Geometry

Re-Imagining Video-based Online Learning

Despite the tremendous growth in the availability of mathematics videos online, little research has investigated student learning from them. The goal of this exploratory project is to create, investigate, and provide evidence of promise for a model of online videos that embodies a more expansive vision of both the nature of the content and the pedagogical approach than is currently represented in YouTube-style lessons.

Award Number: 
1416789
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

The goal of this exploratory project is to create, investigate, and provide evidence of promise for a model of online videos that embodies a more expansive vision of both the nature of the content and the pedagogical approach than is currently represented in YouTube-style lessons. This goal is pursued through the development and research of videos for two mathematics units--one focused on proportional reasoning at the middle grades level and the other focused on quadratic functions at the high school level, using an approach that could be applied to any STEM content area. The media attention on the Khan Academy and the wide array of massive open online courses has highlighted the internet phenomenon of widespread accessibility to mathematics lessons, which offer many benefits, such as student control of the pace of learning and earlier access to advanced topics than is often possible in public schools. Yet, despite the huge range of topics presented in online videos, there is surprising uniformity in the procedural emphasis of the content and in the expository mode of presentation. Moving beyond the types of videos now used, primarily recorded lectures that replicate traditional classroom experience, this project advances our understanding about how students learn from video and from watching others learn - vicarious learning - as opposed to watching an expert. This project addresses the need for an alternative approach. Rather than relying on an expository style, the videos produced for this project focus on pairs of students, highlighting their dialogue, explanations and alternative conceptions. This alternative has the potential to contribute to learning sciences and to develop a usable tool.

Despite the tremendous growth in the availability of mathematics videos online, little research has investigated student learning from them. This project develops dialogue-intensive videos in which children justify and explain their reasoning, elucidate their own comprehension of mathematical situations, and argue for and against various ideas and strategies. According to Wegerif (2007), such vicarious participation in a dialogic community may help learners take the perspective of another in a discussion, thus "expanding the spaces of learning" through digital technology. Consequently, a major contribution of this proposed work will be a set of four vicarious learning studies. Two qualitative studies investigate the particular meanings and ways of reasoning that learners appropriate from observing the dialogue of the students in the videos, as well as the learning trajectories of vicarious learners for each unit. Two quantitative studies isolate and test the effectiveness of the dialogic and the conceptual components of the model by comparing learning outcome gains for (a) conceptual dialogic versus conceptual expository conditions, and (b) dialogic conceptual versus dialogic procedural conditions. Another mark of the originality of the proposed work is the set of vicarious learning studies that contributes to the emerging literature across several dimensions, by (a) using secondary students rather than undergraduates; (b) exploring longer periods of learning, which is more conducive to deeper understanding; and (c) examining the nature of reasoning that is possible, not just the effectiveness of the approach.

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.

The Validity of Technology-Enhanced Assessment in Geometry

This project contributes to the small research base by exploring the validity of Technology-Enhanced Items (TEIs) in the context of elementary geometry. The project addresses three research questions: 1) To what extent are TEIs a valid measurement of geometry standards in the elementary grades?; 2) To what extent do TEIs provide an improved measurement compared to SR items?; and 3) What are the general characteristics of mathematics standards that might be better measured through TEIs?

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1316557
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2013 to Thu, 12/31/2015
Full Description: 

Assessment developers, state departments of education, and national consortia have focused extensive efforts on including Technology-Enhanced Items (TEIs) on summative and formative assessments. TEIs have a number of potential benefits over traditional, selected-response (SR) items, including the potential to measure higher-level constructs, the reduction of the effects of test-taking skills and guessing, the capture of rich diagnostic information, the reduction of cognitive load from non-relevant constructs, and the engaging nature of their design. The first three benefits are true of constructed-response (CR) items, but TEIs have the added benefit of being automatically scored by computer. Despite the potential benefits of TEIs, and the strong push to include these types of items in assessments, there is a death of research on the validity of inferences made by TEIs and on whether TEIs provide improved measurement over traditional item types. The Validity of Technology-Enhanced Assessment in Geometry (VTAG) project contributes to the small research base by exploring the validity of TEIs in the context of elementary geometry.

