Astrobiology in the Secondary Classroom Project: An Interdisciplinary Curriculum Developed by a Collaboration of Scientists and Educators from Three Different Minority Communities

This project is designed to enhance an existing interdisciplinary high school science curriculum—Astrobiology in the Secondary Classroom (ASC)—in an innovative way and conduct research to determine the effectiveness of these materials in three different underrepresented student populations—African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americas—experiencing an achievement gap in STEM areas at five sites. Improvements will focus on program alignment and increased use of data sets made available by research scientists.

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Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2007 to Tue, 08/31/2010
Project Evaluator: 
Dragonfly Enterprises
Full Description: 

     The intent of the Astrobiology in Secondary Classrooms project is to establish a successful model for creating the scientists of tomorrow by bringing powerful technology tools and current scientific data into an interdisciplinary curriculum focused on reaching all students. Goals for students participating in the ASC curriculum in their classrooms include:

- An understanding of the research pursuits and findings of key astrobiology researchers

- An appreciation for scientific research and the current knowledge base available in astrobiology

- A high degree of scientific and technological literacy

- A desire to continue their studies in STEM areas, particularly in areas pertaining to astrobiology  

The ASC curriculum tackles many of the current problems in science education by addressing curriculum issues as well as minimizing classroom limitations that affect science instruction, particularly in classrooms containing high numbers of students underrepresented in science careers. Many science curricula, including textbooks, lack connections among different academic disciplines and do not provide students with a coherent framework for both science literacy and content knowledge. The ASC modules are being developed using research-based teaching strategies designed to diminish achievement gaps and increase the participation of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
    The ASC project began in 2003 with a team of university faculty from minority serving institutions and teachers selected by members of the Minority Institution Astrobiology Collaborative (MIAC). Working with scientists at the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, the team developed the ASC curriculum framework. Now, through this network of minority-serving institutions, the ASC staff seeks to enable middle and high school teachers across the United States to include astrobiology-related activities in their classrooms. Major partners during the field-testing phase of the materials are sites designated as NASA Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academies (SEMAA). Partnerships with SEMAA programs and other minority serving locations allow for a focus on diversity when field-testing and developing the ASC curriculum in both formal and informal educational settings. There were field-testing sites in eight different locations where more than 80 percent of the students are members of the Native American, African American, or Hispanic American communities.

Theoretical Framework and Influences
      Research supports the use of astrobiology as a framework for increasing science literacy (Astrobiology Design Project Team, 2002; Carrapiço, et al. 2001; Rodrigues & Carrapiço, 2005; Slater, 2006; Staley, 2003; Tang, 2005) because of its interdisciplinary nature. Furthermore, partnerships between curriculum developers, teachers, professional scientists and NASA researchers will provide the “real-world” contexts that are recognized as a vital part of science literacy and increasing student interest and understanding of STEM areas.
    The pedagogical side of the ASC curriculum has been grounded in three evidenced-based practices shown to increase achievement among all students and specifically among ethnically diverse students:
The Five Standards for Effective Pedagogy developed by the Center for Research on Education Diversity and Excellence (CREDE) provide a framework for culturally relevant instruction (Tharp, et al., 2003).  The ASC Curriculum incorporates these principles in each of the modules in recognition of the importance of cultural awareness and the dynamics of learning in diverse settings (Lee & Luykx, 2006; Aikenhead, 2001; Lynch, et al., 2005).
The ASC Curriculum includes differentiated instruction that provides teachers with strategies for scaffolding that is a necessary part of effective teaching with varying levels of prior knowledge and understanding.
In their work with the NSF funded VISIT Teacher Enhancement Project, Hunter and Xie detailed the barriers for teachers accessing and using the vast amounts of data on the Internet (Hunter & Xie, 2001). The ASC project worked to partner curriculum developers and teachers with astrobiology researchers to develop scientific data sets that are user-friendly in the high school classroom as well as provide much needed materials and laboratory supplies in order to overcome these barriers.

