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Learning Progression

Improving Formative Assessment Practices: Using Learning Trajectories to Develop Resources That Support Teacher Instructional Practice and Student Learning in CMP2

The overarching goal of this project is to develop innovative instructional resources and professional development to support middle grades teachers in meeting the challenges set by college- and career-ready standards for students' learning of algebra.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1316736
Funding Period: 
Tue, 10/01/2013 - Sat, 09/30/2017
Full Description: 

The overarching goal of this project is to develop innovative instructional resources and professional development to support middle grades teachers in meeting the challenges set by college- and career-ready standards for students' learning of algebra. This 4-year project includes three major components: (1) development and empirical testing of learning trajectories for linear functions and linear equations, (2) collaborations with teachers of Connected Mathematics Project 2 (CMP2) to create and test a set of instructional resources focused on formative assessment processes, and (3) iterative refinement of a professional development model for engaging teachers with the instructional resources in ways that optimize students' learning of algebra. The professional development activities provide opportunities for teachers to develop specialized content knowledge of learning trajectories for linear functions and equations in algebra, processes for interpreting students' performances with respect to those trajectories and providing feedback and additional instructional activities based on "where" the student is with respect to the overall learning trajectory. Such changes in teacher knowledge and practice are anticipated to produce improved student learning outcomes for key concepts and procedures in algebra. One of the major stumbling blocks to teachers' implementation of effective formative assessment practice is the sheer volume and management of the information needed to monitor and interpret student performance. The project addresses this impediment by employing the ASSISTments platform, a web-based online system for delivering mathematics problem sets and capable of adapting problem presentation to student performance in real time.

Research on learning trajectories in mathematics has mostly centered on concepts at the primary school level. While research at this level has been prolific and informative in multiple aspects of mathematics education, there are major knowledge gaps in our understanding of learning trajectories in several domains of mathematics, specifically in algebra. Indeed, there is a growing need for new research and development projects to fill these critical knowledge gaps.

This project focuses on two critical areas in mathematics: students' understanding of linear functions and linear equations, and students' ability to use them to solve problems. Empirically validated learning trajectories will support curriculum development in these areas. In addition, this project contributes to the research base to improve the curriculum standards by providing empirical evidence for hypothesized trajectories for selected content standards for middle school students. Finally, the use of CMP2 augmented by the online management system increases the probability of widespread impact of the professional development model targeted at teachers' formative assessment practices. Although we are using a specific curriculum program, the treatment of linear functions and equations topics in CMP is consistent with other functions-based curricula in the U.S. Thus, the work done in the context of this project will be useful in examining learning trajectories and formative assessment in other instructional programs.

Improving Formative Assessment Practices: Using Learning Trajectories to Develop Resources That Support Teacher Instructional Practice and Student Learning in CMP2

Learning Algebra and Methods for Proving (LAMP)

This project tests and refines a hypothetical learning trajectory and corresponding assessments, based on the collective work of 50 years of research in mathematics education and psychology, for improving students' ability to reason, prove, and argue mathematically in the context of algebra. The study produces an evidence-based learning trajectory and appropriate instruments for assessing it.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1317034
Funding Period: 
Tue, 10/01/2013 - Wed, 09/30/2015
Full Description: 

The Learning Algebra and Methods for Proving (LAMP) project tests and refines a hypothetical learning trajectory and corresponding assessments, based on the collective work of 50 years of research in mathematics education and psychology, for improving students' ability to reason, prove, and argue mathematically in the context of algebra. The goals of LAMP are: 1) to produce a set of evidence-based curriculum materials for improving student learning of reasoning, proving, and argumentation in eighth-grade classrooms where algebra is taught; 2) to produce empirical evidence that forms the basis for scaling the project to a full research and development project; and 3) to refine a set of instruments and data collection methods to support a full research and development project. LAMP combines qualitative and quantitative methods to refine and test a hypothetical learning trajectory for learning methods of reasoning, argumentation, and proof in the context of eighth-grade algebra curricula. Using qualitative methods and quantitative methods, the project conducts a pilot study that can be scaled up in future studies. The study produces an evidence-based learning trajectory and appropriate instruments for assessing it.

