by Claire Miller
College of Education Assistant Professor Maggie Renken was awarded the Paul R. Pintrich Division 15 Dissertation Award, which recognizes excellence in doctoral dissertation research in educational psychology.
Renken’s dissertation focused on 7th and 8th grade students’ understanding of basic physics concepts and how hands-on physics experiments compared to computer simulations of the same experiments.
“I want to know what kids consider valid science evidence,” she said. “My work focuses on determining what children and adolescents consider adequate sources of knowledge.”
In her research, she found that middle school students are likely to conduct more trials for experiments that challenge their beliefs.
She also discovered that computer and physical experiments didn’t differ in their contributions to students’ physics knowledge. As such, Renken hopes that teachers design both methods of experimentation to best demonstrate the science concepts behind them and to help combat students’ misperceptions.
“I’m a big proponent of both computer simulations and hands-on experiments,” she explained. “But I want to make sure they’re effective, especially when students come to class with misconceptions about science content.”
As a Pintrich Dissertation Award winner, Renken will accept the award and give a keynote address on her dissertation topic at the American Psychological Association’s 2013 Convention in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Between now and the convention next year, Renken hopes to continue her line of research into how students acquire science knowledge. She’s also looking forward to the opportunity to connect with others working in her field and encourages other graduate students to submit their research for such awards.
“As a faculty member at the beginning of my career, it’s exciting to communicate with other educational psychologists on this scale,” she said. “My advisor, Narina Nuñez, was the one who suggested I submit my work for the award. I encourage graduate students to have the courage to put their research out there, too.”
For more information about the award, visit http://www.apadiv15.org/awards/paul-r-pintrich-dissertation-awards.