Program Evaluation
    Evaluation of the ASC curriculum includes web-based collaborations among teachers, scientists and curriculum developers to enhance the modules. Research data is currently being collected and analyzed as part of a three year pilot study funded by the National Science Foundation. The activities and resulting research is looking at a broad spectrum of variables including change in confidence levels of teachers in the use of research-based instructional strategies, their comfort level in new science content knowledge, and teacher perceptions of change in student academic behavior along with science achievement. In addition to teacher self-report surveys and interviews the project staff gathered student survey data on science interest and performance scores on end of module assessment questions. The intent of evaluating these areas through both teacher and students data is to measure the impact of the ASC curriculum on diverse groups of students using a variety of assessment instruments and work samples. The project staff uses this formative evaluation information to revise the ASC curriculum.
        A variety of instruments are used to gather data  on the ASC curriculum. Initial findings during year one and two of the grant were designed to determine the success of the ASC materials in meeting the goals of the grant. There are two main types of instruments employed: instruments geared towards teachers and instruments geared towards students. Teacher instruments included surveys completed on paper and mailed in, surveys deployed online, teacher lesson plan feedback, and teacher interviews.
      In addition to formal assessments of student content knowledge and interest in areas of science, analysis of work samples of students have been valuable in assessing changes in student and teacher thinking through the course of the three years of this pilot-testing project.  Data about the community of learners were also obtained through analysis of electronic communication and collaboration with the teachers, students and scientists.
 Summary of Research Efforts
    The final phase of data gathering and analysis is currently underway, with data obtained from teachers and students at each of 4 sites. Student data gathered consists of student work samples, attitude/interest surveys, and practice questions from the ACT test of Science Reasoning. Data gathered from teachers consists of curriculum maps combining state standards and ASC curriculum activities/assessments, teacher retrospective surveys of confidence and impact, self-report classroom observation forms, and written feedback on individual ASC lessons. These sources of data will be combined to produce a final ASC curriculum product suitable for NASA review (in order to become an official NASA curriculum product) and research on the effectiveness and impact of this curriculum upon diverse groups of students.

Preliminary Results from Teachers:
Teacher self report data indicate that the ASC curriculum has a coherent framework that is aligned with research-based pedagogy for diverse students (qualitative data from structured interviews).
Teachers reported that the ASC Curriculum had a major impact on student interest and performance
The ASC curriculum contains activities and professional development opportunities that allow teachers to educate diverse groups of students. Teachers had a high degree of satisfaction with the professional development giving the ASC training a perfect rating of 4.0/4.0 on the end of session surveys.
Feedback from teachers suggests that they were able to teach the ASC curriculum to their students and in so doing gained confidence in scientific knowledge and the use of instruments

Research Questions: Student Impacts
- Did the ASC curriculum supported student understanding of core STEM content and basic STEM concepts in formal educational settings (high school classrooms) as well as in informal educational settings after school as measured by educator feedback?

- Does the ASC curriculum increased science literacy in diverse groups of students as measured by scores on a practice version of the ACT test of Science Reasoning?

-Does the ASC curriculum provide unique questions that increased student interest in STEM areas as measured by student interest surveys?

For more information about the ASC Curriculum development program visit the website:

    The ASC modules will provide a web-based interdisciplinary curriculum in astrobiology that is free and easily accessible by the public. The curriculum is designed to supplement existing state curricula by providing a framework that draws all areas of science together through engaging activities, providing teachers with activities that meet both state and national standards along with encouraging science literacy. Accomplishing this goal will involve modification of modules based on feedback from teachers during professional development and implementation with students in formal and informal educational settings. Research during the field-testing phase of the project is currently assessing the impact of these crosscutting activities on student performance and attitudes about science along with student interest in STEM careers.