Over the past two decades, national organizations have called for more attention to the topics of proof, proving, and argumentation at all grade levels. However, the teaching of reasoning and proving remains sparse in classrooms at all levels. LAMP will address this critical need in STEM education by demonstrating ways to improve students' reasoning and argumentation skills to meet the demands of college and career readiness.

This project promises to have broad impacts on future curricula in the United States by creating a detailed description of how to facilitate reasoning and argumentation learning in actual eighth-grade classrooms. At present, a comprehensive understanding of how reasoning and proving skills develop alongside algebraic thinking does not exist. Traditional, entirely formal approaches such as two-column proof have not demonstrated effectiveness in learning about proof and proving, nor in improving other mathematical practices such as problem-solving skills and sense making. While several studies, including studies in the psychology literature, lay the foundation for developing particular understandings, knowledge, and skills needed for writing viable arguments and critiquing the arguments of others, a coherent and complete set of materials that brings all of these foundations together does not exist. The project will test the hypothetical learning trajectory with classrooms with high proportions of Native American students.

Learning Algebra and Methods for Proving (LAMP)

CAREER: Fraction Activities and Assessments for Conceptual Teaching (FAACT) for Students with Learning Disabilities

The goal of this project is to study and support the development of conceptual understanding of fractions by students with learning disabilities (LD). The researcher proposes that rather than focusing on whether LD students can or cannot develop conceptual understanding of fractions, research should attempt to uncover the understanding LD students have and examine how growth of conceptual knowledge occurs in these students.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1446250
Funding Period: 
Tue, 07/01/2014 - Sun, 06/30/2019
Project Evaluator: 
Dr. Mary Little
Full Description: 

The goal of this project is to study and support the development of conceptual understanding of fractions by students with learning disabilities (LD). The researcher proposes that rather than focusing on whether LD students can or cannot develop conceptual understanding of fractions, research should attempt to uncover the understanding LD students have and examine how growth of conceptual knowledge occurs in these students. This approach suggests a reconceptualization of research and instructional practice in mathematics that focus on the conceptual knowledge students with LD can in fact develop.

Through a series of teaching experiments that involve cycles of theorizing, design, implementation, and refinement, the project develops instructional trajectories for LD students in the area of fractions. The research question addressed are: What initial and developing key developmental understandings of fractions do students with learning disabilities evidence through employed strategies, language, and representations? How do students with learning disabilities progress in developing and solidifying conceptual understandings of fractions through their mathematical activity? And, to what extent does an intervention reflective of a research based instructional trajectory facilitate strategic development and increased fraction conceptual knowledge in students with learning disabilities?

The main outcomes of the project include (a) a research-based instructional trajectory for students with LD specific to conceptual understandings of fractions as numeric quantities, (b) a set of 90 fraction tasks to be used for instruction and/or formative assessment in fraction concepts, (c) scoring/coding frameworks and checklists for use with key tasks as formative assessments, (d) decision-making frameworks, task sequencing guides, and suggestions to aid teachers in designing individualized, student-centered instruction, all available via the Internet. Most important, the project has the potential to offer a transformative approach to mathematics instruction for students with LD, bringing together expertise on learning disabilities and mathematics education to address a area in which there is very little research.

The PI will incorporate finding from the study into methods courses for both mathematics education and special education students. She will also develop a graduate course entitled Diagnosis and Remediation.

Formerly under Award # 1253254.

CAREER: Fraction Activities and Assessments for Conceptual Teaching (FAACT) for Students with Learning Disabilities

Spatial Mathematics, Engineering, and Science: Toward an Integrated STEM Education

The goal of this project is to develop a provisional learning progression spanning grades K-5 that articulates and tests the potential of experiencing, describing, and representing space as the core of an integrated STEM education. The science of space has an extensive scope within and across disciplinary boundaries of science, mathematics and engineering; the project will create a coherent approach to elementary instruction in which mathematical reasoning about space is systematically cultivated.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1252875
Funding Period: 
Mon, 10/01/2012 - Mon, 09/30/2013
Full Description: 

The goal of Spatial Mathematics, Engineering, and Science: Toward an Integrated STEM Education is to develop a provisional learning progression spanning grades K-5 that articulates and tests the potential of experiencing, describing, and representing space as the core of an integrated STEM education. The science of space has an extensive scope within and across disciplinary boundaries of science, mathematics and engineering, the project will create a coherent approach to elementary instruction in which mathematical reasoning about space is systematically cultivated. Simultaneously, researchers are exploring the potential of spatial mathematics as a resource for engineering design of kinematic machines and for the development of mechanistic reasoning about the behavior of these machines. Work across these disciplines situates and motivates the mathematical work and also provides opportunities to investigate the intersections and contrasts among signature disciplinary practices, such as definition and proof in mathematics, design in engineering, and modeling in science. The research and development is being conducted in a middle school which is a full partner in the project.

