2016-2017 Student Research Projects

Senior Capstone Seminar (Andrea Christensen & Matt Kloser, Professors)

Ngor Majak Anyieth
Title: Promoting Girls’ Education in South Sudan
Read the Abstract

Ileana C. Berkeley
Title: Understanding the Importance of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy for Elementary Students in a Diverse Classroom 
Read the Abstract

Halie Berrigan
Title: Perception of the Purpose of Education: The Influence of School Culture and Classroom Context 
Read the Abstract 

Madeleine Cook
Title: Elementary Music Education:A Focused Study of Elementary School Music Programs
Read the Abstract

Christina Fernandez
Title: The Effects of School Mission Statement Awareness & Engagement on School Culture
Read the Abstract

Cortney Fortunato
Title: The School’s Role in Food Insecurity
Read the Abstract

Brynn M. Gallahue
Title: School Culture, Teacher Messaging, and Student Understanding of Community Membership
Read the Abstract

Daara Jalili
Title: The Efficacy of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Cultivating Positive Student-Teacher Relationships 
Read the Abstract  

Kathryn Cotter
Title: “Because the children needs to know the truth”: Examining student trust, interest and racial biases towards historical primary source documents
Read the Abstract

Nicholas Lindstrom
Title: The Effects of Pedagogical Method on Intrinsic Motivation and Conceptual Understanding in Mathematics
Read the Abstract

Meghan Maraghy
Title: Teacher Evaluations: How Schools Can Use More Methods for Better Results
Read the Abstract

Katherine Marquart
Title: Teachers’ Knowledge and Perceptions of the Effects of a Sports-related Concussion on Student Performance in School
Read the Abstract

Caitlin McDonnell 
Title: Teacher Perceptions of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices in Classroom Settings
Read the Abstract

Cornelius McGrath
Title: To What Extent Do Discipline Policies Impact Student Perceptions of Academic Self-efficacy?
Read the Abstract

Scott Milling
Title: What Are the Academic, Motivational, and Emotional Effects of the Voucher Process on Parents/Guardians and Students?
Read the Abstract

Anna O’Connell
Title: Community Service: The Intersection of Student and Administrator Concepts and Motivations in Catholic High Schools
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Gabriella Perino
Title: The Perception of the Profession of Teaching from Students at Highly Ranked, R1 Universities

Natalie Vos
Alternative Seating in an Elementary School Math Class and its Effect on Student Off-Task Behavior
Read the Abstract

ESS Thesis/Thesis in Major


Dana Bouquet: Exploring Catholic High School Teachers Perceptions of LGBTQ Education and Outreach 
Maria McKenna, Advisor

Grace Goins: Educational Experience of Latino Immigrant Students in the US Education System
Stuart Greene, Advisor

Ariel Novatos: Learning Math with an Anti-Math Mindset
Andrea Christensen, Advisor

Elena Silla: Does Arithmetic Instruction in Classrooms Promote an Understanding of Math Equivalence?
Nicole McNeil, Advisor


Connor Bliss: What Makes an American Indian School Successful? A Case Study
Brian Collier, Advisor

Anna Busse: Queering the Classroom: How LGBTQ Students Fit Into American High Schools
Annie Coleman, Brian Collier, Advisors

Maria Caponigro: How Can Local Governments Reduce Inequity in Market-Based Education?
John Schoenig, Advisor

Margaux Collins: Classroom Versus Cultural Education: The Impact of English Language on the Educational and Vocational Opportunities in Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Agustine Fuentes, Katy Lichon, Advisors

Shannon Gaylord: Differences in How Parents Count with Boys Versus Girls
Nicole McNeil, Advisor

Sam Jezak: American Influence in Latin America Examined through the Lenses of Dominican Baseball and Costa Rican Coffee
Paul Ocobock, Advisor

Alexandra Viegut: Counting and Finger Gesture
Nicole McNeil, Advisor 

Jackie Winsch: The Voice of Children in Arts Education
Maria McKenna, Advisor

Capstone Abstracts

Majak Anyieth: Promoting Girls’ Education in South Sudan

This research investigated factors responsible for low girls’ enrollment in secondary schools across South Sudan.  The country has one of the lowest girls’ enrollments rates in the world. Only 16% of women in the country can read or write. I postulated that beyond poverty and conflict, which affect many students, both girls and boys in South Sudan, attitudes toward girls’ education play a big role in the gender enrollment gap. I looked at these factors from individual, family and community levels. I found lack of educational expectations and aspirations for girls, from parents and community, one of the major reasons. It is paramount that schools and educational organization find ways to engage parents and create awareness about girls’ education and educational capabilities of a girl child. Back to top.

