Cognitive Science

Developing a Modeling Orientation to Science: Teaching and Learning Variability and Change in Ecosystems (Collaborative Research: Lehrer)

This project addresses the need to make science relevant for school students and to support student interpretation of large data sets by leveraging citizen science data about ecology and developing instruction to support student analyses of these data. This collaboration between Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Bowdoin College and Vanderbilt University engages middle-school students in building and revising models of variability and change in ecosystems and studies the learning and instruction in these classroom contexts.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2010207
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2020 to Thu, 08/31/2023
Full Description: 

There is an ongoing need to find ways to make science relevant for school students and an increasing need to support student interpretation of large data sets. This project addresses these needs by leveraging citizen science data about ecology and developing instruction to support student analyses of these data. This collaboration between Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Bowdoin College and Vanderbilt University engages middle-school students in building and revising models of variability and change in ecosystems and studies the learning and instruction in these classroom contexts. Students construct and critique models that they and peers invent and, through the lens of models, develop foundational knowledge about the roles of variability and change in ecosystem functioning, as well as the roles of models and argumentation in scientific practice. The context for students' work is a set of citizen science-based investigations of changes in ecosystems in Maine conducted in twelve collaborating classrooms. The project studies how and to what extent students' use of different forms of modeling emerges from and informs how they investigate ecosystems. A parallel research effort investigates how and to what extent the development of teachers' comfort and proficiency with modeling changes students' engagement in these forms of modeling and students' understandings of ecosystems. A key contribution of the project is capitalizing on the Gulf of Maine Research Institutes's Ecosystem Investigation Network's citizen science field research to ground for middle school students the need to invent, revise, and contest models about real ecosystems. The understandings that result from the project's research provide evidence toward first, scaling the learning experiences to the network of 500+ teachers who are part of the Ecosystem Investigation Network, and, second, replication by programs nationally that aim to engage students in data-rich, field-based ecological investigations.

The investigation takes place in twelve collaborating middle-school classrooms, drawn from the network of 500+ Maine teachers trained in Maine's Ecosystem Investigation Network. Over the course of their field investigations, students engage in the construction, critique, and revision of three forms of modeling that play central roles in ecology: microcosms, system dynamics, and data modeling. Two innovations are introduced over the course of the project. The first is focused on enriching classroom supports for engaging in multiple forms of modeling. The second involves enhancing middle school teachers' learning about modeling, especially in the context of large data citizen science investigations. The study uses a mixed methods approach to explore the impact of the innovations on the experiences and understandings of both teachers and students. Instruments include teacher interviews and questionnaires, student interviews, and classroom observation. The understandings that result from the project's research will inform the design of professional development for teachers around data analysis and interpretation, and around how student understanding of modeling develops with sustained support, both of which are practices at the heart of scientific literacy.

Developing a Modeling Orientation to Science: Teaching and Learning Variability and Change in Ecosystems (Collaborative Research: Peake)

This project addresses the need to make science relevant for school students and to support student interpretation of large data sets by leveraging citizen science data about ecology and developing instruction to support student analyses of these data. This collaboration between Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Bowdoin College and Vanderbilt University engages middle-school students in building and revising models of variability and change in ecosystems and studies the learning and instruction in these classroom contexts.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2010119
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2020 to Thu, 08/31/2023
Full Description: 

There is an ongoing need to find ways to make science relevant for school students and an increasing need to support student interpretation of large data sets. This project addresses these needs by leveraging citizen science data about ecology and developing instruction to support student analyses of these data. This collaboration between Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Bowdoin College and Vanderbilt University engages middle-school students in building and revising models of variability and change in ecosystems and studies the learning and instruction in these classroom contexts. Students construct and critique models that they and peers invent and, through the lens of models, develop foundational knowledge about the roles of variability and change in ecosystem functioning, as well as the roles of models and argumentation in scientific practice. The context for students' work is a set of citizen science-based investigations of changes in ecosystems in Maine conducted in twelve collaborating classrooms. The project studies how and to what extent students' use of different forms of modeling emerges from and informs how they investigate ecosystems. A parallel research effort investigates how and to what extent the development of teachers' comfort and proficiency with modeling changes students' engagement in these forms of modeling and students' understandings of ecosystems. A key contribution of the project is capitalizing on the Gulf of Maine Research Institutes's Ecosystem Investigation Network's citizen science field research to ground for middle school students the need to invent, revise, and contest models about real ecosystems. The understandings that result from the project's research provide evidence toward first, scaling the learning experiences to the network of 500+ teachers who are part of the Ecosystem Investigation Network, and, second, replication by programs nationally that aim to engage students in data-rich, field-based ecological investigations.

