Earth/Environmental Science

Teaching Science Outdoors: A Next Generation Approach for Advancing Elementary Science Teaching in Urban Communities

This project project is designed to enhance the capacity of elementary teachers in high-poverty urban communities for enacting Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-aligned science approaches using the outdoors as part of their classroom. The goal of the project is to advance elementary teachers' pedagogical practices and determine how this affects cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes of their students, particularly those who are traditionally marginalized in science classrooms.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1907506
Funding Period: 
Mon, 07/01/2019 to Fri, 06/30/2023
Full Description: 

This project addresses a long-standing challenge in science education centered on providing meaningful science education opportunities to students living in communities of high poverty and attending under-resourced elementary schools. These students are significantly less likely to receive high-quality science learning opportunities and to be encouraged to engage in (rather than simply learn about) science. This Michigan State University research project is designed to enhance the capacity of elementary teachers in high-poverty urban communities for enacting Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-aligned science approaches using the outdoors as part of their classroom. It builds on and advances prior outdoor education work for the current context of science education that requires elementary teachers to engage students in making sense of phenomena using next generation science and engineering practices. The goal of this project is to advance elementary teachers' pedagogical practices and determine how this affects cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes of their students, particularly those who are traditionally marginalized in science classrooms. It also will advance knowledge on ways to bridge informal and formal learning environments. To achieve these goals, the project will develop, enact and study a program that involves a scaffolded series of summer professional development sessions focused on outdoor learning and school year follow-up meetings and classroom-based coaching for elementary teachers and informal educators from two high-need districts.

Design-based research will be utilized to: 1) foster teacher practices and study how these develop over time, 2) work with teachers to measure student outcomes, and 3) determine what aspects of this formal/informal approach are productive, measures of student engagement and student learning artifacts--will be analyzed. The project will serve as a model for developing partnerships between informal science organizations, educators, and K-12 programs. Revised measures and outcomes of teacher practices and student learning; outdoor-focused lesson plans; cases illustrating how elementary teachers develop and enact NGSS-aligned outdoor lessons; a revised informal-formal theoretical model; and information about dissemination of products including facilitation guidelines and coaching approaches will be developed and disseminated.

The School Gardeners' Southwest Desert Almanac: A Conference for Supporting, Sustaining, and Spreading Garden-Based Science Teaching

Focusing on the Southwest Desert ecoregion, this conference addresses the need for research on effective instructional methods that can be used to support students' science learning in school gardens. The conference will lead to the development of an ecoregional model for garden-based science teaching (GBST) that builds on regional ecological and cultural resources to engage teachers and students in richer and more relevant science learning experiences.

Award Number: 
1908886
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/15/2019 to Fri, 07/31/2020
Full Description: 

Garden-based science teaching (GBST) integrates formal and informal learning, provides teaching opportunities in a wide range of science topics (e.g., soil science, ecology, botany), and creates a place for those topics to be locally and culturally relevant. A proliferation of school gardens nationwide reveals a significant increase (42%) in the creation of school gardens between 2013-2015 (USDA, 2015). As students increasingly engage in science learning in school gardens, the demand for high-quality instruction also grows. However, much of the available research on school gardens emphasizes health and nutrition interventions, without also characterizing the instructional practices of science. This conference addresses the need for research on effective instructional methods that can be used to support students' science learning in school gardens. The conference will focus on the Southwest Desert ecoregion. The ecoregion focus is driven by the longstanding challenges of coordinating a national model of GBST across ecoregion differences, by concentrating on states and sites whose problems and opportunities reflect common ecoregion conditions. This conference will lead to development of an ecoregional model for GBST that builds on regional ecological and cultural resources to engage teachers and students in richer and more relevant science learning experiences.