In partnership, researchers and participating teachers are designing and implementing curricular approaches intended to support spatial knowledge and reasoning. Professional development will enhance and capitalize on teachers' roles as specialists in student thinking. The research consists of design studies conducted in 12 participating classrooms, K-5, and small-scale teaching experiments conducted with children across the same grade span. The research will establish provisional pathways and landmarks in learning about space, as well as the curricular activities and teacher practices necessary to support integrated STEM learning.

The project is novel in three ways. First, it provides children with early and systematic access to multiple geometries (e.g., plane, cylinder, sphere) to develop sophisticated understandings of powerful, yet experientally accessible concepts, such as straight, and STEM-related practices, such as model, definition and proof. Second, both the National Research Council Science/Engineering and the Common Core State Standards Mathematics highlight the role of practices in the development of disciplinary knowledge, and this project is providing a practical avenue for coordinating the co-development of disciplinary practices and knowledge. Third, the unifying theme of space is threaded through problems and contexts in mathematics, science and engineering, which provide a sound basis for generative STEM integration-integration that does not lose sight of the distinctive practices in different disciplines, but, instead, leverages these distinctions to produce multiple ways of knowing about space. Research and development is being conducted with underrepresented populations of students who are typically underserved in STEM education. Although the numbers of students reached in this phase of the work are relatively modest, the longer-term potential is great, because instruction anchored in space may be more accessible to students who struggle with traditional forms of mathematics education. The increased attention to integrated STEM education at the national level also ensures that this effort is likely to contribute to the knowledge base required to advance interdisciplinary forms of schooling.

Spatial Mathematics, Engineering, and Science: Toward an Integrated STEM Education

Student Mathematics Learning Through Self-Explanation, Peer Tutoring and Digital Media Production

This project engages high-school students as student-tutors who create screen-capture videos that demonstrate step-by-step solutions to mathematical problems and explicate the use of interactive applets. The project tests whether the mathematical and communication skills of student-tutors improve in the process of making the video materials. It also tests whether teachers and student users benefit from the videos. The project will examine whether the process of creating and disseminating the videos is replicable and scalable.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1119654
Funding Period: 
Mon, 08/15/2011 - Thu, 07/31/2014
Full Description: 

This exploratory research and development project engages high-school students as student-tutors who create screen-capture videos that demonstrate step-by-step solutions to mathematical problems and explicate the use of interactive applets. The project has three development goals (a model for creating the media, a model for collaboration with teachers, and enhancements to a Lesson Study model) and three research goals (to test conjectures about student change, to analyze reconfigured roles for teachers and students, and to advance a theory of personalized learning communities.) The project tests whether the mathematical and communication skills of student-tutors improve in the process of making the video materials. It also tests whether teachers and the student users of the videos benefit from them. Further, the project will examine whether the process of creating and disseminating the videos is replicable and scalable.

The project uses design research methods as well as both formative and summative evaluations to achieve the research and development goals. The investigators pose a series of thoughtful research questions and plan to use a variety of research methods to collect and analyze data to answer them.

The project is potentially transformative. The advances in technology present opportunities and challenges for improving student learning. Built on strong theoretical and empirical foundations and prior work, the project takes full advantages of the opportunities of tutoring using 21st-century technologies - marrying screen-capture video with a model of student-delivered tutoring. The project will contribute to an understanding of how teachers and student-tutors change and exercise creativity through participating in digital media production. The findings of the project will have broader impact in at least three dimensions: (1) The videos created by students will be helpful for other students' learning; (2) The research on engaging students in creating videos can not only help us understand the effective use of technology, but also help us understand the mechanism for developing students' generative thinking and creativity; and (3) This project can provide insights about how to integrate 21st-Century technology into regular classrooms.

