Curriculum

Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG): Factors that Support Racial and Ethnic Minority Students’ Success in Low-Income Middle Schools

Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG) designs and implements curriculum aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and uses school gardens as learning contexts in grade 6 (2014-2015), grade 7 (2015-2016) and grade 8 (2016-2017) in two low-income urban schools. The project investigates the extent to which SciLG activities predict students’ STEM identity, motivation, learning, and grades in science using a theoretical model of motivational development.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418270
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG) will use school gardens as the context for learning at two low-income middle schools with predominantly racial and ethnic minority students in Portland, Oregon. There are thousands of gardens flourishing across the country that are underutilized as contexts for active engagement in the middle grades. School gardens provide important cultural contexts while addressing environmental and food issues. SciLG will bring underrepresented youth into gardens at a critical time in their intellectual development to broaden the factors that support motivation to pursue STEM careers and educational pathways. The project will adapt, organize, and align two disparate sets of existing resources into the project curriculum: 6th grade science curriculum resources, and garden-based lessons and units. The curriculum will be directly aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 

The project will use a design-based research approach to refine instruction and formative assessment, and to investigate factors for student success in science proficiency and their motivational engagement in relation to the garden curriculum. The curriculum will be pilot-tested during the first year of the project in five sixth-grade classes with 240 students in Portland Public Schools. Students will be followed longitudinally in grades 7 and 8 in years 2 and 3 respectively, as curricular integration continues. The research team will support participating teachers each year in using their schools' gardens, and study how this context can serve as an effective pedagogical strategy for NGSS-aligned science curriculum. Academic learning will be measured by assessments of student progress towards the end of middle-school goals defined by NGSS. Motivation will be measured by a validated motivational engagement instrument. SciLG results along with the motivational engagement instrument will be disseminated widely through a variety of professional networks to stimulate implementation nationwide.

Reclaiming Access to Inquiry-based Science Education (RAISE) for Incarcerated Students

This project will develop a Universal Design for Learning, project-based inquiry science program that includes virtual learning environments, virtual laboratories, and digital scaffolds and supports that promote scientific learning for incarcerated youth.

Award Number: 
1418152
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

This project is unique in targeting arguably the most vulnerable learners in the American education system: youth confined in juvenile corrections facilities. Three primary problems confronting science education in these settings are: (1) inadequate curriculum and resources; (2) inadequately prepared and supported teachers; and (3) a heterogeneous group of learners, many of whom have disabilities, are disengaged, and/or lack reading and mathematics skills. Failure to address these challenges and the broader educational needs of incarcerated juveniles has broad implications for society, so this project is timely and has high potential for broad impacts.

To address these problems project personnel will employ an iterative development process to develop a curriculum designed to increase access to and mastery of science content, concepts, and inquiry skills critical for careers in the 21st Century STEM workforce. They will then prepare teachers to implement the program in pilot testing in juvenile corrections facilities in Massachusetts. Specifically, the investigators will: (1) align and adapt an existing biology curriculum using Common Core State Standards and Universal Design for Learning principles; (2) develop all materials, digital supports and scaffolds, virtual learning environments and labs, assessments, and teacher professional development materials for one curriculum unit; (3) conduct usability evaluation of all materials and use the results to refine and finalize two curriculum units; (4) prepare teachers to implement the biology program in juvenile corrections education settings; (5) conduct a quasi-experimental study to examine the impacts of the biology program on the content knowledge and inquiry skills of students, their interests, and their levels of engagement; and, (6) disseminate the findings to various constituency groups. The final product will be a Universal Design for Learning, project-based inquiry science program that includes virtual learning environments, virtual laboratories, and digital scaffolds and supports that promote scientific learning for incarcerated youth.

Next Gen Alliance for Science Education Toolkit

This project will research the development and application of new Next Generation curriculum exemplars for middle school science that align with the expectations of NGSS by (1) constructing diagnostic tools to assess the alignment of curricula; (2) using the tool for existing curricula in order to field test it; and (3) systematically investigating the effectiveness of the tool.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418440
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

This project will research the development and application of new Next Generation curriculum exemplars for middle school science and K-12 teacher preparation foundational level general science (collectively referred to as Next Gen curriculum materials). The project will address the need to develop middle school science curriculum that aligns with the expectations of NGSS by (1) constructing diagnostic tools to assess the alignment of curricula; (2) using the tool for existing curricula in order to field test it; and (3) systematically investigating the effectiveness of the tool. The project will use these tools to revise and test a series of middle school lessons, implement them in the classroom, and study their results. Research on the efficacy of these diagnostic tools will address specific content and evidence of learning in two domains: student middle school science learning and teacher content learning.