This conference will organize and implement collaborative activities during and after a 2-1/2 day meeting in Arizona. It will involve 35 participants comprised of teachers (grades K-5), teacher educators, educational researchers, and science content specialists who collectively bring experience with science teaching in school gardens, culturally relevant pedagogy, traditional agricultural practices, and science practices. Conference activities will draw upon participatory design research methods to understand how, when, and why educational innovations work in practice. A key product of the conference and post-conference activities will be an ecoregion model of GBST as instantiated by The School Gardeners' Southwest Desert Almanac. The Almanac will be an online resource for information on GBST, collaboratively produced by practitioners and researchers during- and post-conference activity. This website will feature curated resources such as a multi-media set of case studies illustrating GBST instructional practices.

Designing for Science Learning in Schools by Leveraging Participation and the Power of Place through Community and Citizen Science (Collaborative Research: Ballard)

This project responds to these priorities by developing and testing a place-based environmental science research and monitoring program for elementary school students and their teachers.

Project Email: 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1908915
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2019 to Mon, 07/31/2023
Project Evaluator: 
Full Description: 

Current priorities in science education include efforts to engage students in scientific reasoning and using the knowledge and practices of science to understand natural phenomena and constructively respond to local and global challenges. This project responds to these priorities by developing and testing a place-based environmental science research and monitoring program for elementary school students and their teachers. Students will investigate locally-relevant phenomena related to forest health, such as fire management and invasive species. The students will collect and analyze data related to resource management issues and share findings with community scientists and stakeholders. The project will develop and test a reproducible and adaptable place-based instructional model for schools, districts, and counties having underserved rural populations.

This early stage design and development project for students and teachers of grades 3-5 addresses two major goals: 1) Design and implement a science education program focused on local forest management issues to promote community-relevant learning and agency, and 2) Conduct design-based research to identify effective approaches to engaging young students in purposeful data collection and interpretation, and informed interaction with local stakeholders. The study includes 15 comprehensive public schools and charter schools in 12 school districts in a rural region having limited access to the formal and informal science learning opportunities typically available in urban centers. Research activities are guided by two research questions: 1) To what extent and in what ways do students participating in a school-based, community-engaged, place-based, environmental-focused program develop environmental science agency? And 2) Which design variations of the three Central Design Features foster the three science learning outcomes for students? The three Central Design Features are: 1) Collecting place-relevant environmental data, 2) Facilitated meaning-making with collected data embedded within larger data sets, and 3) Community-engaged, place-based projects and interactions. A design-based research approach will be used to determine how the planned design variations impact learning. The project will involve three design cycles of two-years each, with adjustments being based on insights gained during each implementation cycle. Pre- and post-program sureveys will be used to track changes in student environmental science agency (ESA), and field observations, semi-structured interviews with students and teachers, and examination of student work and artifacts will be used to gather data used to answer the research questions.

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Designing for Science Learning in Schools by Leveraging Participation and the Power of Place through Community and Citizen Science (Collaborative Research: Henson)

This project responds to these priorities by developing and testing a place-based environmental science research and monitoring program for elementary school students and their teachers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1908670
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2019 to Mon, 07/31/2023
Full Description: 

Current priorities in science education include efforts to engage students in scientific reasoning and using the knowledge and practices of science to understand natural phenomena and constructively respond to local and global challenges. This project responds to these priorities by developing and testing a place-based environmental science research and monitoring program for elementary school students and their teachers. Students will investigate locally-relevant phenomena related to forest health, such as fire management and invasive species. The students will collect and analyze data related to resource management issues and share findings with community scientists and stakeholders. The project will develop and test a reproducible and adaptable place-based instructional model for schools, districts, and counties having underserved rural populations.

