Andria in front of Niagara FallsAndria Schwortz

University of Wyoming
Physics and Astronomy Dept

Email: aschwort-AT-uwyo-DOT-edu
Phone / Google Voice: 8-OBAFGKM-L1
About Me: Resume

Professional Development Workshops

AAPT-NES Spring 2018 (Nashua Community College, Increasing Diversity in Physics)

AAPT-NES Spring 2017 (Quinsigamond Community College, AIM Higher - Astronomy, Instrumentation, Making)

Launchpad 2014 (University of Wyoming)

A week-long astronomy workshop for published sci-fi authors - you can think of it as an astrocamp for writers! Website.

LASSI 2014-2015 (University of Wyoming)

A 10-day paid professional development workshop for Wyoming K-12 STEM teachers, with follow-ups throughout the school year. See what it's all about!

Astronomy Days / Black Holes 2014 (University of Wyoming)

Professional development workshop for in-service K-12 Wyoming science teachers, held June 16-18, 2014, at the University of Wyoming. Website.

Conference Presentations

AAPT-NES Spring 2017 (Quinsigamond Community College)

Title: What Can I Do with All of These Numbers?: Exploring STEM Dataset Use
Authors: Schwortz, Andria C.; Burrows, Andrea C.
Resources: Presentation, Pre/Post-Test, Activity
Dataset skills are used in STEM fields from healthcare work to astronomy research. Few fields explicitly teach students the skills to analyze datasets, and yet the increasing push for authentic science implies these skills should be taught. The authors studied a matched set of participants (n=87) working with Google Sheets to analyze a 200-entry dataset of astronomical data. Participants were university undergraduate students, and science educators consisting primarily of K-12 STEM teachers and science fiction writers. Participants explored a three-phase dataset activity and were given an eight-question multiple-choice pre/post-test covering skills of analyzing datasets and astronomy content, with questions spanning Bloom’s Taxonomy. Pre/post-test scores were compared and a t-test performed for subsamples by population. Participants exhibited an increase in both dataset skills and astronomy content, indicating that dataset skills can be learned through this astronomy activity. Participants exhibited gains in both recall and synthesis questions, indicating that learning is non-sequential. Female undergraduate students exhibited lower levels of learning than other populations. Implications include a stronger dataset focus in post-secondary STEM education and among science educators, and the need for further investigation into the challenges faced by female undergraduate students.

APS-NES Spring 2017 (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)

Title: Mentoring Partnerships in Undergraduate Physics and Astronomy Education
Authors: Schwortz, Andria C.; Burrows, Andrea C.
Resources: Poster
Relationships are the root of being able to teach well, regardless of the context. In this project, the researchers draw parallels between two studies into collegiate STEM learning where mentoring of students proved beneficial to the participants. The first study used an action research approach to partner a researcher with the community of a collegiate studio physics electricity and magnetism course. Mentoring partnerships between students and their teaching assistant via student/TA conferences resulted in improvements to the student/TA relationship, though students were reluctant to voice their opinions. The second study took a quantitative approach to determine participant learning after a three-phase astronomy dataset activity. Female undergraduates exhibited lower levels of learning than male undergraduates, or either male or female science educators. Implications included the need for further investigation into the challenges faced by female undergraduate students in both physics and astronomy. Connections are made across these two studies, and possible causes and future strategies to create stronger partnerships with students are discussed.

AAS Winter 2015

Title: Quasar clustering
Resources: Poster (.pptx, .pdf)
Authors: Schwortz, Andria C.; Eftekharzadeh, Sarah; Myers, Adam D.; Shen, Yue
Clustering is a measure of the dark matter environments in which galaxies are embedded. Quasars are a tracer of the state of active black holes throughout the Universe. The clustering of quasars as a function of their physical properties is thus a key measure in determining how black hole activity correlates with dark matter environment throughout cosmic history. Currently, the most abundant sample of quasars suitable for clustering measurements over most of cosmic history (and certainly over redshifts of about 0.8 < z < 2.2) is the uniform sample of quasars assembled as part of the seventh incarnation of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS DR7). We study the clustering of quasars as a function of their physical properties using the ~4000 deg2 Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data Release Seven and a homogenous sample of 37,574 quasars. This work confirms the findings of Shen (2009) using DR5 and expands upon it using the larger DR7 catalog. We find that at lower redshifts quasar clustering depends weakly on luminosity. Cross-correlation of FIRST detected (radio-loud) quasars and autocorrelation of non-FIRST detected (radio-quiet) quasars indicates that radio-loud quasars cluster more strongly than do radio-quiet quasars. We agree with the conclusion that radio-loud quasars reside in more massive and denser environments, implying the possibility that it is the density of environment which determines a quasar's radio loudness, rather than a duty cycle.