Student Mathematics Learning Through Self-Explanation, Peer Tutoring and Digital Media Production

Supporting Scientific Practices in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms

This project will develop a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus. The learning progression is constructed through students’ understanding of scientific practice as measured by their attention to generality of explanation, clarity of communication, audience understanding, evidentiary support, and mechanistic versus descriptive accounts.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020316
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 - Fri, 08/31/2012
Full Description: 

Research on student learning has developed separate progressions for scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling. Engaging Learners in Scientific Practices develops a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus. The learning progression is constructed through improvements in students' performance and understanding of scientific practice as measured by their attention to generality of explanation, attention to clarity of communication and audience understanding, attention to evidentiary support, and attention to mechanistic versus descriptive accounts. The project is led by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Texas, Wright State University, Michigan State University, and the BEAR assessment group. Two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 4th to 5th grade in Illinois and two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 5th to 6th grade in Michigan The elementary school students will work with FOSS curriculum units modified to embed supports for scientific practices. Two cohorts of 500 middle school students are followed for three years from 6th to 8th grade as they work with coordinated IQWST units over three years. The outcome measures include analyses of classroom discourse, pre- and pos-test assessments of student learning, and reflective interviews grounded in students' own experiences with practices in the classroom to assess their growth across the dimensions. The BEAR team is responsible for validation and calibration of the frameworks and instruments, and design of the scheme for analysis of the data. Horizon Research performs the formative and summative evaluation. The project will produce an empirically-tested learning progression for scientific practices for grades 4-8 along with tested curriculum materials and validated assessment items that support and measure students' ability in the scientific practices of explanation, argumentation and modeling. In the process of development, an understanding is gained about how to design and test this learning progression. The framework is articulated on a website for use by other researchers and developers. The project also builds capacity by educating several graduate students.

Supporting Scientific Practices in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms

Reasoning Tools for Understanding Water Systems

This project builds on current learning progression research to study the effects of teaching Tools for Reasoning on development of middle school students' capacities to understand the Earth's hydrologic systems. The project applies a design-based research approach using iterative cycles of Tool design/revision, teacher workshops, and small-scale pilot tests of Tools through classroom experiments with teachers and students in Montana and Arizona.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020176
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/15/2010 - Sat, 08/31/2013
Full Description: 

This exploratory project, led by faculty at the University of Montana, Michigan State University, and the University of Arizona, collaborating with teachers from the Missoula, MT schools, builds on current learning progression research to study the effects of teaching Tools for Reasoning on development of middle school students' capacities to understand the Earth's hydrologic systems. The project applies a design-based research approach using iterative cycles of Tool design/revision, teacher workshops, and small-scale pilot tests of Tools through classroom experiments with teachers and students in Montana and Arizona.

The central research question being addressed is: How can learning progression-based Reasoning Tools support students in using models and representations to engage in principled reasoning about hydrologic systems? This question will be answered by analysis of data from assessments of student learning, student clinical interviews, teacher assessments, classroom observations, and teacher focus groups.

The Reasoning Tools project will contribute insight into the challenge of developing students' environmental science literacy and the reasoning skills needed to make informed citizenship decisions about 21st century water issues. Project outcomes will include materials for teaching middle school students to reason about hydrologic systems, theoretical and practical insights into the effects of teaching Tools for Reasoning, strategies for supporting students and teachers in use of the Tools, and refinements of a water systems learning progression framework.

Reasoning Tools for Understanding Water Systems

Rethinking How to Teach Energy: Laying The Foundations in Elementary School (Collaborative Research: Lacy)

This project is a collaborative effort that aims to develop a grade 3-5 Learning Progression that will provide a coherent approach to teaching energy in elementary school and lay a strong foundation for further learning in middle school. The project will identify a network of core concepts and principles about energy that are fundamental and general enough to be compatible with scientific ideas about energy, yet within reach of 5th graders.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020013
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 - Fri, 08/31/2012
Full Description: 

This project is a collaborative effort involving scientists, science educators, and teachers from TERC, Clark University, Tufts University,and urban Massachusetts schools that aims to develop a grade 3-5 Learning Progression that will provide a coherent approach to teaching energy in elementary school and lay a strong foundation for further learning in middle school. The work draws on and complements the learning progression and curriculum for matter developed and tested in the Inquiry Project (NSF award 0628245). The project will identify a network of core concepts and principles about energy that are fundamental and general enough to be compatible with scientific ideas about energy, yet within reach of 5th graders.