The project addresses three research questions:

RQ1: To what extent are TEIs a valid measurement of geometry standards in the elementary grades?

RQ2: To what extent do TEIs provide an improved measurement compared to SR items?

RQ3: What are the general characteristics of mathematics standards that might be better measured through TEIs?

To address these research questions, the researchers develop 20 items (ten SR items and 10 TEIs) for each of the seven Common Core State Standards in fourth and fifth grade geometry. The researchers collect validity evidence using expert review, cognitive labs, and classroom administration of the items. The first two research questions are addressed by evaluating the validity of the items based on a variety of sources, including test content, internal structure, the relationship to other variables, and student response processes. To address the third research question, informed by the results of the prior two, the researchers use qualitative analysis to identify common themes of the standards that were identified as being better measured through TEIs.

Developing Rich Media-Based Materials for Practice-Based Teacher Education

This research and development project is premised on the notion that recent technological developments have made it feasible to represent classroom work in new ways. In addition to watching recorded videos of classroom interactions or reading written cases, teacher educators and teachers can now watch animations and image sequences, realized with cartoon characters, and made to depict activities that happened, or could have happened, in a mathematics classroom.

Award Number: 
1316241
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/15/2013 to Tue, 07/31/2018
Full Description: 

The 4-year research and development project, Developing Rich Media-based Materials for Practice-based Teacher Education, is premised on the notion that recent technological developments have made it feasible to represent classroom work in new ways. In addition to watching recorded videos of classroom interactions or reading written cases, teacher educators and teachers can now watch animations and image sequences, realized with cartoon characters, and made to depict activities that happened, or could have happened, in a mathematics classroom. Furthermore, teacher educators and teachers can react to such animations or image sequences by making their own depictions of alternative moves by students or teachers in classroom interaction. And all of that can take place in an on-line, cloud-based environment that also supports discussion fora, questionnaires, and the kinds of capabilities associated with learning management systems. Such technologies offer important affordances to teacher educators seeking to provide candidates with course-based experiences that emphasize the development of practice-based skills. The focus of the project is on mathematics teacher education. This joint project of the University of Maryland Center for Mathematics Education and the University of Michigan will produce 6 to 8 field-tested modules for use in different courses that are a part of mathematics teacher preparation programs. The following two-pronged research question will be resolved: What are the affordances and constraints of the modules and the environment as supports for: (1) practice based teacher education and (2) a shift toward blended teacher education?

The project involves the following activities: (1) a teacher education materials development component; (2) a related evaluation component; and (3) two research components. The development phase seeks to develop both the LessonSketch.org platform and six to eight mathematics teacher education modules for use in preservice teacher education programs from around the country. The modules will be written with practice-based teacher education goals in mind and will use the capacities of the LessonSketch.org platform as a vehicle for using rich-media artifacts of teaching with preservice teacher candidates. LessonSketch Teacher Education Research and Development Fellows will be chosen through a competitive application process. They will develop their respective modules along with teams of colleagues that will be recruited to form their inquiry group and pilot the module activities. The evaluation activity will focus on the materials development aspect of the project. Data will be collected by the LessonSketch platform, which includes interviews with Fellows and their teams, perspectives of module writers, descriptive statistics of module use, and feedback from both teacher educator and preservice teacher end-users about the quality of their experiences. The first research activity of the project is design research on the kinds of technological infrastructure that are useful for practice-based teacher education. The PIs will identify tools that teacher educators need and want beyond the current capabilities for web-based support for use of rich media and will produce prototype tools inside the LessonSketch environment to meet these needs. The second research activity of the project will supplement the evaluation activity by examining the implementation of two of the modules in detail. This aspect of the research will examine the goals of the intended curriculum, the proposed modes of media use, the fidelity of the implemented curriculum, and learnings produced by preservice teachers. This research activity will help the field understand the degree to which practice-based teacher education that is mediated by an online access to rich media would be a kind of practice that could be easily incorporated into existing teacher education structures.