The project will develop curriculum diagnostic tools for middle school science. The process of development will include field testing with teachers and students in 60 classrooms (20 life, 20 physical, and 20 earth science classrooms) in high needs areas. It will employ rigorous standards in developing and applying research-based procedures to produce NGSS curriculum exemplars. The mixed methodology approach will provide in-depth information regarding the alignment of new curriculum materials to the NGSS. The rigorously analyzed and field-tested Next Generation science curriculum exemplars products produced will be broadly disseminated through state and national conferences and networks of programs with which the California State University, East Bay (CSU East Bay) and core partners are in collaboration.

Preparing Urban Middle Grades Mathematics Teachers to Teach Argumentation Throughout the School Year

The objective of this project is to develop a toolkit of resources and practices that will help inservice middle grades mathematics teachers support mathematical argumentation throughout the school year. A coherent, portable, two-year-long professional development program on mathematical argumentation has the potential to increase access to mathematical argumentation for students nationwide and, in particular, to address the needs of teachers and students in urban areas.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1417895
Funding Period: 
Sun, 06/15/2014 to Thu, 05/31/2018
Full Description: 

The project is an important study that builds on prior research to bring a comprehensive professional development program to another urban school district, The District of Columbia Public Schools. The objective of this full research and development project is to develop a toolkit  that provides resources and practices for inservice middle grades mathematics teachers to support mathematical argumentation throughout the school year. Mathematical argumentation, the construction and critique of mathematical conjectures and justifications, is a fundamental disciplinary practice in mathematics that students often never master. Building on a proof of concept of the project's approach ifrom two prior NSF-funded studies, this project expands the model to help teachers support mathematical argumentation all year. A coherent, portable, two-year-long professional development program on mathematical argumentation has the potential to increase access to mathematical argumentation for students nationwide and, in particular, to address the needs of teachers and students in urban areas. Demonstrating this program in the nation's capital will likely attract broad interest and produces important knowledge about how to implement mathematical practices in urban settings. Increasing mathematical argumentation in schools has the potential for dramatic contributions to students' achievement and participation in 21st century workplaces.

Mathematical argumentation is rich discussion in which students take on mathematical authority and co-construct conjectures and justifications. For many teachers, supporting such discourse is challenging; many are most comfortable with Initiate-Respond-Evaluate types of practices and/or have insufficient content understanding. The professional development trains teachers to be disciplined improvisers -- professionals with a toolkit of tools, knowledge, and practices to be deployed creatively and responsively as mathematical argumentation unfolds. This discipline includes establishing classroom norms and planning lessons for argumentation. The model's theory of action has four design principles: provide the toolkit, use simulations of the classroom to practice improvising, support learning of key content, and provide job-embedded, technology-enabled supports for using new practices all year. Three yearlong studies will address design, feasibility, and promise. In Study 1 the team co-designs tools with District of Columbia Public Schools staff. Study 2 is a feasibility study to examine program implementation, identify barriers and facilitators, and inform improvements. Study 3 is a quasi-experimental pilot to test the promise for achieving intended outcomes: expanding teachers' content knowledge and support of mathematical argumentation, and increasing students' mathematical argumentation in the classroom and spoken argumentation proficiency. The studies will result in a yearlong professional development program with documentation of the theory of action, design decisions, pilot data, and instrument technical qualities.

EarSketch: An Authentic, Studio-based STEAM Approach to High School Computing Education

This project will study the influence on positive student achievement and engagement (particularly among populations traditionally under-represented in computer science) of an intervention that integrates a computational music remixing tool -EarSketch- with the Computer Science Principles, a view of computing literacy that is emerging as a new standard for Advanced Placement and other high school computer science courses.

Award Number: 
1417835
Funding Period: 
Fri, 08/01/2014 to Tue, 07/31/2018
Project Evaluator: 
Mary Moriarity
Full Description: 

This project will study the influence on positive student achievement and engagement (particularly among populations traditionally under-represented in computer science) of an intervention that integrates a computational music remixing tool -EarSketch- with the Computer Science Principles, a view of computing literacy that is emerging as a new standard for Advanced Placement and other high school computer science courses. The project is grounded on the premise that EarSketch, a STEM + Art (STEAM) learning environment, embodies authenticity (i.e., its cultural and industry relevance in both arts and STEM domains), along with a context that facilitates communication and collaboration among students (i.e., through a studio-based learning approach). These elements are critical to achieving successful outcomes across diverse student populations. Using agent-based modeling, the research team will investigate what factors enhance or impede implementation of authentic STEAM tools in different school settings.

