Evan Chase

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)




Michael C. Wittmann

Second Committee Member

Natasha Speer

Third Committee Member

François Amar


In physics education research, we are often concerned with understanding students’ ideas. For these purposes, teachers often assess student knowledge on the basis of summative assessment: exams, quizzes, and lab reports, etc. Teachers and researchers also attend to conversation, where people typically produce hand gestures that can communicate additional information to the listener. Due to this, it is important to be able to understand what gestures may mean, so that any information within them can be accessed. If there is valuable information about student knowledge available in a gesture, then this information can easily be missed if exclusively written methods of assessment and research are used. Teachers and researchers could benefit from the ability to decipher and utilize a student’s gestures to better understand the student’s level of comprehension.

To study how physics students use gestures in addition to their speech to explain a ball being tossed into the air, individual interviews were conducted with physics majors who had completed half of an eight-semester physics program at the University of Maine. These interviews conformed to the standards set by current qualitative education research. Students were asked to discuss kinematic quantities and forces associated with the motion of a ball thrown straight up, both with and without the force of air resistance. The video episodes selected for detailed analysis contained moments of students gesturing and speaking simultaneously, such that the referents of the speech and gesture did not appear to match. A more explicit methodology than that found in the current literature on gesture research in physics is defined. This methodology is used to show that these physics students were able to portray information about kinematics and force quantities simultaneously with gestures and speech, and in some cases were able to describe changes in one quantity with a hand and another quantity with the fingers on the same hand.