Informal Educators

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

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

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

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

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

Spanning Boundaries: A Statewide Network to Support Science Teacher Leaders to Implement Science Standards

This project will develop and test a two-year professional development model for secondary school science teacher leaders that will help them support their colleagues in implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1907460
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2019 to Mon, 07/31/2023
Full Description: 

Current priorities in school science education include building strong professional learning communities that foster ongoing professional growth among teachers, teacher leaders, and school administrators. This project responds to these priorities by developing and testing a two-year professional development model for secondary school science teacher leaders that will help them support their colleagues in implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The new model for professional learning combines three key elements: 1) Focusing on teacher leaders who can interpret, translate, and incorporate new approaches and resources into local contexts, 2) Engaging the expertise of informal science education specialists who are well versed in teacher professional learning and experiential approaches to learning, and 3) Establishing a statewide network of peers who can share experiences beyond individual school and district contexts. By developing a geographically-distributed network of support for science teacher leaders, the project is poised to create more equitable access to high quality professional learning opportunities for teachers as well as provide much needed support to the disproportionate number of novice teachers in schools with high populations of historically underrepresented students in science.

This early stage design and development project is guided by two research questions: 1) How do teacher leaders utilize structures, practices, and tools within an informal science institution-based network to interpret, filter, and translate available resources into professional learning supports for localized implementation of phenomena-based instruction? And 2) How do the professional learning supports developed by teacher leaders become more aligned with best practices for professional development (e.g., active learning, sustained, coherent, collaborative, and content-based) and incorporate aspects of informal learning (e.g., choice and experiential learning) throughout their participation in an ISI-based network? The project will engage two cohorts of 25 middle and high school science teacher leaders in overlapping two-year, one-week summer institutes, and a minimum of 12 online meetings during the academic years. The 30-hour summer institutes will be designed to address the multiple roles of teacher leaders as learners, classroom teachers, and teacher professional development providers. To sustain professional development across the academic year, monthly two-hour online meetings will be used to nurture the community of practice. Some sessions will focus on leadership and topics related to the NGSS, and other sessions will focus on deepening science content knowledge. The sources of data to be used in addressing the research questions include: 1) Video recordings, field notes of observations, and artifacts of professional development meetings, 2) Interviews with teacher leaders, and 3) Journal entries and artifacts from professional development sessions implemented by teacher leaders.  

Aligning the Science Teacher Education Pathway: A Networked Improvement Community

This project will study the activities of a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) as a vehicle to bridge gaps across four identified steps along the science teacher training and development pathways within local contexts of 8 participating universities. The overarching goal of the project is to strengthen the capacity of universities and school districts to reliably produce teachers of science who are knowledgeable about and can effectively enact the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), although prepared in varied organizational contexts.

Award Number: 
1908900
Funding Period: 
Mon, 07/01/2019 to Fri, 06/30/2023
Full Description: 

California State University will study the activities of a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) as a vehicle to bridge gaps across four identified steps along the science teacher training and development pathways within local contexts of 8 participating universities (NIC sites). Networked Improvement Community (NIC) will co-create a shared vision and co-defined research agenda between university researchers, science educators and school district practitioners working together to reform teacher education across a variety of local contexts. By studying outcomes of shared supports and teacher tools for use in multiple steps along the science teacher education pathway, researchers will map variation existing in the system and align efforts across the science teacher education pathway. This process will integrate an iterative nature of educational change in local contexts impacting enactment of the NGSS in both university teacher preparation programs and in school district professional training activities and classrooms.

The overarching goal of the project is to strengthen the capacity of universities and school districts to reliably produce teachers of science who are knowledgeable about and can effectively enact the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), although prepared in varied organizational contexts. The project will accomplish this goal 1) leveraging the use of an established Networked Improvement Community, composed of science education faculty from eight university campuses and by 2) improving and studying coherence in the steps along the science teacher education pathway within and across these universities and school districts. The project will use a mixed methods approach to data collection and analysis. Consistent with Improvement Science Theory, research questions will be co-defined by all stakeholders.

LabVenture - Revealing Systemic Impacts of a 12-Year Statewide Science Field Trip Program

This project will examine the impact of a 12-year statewide science field trip program called LabVenture, a hands-on program in discovery and inquiry that brings middle school students and teachers across the state of Maine to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) to become fully immersed in explorations into the complexities of local marine science ecosystems.