Dynamic Geometry in Classrooms

This project is conducting repeated randomized control trials of an approach to high school geometry that utilizes Dynamic Geometry (DG) software and supporting instructional materials to supplement ordinary instructional practices. It compares effects of that intervention with standard instruction that does not make use of computer drawing tools.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Project Evaluator: 
Ed Dickey
Full Description: 

The project is conducting repeated randomized control trials of an approach to high school geometry that utilizes dynamic geometry (DG) software and supporting instructional materials to supplement ordinary instructional practices.  It compares effects of that intervention with standard instruction that does not make use of computer drawing/exploraction tools. The basic hypothesis of the study is that use of DG software to engage students in constructing mathematical ideas through experimentation, observation, data recording, conjecturing, conjecture testing, and proof results in better geometry learning for most students. The study tests that hypothesis by assessing student learning in 76 classrooms randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Student learning is assessed by a geometry standardized test, a conjecturing-proving test, and a measure of student beliefs about the nature of geometry and mathematics in general. Teachers in both treatment and control groups receive relevant professional development, and they are provided with supplementary resource materials for teaching geometry. Fidelity of implementation for the experimental treatment is monitored carefully. Data for answering the several research questions of the study are analyzed by appropriate HLM methods. Results will provide evidence about the effectiveness of DG approach in high school teaching, evidence that can inform school decisions about innovation in that core high school mathematics course. The main research question of the project is: Is the dynamic geometry approach better than the business-as-usual approach in facilitating the geometric learning of our students (and more specifically our economically disadvantaged students) over the course of a full school year?

The main resources/products include geometry teachers’ professional development training materials, suggested dynamic geometry instructional activities to supplement current high school geometry curriculum, instruments such as Conjecturing-Proving Test, Geometry Belief Instrument, Classroom Observation Protocols, DG Implementation Questionnaire and Student Interview Protocols. 

The general plan for the four-year project is as follows:

Year 1: Preparation (All research instruments, professional development training and resource materials, recruitment and training of participants, etc.); 

Year 2: The first implementation of the dynamic geometry treatment, and related data collection and initial data analysis; 

Year 3: The second implementation of the DG treatment, and related data collection and data analysis; 

Year 4: Careful and detailed data analysis and reporting.

We are now in project year 3. Data are collected for the second implementation of the DG treatment. For data collected during project year 2, some initial analysis (the analysis on the geometry pretest and posttest data and the psychometric analysis on the project developed instruments) has been conducted. More thorough analysis of the collected data is still on going. The analysis on the geometry test shows that the experimental group significantly outperformed the control group on geometry performance.

The evaluation will be implemented throughout the project’s four-year duration, with an evolving balance of formative and summative evaluation activities.  In the project’s first three years, the evaluation will emphasize formative functions, designed to inform the project research team of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the research design and execution, and target corrections and improvements of the research components. Summative evaluation activities will also take place in these years with the collection of data on student achievement and teacher change. Evaluation activities for year 4 will focus on the summative evaluation of the project’s accomplishment and especially its impact on participating teachers and students. Evaluation reports will be issued annually with a final summative report presented at the end of year 4.

The research results will be disseminated via the following efforts: 1) Creating and constantly updating the project web site; 2) Publishing the related research articles in research journals such as Journal for Research in Mathematics Education; 3) Presenting at state, regional, national, and international research and professional meetings; 4) Meeting with state and local education agencies, schools, and mathematics teacher educators at other universities for presenting the research findings and using the DG approach in more schools and more mathematics teacher education programs; and 5) Contacting more school districts, with a view to developing relationships and ties that would smooth the way to disseminate the research results.

A Longitudinal Randomized Trial Study of Middle School Science for English Language Learners (Project MSSELL) (Collaborative Research: Lara-Alecio)

This project seeks to improve the science achievement and the academic English language proficiency of middle school Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs). This project will conduct a randomized trial longitudinal evaluation of an enhanced standards-based science curriculum model, consisting of five major components: (a) English language acquisition strategies integrated into the science curriculum, (b) technology-assisted instruction, (c) bi-weekly teacher professional development, (d) family involvement, and (e) paraprofessionals in working with individual ELLs.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2008 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Dr. David Frances

Integrating Computing Across the Curriculum (ICAC): Incorporating Technology into STEM Education Using XO Laptops

This project builds and tests applications tied to the school curriculum that integrate the sciences with mathematics, computational thinking, reading and writing in elementary schools. The investigative core of the project is to determine how to best integrate computing across the curriculum in such a way as to support STEM learning and lead more urban children to STEM career paths.