Title: Learning to Work with Databases in Astronomy: Quantitative Analysis of Science Educators' and Students' Pre-/Post-Tests
Authors: Schwortz, Andria C.; Burrows, Andrea C.; Myers, Adam D.
Resources: Poster (.pptx, .pdf)
Astronomy is increasingly moving towards working with large databases, from the state-of-the-art Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data Release 10, to the historical Digital Access to a Sky Century at Harvard. Non-astronomy fields as well tend to work with large datasets, be it in the form of warehouse inventory, health trends, or the stock market. However very few fields explicitly teach students the necessary skills to analyze such data. The authors studied a matched set of 37 participants working with 200-entry databases in astronomy using Google Spreadsheets, with limited information about a random set of quasars drawn from SDSS DR5. Here the authors present the quantitative results from an eight question pre-/post-test, with questions designed to span Bloom's taxonomy, on both the topics of the skills of using spreadsheets, and the content of quasars. Participants included both Astro 101 summer students and professionals including in-service K-12 teachers and science communicators. All groups showed statistically significant gains (as per Hake, 1998), with the greatest difference between women's gains of 0.196 and men's of 0.480.

ASTE Winter 2015

Title: Novice and Expert Characteristics in Teacher Professional Development with Astronomy Databases
Authors: Schwortz, Andria C.; Burrows, Andrea C.
Resources: Presentation, Paper
Awards: National Technology Leadership Initiative (NTLI) Fellowship (Finalist)
This study characterizes the novice and expert behaviors of in-service K-12 teachers attending two astronomy-themed professional development workshops at a large research university in the Rocky Mountains. Fourteen unique individuals attended the workshops and participated in an activity involving a large astronomy dataset: six workshop A only, five workshop B only, and three attended both workshops A and B. Thirteen of these individuals participated in pre-/post-tests, and eleven participants contributed to more in-depth data collection including field notes during the activity and one-on-one interviews. Of the fourteen individuals, six were female and eight male. Pre-/post-test gains were calculated, and all materials were coded for themes. The authors found a great diversity in behaviors among the participants, with some possessing traits more similar to experts in astronomy, and some more similar to novices. All teachers demonstrated ability to pick out simpler trends and patterns in the data while some were able to observe more complex trends as well. Surprisingly, many teachers exhibited difficulty recognizing the need to put individual tasks into the context of the big picture, a recognition which is key to expert traits such as chunking information, organizing their knowledge based upon concepts, and contextualizing their knowledge. This implies the need for further content-based professional development opportunities for in-service teachers.

AAS Summer 2014

Title: Initial Development and Pilot Study Design of Interactive Lecture Demonstrations for ASTRO 101
Authors: Schwortz, Andria C.; French, D.A.; Gutierrez, Joseph V.; Sanchez, Richard L.; Slater, Timothy F.; Tatge, Coty
Resources: Poster, ADS
Awards: Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Awards (Honorable Mention)
Interactive lecture demonstrations (ILDs) have repeatedly shown to be effective tools for improving student achievement in the context of learning physics. As a first step toward systematic development of interactive lecture demonstrations in ASTRO 101, the introductory astronomy survey course, a systematic review of education research, describing educational computer simulations (ECSs) reveals that initial development requires a targeted study of how ASTRO 101 students respond to ECSs in the non-science majoring undergraduate lecture setting. In this project we have adopted the process by which ILDs were designed, pilot-tested, and successfully implemented in the context of physics teaching (Sokoloff & Thornton, 1997; Sokoloff & Thornton, 2004). We have designed the initial pilot-test set of ASTRO 101 ILD instructional materials relying heavily on ECSs. Both an instructor's manual and a preliminary classroom-ready student workbook have been developed, and we are implementing a pilot study to explore their effectiveness in communicating scientific content, and the extent to which they might enhance students' knowledge of and perception about astronomy and science in general. The study design uses a pre-/post-test quasi-experimental study design measuring students' normalized gain scores, calculated as per Hake (1998) and Prather (2009), using a slightly modified version of S. Slater's (2011) Test Of Astronomy STandards TOAST combined with other instruments. The results of this initial study will guide the iterative development of ASTRO 101 ILDs that are intended to both be effective at enhancing student achievement and easy for instructors to successfully implement.