Award Number: 
1811452
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Thu, 08/31/2023
Full Description: 

This research in service to practice project will examine the impact of a 12-year statewide science field trip program called LabVenture. This hands-on program in discovery and inquiry brings middle school students and teachers across the state of Maine to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in Portland, Maine to become fully immersed in explorations into the complexities of local marine science ecosystems. These intensive field trip experiences are led by informal educators and facilitated entirely within informal contexts at GMRI. Approximately 70% of all fifth and sixth grade students in Maine participate in the program each year and more than 120,000 students have attended since the program's inception in 2005. Unfortunately, little is known to date on how the program has influenced practice and learning ecosystems within formal, informal, and community contexts. As such, this research in service to practice project will employ an innovative research approach to understand and advance knowledge on the short and long-term impacts of the program within different contexts. If proven effective, the LabVenture program will elucidate the potential benefits of a large-scale field trip program implemented systemically across a community over time and serve as a reputable model for statewide adoption of similar programs seeking innovative strategies to connect formal and informal science learning to achieve notable positive shifts in their local, statewide, or regional STEM learning ecosystems.

Over the four-year project duration, the project will reach all 16 counties in the State of Maine. The research design includes a multi-step, multi-method approach to gain insight on the primary research questions. The initial research will focus on extant data and retrospective data sources codified over the 12-year history of the program. The research will then be expanded to garner prospective data on current participating students, teachers, and informal educators. Finally, a community study will be conducted to understand the potential broader impacts of the program. Each phase of the research will consider the following overarching research questions are: (1) How do formal and informal practitioners perceive the value and purposes of the field trip program and field trip experiences more broadly (field trip ontology)? (2) To what degree do short-term field trip experiences in informal contexts effect cognitive and affective outcomes for students? (3) How are community characteristics (e.g., population, distance from GMRI, proximity to the coast) related to ongoing engagement with the field trip program? (4) What are aspects of the ongoing field trip program that might embed it as an integral element of community culture (e.g., community awareness of a shared social experience)? (5) To what degree does a field trip experience that is shared by schools across a state lead to a traceable change that can be measured for those who participated and across the broader community? and (6) In what ways, if at all, can a field trip experience that occurs in informal contexts have an influence on the larger learning ecosystem (e.g., the Maine education system)? Each phase of the research will be led by a team of researchers with the requisite expertise in the methodologies and contexts required to carry out that particular aspect of the research (i.e., retrospective study, prospective study, community study). In addition, evaluation and practitioner panels of experts will provide expertise and guidance on the research, evaluation, and project implementation. The project will culminate with a practitioner convening, to share project findings more broadly with formal and informal practitioners, and promote transfer from research to practice. Additional dissemination strategies include conferences, network meetings, and peer-reviewed publications.

Understanding the Role of Simulations in K-12 Science and Mathematics Teacher Education

This project will develop and implement a working conference for scholars and practitioners to articulate current use cases and theories of action regarding the use of simulations in PreK-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The conference will be structured to provide opportunities for attendees to share their current research, theoretical models, conceptual views, and use cases focused on the design and use of digital and non-digital simulations for building and assessing K-12 science and mathematics teacher competencies.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1813476
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

The recent emergence of updated learning standards in science and mathematics, coupled with increasingly diverse school students across the nation, has highlighted the importance of updating professional learning opportunities for science and mathematics teachers. One promising approach that has emerged is the use of simulations to engage teachers in approximations of practice where the focus is on helping them learn how to engage in ambitious content teaching. In particular, recent technological advances have supported the emergence of new kinds of digital simulations and have brought increased attention to simulations as a tool to enhance teacher learning. This project will develop and implement a working conference for scholars and practitioners to articulate current use cases and theories of action regarding the use of simulations in PreK-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The conference will be structured to provide opportunities for attendees to share their current research, theoretical models, conceptual views, and use cases focused on the design and use of digital and non-digital simulations for building and assessing K-12 science and mathematics teacher competencies.

