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    Student Research

    An Exemplary Education Minor Capstone

    Doorways: Stories of Opportunity, Growth, and Change – A Unit for 10 Graders

    by Kayleigh Esswein '15

    Click title above to download Kayleigh Esswein's capstone. If you use any part of Kayleigh's unit, please email the results to Kris Stanec,

    Kayleigh Esswein

    2018 MAT Masters Research Abstracts

    Jed Ball
    How to make homework work: Designing homework under the framework of self-determination theory to increase student engagement with the content and completion rates

    Homework has been a key part of many high school students’ academic experiences. There is ample evidence that homework provides benefit towards improved standardized test scores and GPA.  However, homework’s benefit is limited by the amount of time students spend on homework, student’s perception of its benefit, and the learning goal as intended by the teacher (Cooper, Robinson, Patall, 2006).   The purpose of this paper is to determine what kind of homework students respond to best in terms of being engaged with the assignment and whether this engagement leads to an increase in homework completion rates.  This paper categorized homework into four different types: “memorization of basic rules, algorithms or laws so that skills become rote; increase in skill speed, used for improving students’ abilities to apply skills in more complex problem solving; deepening understanding of a concept and to elaborate on the day’s lesson; preparation for the following day to increase readiness for new content” (Northwest Education Regional Laboratory, 2005).  After qualitative and quantitative data analysis, this paper found that type of homework was a secondary factor to their engagement, and that the ability of homework to help satisfy students’ needs under the framework of self-determination theory would better serve as the primary factor for explaining student engagement. Furthermore, this paper will argue that homework is only useful when crafted intentionally to meet the needs of the students and should allow student to demonstrate autonomy, competence, and relatedness. 

    JJ Calhoun
    How do math teachers’ understandings of their students’ cultures affect their pedagogies? 

    The purpose of this grounded theory case study is to better understand how math teachers’ pedagogies are affected by their understandings of their students’ cultures. Using a grounded theory approach, qualitative data from five current and former high school teachers at two urban schools in Colorado Springs were collected through interviews and then coded using a constructivist bias in NVivo. From the coding process three thematic nodes emerged—“Culture Affects Learning”, “Pedagogical Philosophies”, and “Students’ Abilities and Beliefs.” From these themes, relationships will be built to better understand how the subjects’ teaching philosophies reflect culturally responsive teaching theory by building upon the associated literature related to the themes and from further analysis of coded quotes. This study should help teachers and pre-service teachers to better understand how to teach through the culture gap in the classroom, and thus narrow the achievement gap.

    Allie Crimmins
    Goal Orientations in a Fifth Grade Classroom: Exploring Relationships Between Goal Orientation, Goal Structure, Academic Achievement and Adaptive Learning Behaviors. 

    This study examined fifth grade students’ perception of classroom goal structure and personal goal orientation. Goal orientation theory discusses the relationship between academic achievement and adaptive learning behaviors depending on the person’s individual goal orientation. This study used multiple developing goal theories as lenses to evaluate the role that goal orientations play in both learning behaviors and measured academic achievement. Data for this study was gathered using a participatory action research methodology. The action research was conducted in the form of three goal setting interventions implemented during three separate math units over the course of a three-month period in a fifth grade classroom at an urban elementary school in Colorado. During the first intervention, students with combination orientations significantly outperformed students with performance orientations, indicating that a multiple goals approach can lead to increased academic achievement (sig 2-tailed=0.013 at p<0.05). Students with mastery orientations, although they did not exhibit the highest test scores, indicated that they enjoyed the goal setting interventions and were more likely to engage in adaptive learning behaviors (r(9)=0.632, sig 2-tailed=0.037 at p<0.05). The data gathered in this study explores the relationships between goal orientations, academic achievement and adaptive learning behaviors in order to positively inform practices in a fifth grade math classroom.