Ileana C. Berkeley: Understanding the Importance of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy for Elementary Students in a Diverse Classroom 

Culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP) can be defined as a student-centered approach to teaching in which educators recognize the importance of every student's unique cultural strengths and take them into consideration in order to promote achievement and a sense of cultural place. Taking each student's culture into consideration while teaching and making them feel identified in what they are learning has the potential to increase their academic performance as well as their self-confidence in their culture and ethnicity. While there is existing research on the effect culturally responsive pedagogical practices of teachers have on the academic achievement of their students, there is no study on the effect of CRP on other aspects of the students’ lives. This study identified two culturally responsive classrooms in a K-4 Elementary School in Northwest Indiana dedicated to children living in crisis situations. The study investigated whether teachers and students agreed on how culturally responsive their classroom was. This was done via interviews with teachers and students in addition to classroom observations. This research seeks to address the questions: How much do teachers know about CRP?  Do they implement it in their classrooms?  And, how does this affect third and fourth graders cultural awareness and cultural identity? Back to top.

Halie Berrigan: Perception of the Purpose of Education: The Influence of School Culture and Classroom Context 

The purpose of this study is to identify how school culture and classroom context, particularly teacher discourse and class structure, relate to students’ perceptions of the purpose of education.  Participants included students and the teacher from a Regular, Honors, and International Bachelorette (IB) Senior English class.  Data collection consisted of classroom observations, teacher interviews, and student focus group.  Results call upon the Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory (1978) to correlate a student’s experience to their perceptions of the world around them.  The results indicate students who experience welcoming cultures, high teacher expectations, student-teacher relationships based on mutual respect, and discussion based learning tend to perceive the purpose of education as enabling the self-discovery of passions and the pursuit of those passions to better society, as seen in the IB class. The lack of these experiences is associated with a mean-to-an-end perception of education.  Teacher, through their relationships with students and structure of the class, can encourage a mind-set of life-longing.  Research suggest that viewing learning as a continual process produces higher achieving students.  Teacher professional development programs should focus on teaching educators ways to create these positive experiences as means to heightening students’ achievement level. Back to top.

Madeleine Cook: Elementary Music Education:A Focused Study of Elementary School Music Programs

Given the research investigating the importance of music education for children and the lack of research for elementary school music programs, this study focuses on four questions concerning elementary school music programs: how these elementary school music programs are formatted, what the goals of these programs could be, how the elementary students perceive these programs, and to what extent the music teacher influences student enjoyment and interest in these music classes. To answer these questions, music classes were observed at two elementary schools in northern Indiana, and music teachers and elementary students were interviewed. Analysis of these classroom observations and interviews revealed several different themes. All three research methods clarify the format of music programs and further articulate the various goals of these programs. Additionally, these classroom observations and interviews expand knowledge of elementary students' opinions of their music programs as well as emphasize the high importance of the music teacher for these elementary school music students. These themes both support previous research as well as expand upon the little research that currently exists for elementary school music programs. The format and results of this study can serve to inform further research in the area of elementary school music education. Back to top.

Christina Fernandez: The Effects of School Mission Statement Awareness & Engagement on School Culture

Mission statements play an important role in schools and can have a profound impact on school culture. To examine this more closely, this study sought to identify to what extent students and faculty in religious and non-religious schools are aware of and engage with their school’s mission statement. Furthermore, this study sought to determine how levels of awareness and engagement impact school culture. Research was conducted at a private Catholic independent school and a private non-denominational independent school in Miami, Florida. A mixed methods approach was utilized to capture administrative, teacher, and student perspectives on mission statements and school culture including interviews (N=8), focus groups (N=12), and surveys (N=130). Results identified that principal leadership, religion, and having a vision incorporated in the mission all influence mission statement effectiveness and engagement. Furthermore, schools with stronger principal leadership, a faith based backgrounds, and a clear vision are able to cultivate a stronger school culture. As a consequence of this study, schools should consider identifying the vision in their mission statement, how principals communicate the mission, and the role faith and religion plays in developing their students. Back to top.