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Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2009 to Sun, 07/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Leslie Cooksy - Univ. of Delaware
Full Description: 

Computer access has opened an exciting new dimension for STEM education; however, if computers in the classroom are to realize their full potential as a tool for advancing STEM education, methods must be developed to allow them to serve as a bridge across the STEM disciplines. The goal of this 60-month multi-method, multi-disciplinary ICAC project is to develop and test a program to increase the number of students in the STEM pipeline by providing teachers and students with curricular training and skills to enhance STEM education in elementary schools. ICAC will be implemented in an urban and predominantly African American school system, since these schools traditionally lag behind in filling the STEM pipeline. Specifically, ICAC will increase computer proficiency (e.g., general usage and programming), science, and mathematics skills of teachers and 4th and 5th grade students, and inform parents about the opportunities available in STEM-centered careers for their children.

The Specific Aims of ICAC are to:

SA1. Conduct a formative assessment with teachers to determine the optimal intervention to ensure productive school, principal, teacher, and student participation.

SA2. Implement a structured intervention aimed at (1) teachers, (2) students, and (3) families that will enhance the students’ understanding of STEM fundamentals by incorporating laptops into an inquiry-based educational process.

SA3. Assess the effects of ICAC on:

a. Student STEM  engagement and performance.

b. Teacher and student computing specific confidence and utilization.

c. Student interest in technology and STEM careers.

d. Parents’ attitudes toward STEM careers and use of computers.

To enable us to complete the specific aims noted above, we have conducted a variety of project activities in Years 1-3. These include:

  1. Classroom observations at the two Year 1 pilot schools
  2. Project scaling to 6 schools in Year 2 and 10 schools in Year 3
  3. Semi-structured school administrator interviews in schools
  4. Professional development sessions for teachers
  5. Drafting of curriculum modules to be used in summer teacher institutes and for dissemination
  6. In-class demonstration of curriculum modules
  7. Scratch festivals each May
  8. Summer teacher institutes
  9. Student summer camps
  10. Surveying of teachers in summer institutes
  11. Surveying of teachers and students at the beginning and end of the school year
  12. Showcase event at end of student workshops

The specific ICAC activities for Years 2-5 include:

  • Professional development sessions (twice monthly for teachers), to integrate the ‘best practices’ from the program.
  • Working groups led by a grade-specific lead teacher. The lead teacher for each grade in each school will identify areas where assistance is needed and will gather the grade-specific cohort of teachers at their school once every two weeks for a meeting to discuss the progress made in addition to challenges to or successes in curricula development.  
  • ICAC staff and prior trained teachers will visit each class monthly during the year to assist the teachers and to evaluate specific challenges and opportunities for the use of XOs in that classroom.  
  • In class sessions at least once per month (most likely more often given feedback from Teacher Summer Institutes) to demonstrate lesson plans and assist teachers as they implement lesson plans.
  • ICAC staff will also hold a joint meeting of administrators of all target schools each year to assess program progress and challenges. 
  • Teacher Summer Institutes – scaled-up to teachers from the new schools each summer to provide training in how to incorporate computing into their curriculum.
  • Administrator sessions during the Teacher Summer Institutes; designed to provide insight into how the laptops can facilitate the education and comprehension of their students in all areas of the curriculum, discuss flexible models for physical classroom organization to facilitate student learning, and discussions related to how to optimize the use of computing to enhance STEM curricula in their schools.  Student Summer Computing Camps – designed to teach students computing concepts, make computing fun, and enhance their interest in STEM careers.  
  • ICAC will sponsor a yearly showcase event in Years 2-5 that provides opportunities for parents to learn more about technology skills their children are learning (e.g., career options in STEM areas, overview of ICAC, and summary of student projects). At this event, a yearly citywide competition among students also will be held that is an expanded version of the weeklong showcase event during the student summer camps.
  • Surveying of students twice a year in intervention schools.
  • Surveying of teachers at Summer Institutes and then at the end of the academic year.
  • Coding and entry of survey data; coding of interview and observational data.
  • Data analysis to examine the specific aims (SA) noted above:
    • The impact of ICAC on teacher computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b).
    • Assess the effects of (1) teacher XO training on student computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b), (2) training on changes in interest in STEM careers (SA 3.c), and (3) XO training on student engagement (SA 3.a).
    • A quasi-experimental comparison of intervention and non-intervention schools to assess intervention effects on student achievement (SA 3.a).
    • Survey of parents attending the yearly ICAC showcase to assess effects on parental attitudes toward STEM careers and computing (SA 3.d).

