MST Times

Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology Newsletter

Faculty/ Research Spotlight: Dr. Ann Rivet, Ph. D., Science Education Program, NSF Grant

By • Apr 19th, 2012 • Category: Science Education

Dr. Ann Rivet

Dr. Ann Rivet, an Associate Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, grew up in New Hampshire and attended Brown University to study physics. Although, overall a positive experience, she shares, “I remember very distinctly sitting in my quantum mechanics class, watching the back of my professor’s head as he was writing long Greek symbols across the board, and thinking there has got to be a better way to learn this stuff… Once she finished her undergraduate degree, she sought opportunities to learn more about science education.  This led first to working on development projects at TERC and then graduate school at the University of Michigan.  At Michigan, she transitioned to a focus on Earth science combined with developing and supporting project-based science programs in urban settings.

Dr. Rivet’s current academic research interest includes a dual focus on understanding how students come to understand science, and how to create learning environments to support students’ learning of science. “I look at how students come to understand, for example, Earth science processes and concepts that are beyond their direct perceptions. How do you learn about global circulation, weather systems and plate tectonics, and other things that you can’t experience firsthand? What are the different representations and models, and ways to use those effectively in teaching, which help support student understanding? Also, how do you help teachers learn ways to leverage this process to create effective learning spaces in science classrooms?”

She is currently working on a major research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Fall 2009 issue of MST Times gave a brief overview of this project’s focus. MST Times is proud to provide an update on the progress of Dr. Rivet’s work. Beginning in 2009, principal investigators Dr. Rivet and Dr. Kim Kastens, received a grant from the National Science Foundation entitled, Bridging the Gap Between Tabletop Models and the Earth System. Dr. Kastens is an oceanographer that works in the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. She has a research interest in geo-science learning and thinking.

The focus of this three-year project is to look at ways in which 8th and 9th grade Earth science teachers in New York use physical model representations of concepts in the classroom, and how students reason with such models to come to understand large-scale Earth system processes.  The investigators use an analogical mapping framework to analyze students’ understanding of correspondences and non-correspondences between objects in the model and objects in the Earth system, the configuration and/or motion of the entities, and comparing the process of how the model works to how the Earth system operates.

In year one the team collected data through recorded observations and written student assessments from four science teachers’ classroom.  The observed lessons focused on three different Earth science topics where the teachers used physical models in their instruction.  The assessments focused on model reasoning and concept development for these topics.

Over the summer, the research team collaborated with the teachers to improve instructional strategies (pedagogy) using physical models in the classroom. They developed a range of instructional strategies aimed at supporting students to think more robustly about the relationship between the model and the actual Earth system.  The teachers are currently implementing a series of instructional strategies that were developed to support analogical mapping. “We are examining both the impact the instructional strategies have on the classroom environment, and the student performance on assessment measures.”

Two full-time doctoral students in science education, Alison Miller and Cheryl Lyons, are fully involved with all the different aspects of the project, including assessment development, observing classroom lessons, interviewing students about their responses, and working with teachers. “The work that the students do is invaluable.  In my mind, the best thing about TC, really, are the students.” The research team is currently in the process of analyzing all the data collected, to describe what the teachers did in year one and how it changed in year two, how it compares with changes in student performance.

In addition to her academic work Dr. Rivet finds time to enjoy gardening and planting flowers in the spring and summer months. She loves to ice skate in the winter with family and friends. Traveling is integrated into her life through her annual presentations at conferences held by the American Education Research Association, the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, and visiting family throughout the year.  Dr. Rivet thrives in a goal-rich environment and loves to work collaboratively.



By Deiana Jackson, Graduate Student, Mathematics Education Ed.D.

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