While the use of simulations in teacher education is neither new nor limited to digital simulation, emerging technological capabilities have enabled digital simulations to become practical in ways not formerly available. The current literature base, however, is dated and the field lacks clear theoretic models or articulated theories of action regarding what teachers could or should learn via simulations, and the essential components of effective learning trajectories. This working conference will be structured to provide opportunities for attending, teacher educators, researchers, professional development facilitators, policy makers, preservice and inservice teachers, and school district leaders to share their current research, theoretical models, conceptual views, and use cases regarding the role of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The conference will be organized around four major goals, including: (1) Define how simulations (digital and non-digital) are conceptualized, operationalized, and utilized in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education; (2) Document and determine the challenges and affordances of the varied contexts, audiences, and purposes for which simulations are used in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education and the variety of investigation methods and research questions employed to investigate the use of simulations in these settings; (3) Make explicit the theories of action and conceptual views undergirding the various simulation models being used in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education; and (4) Determine implications of the current research and development work in this space and establish an agenda for studying the use of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The project will produce a white paper that presents the research and development agenda developed by the working conference, describes a series of use cases describing current and emergent practice, and identifies promising directions for future research and development in this area. Conference outcomes are expected to advance understanding of the varied ways in which digital and non-digital simulations can be used to foster and assess K-12 science and mathematics teacher competencies and initiate a research and development agenda for examining the role of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Understanding the Role of Simulations in Teacher Preparation

Presenter(s): Lisa Dieker, Angelica Fulchini Scruggs, Heather Howell, Michael Hynes, & Jamie Mikeska


Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Teaching in Rural Areas Using Cultural Knowledge Systems

This project will collaborate with Indigenous communities to create educational resources serving Inupiaq middle school students and their teachers. The Cultural Connections Process Model (CCPM) will formalize, implement, and test a process model for community-engaged educational resource development for Indigenous populations. The project will contribute to a greater understanding of effective natural science teaching and science career recruitment of minority students.

Award Number: 
1812888
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Tue, 08/31/2021
Full Description: 

The Cultural Connections Process Model (CCPM) will formalize, implement, and test a process model for community-engaged educational resource development for Indigenous populations. The project will collaborate with Indigenous communities to create educational resources serving Inupiaq middle school students and their teachers. Research activities take place in Northwest Alaska. Senior personnel will travel to rural communities to collaborate with and support participants. The visits demonstrate University of Alaska Fairbanks's commitment to support pathways toward STEM careers, community engagement in research, science teacher recruitment and preparation, and STEM career awareness for Indigenous and rural pre-college students. Pre-service teachers who access to the resources and findings from this project will be better prepared to teach STEM to Native students and other minorities and may be more willing to continue careers as science educators teaching in settings with Indigenous students. The project will contribute to a greater understanding of effective natural science teaching and science career recruitment of minority students. The project's participants and the pre-college students they teach will be part of the pipeline into science careers for underrepresented Native students in Arctic communities. The project will build on partnerships outside of Alaska serving other Indigenous populations and will expand outreach associated with NSF's polar science investments.

CCPM will build on cultural knowledge systems and NSF polar research investments to address science themes relevant to Inupiat people, who have inhabited the region for thousands of years. An Inupiaq scholar will conduct project research and guide collaboration between Indigenous participants and science researchers using the Inupiaq research methodology known as Katimarugut (meaning "we are meeting"). The project research and development will engage 450 students in grades 6-8 and serves 450 students (92% Indigenous) and 11 teachers in the remote Arctic. There are two broad research hypotheses. The first is that the project will build knowledge concerning STEM research practices by accessing STEM understandings and methodologies embedded in Indigenous knowledge systems; engaging Indigenous communities in project development of curricular resources; and bringing Arctic science research aligned with Indigenous priorities into underserved classrooms. The second is that classroom implementation of resources developed using the CCPM will improve student attitudes toward and engagement with STEM and increase their understandings of place-based science concepts. Findings from development and testing will form the basis for further development, broader implementation and deeper research to inform policy and practice on STEM education for underrepresented minorities and on rural education.

