AAS 207th Meeting, 8-12 January 2006
Session 27 Probing and Understanding Effective Learning and Teaching
Poster, Monday, 9:20am-7:00pm, January 9, 2006, Exhibit Hall

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[27.01] Assessing Thinking Skills in Astro 101: Do We Make an Impact?

D. Bruning (Univ. of Wisconsin-Parkside)

Most instructors agree that a major goal of "Astronomy 101" is to develop thinking skills in our students (Partridge and Greenstein, AER 2, 46, 2003). Much educational research in astronomy has initially concentrated on "best practices" for improving student learning (development of "think-pair-share", lecture tutorials, peer tutoring, etc.). Little has been done to date to assess our efforts to improve student thinking skills and students' desire to think more deeply about the cognitively rich ideas offered in the typical astronomy class.

This study surveys several astronomy and physics courses to determine whether general analytical thinking skills increase because of the science course and whether students' attitudes toward cognition improve. Cacioppo, Petty and Kao's "Need for Cognition" scale is used for the latter assessment (J. Personality Assessment 48, 306, 1984). A shortened version of Whimbey and Lochhead's ASI skills instrument is used to assess analytical skills ("Problem Solving and Comprehension," 1986).

Preliminary results suggest that students need for cognition does not change in general, although there may be a correlation between increasing need for cognition and improvement in grades through the semester. There is a suggestion that need for cognition is slightly predictive of course performance, but a greater correlation exists between the post-course survey and grades. Gains in general analytical skills have been seen in initial surveys, but correlations with course performance appear elusive.

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