The investigation takes place in twelve collaborating middle-school classrooms, drawn from the network of 500+ Maine teachers trained in Maine's Ecosystem Investigation Network. Over the course of their field investigations, students engage in the construction, critique, and revision of three forms of modeling that play central roles in ecology: microcosms, system dynamics, and data modeling. Two innovations are introduced over the course of the project. The first is focused on enriching classroom supports for engaging in multiple forms of modeling. The second involves enhancing middle school teachers' learning about modeling, especially in the context of large data citizen science investigations. The study uses a mixed methods approach to explore the impact of the innovations on the experiences and understandings of both teachers and students. Instruments include teacher interviews and questionnaires, student interviews, and classroom observation. The understandings that result from the project's research will inform the design of professional development for teachers around data analysis and interpretation, and around how student understanding of modeling develops with sustained support, both of which are practices at the heart of scientific literacy.

Facilitating Teacher Learning with Video Clips of Instruction in Science

The goal of this study is to build foundational knowledge about teacher learning by using video clips of science instruction within a professional development context. The researchers will study the infusion of principles from cognitive science as possible ways to enhance teacher learning from video, including contrasting cases and self-explanation principles.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2000833
Funding Period: 
Sun, 11/01/2020 to Tue, 10/31/2023
Full Description: 

Videos of teaching have become a popular tool for facilitating teacher learning, with the potential to powerfully impact teacher practice. However, less is known about specific mechanisms through which teachers learn from video. The goal of this study is to build foundational knowledge about teacher learning by using video clips of science instruction within a professional development (PD) context. The researchers will study the infusion of principles from cognitive science as possible ways to enhance teacher learning from video (these include contrasting cases and self-explanation principles). PD opportunities that support teachers in making sense of the information about students' thinking and reasoning as students work are rare. Motivation to address this need has led to the interdisciplinary collaboration in this project that will study the use of video clips in teacher PD and explore teacher learning with and from video clips of science instruction in-depth.

This design based research project will pursue descriptive accounts of teacher learning by explaining how and why teachers learn with and from video clips of instruction. The team will draw on cognitive science and learning sciences research, specifically literature on analogical reasoning and self-explanation, to unpack mechanisms through which videos support teacher learning and the conditions under which they do so. Evidence pertaining to teacher learning will be gathered through teachers' participation in video-rich PD, semi-structured interviews with teachers around video clips and prompts for interacting with the clips, and classroom observations. Through intentionally designed video clips and supporting structures, the project will help to uncover how to support noticing of 1) students' thinking and reasoning and 2) critical and often nuanced differences between more and less productive teaching practices that facilitate students' intellectual engagement in performance assessment tasks. The study has the potential to extend the current knowledge on the kinds of evidence-based learning structures that can enhance teachers' learning to notice important classroom interactions as they learn to develop ambitious teaching practices.

Paving the Way for Fractions: Identifying Foundational Concepts in First Grade (Collaborative Research: Newcombe)

The goal of this project is to investigate the extent to which individual differences in informal fraction-related knowledge in first-grade children are associated with short- and longer-term fractions and math outcomes, and to see whether there is a causal link between level of informal fraction-related knowledge and the ability to profit from fractions instruction that directly builds on this knowledge.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2000424
Funding Period: 
Mon, 06/01/2020 to Fri, 05/31/2024
Full Description: 

Although fractions represent a crucial topic in early childhood education, many students develop only a tenuous grasp of fraction concepts, even after several years of fraction instruction that is aligned with current standards. The goal of this project, led by a team of researchers at the University of Delaware and Temple University, is to answer important questions about the informal understandings of fractions young children have before they come to school and what their relations are to fraction learning in more formal instructional settings. Proficiency with fractions dramatically increases the likelihood of students succeeding in math, which in turn increases participation in the STEM workforce. Importantly, large individual differences in fraction understandings are apparent at the start of fractions instruction in the intermediate grades. Early fraction misunderstandings cascade into more severe math weaknesses in later grades, especially when instruction may shift abruptly from whole numbers to fractions. There is a critical need to understand the roots of individual differences that arise before formal instruction takes place. Young children possess important informal fraction understandings before they come to school, but the range of these abilities and their role in formal fraction learning and development is not well understood. The goal of this project is: a) to investigate the extent to which individual differences in informal fraction-related knowledge in first-grade children are associated with short- and longer-term fractions and math outcomes; and b) to see whether there is a causal link between level of informal fraction-related knowledge and the ability to profit from fractions instruction that directly builds on this knowledge. The findings from the project hold promise for informing early childhood educators how fractions can be incorporated in the first-grade curriculum in new and meaningful ways. Though the findings should be beneficial to all students, the project will specifically target members of groups underrepresented in STEM fields, including ethnic and racial minority and low-income students.