The researchers will be engaged in a multi-stage process to develop: a) an implementation-ready, web-based EarSketch learning environment that integrates programming, digital audio workstation, curriculum, audio loop library, and social sharing features, along with studio-based learning functionality to support student presentation, critique, discussion, and collaboration; and b) an online professional learning course for teachers adopting EarSketch in Computer Science Principles courses. Using these resources, the team will conduct a quasi-experimental study of EarSketch in Computer Science Principles high school courses across the state of Georgia; measure student learning and engagement across multiple demographic categories; and determine to what extent an EarSketch-based CS Principles course promotes student achievement and engagement across different student populations. The project will include measures of student performance, creativity, collaboration, and communication in student programming tasks to determine the extent to which studio-based learning in EarSketch promotes success in these important areas. An agent-based modeling framework in multiple school settings will be developed to determine what factors enhance or impede implementation of EarSketch under conditions of routine practice.

Driven to Discover: Citizen Science Inspires Classroom Investigation

This project utilizes existing citizen science programs as springboards for professional development for teachers during an intensive summer workshop. The project curriculum helps teachers use student participation in citizen science to engage them in the full complement of science practices; from asking questions, to conducting independent research, to sharing findings.

Award Number: 
1417777
Funding Period: 
Wed, 10/01/2014 to Sun, 09/30/2018
Full Description: 

Citizen science refers to partnerships between volunteers and scientists that answer real world questions. The target audiences in this project are middle and high school teachers and their students in a broad range of settings: two urban districts, an inner-ring suburb, and three rural districts. The project utilizes existing citizen science programs as springboards for professional development for teachers during an intensive summer workshop. The project curriculum helps teachers use student participation in citizen science to engage them in the full complement of science practices; from asking questions, to conducting independent research, to sharing findings. Through district professional learning communities (PLCs), teachers work with district and project staff to support and demonstrate project implementation. As students and their teachers engage in project activities, the project team is addressing two key research questions: 1) What is the nature of instructional practices that promote student engagement in the process of science?, and 2) How does this engagement influence student learning, with special attention to the benefits of engaging in research presentations in public, high profile venues? Key contributions of the project are stronger connections between a) ecology-based citizen science programs, STEM curriculum, and students' lives and b) science learning and disciplinary literacy in reading, writing and math.

Research design and analysis are focused on understanding how professional development that involves citizen science and independent investigations influences teachers' classroom practices and student learning. The research utilizes existing instruments to investigate teachers' classroom practices, and student engagement and cognitive activity: the Collaboratives for Excellence in Teacher Preparation and Classroom Observation Protocol, and Inquiring into Science Instruction Observation Protocol. These instruments are used in classroom observations of a stratified sample of classes whose students represent the diversity of the participating districts. Curriculum resources for each citizen science topic, cross-referenced to disciplinary content and practices of the NGSS, include 1) a bibliography (books, web links, relevant research articles); 2) lesson plans and student science journals addressing relevant science content and background on the project; and 3) short videos that help teachers introduce the projects and anchor a digital library to facilitate dissemination. Impacts beyond both the timeframe of the project and the approximately 160 teachers who will participate are supported by curriculum units that address NGSS life science topics, and wide dissemination of these materials in a variety of venues. The evaluation focuses on outcomes of and satisfaction with the summer workshop, classroom incorporation, PLCs, and student learning. It provides formative and summative findings based on qualitative and quantitative instruments, which, like those used for the research, have well-documented reliability and validity. These include the Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument to assess teacher beliefs; the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol to assess teacher practices; the Standards Assessment Inventory to assess PLC quality; and the Scientific Attitude Inventory to assess student attitudes towards science. Project deliverables include 1) curriculum resources that will support engagement in five existing citizen science projects that incorporate standards-based science content; 2) venues for student research presentations that can be duplicated in other settings; and 3) a compilation of teacher-adapted primary scientific research articles that will provide a model for promoting disciplinary literacy. The project engages 40 teachers per year and their students.