Cortney Fortunato: The School’s Role in Food Insecurity

The impact that food insecurity has on students across the United States is a growing concern. The role that schools, and more specifically principals, can have in helping students who are facing the challenges that come from living with food insecurity has not been sufficiently researched. The purpose of this study is to expand upon what is already known about food insecurity in students, and most importantly to expose the absolutely crucial role that schools and principals can play in the lives of food-insecure students. Interviews were conducted with four high school and four elementary school principals in the South Bend school district. The goal of these interviews was to find out more about principals’ perspectives on food insecurity, how they believe it affects their students, what measures are currently in place in their school to alleviate these negative effects, and what they desire to do to help the situation. The results of this study show just how detrimental food insecurity can be to a student’s life and how it specifically impacts their educational experience. These results also expose how some of the existing programs that schools are using help alleviate the effects of food insecurity on their students, as well introduce novel ideas for future implementation. Back to top.

Brynn M. Gallahue: School Culture, Teacher Messaging, and Student Understanding of Community Membership

Community membership can be a central part of identity formation for students. Students can begin to understand their role within a community in the classroom. The research presented here examines how school culture and teacher messaging impact students’ understanding of community membership. Research was conducted at an elementary school in a midsized Indiana city. Two fourth grade teachers were interviewed and observed. Two focus groups were conducted with fourth grade students, with five students in each group.  Results found that both teachers want their students to understand community in terms of working well with others, and having a ‘we’ mentality. Results suggest school culture impacts students’ definition of community, and teacher messaging impacts students’ behavior within a community. Results suggest having higher academic and social expectations for students leads to more positive community based behavior. Back to top.

Daara Jalili: The Efficacy of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Cultivating Positive Student-Teacher Relationships 

There remains a wide gap in achievement between white and minority students in the United States. One effort to close this gap is the use of culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP). This approach strives to engage minority learners in their education by embracing their cultural heritage, lived experiences, and the various forms of non-dominant capital that they bring to school each day. The role of teachers in implementing CRP is critical; as purveyors of course material and examples for their students, they serve to motivate through the relationships they build in the classroom. Strong student-teacher relationships are tied to positive educational outcomes among minority youth. CRP serves to strengthen these relationships. This study characterizes the implementation of CRP and the dimensions of student-teacher relationships at a majority-minority Midwestern high school. Utilizing interviews with two teachers and the principal, we found that educators consistently considered race in both the school’s administrative mission and classroom environments. They believed that being conscious of and understanding their students’ racial identities would enable them to build closer relationships, better engage students in the classroom, and build a culture of high expectations. Surveys measuring dimensions of ethnic identity and student-teacher relationships were administered to students (N=24) who were in class with the two interviewed teachers. Their responses indicated that they not only felt connected and known to their teachers, but that these feelings contributed to a lower expectation of disrespect due to race. These finding suggests that culturally responsive practices do contribute to improved student-teacher relationships, affirming the need for racially conscious educators who strive to narrow and eventually close the minority achievement gap. Back to top.

Kathryn Cotter: “Because the children needs to know the truth”: Examining student trust, interest and racial biases towards historical primary source documents

The reliance on textbooks as the primary teaching tool in high school history classrooms has garnered criticism as classrooms continue to diversify and place more emphasis on skills development rather than fact memorization.  Critics of history textbooks argue that they do a poor job of telling inclusive history narratives, and that minority groups are often represented in an over simplified or marginalized way.  Additionally, the euro-centric narratives often skim over issues of race and racism, leaving students with disjointed and confused perceptions of these important issues.  In response to the demand for more culturally responsive pedagogy, educators have suggested the use of alternate narratives, often in the source of primary source documents.  These documents are also intended to increase the development of heuristic skills, which are vital in the formation of complex historical narratives.  This study looks at the intersection of culturally responsive pedagogy and the introduction of primary source documents.  By examining students’ interest and trust levels in textbook and primary source passages that contain racially charged content, the impacts of primary source documents on engagement can be gauged, as well as how interest and trust vary with minority status.  Results indicate that students report much higher levels of interest and trust in primary source documents, but that minority status does not have a noticeable bearing on student text type preferences. Back to top.  

