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Abstract Title: Social Hierarchies and Accessibility in Physics
Abstract: The establishment of hierarchical social structures, either explicit and conscious or implicit and unconscious, can hinder student participation resulting in their marginalization and disengagement.  As part of the regular process of education, students experience social hierarchies in their studies stemming from aspects of their "invisible backpacks" and from day-to-day experiences in the classroom.  In this symposium, we explore how social hierarchies arising from both of these sources are formed and the implications for student engagement with physics, physics identity development, and physics participation.  In the former case, the impacts of sociocultural factors (including immigrant generation and college generation) are examined with respect to physical science career interests.  In the latter case, the effects of teacher practices including positioning and authoritativeness on student engagement and attachment to physics are studied.  These results are important for understanding how social hierarchies can impede entry into physics-related fields and how to address these concerns.
Abstract Type: Poster Symposium

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Geoff Potvin
Clemson University

Symposium Specific Information

Discussant: Geoff Potvin, Clemson University
Moderator: Robynne M. Lock, Clemson University
Presentation 1 Title: Obscuring power structures in the physics classroom: Implications for student engagement and physics identity development
Presentation 1 Authors: Zahra Hazari,
Robynne M. Lock,
Cheryl A. P. Cass,
Carrie Beattie
Presentation 1 Abstract: Many students are disempowered in physics classes finding them to be more difficult, unpleasant, narrow, and masculine when compared to other subjects.  Such disempowerment can lead students to limit their engagement and rely on rote learning strategies.  This study explores how physics teachers can help students engage with the material and develop their physics identities by obscuring traditional classroom hierarchies.    Employing a positionality lens on case studies of four high school physics teachers, we coded teachers' behavioral cues that contributed to the relationship structure in the classroom.  Our findings suggest that teachers' physical cues (space and hierarchical stance occupied), structural cues (dynamic nature of the classroom allowing alternating roles), contextual cues (including students' thoughts and experiences), and social cues (obscuring traditional boundaries between teacher and student) affect the social distance between the teacher, students, and content.  This social distance can moderate students' level of engagement and ultimately their physics identity development.
Presentation 2 Title: Measuring the impact an instructor's words has on student engagement and responses
Presentation 2 Authors: Dedra Demaree,
Saalih Allie,
Sissi Li
Presentation 2 Abstract: From fall 2008 to fall 2010 extensive data were collected within the large-lecture introductory calculus-based physics course at Oregon State University for the purpose of measuring the efficacy of course reform and studying student identity development in learning communities. Simultaneously, data were collected at the University of Cape Town in a completely un-related study, also within a large-lecture introductory course, but for understanding how students make sense of measurements in the laboratory.  Trends seen in both of these settings led to an in-depth analysis of the wording used by the instructor to introduce in-class activities or phrase questions to probe student understanding.  We found strong correlations between authoritativeness of statements and a reduction in student engagement in both environments. This poster briefly presents the results of these studies, proposes a model for understanding this effect from a cognitive perspective, and ties the findings to the literature on identity and community.
Presentation 3 Title: Welcome to America, Welcome to College: Comparing the effects of immigrant generation and college generation on physical science career intentions
Presentation 3 Authors: Florin Lung,
Geoff Potvin,
Gerhard Sonnert,
Philip M. Sadler
Presentation 3 Abstract: Students enter college with social, cultural, and economic resources (well described by Bourdieu's concepts of habitus and capital) which significantly impact their successes, goals, and actions.  Two such sociocultural dimensions are students' immigrant generation and college generation status.  The two principal conceptualizations of immigration are: a bottom-up model in which new immigrants start at society's lowest echelons and work their way upwards, and an "immigrant advantage" model, which posits that immigrants have specific values, skills, and beliefs which provide social advantages.  Our prior research found first generation immigrants were significantly more likely to choose physical science and engineering majors. Here, drawing on a national sample of 7505 freshmen enrolled in college English, we compare and contrast the effects of immigrant generation with college generation status to explore some of the challenges faced by the first in the family to become an American and/or go to college.