This early stage design and development project for students and teachers of grades 3-5 addresses two major goals: 1) Design and implement a science education program focused on local forest management issues to promote community-relevant learning and agency, and 2) Conduct design-based research to identify effective approaches to engaging young students in purposeful data collection and interpretation, and informed interaction with local stakeholders. The study includes 15 comprehensive public schools and charter schools in 12 school districts in a rural region having limited access to the formal and informal science learning opportunities typically available in urban centers. Research activities are guided by two research questions: 1) To what extent and in what ways do students participating in a school-based, community-engaged, place-based, environmental-focused program develop environmental science agency? And 2) Which design variations of the three Central Design Features foster the three science learning outcomes for students? The three Central Design Features are: 1) Collecting place-relevant environmental data, 2) Facilitated meaning-making with collected data embedded within larger data sets, and 3) Community-engaged, place-based projects and interactions. A design-based research approach will be used to determine how the planned design variations impact learning. The project will involve three design cycles of two-years each, with adjustments being based on insights gained during each implementation cycle. Pre- and post-program sureveys will be used to track changes in student environmental science agency (ESA), and field observations, semi-structured interviews with students and teachers, and examination of student work and artifacts will be used to gather data used to answer the research questions.

Generalized Embodied Modeling to Support Science through Technology Enhanced Play (Collaborative Research: Danish)

The project will develop and research a new Mixed Reality environment (MR), called GEM-STEP, that leverages play and embodiment as resources for integrating computational modeling into the modeling cycle as part of science instruction for elementary students.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1908632
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2019 to Sun, 07/31/2022
Full Description: 

The project will develop and research a new Mixed Reality environment (MR), called GEM-STEP, that leverages play and embodiment as resources for integrating computational modeling into the modeling cycle as part of science instruction for elementary students. GEM stands for Generalized Embodied Modeling. Through these embodied, play-as-modeling activities, students will learn the core concepts of science, and the conceptual skills of modeling and systematic measurement. MR environments use new sensing technologies to help transform young children's physical actions during pretend play into a set of symbolic representations and parameters in a science simulation. As students physically move around the classroom, the computer will track their motion and interactions with selected objects and translate their physical activity into a shared display. For example, students pretend they are water particles and work together to model different states of matter. The children see their activity projected onto a computer simulation where a model of a water particle is displayed over the video of themselves. As students collectively reflect upon the nature of a water molecule, they refine their understanding of water as ice, a liquid or a gas. The proposed innovation allows the students to program and revise their own mixed reality simulations as part of their modeling cycle. Embodied and computational modeling will help students to reflect on their models in a unique way that will make their models more computationally accurate and enhance their understanding of the underlying concepts.

The project will research how using the body as a component of the modeling cycle differs from and interacts with the articulation of a scientific model through more structured computational means. The project will investigate the benefits of combining embodiment with computational elements in GEM:STEP by studying the range of concepts that students can learn in this manner. Lessons will be developed to address different disciplinary core ideas, such as states of matter, pollination as a complex system, or decomposition, as well as cross-cutting concepts of systems thinking, and energy/matter flow, all of which link directly to upper elementary science curriculum. Project research will gather data to understand what kinds of models students develop, what learning processes are supported using GEM:STEP, and what learning results. The data will include: (1) documenting and analyzing what students modeled and how accurate the models are; (2) recording student activity using audio and voice to code their activity to document learning processes and to look at how different forms of modeling interact with one another to promote learning; and (3) pre-post content measures to assess learning. All of the software that is developed for GEM:STEP will be made available as Open Source projects, allowing other researchers to build upon and extend this work. The results of the research will be disseminated in academic conferences and peer reviewed journals. The motion tracking software is already available on Github, a popular open-source repository. Once developed, the aim is to implement GEM:STEP in a wide range of classroom contexts, supported by a user-friendly interface, teacher guides, and professional development.

Generalized Embodied Modeling to Support Science through Technology Enhanced Play (Collaborative Research: Enyedy)

The project will develop and research a new Mixed Reality environment (MR), called GEM-STEP, that leverages play and embodiment as resources for integrating computational modeling into the modeling cycle as part of science instruction for elementary students.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1908791
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2019 to Sun, 07/31/2022
Full Description: 