Nicholas Lindstrom: The Effects of Pedagogical Method on Intrinsic Motivation and Conceptual Understanding in Mathematics

Student motivation has long been a problem for academics and educators alike—especially in mathematics, specifically for the latter. Previous research suggests that pedagogical method could have significant bearing on student motivation and the Montessori Method, though controversial for both researchers and lay people, is rooted in educational theory that could provide a unique and effective alternative to traditional pedagogical method. Thus—using classroom observation, interviews, and survey measures—this mixed-methods research study attempts to understand the relationship between pedagogical method, intrinsic motivation, and (as a means of determining efficacy of pedagogy) level of processing as it relates to mathematics instruction. Back to top.

Meghan Maraghy: Teacher Evaluations: How Schools Can Use More Methods for Better Results

The following research looks to address the topic of teacher evaluations and discover the best and most effective methods of evaluating teachers and determining their effectiveness in the classroom. By interviewing eight teachers and one principle about the evaluation process they go through, I will address the most important parts of evaluations, reactions from teachers about the process, further suggestions for better methods, and ideas of studies and types of evaluations to be looked at in the future. The research design to follow will lay out all the criteria used to interview these teachers, as well as the ways in which frequencies were calculated to help interpret results. The hopes I have for this study are discovering the most effective and appropriate methods and measures to evaluate teachers, the importance of communication between teachers and administrators, and the possible future studies that can come from this. Back to top.

Katherine Marquart: Teachers’ Knowledge and Perceptions of the Effects of a Sports-related Concussion on Student Performance in School

This paper analyzes how teacher knowledge and perceptions of the effects of a sports concussion on a student’s academic performance differ from the medically supported effects of a sports concussion on a student’s academic performance; and how this affects the Return to Learn process. Current literature focuses on general effects of concussions as well as Return to Play protocol with an evident gap in Return to Learn research. Participants included teachers, principals, and athletic trainers who partook in interviews about their perceptions of concussed students as well as their knowledge of concussions and Return to Learn protocol. Findings indicated that teachers had evident gaps in knowledge about concussions but also a strong awareness of symptoms displayed by concussed students in their classrooms. Teachers also expressed an eagerness to accommodate their students in order to avoid making their transition to full academic participation overwhelming. Additionally, teachers indicated increased sensitivity toward the side effects of a concussion recovery such as added stress or the development of psychological disorders. A doctor also provided commentary on the findings from the teacher interviews and acknowledged both the lack of knowledge teachers have about concussions as well as their willingness to make accommodations for their students. Back to top.

Caitlin McDonnell: Teacher Perceptions of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices in Classroom Settings

For children who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to succeed in the classroom, teachers must be confident and knowledgeable of their ability to facilitate the learning and communication of these students. This paper offers insight on teacher perceptions of AAC in order to see how training in and knowledge of AAC relates to their efficacy to teach children with complex communication needs. Two special education teachers who taught students who used AAC were interviewed and observed. It was found that teacher training, staff knowledge and training, and time for collaboration greatly impact teachers efficacy in the classroom. Back to top.

Cornelius McGrath: To What Extent Do Discipline Policies Impact Student Perceptions of Academic Self-efficacy?

The impact of school discipline policies on academic achievement has been the focus of much education research in recent years, but the impact of these policies on academic self-efficacy have received much less attention. This study examines to what extent school discipline policies impact student perceptions of academic self-efficacy. Surveys were distributed to students (n=13) at alternative high school in the Midwest; interviews were conducted with teachers (n=4), and a focus group was run with current students (n=4). Findings indicate that students who reported higher levels of academic self-esteem also tended to score more highly on the motivation for educational attainment scale. Based on a regression analysis, perceptions of the teacher-student relationship were also significant predictors of future levels of academic self-esteem. The data also showed that strong teacher-student relationships were critical to the successful implementation of discipline policies. Additionally, participants identified critical themes to the conversation around discipline and achievement, including student behaviour, home influences, teaching style and student motivation. Hopefully, this study acts a catalyst for change providing a foundation for public schools to design discipline policies with self-efficacy at their core. Back to top.