The project will produce 6 to 8 LessonSketch modules for use in teacher education classes. Each module will be implemented in at least eight teacher education classes across the country, which means that between 720 and 960 preservice teacher candidates will study the materials. The project aims to shift the field toward practice-based teacher education by supporting university programs to implement classroom-driven activities that will produce mathematics teachers with strong capabilities to teach mathematics effectively and meaningfully.

CAREER: Reciprocal Noticing: Latino/a Students and Teachers Constructing Common Resources in Mathematics

The goal of this project is to extend the theoretical and methodological construct of noticing to develop the concept of reciprocal noticing, a process by which teacher and student noticing are shared. The researcher argues that through reciprocal noticing the classroom can become the space for more equitable mathematics learning, particularly for language learners.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1253822
Funding Period: 
Wed, 05/15/2013 to Mon, 04/30/2018
Full Description: 

The goal of this project is to extend the theoretical and methodological construct of noticing to develop the concept of reciprocal noticing, a process by which teacher and student noticing are shared. The researcher argues that through reciprocal noticing the classroom can become the space for more equitable mathematics learning, particularly for language learners. Thus, the focus of the project is on developing the concept of reciprocal noticing as a way to support better interactions between teachers and Latino/a students in elementary mathematics classrooms.

The project uses a transformative teaching experiment methodology and is guided by the initial conjectures that to make mathematics classrooms intellectually attractive places, Latino/a students and teachers need to learn to develop common resources for teaching and learning mathematics, and that reciprocal noticing as a process supports teachers and students in developing these common resources for teaching and learning mathematics. The project design centers around two research questions:How do teachers and Latino/a students tune to each other's mathematical ideas and explicitly indicate to one another how their ideas are important for discourse that promotes mathematical reasoning in classrooms characterized by reciprocal noticing? What patterns emerge across four classrooms when teachers and Latino/a students engage in reciprocal noticing?

The concept of reciprocal noticing can significantly enhance emerging research in mathematics education about the importance of teacher noticing. Further, this revised concept of noticing can transform mathematics classroom to better support English Language Learners.

The PI will incorporate project findings and videos into methods courses for preservice elementary teachers.

Learning Trajectories to Support the Growth of Measurement Knowledge: Pre-K Through Middle School

This project is studying measurement practices from pre-K to Grade 8, as a coordination of the STEM disciplines of mathematics and science. This research project tests, revises and extends learning trajectories for children's knowledge of geometric measurement across a ten-year span of human development. The goal will be to validate all components of each learning trajectory, goal, developmental progression, and instruction tasks, as well as revising each LT to reflect the outcomes of the experiments.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1222944
Funding Period: 
Wed, 08/01/2012 to Tue, 07/31/2018
Full Description: 

This project is studying measurement practices from pre-K to Grade 8, as a coordination of the STEM disciplines of mathematics and science. This four-year, mixed methods research project tests, revises and extends learning trajectories (LTs) for children's knowledge of geometric measurement across a ten-year span of human development. Specifically, research teams from Illinois State University and the University at Denver are working with children in urban and suburban schools to (1) validate and extend prior findings from previous NSF-funded research developing measurement learning trajectories with children in pre-K to Grade 5, and (2) generate and extend portions of trajectories for geometric measurement for Grades 6-8.

The project employs a form of microgenetic studies with 24-50 children per grade from pre-K through Grade 5 representing a stratified random sample from a specific set of suburban schools. These studies will test the validity, replicability and generalizability of the LTs for length, area, and volume. The goal will be to validate all components of each learning trajectory, goal, developmental progression, and instruction tasks, as well as revising each LT to reflect the outcomes of the experiments. Analysis of variance measures with pre/post assessments in an experimental/control design will complement the repeated sessions method of microgenetic analysis.

To explore and extend LTs for children in Grade 6-8, the project employs teaching experiments. This design is used to generate and extend portions of trajectories for geometric measurement, and to explore critical aspects of measurement in clinical and classroom contexts. This work is coordinated with the teaching and learning standards issued by the Council of Chief State School Officials/National Governors Association, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association of the Advancement of Science, and the National Research Council with cognitive and mathematics/science education literature. Emerging constructs for the hypothetical LT levels in relation to relevant frameworks generated by other researchers and those implied by standards documents to establish ongoing sequences of the experimental interventions for grades 6-8 are being compared, critiqued and evaluated.

