Performance-based cluster grouping in ninth grade honors physics

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Gifted students at Twin Valley High School often report that they are not academically challenged during their freshman year. A lack of rigor may promote poor work habits, study skills, and attitudes among the brightest students. This action research study compared two concurrent sections of ninth grade Honors Physics. Both sections were taught by the same teacher; however, only one section received the intervention of performance-based cluster grouping with targeted instructional strategies. The four-week intervention included homogeneous grouping by table, along with opportunities to demonstrate mastery of certain skills with fewer repetitions by completing the most difficult practice problems first. A variety of data collection measures were utilized, including student surveys, the Force Concept Inventory, summative assessments, and semi-structured interviews. The results of this action research project highlighted the importance of incorporating purposeful homogeneous grouping into the regular classroom setting. The majority of students reported that they learn best when working with peers of a similar ability level. Additionally, within the homogeneous groups, the cluster teacher observed a more even distribution of the workload and more in-depth conversations among the students. The majority of students attempted to complete the most difficult problems first at least once and indicated a positive or neutral attitude towards the instructional strategy. Interestingly, students who always attempted the most difficult problems first performed better on summative assessments than those who did not attempt the most difficult problems first. Although this difference was not quite statistically significant, a strong positive correlation was observed between how often students opted to try the most difficult problems first and how well they performed on their summative assessments. This finding suggests that the students exercised good judgement when choosing whether or not to attempt the most difficult problems first. The results of this action research project suggest that the Most Difficult First strategy positively affected student confidence in their math ability. However, there was no apparent effect on student's conceptual understanding, as measured by the average normalized gain on the Force Concept Inventory.




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