Scott Milling: What Are the Academic, Motivational, and Emotional Effects of the Voucher Process on Parents/Guardians and Students?

In this study, a Roman Catholic grade school in South Bend, Indiana was the location of research done revolving around the topic of student vouchers. Parents and students were analyzed under the question: What are the academic, motivational, and emotional effects that parents or guardians and students experience when going through the voucher process? Specifically, how does this process affect students in grades 6-8? Student vouchers have been a rapidly growing research topic in education and policy
circles. Some researchers have found that academic achievement and other student characteristics have increased in students who have gone through a voucher program. However, some researchers debate this finding, and believe school-choice can lead to different issues that will ultimately fail to raise academic achievement in students using vouchers. The crux of the issue lies in the fact that researchers have not come to a clear consensus of whether school choice programming should be funded, supported, and respected as the ideal way to reform student achievement across many different educational disciplines. Participants were nine parents or guardians of a student in the 6th-8th grade at a Roman Catholic Grade School in South Bend, Indiana who have utilized a voucher to have their child attend the Catholic grade school. Participants were nine students in middle school who have made this switch, and have received permission from their parent to take part in this study. Parents completed in a survey and students participated in a focus group. This small study found positives for the pro-voucher argument. Parents resoundingly supplied positive responses in regards to making the switch. A majority of students felt comfortable making the switch, and felt very positive about their own personal development after making the switch. Future research should broaden the base of results by studying more ages. Also, new schools should be studied to see if similar results are seen in different schools and communities. Back to top.

Anna O’Connell: Community Service: The Intersection of Student and Administrator Concepts and Motivations in Catholic High Schools

Community service programming in schools is a growing phenomenon. Understanding the ways in which students and administrators of these programs conceptualize of service, the student motivations for participating in service, the administrator formation of service programs, and the effect of a service requirement on the perception of service are all central to forming programs that encourage further participation in community service. This study seeks to answer the following three questions: (1) How do administrators and students conceptualize “service” in a Catholic high school context? (2) In what ways do or do not students’ motivations to do service align with the school’s intended culture of service? (3)Does service as a requirement influence student conceptions of service? Administrator interviews and student surveys found that students articulated service as doing something to help others, whereas administrators defined service as being with people and forming relationships. However, students did perceive of service as relationship as well; they simply lacked the language to talk about service in that way. Furthermore, students are motivated by a desire to help others and learn about social issues. The conclusions about the effects of service as a requirement remain ambiguous. The implications of this are that service programs in Catholic high schools might work towards developing a common service language and encouraging integration of education on social justice with the service experiences. This study can be furthered by comparing service programming in Catholic and public high schools in order to explore the effects of religious identity on service learning. Back to top.

Natalie Vos: Alternative Seating in an Elementary School Math Class and its Effect on Student Off-Task Behavior

This study observed the influence that alternative seating in the classroom had on the off-task behavior of elementary school students in math class. Little research has been done on the effect of alternative seating on student behavior and the majority of the studies that have been done have focused on the effect that flexible seating has on the behavior of students with special needs, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Those studies, though, have observed positive significant improvements in behavior for the students in question. In this study, a third grade classroom that had implemented flexible seating at the start of the year, was observed five times during their math lessons over the course of 2.5 weeks. During each of those observations, 12 students were observed. Marks were made every ten seconds as to whether or not the student being monitored was displaying an off-task behavior from set criteria. Students were either on therapy balls, in soft seating options, or at traditional desk and chair. The teacher was also interviewed after the observations regarding her classroom management and choice of adopting flexible seating. The normalized average number of off-task behaviors observed in each seating type were compared and there were no significant results found, meaning the seating option did not affect the student’s off-task behavior. However, the lack of negative effects holds promise for future integration of special needs students into standard classrooms. Back to top.