Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Geoff Potvin

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Zahra Hazari

Second Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Caroline Simpson

Third Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Laird Kramer

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

committee member


cooperative learning, small group learning, social interdependence, social metacognition, introductory physics, modeling instruction, conceptual learning, physics identity, cooperation beliefs, FMCE

Date of Defense



The collected works in my dissertation are centered around the dynamics and impacts of small group learning in introductory physics. It is motivated by a desire to better understand which classroom practices and learning processes may lead to students achieving greater understanding or affinity to physics. Several theoretical frameworks are leveraged in my work including physics identity theory, social interdependence theory and social metacognition. The research design employed quantitative and qualitative methods including regression analysis, descriptive statistics, and observational analysis.

Firstly, students across the U.S. enrolled in first semester introductory physics courses were surveyed at the beginning and end of their semester. Regression analysis finds several classroom practices predict conceptual learning gains; of particular interest was the daily use of small group activities. Expanding on these results, two additional studies into small group learning were conducted in a Modeling Instruction introductory physics course. The first of these took the form of a quantitative study again using regression analysis to investigate how students' social interdependence experiences may be associated with improvements in conceptual understanding and in physics identity. The final study took the form of a qualitative, exploratory observational study that examined the social interdependence of students working in small groups in situ. The latter study also analyzes students’ social metacognition to explore the processes that dictate how students negotiate their understanding with one another.

The first study in this dissertation expands on existing literature to support the effectiveness of small group learning in introductory physics. The second study identifies associations between social interdependence and physics identity gains. The last study explores the mechanisms through which students engage with one another in small groups using the dual lenses of social interdependence and social metacognition.



Included in

Other Physics Commons



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