NES AAPT Spring 2014

Title: A Review of Educational Computer Simulations for Interactive Lecture Demonstrations in Introductory Astronomy Survey Courses
Authors: Schwortz, Andria C.; French, D.A.; Gutierrez, Joseph V.; Sanchez, Richard L.; Slater, Timothy F.; Tatge, Coty
Resources: Poster, References
Despite many introductory astronomy survey course instructors' seeming reluctance to readily adopt new educational technology, the reality is that many of them are already unknowingly doing so by projecting PowerPoint presentations, showing classroom videos, leading planetarium and observatory tours, showing desktop planetarium simulation software, and using online homework systems (e.g., MasteringAstronomy). Much more prevalent in the domain of physics teaching, physics instructors have more readily adopted supplements to traditional lecture by using interactive lecture demonstrations (ILDs). Unfortunately, the nature of conventional astronomy teaching has made some of the more widespread physics teaching innovations rather difficult to easily implement in ASTRO 101 classrooms. As a first step toward systematic development of ILDs in ASTRO 101, a review of education research summarizing the effectiveness and practical realities of adopting educational computer simulations (ECSs) and ILDs specifically in astronomy reveals that initial development efforts require a more targeted and purposeful effort to increase adoption and effectiveness in an astronomy lecture setting.

Academic Writing Samples

Educational Computer Simulations
Style: Literature review
Course: Cognition in Math and Science Education (term paper)
Utilizing technology in the classroom is "all the rage" these days - this is common knowledge in not only educational circles but also in the public consciousness. But contrary to the popular opinion of this being a modern phenomenon, both computer and physical simulations have been used for educational purposes for longer than my lifetime. Lunetta and Hoffstein (1981) cite Glazer as studying the use of simulations in military training as early as 1960. Both enthusiasm and criticism have followed, stemming from researchers, educators, learners, and the general public. It might be expected that in the intervening years many questions would have been settled about the educational use of technology, however as the power of computers has advanced (from mainframes the size of a room to iPhones that fit in a pocket) so too have the educational uses of computers. While studies of the use of technology have also advanced, there remains much to be investigated still.

Searching for NEOs in SDSS Stripe 82.
Style: Original research
Course: Data Mining in Large Astronomical Surveys (term paper)
Near-Earth objects (NEOs) can pose a significant threat to life on Earth, depending upon their probability of impact, size, and how long ahead of a potential impact they are discovered. Mining SDSS data provides a nice opportunity for us to expand the number of NEOs identified without requiring additional equipment or time on existing telescopes. Herein I propose a method of mining SDSS DR8 coadd data and time dependent SDSS Stripe 82 data to discover fast-moving asteroids. This method results in the identification of an upper limit of 233 candidate NEOs within Stripe 82 posessing velocities in the range 0.5<v<2.5 deg/day.

Waterworlds: Structures / Properties and Discoveries of Ocean Planets.
Style: Literature review
Course: Exoplanets (term paper)
In recent years a number of surveys, including the MEarth project (located in Arizona and run out of Cambridge, MA), and the COROT and Kepler space missions, have been dedicated to the discovery of extrasolar planets through transits. The properties (including structure and composition) and formation histories of many of the newly discovered exoplanets remains an open question. Driven by the search for an Earth-like planet, we have discovered a class of super-Earths or sub-Neptunes which may not fall into either of the traditional categories of terrestrial or gas giant planets, but instead form a new category of ocean planets. In this review paper, I outline the history of this field by looking at major theoretical breakthroughs and outlining recent discoveries of candidate ocean planets.


I am joint advised by Dr. Adam Myers in the Physics & Astronomy department, and Dr. Andrea Burrows in the Secondary Education department.

My thesis is titled "Astronomical Databases: Quasar Clustering in SDSS DR7, and Novice/Expert Characteristics in Learners." The written thesis proposal can be found here, but in short it is interdisciplinary, with one component based on the clustering properties of radio-loud vs. radio-quiet quasars, and another part based on the novice/expert transition in students as regards handling sets of data in Astro 101.


Part I (Comps) Exams on Undergrad Physics - a compilation of multiple years' worth of Part I exams. Original collection via Mohammad Soltani, with more recent additions by myself. Arranged in roughly reverse chronological order (with most recent first).

Part II (Quals) Exams on Grad Physics and Astronomy - a compilation of multiple years' worth of Part II exams. Original collection via Mohammad Soltani, with more recent additions by myself. Arranged in roughly reverse chronological order (with most recent first).

Old Teaching

Spring 2015

PHYS 1210 Discussions

Other Resources

Programming Template - a useful tool to help me "offload" some of the cognitive load involved in programming. It basically helps me to keep track of what a program is doing and how. If I have many interacting, I then make a collection of them connecting to each other on a bulletin board or blackboard, kinda like in A Beautiful Mind.

About Me

Originally a native of New York City, I have spent time in rural western New York state, assorted parts of Pennsylvania, Tucson AZ, and most recently hail from metro Boston MA.  

I am currently a graduate student in the University of Wyoming Physics & Astronomy department as well as being on leave of absence from a tenured position as Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, MA.  

In my free time (hah!) I play casual video games, listen to sci-fi/fantasy audiobooks, knit, play with my pet bird, and most years I participate in the MIT Mystery Hunt (a team puzzle-solving competition based at MIT, Boston, MA) in a leadership role within the team Grand Unified Theory of Love.