This project provides a longitudinal account of pre-K to Grade 8 children's ways of thinking and understanding mathematical and scientific concepts of measurement based upon empirical analysis. The resulting learning trajectory will represent state of the art integrated, interdisciplinary, theoretically- and empirically-based descriptions of increasingly sophisticated and complex levels of thinking in the domain of measurement (albeit, more tentative for Grades 6-8). This account will be used to verify and/or modify existing accounts of children's development of reasoning from short-term analyses of learning or cross-sectional studies. There are not yet integrative longitudinal studies describing this cognitive domain for area or volume measurement. This trajectory-based analysis of development and instruction supports the design and testing of integrative, formative assessment of individuals and groups of children. Such learning trajectories will be useful in implementing the standard-focused curriculum described in the Common Core State Standards Mathematics and in supporting the multiple large assessment projects currently underway

Assessing Secondary Teachers' Algebraic Habits of Mind (Collaborative Research: Stevens)

This collaborative project is developing instruments to assess secondary teachers' Mathematical Habits of Mind (MHoM). These habits bring parsimony, focus, and coherence to teachers' mathematical thinking and, in turn, to their work with students. This work fits into a larger research agenda with the ultimate goal of understanding the connections between secondary teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching and secondary students' mathematical understanding and achievement.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1222496
Funding Period: 
Wed, 08/15/2012 to Sun, 07/31/2016
Full Description: 

Boston University, Education Development Center, Inc., and St. Olaf College are collaborating on Assessing Secondary Teachers' Algebraic Habits of Mind (ASTAHM) to develop instruments to assess secondary teachers' Mathematical Habits of Mind (MHoM). These habits bring parsimony, focus, and coherence to teachers' mathematical thinking and, in turn, to their work with students. MHoM is a critical component of mathematical knowledge for teaching at the secondary level. Recognizing the need for a scientific approach to investigate the ways in which MHoM is an indicator of teacher effectiveness, the partnership is researching the following questions:

1. How do teachers who engage MHoM when doing mathematics for themselves also bring MHoM to their teaching practice?

2. How are teachers' engagement with MHoM and their use of these habits in teaching related to student understanding and achievement?

To investigate these questions, ASTAHM is developing two instruments: a paper and pencil (P&P) assessment and an observation protocol that measure teachers' knowledge and classroom use, respectively, of MHoM.

The work is being conducted in two phases: (1) an instrument-refinement and learning phase, and (2) an instrument-testing and research phase. Objectives of Phase 1 are to gather data to refine the project's existing instruments and to learn about the bridge factors that impact the relationship between teachers' knowledge and classroom use of MHoM. Specific research activities include: administering the pilot P&P assessment to 40 teachers, videotaping Algebra instructions of 8 teachers, performing initial testing and refinement of the instruments, and using the data to analyze the bridge factors. Phase 2 is a large-scale study involving field-testing the P&P assessment with 200 teachers, videotaping 20 teachers and studying them using the observation protocol, collecting achievement data from 3000 students, and checking P&P content validity with 200 mathematicians. With these validated instruments in hand, the project will then conduct an investigation into the above research questions. Lesley University's Program Evaluation and Research Group (PERG) is the external evaluator. PERG is assessing ASTAHM's overall success in developing valid and reliable instruments to investigate the extent to which a relationship exists between teachers' MHoM and their classroom practice, as well as student achievement. Evaluators are also investigating whether users' coding guides for both instruments enable field-testers to effectively use and adequately score them.