Evaluation of Disaster-Related Science Lesson Plans to Promote Learning Continuity After Hurricane Maria

The purpose of this project is to leverage ongoing efforts related to science education and the current emergency and disaster recovery landscape in Puerto Rico. It will develop culturally relevant project-based science lesson plans that incorporate the disaster context that can be implemented both inside and outside of the traditional classroom. The project will allow displaced students to continue learning under the guidance of teachers, parents or social workers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1823085
Funding Period: 
Thu, 02/15/2018 to Thu, 01/31/2019
Full Description: 

Although natural disasters have been used in the past to develop project-based learning (PBL) lessons, there is a lack of research that examines their use in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The purpose of this project is to leverage ongoing efforts related to science education and the current emergency and disaster recovery landscape in Puerto Rico. The Yale Ciencia Initiative, in collaboration with Ciencia Puerto Rico, working with the Department of Education of Puerto Rico will develop culturally relevant project-based science lesson plans that incorporate the disaster context that can be implemented both inside and outside of the traditional classroom. The project will allow displaced students to continue learning under the guidance of teachers, parents or social workers. The project will train educators in the use of disaster-related problem-based lessons and assess project implementation and the impact of the lessons. The final outcome of this aim will be a lesson plan template and implementation guidelines for other jurisdictions faced by natural disasters. The project will result in enhanced infrastructure for education by developing tools and implementation guidelines that other jurisdictions may use to develop their own lesson plans in advance of natural disasters, so as to assure continuity of learning.

The project will assess implementation through observations and rubrics, surveys for parents, educators and students, and focus groups with each of these populations. To assess the impact of contextualized PBL lessons, the project will collect survey data, before and after the educational intervention, to measure changes in students' content knowledge, as well as in attitudes that are predictive of engagement in science learning. Results will be compared to matched control groups that receive either the standard curriculum, which are not contextualized to the disaster and that does not include PBL, or a PBL lesson plan that does not incorporate the disaster or the cultural context. At least 30 educators and 200 7th grade students will be exposed during the project period to the contextualized PBL lesson plan. The resulting feasibility analysis will inform other jurisdictions preparing their educational systems for natural disasters and provide evidence for the use of contextualized lesson plans that incorporate PBL in disaster recovery settings. In addition, the project design will advance the field of PBL by allowing investigators to examine the impact of integrating current social/historical contexts to PBL lessons and by examining the relationship between changes in science attitudes and engagement, with changes in learning.

Project MAPLE: Makerspaces Promoting Learning and Engagement

The project plans to develop and study a series of metacognitive strategies that support learning and engagement for struggling middle school students during makerspace experiences. The study will focus narrowly on establishing a foundational understanding of how to ameliorate barriers to engaging in design learning through the use of metacognitive strategies.

Award Number: 
1721236
Funding Period: 
Fri, 09/01/2017 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

The project plans to develop and study a series of metacognitive strategies that support learning and engagement for struggling middle school students during makerspace experiences. The makerspace movement has gained recognition and momentum, which has resulted in many schools integrating makerspace technologies and related curricular practices into the classroom. The study will focus narrowly on establishing a foundational understanding of how to ameliorate barriers to engaging in design learning through the use of metacognitive strategies. The project plans to translate and apply research on the use of metacognitive strategies in supporting struggling learners to develop approaches that teachers can implement to increase opportunities for students who are the most difficult to reach academically. Project strategies, curricula, and other resources will be disseminated through existing outreach websites, research briefs, peer-reviewed publications for researchers and practitioners, and a webinar for those interested in middle-school makerspaces for diverse learners.

The research will address the paucity of studies to inform practitioners about what pedagogical supports help struggling learners engage in these makerspace experiences. The project will focus on two populations of struggling learners in middle schools, students with learning disabilities, and students at risk for academic failure. The rationale for focusing on metacognition within makerspace activities comes from the literature on students with learning disabilities and other struggling learners that suggests that they have difficulty with metacognitive thinking. Multiple instruments will be used to measure metacognitive processes found to be pertinent within the research process. The project will tentatively focus on persistence (attitudes about making), iteration (productive struggle) and intentionality (plan with incremental steps). The work will result in an evidence base around new instructional practices for middle school students who are struggling learners so that they can experience more success during maker learning experiences.