Teaching STEM with Robotics: Design, Development, and Testing of a Research-based Professional Development Program for Teachers

Using design-based research, with teachers as design partners, the project will create and refine project-based, hands-on robotics curricula such that science and math content inherent in robotics and related engineering design practices are learned. To provide teachers with effective models to capitalize on robotics for elucidating science and math concepts, a design-based Professional Development program will be built using principles of technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge (TPACK).

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1417769
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

Offering meaningful and motivating engineering contexts, such as robotics, within science and math courses constitutes a compelling strategy to address the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards for Math while enhancing science and math learning for all students. Using design-based research, with teachers as design partners, the project will create and refine project-based, hands-on curricula such that science and math content inherent in robotics and related engineering design practices are learned. To provide teachers with effective models to capitalize on robotics for elucidating science and math concepts, a design-based Professional Development program will be built using principles of technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge (TPACK). To ensure that teachers are well prepared, research-based practices and features of effective Professional Development will be adopted. Experts in robotics, engineering, education, curriculum design, and assessment--with experience in K-12 education, training, and outreach--have formed an interdisciplinary team to make robotics central to and sustainable in middle school science and math classrooms.

The research questions addressed in this project are qualitative in nature as appropriate for design research questions. The methodologies include teacher needs assessment, teachers' perceptions of robotics, pre and post testing, classroom observations, and surveys. Examples of the research questions are:

What characteristics of robotics promote effective learning of middle school science and math?

What elements of Professional Development engender teachers' TPACK of robotics and link it with classroom science and math?

What are student prerequisites to effectively use robotics in science and math learning?

What are the gains in students' STEM engagement, interest, persistence, and career awareness?

The robotics curriculum will include physical science used in robot performance expectations and motion stability. Additionally the curriculum will include the engineering design process consisting of problem definition, solution development, and design improvement. Robotics provides opportunities to support science and engineering practices of the Next Generation Science Standards such as developing and using models, planning and conducting investigations, designing solutions, and analyzing and interpreting data. The project will be aimed at middle school students and will provide substantial teacher professional development to implement the new curriculum modules. The partner schools have student bodies drawn from a diverse student population in New York City.

Building High School Students’ Understanding of Evolution through Collection and Analysis of Data, Evidence-based Arguments, and an Understanding of Heredity

This project will address widespread misunderstandings related to evolution by developing and testing a new high school curriculum unit and assessment measures focusing on biological evolution.  The new curriculum will integrate the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core Mathematics standards on reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, and an English Language Arts standard for writing arguments focused on discipline-specific content. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418136
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

Understanding evolution is fundamental to understanding contemporary biology, but many students do not understand the core ideas of evolutionary theory. Students misinterpret phylogenetic trees, they misunderstand fundamental concepts of common ancestry, and they have a poor grasp of evolutionary time. This project will address widespread misunderstandings related to evolution by developing and testing a new high school curriculum unit and assessment measures focusing on biological evolution. The University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are collaborating to develop a curriculum unit that models integration of the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards: disciplinary core ideas, science practices, and crosscutting concepts. The new curriculum will also integrate Common Core Mathematics standards on reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, and an English Language Arts standard for writing arguments focused on discipline-specific content. This project builds on a previously funded NSF project that developed and tested six prototype lessons on natural selection. In classroom enactments the lessons showed preliminary promise for significantly increasing student understanding of natural selection and decreasing their misconceptions about natural selection and statistics.

This research and development project is based on the hypothesis that students will better understand the disciplinary core ideas about biological evolution when curriculum materials and instruction have certain identified features and when professional development experiences prepare teachers to use those materials and instructional practices. The research questions and research plan are designed to test this hypothesis using a randomized controlled trial design that allows for iterative rounds of refinement. The study will engage 20 teachers of grades 9-10 biology from across the U.S. who teach a diversity of students. To conduct the research, the project will develop measures of student understanding and a measure of teacher content knowledge. A measure of evidence-based evolution argumentation will also be developed for use with teachers and students.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Evolution: DNA and the Unity of Life

Presenter(s): Louisa Stark, Dina Drits-Esser, Sheila Homburger, & Molly Malone


Changing Culture in Robotics Classroom (Collaborative Research: Shoop)

Computational and algorithmic thinking are new basic skills for the 21st century. Unfortunately few K-12 schools in the United States offer significant courses that address learning these skills. However many schools do offer robotics courses. These courses can incorporate computational thinking instruction but frequently do not. This research project aims to address this problem by developing a comprehensive set of resources designed to address teacher preparation, course content, and access to resources.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418199
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