The project design includes both an observational study and an experimental study. The observational study will: (1) document individual differences in informal fraction-related knowledge in first grade; (2) determine concurrent relations between this informal knowledge and general cognitive and whole number competencies; and (3) examine whether informal fraction-related knowledge at the beginning of first grade uniquely predicts math outcomes at the end. The experimental study will explore the extent to which first graders' informal and formal fraction concepts can be affected by training. The researchers will test whether training on the number line, which is continuous and closely aligned with the mental representation of the magnitude of all real numbers, will help students capitalize on their informal fraction understandings of proportionality, scaling, and equal sharing as well as their experience with integers to learn key fraction concepts. Together, the synergistic studies will pinpoint the role informal fraction knowledge in learning key fraction concepts. All data will be collected in Delaware schools serving socioeconomically and ethnically diverse populations of students. Primary measures include assessments of informal fraction knowledge (proportional reasoning, spatial scaling, equal sharing), executive functioning, vocabulary, whole number knowledge, whole number/fraction number line estimation, formal fraction knowledge, and broad mathematics achievement (calculation, fluency, applied problems).

International Mind, Brain and Education Society (IMBES): 2020 Biennial Conference

This award will support teacher practitioners from the U.S. to attend the 2020 International Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES) conference. The IMBES conference is an opportunity for scholars and educators to come together to engage in reciprocal dialogue about research and practice in biology, education, and the cognitive and developmental sciences.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2016241
Funding Period: 
Sun, 03/15/2020 to Thu, 12/31/2020
Full Description: 

The International Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES) conference has taken place every 2-3 years since 2007. IMBES aims to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration in biology, education, and the cognitive and developmental sciences. The IMBES meeting is an opportunity for scholars and educators to come together to engage in reciprocal dialogue about research and practice. Researchers investigating learning processes have the opportunity to share results with educators and receive feedback on the translational opportunities for the research. Educators can update their understanding of the cognitive and neural bases of learning and impart their knowledge of efficacious techniques, tools, and classroom practices with researchers. This type of interaction between researchers and practitioners is crucial for generating research that contributes to usable knowledge for education. This conference aims to assess the degree to which scientific ideas are ready for the classroom, consider the extent to which further educational research is still required, evaluate the potential of current research in meaningfully shaping pedagogy, and recognize opportunities to use the classroom to challenge the robustness of research.

This award to Temple University will provide partial support for the International, Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES) conference to be held in Montreal in June 2020. This award will specifically support teacher practitioners from the U.S. to attend the conference and learn more about educational neuroscience and its potential implications for practice. The teacher practitioners will also have opportunities to share with researchers the nature of effective educational practice.

Evolving Minds: Promoting Causal-Explanatory Teaching and Learning of Biological Evolution in Elementary School

Adopting a teaching and curricular approach that will be novel in its integration of custom explanatory storybook materials with hands-on investigations, this project seeks to promote third grade students' understanding of small- and large-scale evolution by natural selection. By studying students across multiple school districts, this research will shed light on the benefits to diverse students of instruction that focuses on supporting children's capacities to cogently explain aspects of the biological world rather than learn disparate facts about it.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2009176
Funding Period: 
Mon, 06/01/2020 to Fri, 05/31/2024
Full Description: 

Natural selection is a fundamental mechanism of evolution, the unifying principle of biology. It is central to understanding the functional specialization of living things, the origin of species diversity and the inherent unity of biological life. Despite the early emergence of tendencies that can make evolution increasingly challenging to learn over time, natural selection is currently not taught until middle or high school. This is long after patterns of misunderstanding are likely to have become more entrenched. The current research responds to this situation. It targets elementary school as the time to initiate comprehensive instruction on biological evolution. Adopting a teaching and curricular approach that will be novel in its integration of custom explanatory storybook materials with hands-on investigations, it seeks to promote third grade students' understanding of small- and large-scale evolution by natural selection. By studying students across multiple school districts, this research will shed light on the benefits to diverse students of instruction that focuses on supporting children's capacities to cogently explain aspects of the biological world rather than learn disparate facts about it. It will also illuminate the value of simple tools, like explanatory storybooks, for elementary school teachers who are often expected to teach counterintuitive topics such as natural selection while not feeling confident in their own understanding.