The proposed research has the potential for broad impact by leveraging technology in BCS to influence over 8,000 students in the Birmingham area. By targeting 4th and 5th grade students, we expect to impact STEM engagement and preparedness of students before they move into a critical educational and career decision-making process. Further, by bolstering student computer and STEM knowledge, ICAC will impart highly marketable skills that prepare them for the 81% of new jobs that are projected to be in computing and engineering in coming years (as predicted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics).3 Through its formative and summative assessment, ICAC will offer intellectual merit by providing teachers throughout the US with insights into how computers can be used to integrate the elementary STEM curriculum. ICAC will develop a model for using computers to enhance STEM education across the curriculum while instilling a culture among BCS schools where computing is viewed as a tool for learning.

(Previously listed under Award # 0918216)

Community Oriented Science Education

This project contributes to the emerging knowledge base for reform-minded middle school STEM instructional materials development through the development, field-testing, and evaluation of a prototype instructional materials module specifically designed to stimulate and sustain urban-based students’ interest in STEM. The module includes guided inquiry-oriented activities thematically linked by the standards-aligned concept of energy transfer, which highlight the fundamental processes and integrative nature of 21st century scientific investigation.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012

Semiotic Pivots and Activity Spaces for Elementary Science

This project employs sensing technologies to help transform students' physical actions during play into a set of symbolic (computer) representations in a physics simulation and to engage the children in a developmentally appropriate and powerful form of scientific modeling. The students are in grades K–1 at UCLA's elementary school, and the intervention is based on the existing content unit on Force and Motion.

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Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2007 to Tue, 08/31/2010

Making Sciences: Data Modeling and Argumentation in Elementary Science

This project develops ecosystems-focused instructional materials that use sensor data and technology to help second and third graders become more proficient at data modeling and scientific argumentation. The goals are to provide elementary teachers with a research-based curriculum that engages students in exploring and visualizing environmental data and using the data to construct scientific arguments, and to contribute to the cognitive development literature on children's ideas about and abilities for scientific argumentation.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Wed, 08/15/2007 to Sat, 07/31/2010

Cumulative Learning using Embedded Assessment Results (CLEAR)

This project focuses on the challenge of using assessment of relevant STEM content to improve K-12 teaching and learning. CLEAR takes advantage of new technologies and research findings to investigate ways that science assessments can both capture and contribute to cumulative, integrated learning of standards-based concepts in middle school courses. The project will research new forms of assessment that document students' accumulation of knowledge and also serve as learning events.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/15/2008 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Paul Holland
Full Description: 

The CLEAR project takes advantage of new technologies and research findings to investigate ways that science assessments can both capture and contribute to cumulative, integrated learning of standards-based concepts in middle school courses.

Our research investigates how instructional activities can help middle school students develop a cumulative, integrated understanding of energy. Energy is a unifying scientific concept that has been shown to be difficult to learn due to its complexity and abstract nature.

Building an Understanding of Science

Understanding Science provides an accurate portrayal of the nature of science and tools for teaching associated concepts. This project has at its heart a public re-engagement with science that begins with teacher preparation. To this end, its immediate goals are (1) improve teacher understanding of the nature of the scientific enterprise and (2) provide resources and strategies that encourage and enable K-16 teachers to incorporate and reinforce the nature of science throughout their science teaching.

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Funding Period: 
Mon, 03/12/2007 to Wed, 05/11/2011
Project Evaluator: 

The Role of Educative Curriculum Materials in Supporting Science Teaching Practices with English Language Learners

This project aims to determine whether curricula designed to support teacher and student learning have positive impacts on teacher knowledge, attitudes, and instructional practices; to what degree educative curricula help teachers with more and less experience teaching ELLs and how level of teaching experience relates to teacher knowledge, attitudes, and instructional practices; and the effects of the educative curricula in high implementation settings on ELLs knowledge and attitudes in science, and developing English proficiency.

Project Email: 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2008 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Jonna Kulikowich


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