Computational and algorithmic thinking are new basic skills for the 21st century. Unfortunately few K-12 schools in the United States offer significant courses that address learning these skills. However many schools do offer robotics courses. These courses can incorporate computational thinking instruction but frequently do not. This research project aims to address this problem by developing a comprehensive set of resources designed to address teacher preparation, course content, and access to resources. This project builds upon a ten year collaboration between Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Academy and the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center that studied how teachers implement robotics education in their classrooms and developed curricula that led to significant learning gains. This project will address the following three questions:

1.What kinds of resources are useful for motivating and preparing teachers to teach computational thinking and for students to learn computational thinking?

2.Where do teachers struggle most in teaching computational thinking principles and what kinds of supports are needed to address these weaknesses?

3.Can virtual environments be used to significantly increase access to computational thinking principles?

The project will augment traditional robotics classrooms and competitions with Robot Virtual World (RVW) that will scaffold student access to higher-order problems. These virtual robots look just like real-world robots and will be programmed using identical tools but have zero mechanical error. Because dealing with sensor, mechanical, and actuator error adds significant noise to the feedback students' receive when programming traditional robots (thus decreasing the learning of computational principles), the use of virtual robots will increase the learning of robot planning tasks which increases learning of computational thinking principles. The use of RVW will allow the development of new Model-Eliciting Activities using new virtual robotics challenges that reward creativity, abstraction, algorithms, and higher level programming concepts to solve them. New curriculum will be developed for the advanced concepts to be incorporated into existing curriculum materials. The curriculum and learning strategies will be implemented in the classroom following teacher professional development focusing on computational thinking principles. The opportunities for incorporating computationally thinking principles in the RVW challenges will be assessed using detailed task analyses. Additionally regression analyses of log-files will be done to determine where students have difficulties. Observations of classrooms, surveys of students and teachers, and think-alouds will be used to assess the effectiveness of the curricula in addition to pre-and post- tests to determine student learning outcomes.

Changing Culture in Robotics Classroom (Collaborative Research: Schunn)

Computational and algorithmic thinking are new basic skills for the 21st century. Unfortunately few K-12 schools in the United States offer significant courses that address learning these skills. However many schools do offer robotics courses. These courses can incorporate computational thinking instruction but frequently do not. This research project aims to address this problem by developing a comprehensive set of resources designed to address teacher preparation, course content, and access to resources.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1416984
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

Computational and algorithmic thinking are new basic skills for the 21st century. Unfortunately few K-12 schools in the United States offer significant courses that address learning these skills. However many schools do offer robotics courses. These courses can incorporate computational thinking instruction but frequently do not. This research project aims to address this problem by developing a comprehensive set of resources designed to address teacher preparation, course content, and access to resources. This project builds upon a ten year collaboration between Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Academy and the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center that studied how teachers implement robotics education in their classrooms and developed curricula that led to significant learning gains. This project will address the following three questions:

1.What kinds of resources are useful for motivating and preparing teachers to teach computational thinking and for students to learn computational thinking?

2.Where do teachers struggle most in teaching computational thinking principles and what kinds of supports are needed to address these weaknesses?

3.Can virtual environments be used to significantly increase access to computational thinking principles?

The project will augment traditional robotics classrooms and competitions with Robot Virtual World (RVW) that will scaffold student access to higher-order problems. These virtual robots look just like real-world robots and will be programmed using identical tools but have zero mechanical error. Because dealing with sensor, mechanical, and actuator error adds significant noise to the feedback students' receive when programming traditional robots (thus decreasing the learning of computational principles), the use of virtual robots will increase the learning of robot planning tasks which increases learning of computational thinking principles. The use of RVW will allow the development of new Model-Eliciting Activities using new virtual robotics challenges that reward creativity, abstraction, algorithms, and higher level programming concepts to solve them. New curriculum will be developed for the advanced concepts to be incorporated into existing curriculum materials. The curriculum and learning strategies will be implemented in the classroom following teacher professional development focusing on computational thinking principles. The opportunities for incorporating computationally thinking principles in the RVW challenges will be assessed using detailed task analyses. Additionally regression analyses of log-files will be done to determine where students have difficulties. Observations of classrooms, surveys of students and teachers, and think-alouds will be used to assess the effectiveness of the curricula in addition to pre-and post- tests to determine student learning outcomes.

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