Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2017

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)


Science and Mathematics Education


Molly Schauffler

Second Committee Member

Sarah Nelson

Third Committee Member

Eric Pandiscio


This thesis research combined efforts of two existing projects at the University of Maine in collaboration with the Schoodic Institute, the Acadia Learning Snowpack Project and the Maine Data Literacy Project. The Snowpack Project provided a context to explore student learning of variability and graphing skills by gathering data on snowfall and accumulation throughout the winter and using the data to ask and answer a scientific question. The Maine Data Literacy Project provided a framework and instruments for assessing students’ understanding of variability and graph interpretation skills.

The first goal of this research was to measure student learning about variability during the Snowpack Project. The study used a pretest posttest design and the multiple-choice ASK-Var assessment developed by the Maine Data Literacy Project. Data were first collected in January and May of 2015. When no differences were found, additional data from Snowpack Project students the following September and a separate group of seventh graders were analyzed to give a broader context.

The second goal of this research was to compare the multiple-choice ASK-Var assessment to an open-response assessment. This analysis used a correlation to measure how predictive success on the ASK-Var assessment was to success on the open-response assessment.

The third goal of thesis research was to describe what the results of both assessments revealed about student thinking around variability. This uses qualitative analyses to identify patterns in student thinking about histograms, box plots, and graph choice.

No quantitative differences were found between students before and after participating in the snowpack project, however there was some evidence suggesting that the high school Snowpack Project students did perform better than the seventh grade students. Data on the ASK-Var assessment and the open-response assessment correlated, but randomness under the surface suggested that there were skills being tested in the open-response assessment that were not being measured by the ASK-Var assessment. Finally, the qualitative analysis suggested that while students were generally able to read frequency plots, they sometimes inappropriately applied important context to their interpretations. The graph construction task revealed a split among students’ ability to interpret their own graphs. Those who chose to display the data in frequency plots had a higher rate of success in accurately interpreting the results. This study offers insights into applications of the ASK-Var assessment and student thinking about graphing and variability.