work.

The final phase of the project required the students to link all of their Web pages together using the Web authoring software. Nearly all of the students found this step to be rewarding. One of them found it to be frustrating. Again, the comments for this activity were coded for rewarding, frustrating and neutral and graphed (Figure 3). Only 11 students responded to the prompts in their journals about making links.

Figure 3: Making Links

A few “rewarding” anecdotes from the students' journals regarding making links have been included:

Jeff

It was rewarding to click on a link [I made] and actually go there.

Terry

It was pretty easy, I'm getting better at using computers every day ... I'll work on this [links] during my free [periods].

Isis

While I was working on this task I felt very happy because everything was finally coming together.

Jon

It was rewarding seeing all the final project with all my images and having the link connect me back to where I found the image.

Derrick

I felt good because I remembered how to link from last time and I'm starting to realize the benefits from this science project. I have learned a lot.

Danny

I finished all my links to my web pages ... I felt good about this task because I knew what I was doing. It was rewarding to know that I could finish the page. I will be looking forward to seeing my web page on the Internet.

Data from the First Survey

The first survey consisted of ten open-ended questions which served to determine whether or not the students worked on their projects in the computer lab during their free time and the degree in which students helped each other in class.

Survey Questions (see Chapter Three)

  1. What use of the computer lab did you make outside of class? How often?
  2. Compare and contrast your behavior between working in the computer lab (class time) and doing regular physics work in the classroom.
  3. In what ways has using the computer lab affected your project?
  4. How did you help others on their projects?
  5. What help did you receive on your project from your classmates?
  6. What are some of the science fair activities you enjoy doing?
  7. What are some of the science fair activities you do not enjoy doing?
  8. How did you feel about including your email address on your Web pages and why?
  9. Do you feel that you have become an expert in the topic you chose? Why or why not?
  10. Do you think the projects in your science class have helped you to understand science better? Please explain.

This survey also served to uncover the students' attitudes toward the activities they liked and disliked as well as a way to reflect their feelings on using email. In addition, it assessed whether or not the students felt that their research helped them to better understand science and the degree in which the students felt themselves to be local experts.

The amount of time a student spends on a project outside of class on his or her free time is a good indication of student interest and satisfaction (Dixon and Black, 1996; Neal, 1995). In Figure 4, students' responses were coded for computer lab use outside of class or no outside use; some students did not respond to the question. It is important to realize that most of these students have computers at home and that some students purchased Web authoring software so that they could work on their Web pages at home. Some quotes about the use of spare time in the computer lab from the questionnaire have been included after the graph.

Figure 4: Use of the Computer Lab

Jessica

I used the library computer lab during lunches and some free tracks so that I could put everything together.

Chris

I frequently used computers outside of class both in the lab and at home.

Danny

Towards the past 3 weeks of science fair I spent most of my free time in the library classroom [lab] working on my page.

Isis

Outside of class I worked in the computer lab during free tracks and at home, weekly.

Andrew

At the beginning of the project I only visited the computer lab with class. However, now that I have taken an interest in developing a good project, this past week every free track I have been in the pc/MAC lab or in the library classroom.

Bari

I had to use a computer for my science fair project so coming to the computer lab helped me understand how to use the computer better.

Erica

I used the computer lab in the library about three times a week to find backgrounds, etc.

As discussed in the literature review, Neal (1995) suggested that students working cooperatively with one another as a community of learners serves as evidence that students are motivated. Figure 5 is a tally of students who reported that they gave or received help using the computers in the lab. The student quotes give an impression of the type of help the students gave to each other. Note that some students neither gave nor received help because there were students who preferred to work by themselves.

Figure 5: Giving and Receiving Help

Following are some students' quotes from the questionnaire with respect to how they helped their classmates with the computers.

Beth

I spent about 70% of our class time helping other students figure out Pagemil, Photoshop, etc.

Claire

Once I figured out how to create the links and all the stuff associated with that, I showed and helped my friends do the same.

Arthur

I mostly helped other students with the initial process of creating a Web page.