The project will develop and research a new Mixed Reality environment (MR), called GEM-STEP, that leverages play and embodiment as resources for integrating computational modeling into the modeling cycle as part of science instruction for elementary students. GEM stands for Generalized Embodied Modeling. Through these embodied, play-as-modeling activities, students will learn the core concepts of science, and the conceptual skills of modeling and systematic measurement. MR environments use new sensing technologies to help transform young children's physical actions during pretend play into a set of symbolic representations and parameters in a science simulation. As students physically move around the classroom, the computer will track their motion and interactions with selected objects and translate their physical activity into a shared display. For example, students pretend they are water particles and work together to model different states of matter. The children see their activity projected onto a computer simulation where a model of a water particle is displayed over the video of themselves. As students collectively reflect upon the nature of a water molecule, they refine their understanding of water as ice, a liquid or a gas. The proposed innovation allows the students to program and revise their own mixed reality simulations as part of their modeling cycle. Embodied and computational modeling will help students to reflect on their models in a unique way that will make their models more computationally accurate and enhance their understanding of the underlying concepts.

The project will research how using the body as a component of the modeling cycle differs from and interacts with the articulation of a scientific model through more structured computational means. The project will investigate the benefits of combining embodiment with computational elements in GEM:STEP by studying the range of concepts that students can learn in this manner. Lessons will be developed to address different disciplinary core ideas, such as states of matter, pollination as a complex system, or decomposition, as well as cross-cutting concepts of systems thinking, and energy/matter flow, all of which link directly to upper elementary science curriculum. Project research will gather data to understand what kinds of models students develop, what learning processes are supported using GEM:STEP, and what learning results. The data will include: (1) documenting and analyzing what students modeled and how accurate the models are; (2) recording student activity using audio and voice to code their activity to document learning processes and to look at how different forms of modeling interact with one another to promote learning; and (3) pre-post content measures to assess learning. All of the software that is developed for GEM:STEP will be made available as Open Source projects, allowing other researchers to build upon and extend this work. The results of the research will be disseminated in academic conferences and peer reviewed journals. The motion tracking software is already available on Github, a popular open-source repository. Once developed, the aim is to implement GEM:STEP in a wide range of classroom contexts, supported by a user-friendly interface, teacher guides, and professional development.

Supporting Students' Science Content Knowledge through Project-based Inquiry

This project will address STEM learning through classroom implementation at two project partner schools in North Carolina, one urban and the other rural, with culturally diverse student populations. The project offers high school students the opportunity to be immersed in science content through engaging in globally-relevant learner-centered activities.

Award Number: 
1907895
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2019 to Sat, 07/31/2021
Full Description: 

The Project-Based Inquiry (PBI) Global initiative will address STEM learning through classroom implementation at two project partner schools in North Carolina, one urban and the other rural, with culturally diverse student populations. Both are innovative public high schools implementing the Early College High School model, preparing diverse students from populations underrepresented in STEM fields for college success. Because of the synergistic interaction of theory and practice, the project will produce substantial advances in the development of improved inquiry-based learning materials and research on the impact of these materials on students and teachers. The project offers high school students the opportunity to be immersed in science content through engaging in globally-relevant learner-centered activities. The following three research questions will be addressed: 1) How does inquiry through the PBI Global process support student science content knowledge? 2) How can students' motivation and engagement be characterized after participating in the PBI Global process? 3) To what degree do teachers' attitudes toward inquiry-based pedagogies change as a result of PBI Global professional development?

Project-Based Inquiry (PBI) Global responds to the need for research-informed and field-tested products with iterative development and implementation of a globally relevant, inquiry-based STEM curriculum. The project focuses on developing 9th grade student physical, biological, and environmental science content knowledge and science and engineering practices through the topics of global water and sanitation issues. Factors influencing student motivation and engagement, as well as teacher attitudes toward inquiry-based pedagogies will be investigated. The project will use a Design-Based Research (DBR) approach to develop and refine instructional materials and teacher professional development for the existing interdisciplinary PBI Global initiative. A mixed-methods research convergent parallel design will be used to explore the effects of the classroom implementation on student and teacher outcomes.