This project explores the hypothesis that, while the scientific concept of energy is too abstract and difficult to understand in early grades, useful foundations can be established early on by elaborating a learning progression for energy. Clinical interviews will be administered to 24 pairs of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders recruited from urban after-school programs, to identify precursors to the core ideas as well obstacles to learning them. This research will help the investigators design key learning experiences that could allow students to progress from initial ideas toward a scientific understanding of energy. Those learning designs will then be tested in teaching interviews with 3 small groups of students in the same settings.

The result of the project will be an outline for a grade 3-5 learning progression for energy taking into account the project research findings as well as relevant standards, curricula, and science education literature.

Rethinking How to Teach Energy: Laying The Foundations in Elementary School (Collaborative Research: Lacy)

CAREER: Supporting Students' Proof Practices Through Quantitative Reasoning in Algebra

The aim of this project is to explore the hypothesis that a curricular focus on quantitative reasoning in middle grades mathematics can enhance development of student skill and understanding about mathematical proof. The project is addressing that hypothesis through a series of studies that include small group teaching experiments with students, professional development work with teachers, and classroom field tests of curricular units that connect quantitative reasoning and proof in algebra.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
0952415
Funding Period: 
Mon, 03/15/2010 - Mon, 02/28/2011
Full Description: 

The aim of this CAREER project led by Amy Ellis at the University of Wisconsin is to explore the hypothesis that a curricular focus on quantitative reasoning in middle grades mathematics can enhance development of student skill and understanding about mathematical proof. The project is addressing that hypothesis through a series of studies that include small group teaching experiments with students, professional development work with teachers, and classroom field tests of curricular units that connect quantitative reasoning and proof in algebra.

Work of the project will produce: (a) insights into ways of unifying two previously disconnected lines of research on quantitative reasoning and proof; (b) models describing realistic ways to support development of students' proof competencies through quantitative reasoning; (c) improvement in students' understanding of algebra through engagement in proof practices based on quantitative reasoning; (d) insights into middle-school students' thinking as they negotiate the transition from elementary to more advanced mathematics; and (e) increased understanding of teachers' knowledge about proof and their classroom practices aimed at helping students progress towards understanding and skill in proof.

CAREER: Supporting Students' Proof Practices Through Quantitative Reasoning in Algebra

A Learning Progression for Scientific Modeling

This project will provide an empirically-supported learning progression for a key scientific practice, scientific modeling. The specific instructional materials created as part of the project can serve as a model other developers can use to design materials supporting scientific modeling and other practices. The model for educative curriculum materials as a form of teacher support can be adapted to support teacher learning about modeling or other scientific practices in other curriculum materials.

Project Email: 
Models@sesp.northwestern.edu
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
0628199
Funding Period: 
Sun, 10/01/2006 - Thu, 03/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Horizon Research
Full Description: 

The project is a 42-month research and development effort to develop a learning progression for scientific modeling and investigate its implementation in two grade bands. The project focuses on the scientific practice of modeling because of its centrality in both the practice of science and as a vehicle for science learning. A learning progression characterizes variations of the practice that are appropriate for learners, and a sequence of successively more complex versions of that practice possible for learners. A learning progression for a scientific practice contains; (a) a model of the target practice appropriate for learners, (b) the starting points of learners' intuitive understandings and practices, (c) a sequence of successively more sophisticated understandings and practices, and (d) instructional supports to help learners develop the practice. The theoretical contribution of the proposed work is to develop an empirically-tested learning progression for scientific modeling. The project identifies two related learning goals for modeling that serve as the two major constructs it will track: modeling practices and metamodeling knowledge. Each construct is broken into several progress variables that are tracked across time. The project will provide an empirically-supported learning progression for a key scientific practice, scientific modeling. Although the field has produced snapshots demonstrating the promise of engaging learners in scientific practices, systematic empirical research demonstrating how the practice can develop across years is lacking. The specific instructional materials created as part of the project can serve as a model other developers can use to design materials supporting scientific modeling and other practices. The model for educative curriculum materials as a form of teacher support can be adapted to support teacher learning about modeling or other scientific practices in other curriculum materials.

A Learning Progression for Scientific Modeling
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