Bo

I helped others with computers--people who didn't know certain programs I taught them a [little].

Jessica

I helped others put graphics on their pages and I helped them link their pages together. Jeff and Arthur helped me when I was behind by helping me create my folders and my backgrounds.

The following part of the analysis is very revealing concerning the students' attitudes. An open-ended question asked students to report on which aspects of the project they liked or disliked. Many of the students had common responses. The two graphs (Figures 6 and 7) indicate the numbers of students who reported on how well they liked the activities.

Figure 6: Likes

Figure 7: Dislikes

All of the students put their email address on their Web pages so that the judges and those who visit the Web site could ask questions, give feedback and make general comments. The students were asked how they felt about putting their email on their Web pages and the responses to the questionnaire were coded for positive, negative and neutral feelings. The radar graph (Figure 8) reports how the students as a whole felt. A representative sample of positive and negative quotes about the use of email follows the graph.

Figure 8: Email

“Positive” anecdotes

Derrick

I felt proud that I did all this work no matter how irrelevant to physics it is. People will think of me as an expert and mail me for help or if they need info.

Jon

I like it because I can get feedback about my project.

Olivia

It would be nice to see how people like my project.

Terry

Good idea, makes our projects and us accessible.

Jeff

I never got mail before so now I actually might get some.

Andrew

Fine, I would love to be able to advise other baseball players concerning their problems.

Isis

I felt good because I know that I could possibly help someone if he/she needed some information about music psychology.

Chris

I feel it is important because I can get student as well as professional response to the work I have done.

Erica

Fine. People can email me and tell what they think of my project.

“Negative” anecdote

Danny

I have not done so, but I don't think I want my email address on the Web pages because someone would be able to get a hold of me.

It was observed that many of the students felt proud about publishing their science fair projects on the Internet and that they felt they were “local experts.” Nadelson (1997) describes students as “local authorities” after putting in many hours of research. One of the survey questions sought to find how many students considered themselves to be local experts in the topic they chose. Figure 9 represents those students who felt themselves to be local experts, those who did not and those who didn't feel either way. A representative sample of student quotes relating to being a local expert follows the graph; not all of the students responded to the question.

Figure 9: Local Experts

“Expert” anecdotes

Chris

I feel I have become an expert on the topic at a student level.” In order to fully understand it I would need a fuller education regarding the atmosphere and weather, etc.

Danny

Yes, because I can explain and understand the process of allografting.

Tyler

Yes, I feel that I am an expert because I was able to use what I learned from research on my experiment.

“Neutral” anecdotes

Jessica

Somewhat because I better understand the links between the human mind and athletic performance.

Adam

In some ways, yes, but in some cases no. I'm very knowledgeable about specifically what I tested. I don't know much else.

“Non-expert” anecdotes

Claire

No, there are so many different sections of my topic, you'd have to be a psychologist to be an expert.

Arthur

I wouldn't call myself an expert. I only had a few months of studying my topic.

Erica

No, I feel I could have done more research.

Isis

No I haven't become an expert because I didn't do enough research for my experiment.

The scientific method should be strictly followed for a science fair project. It was interesting to discover whether the students felt as if they had understood science better as a result of doing the project and using the scientific method. Figure 10 reflects the feelings of students who felt that they understood science better, those who did not and those who felt neither way. Some student quotes from the questionnaire concerning science understanding have been included.

Figure 10: Science Understanding

“Better understanding” anecdotes

Adam

Yes, because by doing another science fair project I learned to make a respectable write up and good literature review.

Erica

Yes, people did research on things that I didn't know about. I gained knowledge through reading their pages.

Jeff

Yes. You actually take up the process of the scientific method. You see what works and what doesn't. Then you learn how to organize and analyze the data.

Olivia

Not science, but I do understand the scientific process better and how it applies to life.

“No better understanding” anecdotes

Alex

No--I've been just way too frustrated and turned off. I was really excited to do physics this year and I am really disappointed to be spending most of my time on science fair.

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