Case Studies of a Suite of Next Generation Science Instructional, Assessment, and Professional Development Materials in Diverse Middle School Settings

This project addresses a gap between vision and implementation of state science standards by designing a coordinated suite of instructional, assessment and teacher professional learning materials that attempt to enact the vision behind the Next Generation Science Standards. The study focuses on using state-of-the-art technology to create an 8-week long, immersive, life science field experience organized around three investigations.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1907944
Funding Period: 
Mon, 07/01/2019 to Fri, 06/30/2023
Full Description: 

New state science standards are ambitious and require important changes to instructional practices, accompanied by a coordinated system of curriculum, assessment, and professional development materials. This project addresses a gap between vision and implementation of such standards by designing a coordinated suite of instructional, assessment and teacher professional learning materials that attempt to enact the vision behind the Next Generation Science Standards. The study focuses on the design of such materials using state-of-the-art technology to create an 8-week long, immersive, life science field experience organized around three investigations. Classes of urban students in two states will collect data on local insect species with the goal of understanding, sharing, and critiquing environmental management solutions. An integrated learning technology system, the Learning Navigator, draws on big data to organize student-gathered data, dialogue, lessons, an assessment information. The Learning Navigator will also amplify the teacher's role in guiding and fostering next generation science learning. This project advances the field through an in-depth exploration of the goals for the standards documents. The study begins to address questions about what works when, where, and for whom in the context of the Next Generation Science Standards.

The project uses a series of case studies to create, test, evaluate and refine the system of instructional, assessment and professional development materials as they are enacted in two distinct urban school settings. It is designed with 330 students and 22 teachers in culturally, racially and linguistically diverse, under-resourced schools in Pennsylvania and California. These schools are located in neighborhoods that are economically challenged and have students who demonstrate patterns of underperformance on state standardized tests. It will document the process of team co-construction of Next Generation Science-fostering instructional materials; develop assessment tasks for an instructional unit that are valid and reliable; and, track the patterns of use of the instructional and assessment materials by teachers. The study will also record if new misconceptions are revealed as students develop Next Generation Science knowledge,  comparing findings across two diverse school locations in two states. Data collection will include: (a) multiple types of data to establish validity and reliability of educational assessments, (b) the design, evaluation and use of a classroom observation protocol to gather information on both frequency and categorical degree of classroom practices that support the vision, and (c) consecutive years of ten individual classroom enactments through case studies analyzed through cross-case analyses. This should lead to stronger and better developed understandings about what constitutes strong Next Generation Science learning and the classroom conditions, instructional materials, assessments and teacher development that foster it.

Streams of Data: Nurturing Data Literacy in Young Science Learners (Collaborative Research: Robeck)

This project will develop an approach to support fourth grade students' data literacy with complex, large-scale, professionally collected data sets. The work will focus on analytical thinking as a subset of data literacy, specifically evaluating and interpreting data. The project will teach students about working with geoscience data, which connect to observable, familiar aspects of the natural world and align with Earth science curriculum standards.

Award Number: 
1906286
Funding Period: 
Mon, 07/01/2019 to Thu, 06/30/2022
Full Description: 

These skills are essential for working with scientific data sets, but educators know very little about how to prepare students for the issues involved in making appropriate inferences from data. The need is compounded by the fact that studies that exist have worked with data sets that students themselves collected, whereas the many electronic data sets, proliferating in the public domain, pose different challenges. This project will develop an approach to support fourth grade students' data literacy with complex, large-scale, professionally collected data sets. The work will focus on analytical thinking as a subset of data literacy, specifically evaluating and interpreting data. The project will teach students about working with geoscience data, which connect to observable, familiar aspects of the natural world and align with Earth science curriculum standards. An interdisciplinary team of educators, researchers, and scientists from the Oceans of Data Institute at Educational Development Center and the American Geological Institute will (1) conduct baseline research to understand students' natural affinities for understanding inference from complex data and phenomena; (2) develop and test scaffolding activities that leverage students' intellectual assets and minimize barriers to analytical thinking with professionally collected data; and (3) examine the degree to which the resulting activities support students to do productive work with professionally collected data. In developing an instructional approach, the project informs generally how professionally collected, scientific data can be used to support elementary students to develop data literacy skills.