This work fits into a larger research agenda with the ultimate goal of understanding the connections between secondary teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching and secondary students' mathematical understanding and achievement. The MHoM construct is closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards-Mathematics (CCSS-M); especially its Standards for Mathematical Practice. For example, both place importance on seeking and using mathematical structure. Thus the instruments this project produces can act as pre- and post-measures of the effectiveness of professional development programs in preparing teachers to implement the CCSS-M. Mathematics teacher knowledge at the secondary level is an understudied field. Through analyses of the practices and habits of mind that teachers bring to their work, ASTAHM is developing instruments that can be used to shed light on effective secondary teaching.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Studying Teachers' Mathematical Habits of Mind

Presenter(s): Sarah Sword, Eden Badertscher, Al Cuoco, Miriam Gates, Ryota Matsuura, & Glenn Stevens

2017 STEM for All Video Showcase
Title: Assessing Secondary Teachers' Algebraic Habits of Mind

Presenter(s): Sarah Sword, Courtney Arthur, Al Cuoco, Miriam Gates, Ryota Matsuura, & Glenn Stevens

2016 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Assessing Secondary Teachers' Algebraic Habits of Mind

Presenter(s): Ryota Matsuura, Al Cuoco, Glenn Stevens, & Sarah Sword


CAREER: Learning to Support Productive Collective Argumentation in Secondary Mathematics Classes

Research has shown that engaging students, including students from underrepresented groups, in appropriately structured reasoning activities, including argumentation, may lead to enhanced learning. This project will provide information about how teachers learn to support collective argumentation and will allow for the development of professional development materials for prospective and practicing teachers that will enhance their support for productive collective argumentation.

Award Number: 
1149436
Funding Period: 
Sun, 07/01/2012 to Sun, 06/30/2019
Full Description: 

Doing mathematics involves more than simply solving problems; justifying mathematical claims is an important part of doing mathematics. In fact, proving and justifying are central goals of learning mathematics. Recently, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics has again raised the issue of making and critiquing arguments as a central practice for students studying mathematics. If students are to learn to make and critique arguments within their mathematics classes, teachers must be prepared to support their students in learning to argue appropriately in mathematics. This learning often occurs during class discussions in which arguments are made public for all students in the class. The act of creating arguments together in a classroom is called collective argumentation. Teachers need to be able to support students in productively engaging in collective argumentation, but research has not yet shown how they learn to do so. This project will document how mathematics teachers learn to support their students in engaging in productive collective argumentation. The research team will follow a cohort of participants (college students majoring in mathematics education) through their mathematics education coursework, observing their engagement in collective argumentation and opportunities to learn about supporting collective argumentation. The team will continue to follow the participants into their first two years of teaching, focusing on how their support for collective argumentation evolves over time. During their first two years of teaching, the research team and participants will work together to analyze the participants' support for collective argumentation in order to help the participants develop more effective ways to support collective argumentation.

Research has shown that engaging students, including students from underrepresented groups, in appropriately structured reasoning activities, including argumentation, may lead to enhanced learning. This project will provide information about how teachers learn to support collective argumentation and will allow for the development of professional development materials for prospective and practicing teachers that will enhance their support for productive collective argumentation.

Core Math Tools

This project is developing Core Math Tools, a suite of Java-based software including a computer algebra system (CAS), interactive geometry, statistics, and simulation tools together with custom apps for exploring specific mathematical or statistical topics. Core Math Tools is freely available to all learners, teachers, and teacher educators through a dedicated portal at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) web site.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1201917
Funding Period: 
Sun, 01/15/2012 to Mon, 12/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
David Barnes, NCTM
Full Description: 

Core Math Tools is a project from Western Michigan University that meets the urgent need of providing mathematical tools that students can use as they explore and learn mathematical concepts that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM). The developers have repurposed and modified tools originally designed for an NSF-funded curriculum project (e.g., Core-Plus Mathematics), creating a suite of tools that supports student learning of mathematics regardless of the curricula choice. Core math Tools is Java-based software that includes a computer algebra system(CAS, interactive geometry, statistics, and simulation tools together with custom apps for exploring specific mathematical and statistical topics. The designers provide exemplary lessons illustrating how the software can be used in the spirit of the new CCSSM. The goal of the project is to provide equitable and easy access to mathematical software both in school and outside of school. The tools are available to all learners and teachers through the web site of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). The web site includes feedback loops for teachers to provide information about the tools. By using the NCTM website, the tools can be downloaded for use by teachers and students. The dedicated portal on the NCTM website allows supervisors to use the tools in professional development, teachers to use the tools as an integral part of instruction, and students to use the tools for exploring, conjecturing, and problem solving.