This project will investigate changes in Grade 3 students' learning and reasoning about living things during implementation of a guided inquiry curriculum unit on evolution by natural selection that emphasizes causal-mechanistic explanation. Classroom inquiry activities and investigations into a range of real-world phenomena will be framed by engagement with a sequence of innovative custom causal-explanatory storybook, animation and writing prompt materials that were developed under prior NSF support to promote transferable, scientifically accurate theory- and evidence-based reasoning about natural selection. In response to the distinctive challenges of life science and evolution learning, the project will integrate and thematically unify currently disparate Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) content and practice standards to create a comprehensive unit that addresses all three NGSS dimensions and is accompanied by evidence-based approaches to teacher professional development (PD). Using a design based research approach, and informed by cognitive developmental findings, this 4-year project will engage at least 700 students and their teachers and include partners from at least four school districts, Boston University, and TERC.

Looking Back and Looking Forward: Increasing the Impact of Educational Research on Practice

The focus of this conference is to carefully examine past and current research with an eye toward improving its impact on practice and to create concrete steps that could shape the nature and impact of mathematics education research.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1941494
Funding Period: 
Sun, 09/01/2019 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

The focus of the proposed conference is to carefully examine past and current research with an eye toward improving its impact on practice. This conference is designed to create concrete steps that could shape the nature and impact of mathematics education research for years to come. A diverse group of 50 participants will be invited to participate. Participants include 10 experienced K-12 educators whose perspectives will be used to anchor the conference in problems of practice. Other participants represent senior through more junior scholars who have demonstrated a commitment to addressing the disconnect between research and practice, along with technology experts to advise participants on capabilities and innovative uses of modern technologies for instruction, assessment and data management.

The overarching goal for the conference is to help the field of mathematics education think deeply about the most productive ways to answer the following questions: [1] Why hasn't past research had a more direct impact on practice? What can be learned from this historical analysis for future research? [2] What is a possible vision for research that would have a more direct impact on practice? What questions should be asked? What methods should be used? What concrete steps can be taken to launch the new research programs? [3] What are the implications of adopting new kinds of research programs? If they gain traction, how will such changes affect the broader education community and infrastructure, including preservice teacher education, teacher professional development, and the training of future researchers? How should the roles of researchers and teachers change? What incentive structures might motivate these changes? How will new programs of research interact with existing programs?

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.

Using Animated Contrasting Cases to Improve Procedural and Conceptual Knowledge in Geometry

This project aims to support stronger student outcomes in the teaching and learning of geometry in the middle grades through engaging students in animated contrasting cases of worked examples. The project will design a series of animated geometry curricular materials on a digital platform that ask students to compare different approaches to solving the same geometry problem. The study will measure changes in students' procedural and conceptual knowledge of geometry after engaging with the materials and will explore the ways in which teachers implement the materials in their classrooms.

Award Number: 
1907745
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2019 to Sun, 07/31/2022
Full Description: 

This project aims to support stronger student outcomes in the teaching and learning of geometry in the middle grades through engaging students in animated contrasting cases of worked examples. Animated contrasting cases are a set of two worked examples for the same geometry problem, approached in different ways. The animations show the visual moves and annotations students would make in solving the problems. Students are asked to compare and discuss the approaches. This theoretically-grounded approach extends the work of cognitive scientists and mathematics educators who have shown this approach supports strong student learning in algebra. The project will design a series of animated geometry curricular materials on a digital platform that ask students to compare different approaches to solving the same geometry problem. The study will measure changes in students' procedural and conceptual knowledge of geometry after engaging with the materials and will explore the ways in which teachers implement the materials in their classrooms. This work is particularly important as geometry is an understudied area in mathematics education, and national and international assessments at the middle school level consistently identify geometry as a mathematics content area in which students score the lowest.

This project draws on prior work that documents the impact of comparison on students' learning in algebra. Providing students with opportunities to compare multiple strategies is recommended by a range of mathematics policy documents, as research has shown this approach promotes flexibility and enhances conceptual knowledge and procedural fluency. More specifically, the approach allows students to compare the effectiveness and efficiency of mathematical arguments in the context of problem solving. An initial pilot study on non-animated contrasting cases in geometry shows promise for the general approach and suggests that animating the cases has the potential for stronger student learning gains. This study will examine the extent to which the animated cases improve students' conceptual and procedural knowledge of geometry and identify factors that relate to changes in knowledge. The project team will develop 24 worked example contrasting cases based on design principles from the prior work in algebra. The materials will be implemented in four treatment classrooms in the first cycle, revised, and then implemented in eight treatment classrooms. Students' written work will be collected along with data on the nature of the classroom discussions and small-group interviews with students. Teachers' perspectives on lessons will also be collected to support revision and strengthening of the materials. Assessments of students' geometry knowledge will be developed using measures with demonstrated validity and reliability to measure changes in student learning.

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