Hypothesizing that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education generally can benefit from the instructional use of complex, large, interactive, and professionally-collected (CLIP) data sets (e.g., related to precipitation, stream flow, and groundwater levels), this study will explore approaches to integrating those data into fourth grade classroom instruction. The research is based on a premise that students who engage with CLIP data early in their classroom STEM experiences will develop skills and attitudes that promote meaningful analyses of those data earlier than if that exposure is delayed until secondary courses. The project will use a three-phase iterative design that will unfold in three urban and suburban school districts in Virginia and Maryland. Phase one will focus on creating a baseline of the reasoning students employ when making inferences from data. It will involve 45 students from grades 3-5 in targeted interviews, which will be recorded, transcribed and analyzed. Phases two and three will focus on design and development in grade 4. Phase two will develop and test activities through an iterative design plan that employs a semi-clinical method with small groups of students. Phase three will implement the activities that result from that process in six classrooms across three districts with approximately 150 students. A scoring rubric that captures student learning will be constructed in phase two and used to measure impacts of the field testing in phase three. Observations and interviews will also be conducted at field sites to understand what students learn about analytical thinking from the activities.

Streams of Data: Nurturing Data Literacy in Young Science Learners (Collaborative Research: Kochevar)

This project will develop an approach to support fourth grade students' data literacy with complex, large-scale, professionally collected data sets. The work will focus on analytical thinking as a subset of data literacy, specifically evaluating and interpreting data. The project will teach students about working with geoscience data, which connect to observable, familiar aspects of the natural world and align with Earth science curriculum standards.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1906264
Funding Period: 
Mon, 07/01/2019 to Thu, 06/30/2022
Full Description: 

These skills are essential for working with scientific data sets, but educators know very little about how to prepare students for the issues involved in making appropriate inferences from data. The need is compounded by the fact that studies that exist have worked with data sets that students themselves collected, whereas the many electronic data sets, proliferating in the public domain, pose different challenges. This project will develop an approach to support fourth grade students' data literacy with complex, large-scale, professionally collected data sets. The work will focus on analytical thinking as a subset of data literacy, specifically evaluating and interpreting data. The project will teach students about working with geoscience data, which connect to observable, familiar aspects of the natural world and align with Earth science curriculum standards. An interdisciplinary team of educators, researchers, and scientists from the Oceans of Data Institute at Educational Development Center and the American Geological Institute will (1) conduct baseline research to understand students' natural affinities for understanding inference from complex data and phenomena; (2) develop and test scaffolding activities that leverage students' intellectual assets and minimize barriers to analytical thinking with professionally collected data; and (3) examine the degree to which the resulting activities support students to do productive work with professionally collected data. In developing an instructional approach, the project informs generally how professionally collected, scientific data can be used to support elementary students to develop data literacy skills.

Hypothesizing that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education generally can benefit from the instructional use of complex, large, interactive, and professionally-collected (CLIP) data sets (e.g., related to precipitation, stream flow, and groundwater levels), this study will explore approaches to integrating those data into fourth grade classroom instruction. The research is based on a premise that students who engage with CLIP data early in their classroom STEM experiences will develop skills and attitudes that promote meaningful analyses of those data earlier than if that exposure is delayed until secondary courses. The project will use a three-phase iterative design that will unfold in three urban and suburban school districts in Virginia and Maryland. Phase one will focus on creating a baseline of the reasoning students employ when making inferences from data. It will involve 45 students from grades 3-5 in targeted interviews, which will be recorded, transcribed and analyzed. Phases two and three will focus on design and development in grade 4. Phase two will develop and test activities through an iterative design plan that employs a semi-clinical method with small groups of students. Phase three will implement the activities that result from that process in six classrooms across three districts with approximately 150 students. A scoring rubric that captures student learning will be constructed in phase two and used to measure impacts of the field testing in phase three. Observations and interviews will also be conducted at field sites to understand what students learn about analytical thinking from the activities.

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