Multiple Instrumental Case Studies of Inclusive STEM-Focused High Schools: Opportunity Structures for Preparation and Inspiration (OSPrl)

The aim of this project is to examine opportunity structures provided to students by inclusive STEM-focused high schools, with an emphasis on studying schools that serve students from underrepresented groups. The project is studying inclusive STEM-focused high schools across the United States to determine what defines them. The research team initially identified ten candidate critical components that define STEM-focused high schools and is refining and further clarifying the critical components through the research study.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1118851
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Mon, 08/31/2015
Full Description: 

The aim of this project is to examine opportunity structures provided to students by inclusive STEM-focused high schools, with an emphasis on studying schools that serve students from underrepresented groups. In contrast to highly selective STEM-focused schools that target students who are already identified as gifted and talented in STEM, inclusive STEM-focused high schools aim to develop new sources of STEM talent, particularly among underrepresented minority students, to improve workforce development and prepare STEM professionals. A new NRC report, Successful K-12 STEM Education (2011), identifies areas in which research on STEM-focused schools is most needed. The NRC report points out the importance of providing opportunities for groups that are underrepresented in the sciences, especially Blacks, Hispanics, and low-income students who disproportionately fall out of the high-achieving group in K-12 education. This project responds specifically to the call for research in the NRC report and provides systematic data to define and clarify the nature of such schools. 

The project is studying inclusive STEM-focused high schools across the United States to determine what defines them. The research team initially identified ten candidate critical components that define STEM-focused high schools and is refining and further clarifying the critical components through the research study. The first phase of the study is focusing on 12 well-established and carefully planned schools with good reputations and strong community and business support, in order to capture the critical components as intended and implemented. Case studies of these high-functioning schools and a cross-case analysis using a set of instruments for gauging STEM design and implementation are contributing toward building a theory of action for such schools that can be applied more generally to STEM education. The second phase of the study involves selecting four school models for further study, focusing on student-level experiences and comparing student outcomes against comprehensive schools in the same district. Research questions being studied include: 1) Is there a core set of likely critical components shared by well-established, promising inclusive STEM-focused high schools? Do other components emerge from the study? 2) How are the critical components implemented in each school? 3) What are the contextual affordances and constraints that influence schools' designs, their implementation, and student outcomes? 4) How do student STEM outcomes in these schools compare with school district and state averages? 5) How do four promising such schools compare with matched comprehensive high schools within their respective school districts, and how are the critical components displayed? 6) From the points of view of students underrepresented in STEM fields, how do education experiences at the schools and their matched counterparts compare? And 7) How do student outcomes compare?

The research uses a multiple instrumental case study design in order to describe and compare similar phenomena. Schools as critical cases are being selected through a nomination process by experts, followed by screening and categorization according to key design dimensions. Data sources include school documents and public database information; a survey, followed by telephone interviews that probe for elaborated information, to provide a systematic overview of the candidate components; on-site visitations to each school provide data on classroom observations at the schools; interviews with students, teachers and administrators in focus groups; and discussions with critical members of the school community that provide unique opportunities to learn such as mentors, business leaders, and members of higher education community that provide outside of school learning experiences. The project is also gathering data on a variety of school-level student outcome indicators, and is tracking the likely STEM course trajectories for students, graduation rates, and college admission rates for students in the inclusive STEM-focused schools, as compared to other schools in the same jurisdiction. Analysis of the first phase of the study aims to develop rich descriptions that showcase characteristics of the schools, using axial and open coding, to determine a theory of action that illustrates interconnections among context, design, implementation, and outcome elements. Analysis of the second phase of the study involves similar processes on four levels: school, student, databases, and a synthesis of the three. Evaluation of the project consists of an internal advisory board and an external advisory board, both of which provide primarily formative feedback on research procedures.

Research findings, as well as case studies, records of instrument and rubric development and use, annual reports, and conference proposals and papers are being provided on a website, in order to provide an immediate and ongoing resource for education leaders, researchers and policymakers to learn about research on these schools and particular models. An effort is also being made to give voice to the experiences of high school students from the four pairs of high schools studied in the second phase of the study. Findings are also being disseminated by more traditional means, such as papers in peer-reviewed journals and conference presentations.

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