Culturally Responsive Indigenous Science: Connecting Land, Language, and Culture

This Culturally Responsive Indigenous Science project seeks to advance this knowledge base through research and by catalyzing new approaches to Indigenous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (ISTEM) learning. Using an ISTEM focused model, the project will develop, test, and implement a culturally responsive land-based curriculum that integrates Western science, multimodal technologies and digital tools, and Native American tribal knowledge, cultures and languages to investigate and address local environmental science and sustainability concerns.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1720931
Funding Period: 
Fri, 09/01/2017 to Tue, 08/31/2021
Full Description: 

The intersection between Indigenous and Western science continues to be of great importance to K-12 science education, particularly with regards to broadening participation in STEM. With over five hundred federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States, there is much to learn and understand. This Culturally Responsive Indigenous Science project seeks to advance this knowledge base through research and by catalyzing new approaches to Indigenous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (ISTEM) learning. Using an ISTEM focused model, the project will develop, test, and implement a culturally responsive land-based curriculum that integrates Western science, multimodal technologies and digital tools, and Native American tribal knowledge, cultures and languages to investigate and address local environmental science and sustainability concerns. While Indigenous STEM teaching and learning as constructs have existed for many years, the rigorous research design and extensive integration of multimodal technologies as platforms for scientific inquiry, data management, knowledge dissemination and curation are innovative and timely. Few, if any, Design and Development projects in the current DRK-12 portfolio explore similar work. Therefore, the broader impacts of this project are poised to not only contribute to the DRK-12 portfolio but also advance knowledge in Indigenous STEM education and science education, more broadly.

Over a three year period, hundreds of Native American students (grades 4-9) in tribal schools located in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho will engage in the project. Each year, approximately 60-80 students (grades 7-9), with some returning students, will also participate in enrichment activities and in years 1-3, in the residential summer experience at Washington State University. A qualitative, quasi-experimental design-based study will be conducted to address three salient research questions: (a) What are the impacts of culturally responsive and land education-based ISTEM curriculum and technology on Native American student engagement, efficacy and achievement in school? (b) What types of professional development activities foster teacher efficacy and improve teacher learning and teaching of ISTEM in classrooms? and (c) How can ISTEM foster greater family and community engagement in schools and in Tribal Communities? Data will be collected through interviews, surveys, and or questionnaires from participating students, teachers, and Tribal members. Consistent with Indigenous methodologies, focus group interviews (talking circles) will also be facilitated after ISTEM community expositions and engagement activities to capture community impacts. Formative and summative evaluations will be conducted by the Learning and Performance Research Center (LPRC) at Washington State University, an independent entity of the University with extensive expertise in project evaluation. A broad range of dissemination activities will be employed to achieve maximum impacts, including the use of the Plateau People's Web Portal, a digital tool designed to help Native communities to manage, circulate, and curate their digital materials using their own cultural protocols, language and social systems. This regional collaboration includes partnerships with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Oregon), Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Washington), and the Coeur D'Alene Tribe (Idaho).

Designing a Middle Grades Spatial Skills Curriculum

This project will create a portable training system that can be easily deployed in middle grades (5th-7th grade) as a prototype for increasing students' spatial reasoning skills. The project will study gender differences in spatial reasoning and examine how learning experiences can be designed to develop spatial skills using Minecraft as a platform.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1720801
Funding Period: 
Sat, 07/01/2017 to Tue, 06/30/2020
Full Description: 

The ability to make spatial judgements and visualize has been shown to be a strong indicator of students' future success in STEM-related courses. The project is innovative because it uses a widely available gaming environment, Minecraft, to examine spatial reasoning. Finding learning experiences which support students' spatial reasoning in an authentic and engaging way is a challenge in the field. This project will create a portable training system that can be easily deployed in middle grades (5th-7th grade) as a prototype for increasing students' spatial reasoning skills. The project will study gender differences in spatial reasoning and examine how learning experiences can be designed to develop spatial skills using Minecraft as a platform. The resources will incorporate hands-on learning and engage students in building virtual structures using spatial reasoning. The curriculum materials are being designed to be useful in other middle grades contexts.

The study is a design and development study that will design four training modules intended to improve spatial reasoning in the following areas: rotation, mental slicing, 2D to 3D transformation and perspective taking. The research questions are: (1) Does a Minecraft-based intervention that targets specific spatial reasoning tasks improve middle grade learners' spatial ability? (2) Does spatial skills growth differ by gender? The experimental design will compare the influence of the virtual spatial learning environment alone vs. the use of design challenges designed specifically for the spatial skills. The data collected will include assessments of spatial reasoning and feedback from teachers' who use the materials. The spatial skills measures will be administered as a pre-test, post-test, and six-month follow-up assessment to measure long term effects.

Pages

Subscribe to Informal Educators