    Ally Ede
    Effects of Reasoning Practice on Multiplication Fluency in 4thand 5thGrade Students with Low Math Achievement

    Teaching students to reason rather than memorize is thought to promote a deeper conceptual understanding of math procedures, which is linked not only to successful long-term retention of information, but also to an ability to apply skills and understandings in diverse and unfamiliar contexts. Yet despite the negatives attributed to traditional rote instruction of multiplication facts, especially for students with low achievement or learning disabilities, reasoning skill development has not been investigated as an alternative method for teaching fact fluency. This experimental case study contrasted a semi-traditional approach to teaching multiplication with multiplication instruction that emphasized development of reasoning skills through various multi-step, open-ended math tasks. Participants consisted of fourth and fifth grade students who were considered “low math performers” based on classroom assessments and standardized tests. Results indicated that students in groups which had explicit practice in reasoning skills achieved greater automaticity in number facts over the one-month intervention period than students who were subjected to a traditional approach to multiplication instruction. These results have implications for how we approach the teaching of multiplication, particularly to those who are low achieving or learning disabled. Providing students with explicit instruction in reasoning skills in addition to practice drills may help them achieve automaticity in basic multiplication facts, and pave the way for greater understanding and performance in higher level mathematics concepts.

    Lydia Freliech
    Empathy and Narrative Fiction: The Effects of Palacio’s Wonder on Fourth-Grade Students’ Empathy

    Narrative fiction, as a vehicle for empathic development, is deemed important across many contexts; however, limited empirical studies have examined this hypothesis as it relates to elementary students.  The purpose of this mixed-methods action-research study is to investigate whether reading narrative fiction, combined with classroom activities on empathy and perspective, potentiates empathy in fourth-grade students. Participants (N = 46) were asked to complete pre- and post-unit questionnaires to measure empathy within three domains: affective empathy, cognitive empathy, and intention to help.  Questionnaire data from the eleven-week novel study demonstrated statistically significant growth in my students’ empathy across all three domains.  Additionally, male students demonstrated significantly more growth in affective empathy than females. Qualitative data from eight academically diverse fourth-grade case studies were analyzed to further investigate the development of students’ empathy.  Results indicated that during the eleven-week novel study, students developed their abilities to articulate their own affected emotions, their understanding of another’s emotions, and their plans to help another.

    Katie Sandfort
    Writing Workshop in The 6thGrade Classroom

    This action-research study examined how writing workshop affects student writing performance and perceptions of writing. This study used a writing workshop teaching format in a sixth grade language arts classroom to measure the effects on sixth grade students’ essay grades and attitudes towards writing over the course of eight weeks. The results found that, in general, the writing workshop did not improve student writing as a whole group, nor did it improve students perceived writing ability. However, when disaggregated by sex, the data revealed sex differences where females’ mean essay grades improved from 93% prior to writer’s workshop to 96% after writer’s workshop. Additionally, females reported an increase in perceived ability from a pre-intervention mean of 3.93 to a post-intervention mean of 4.27 on a scale of 1-5. Additionally, the goal setting component of the workshop was positively related to essay scores. Given the nuanced findings, the teacher-researcher reflects on the writing workshop format in the 6thgrade classroom and weighs the possibility of trying self-regulated strategy development in a later action-research study. 

    Savannah Teeple
    Teacher-Student Connectedness: Written teacher feedback and students’ academic and social experiences in the 8thgrade science classroom

    The purpose of this mixed method research was to examine how the use of intentional teacher feedback influences teacher-student relationships and classroom community. This study was carried out in three 8thgrade science classrooms (N=51) during the 3rdand 4thquarters of the school year. Written teacher feedback included post-it notes and letters to students distributed over a 5-week period spanning two science units. Pre and post-intervention surveys, and 10 semi-structured interviews were conducted to understand students’ reactions to the interventions. Interview findings revealed unexpected emotional outcomes that contributed to a change in students’ cognitive and social engagement in the science classroom.