CAREER: Supporting Middle School Students' Construction of Evidence-Based Arguments

Doing science requires that students learn to create evidence-based arguments (EBAs), defined as claims connected to supporting evidence via premises. In this CAREER project, I investigate how argumentation ability can be enhanced among middle school students. The project entails theoretical work, instructional design, and empirical work, and involves 3 middle schools in northern Utah and southern Idaho.

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Funding Period: 
Sun, 08/15/2010 to Fri, 07/31/2015
Project Evaluator: 
David Williams
Full Description: 

Doing science requires that students learn to create evidence-based arguments (EBAs), defined as claims connected to supporting evidence via premises. The question chosen for study by a new researcher at Utah State University is: How can argumentation ability be enhanced among middle school students? This study involves 325 middle school students in 12 class sections from 3 school districts in Utah and Idaho. First, students in middle school science classrooms will be introduced to problem-based learning (PBL) units that allow them to investigate ill-structured science problems. These activities provide students with something about which to argue: something that they have explored personally and with which they have grappled. Next, they will construct arguments using a powerful computer technology, the Connection Log, developed by the PI. The Connection Log provides a scaffold for building arguments, allowing each student to write about his/her reasoning and compare it to arguments built by peers. The study investigates how the Connection Log improves the quality of students' arguments. It also explores whether students are able to transfer what they have learned to new situations that call for argumentation.

This study is set in 6th and 7th grade science classrooms with students of diverse SES, ethnicity, and achievement levels. The Connection Log software supports middle school students with written prompts on a computer screen that take students through the construction of an argument. The system allows students to share their arguments with other members of their PBL group. The first generation version of the Connection Log asks students to:

1. define the problem, or state the problem in their own words

2. determine needed information, or decide on evidence they need to find to solve the problem

3. find and organize needed information

4. develop a claim, or make an assertion stating a possible problem solution

5. link evidence to claim, linking specific, relevant data to assertions

The model will be optimized through a process of design-based research. The study uses a mixed methods research design employing argument evaluation tests, video, interviews, database information, debate ratings, and a mental models measure, to evaluate student progress.

This study is important because research has shown that students do not automatically come to school prepared to create evidence-based arguments. Middle school students face three major challenges in argumentation: adequately representing the central problem of the unit; determining and obtaining the most relevant evidence; and synthesizing gathered information to construct a sound argument. Argumentation ability is crucial to STEM performance and to access to STEM careers. Without the ability to formulate arguments based upon evidence, middle school students are likely to be left out of the STEM pipeline, avoid STEM careers, and have less ability to critically evaluate and understand scientific findings as citizens. By testing and refining the Connection Log, the project has the potential for scaling up for use in science classrooms (and beyond) throughout the United States.

Integrating Computing Across the Curriculum (ICAC): Incorporating Technology into STEM Education Using XO Laptops

This project builds and tests applications tied to the school curriculum that integrate the sciences with mathematics, computational thinking, reading and writing in elementary schools. The investigative core of the project is to determine how to best integrate computing across the curriculum in such a way as to support STEM learning and lead more urban children to STEM career paths.

Project Email: 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2009 to Sun, 07/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Leslie Cooksy - Univ. of Delaware
Full Description: 

Computer access has opened an exciting new dimension for STEM education; however, if computers in the classroom are to realize their full potential as a tool for advancing STEM education, methods must be developed to allow them to serve as a bridge across the STEM disciplines. The goal of this 60-month multi-method, multi-disciplinary ICAC project is to develop and test a program to increase the number of students in the STEM pipeline by providing teachers and students with curricular training and skills to enhance STEM education in elementary schools. ICAC will be implemented in an urban and predominantly African American school system, since these schools traditionally lag behind in filling the STEM pipeline. Specifically, ICAC will increase computer proficiency (e.g., general usage and programming), science, and mathematics skills of teachers and 4th and 5th grade students, and inform parents about the opportunities available in STEM-centered careers for their children.

The Specific Aims of ICAC are to:

SA1. Conduct a formative assessment with teachers to determine the optimal intervention to ensure productive school, principal, teacher, and student participation.

SA2. Implement a structured intervention aimed at (1) teachers, (2) students, and (3) families that will enhance the students’ understanding of STEM fundamentals by incorporating laptops into an inquiry-based educational process.

SA3. Assess the effects of ICAC on:

a. Student STEM  engagement and performance.

b. Teacher and student computing specific confidence and utilization.

c. Student interest in technology and STEM careers.

d. Parents’ attitudes toward STEM careers and use of computers.

To enable us to complete the specific aims noted above, we have conducted a variety of project activities in Years 1-3. These include:

  1. Classroom observations at the two Year 1 pilot schools
  2. Project scaling to 6 schools in Year 2 and 10 schools in Year 3
  3. Semi-structured school administrator interviews in schools
  4. Professional development sessions for teachers
  5. Drafting of curriculum modules to be used in summer teacher institutes and for dissemination
  6. In-class demonstration of curriculum modules
  7. Scratch festivals each May
  8. Summer teacher institutes
  9. Student summer camps
  10. Surveying of teachers in summer institutes
  11. Surveying of teachers and students at the beginning and end of the school year
  12. Showcase event at end of student workshops

The specific ICAC activities for Years 2-5 include:

  • Professional development sessions (twice monthly for teachers), to integrate the ‘best practices’ from the program.
  • Working groups led by a grade-specific lead teacher. The lead teacher for each grade in each school will identify areas where assistance is needed and will gather the grade-specific cohort of teachers at their school once every two weeks for a meeting to discuss the progress made in addition to challenges to or successes in curricula development.  
  • ICAC staff and prior trained teachers will visit each class monthly during the year to assist the teachers and to evaluate specific challenges and opportunities for the use of XOs in that classroom.  
  • In class sessions at least once per month (most likely more often given feedback from Teacher Summer Institutes) to demonstrate lesson plans and assist teachers as they implement lesson plans.
  • ICAC staff will also hold a joint meeting of administrators of all target schools each year to assess program progress and challenges. 
  • Teacher Summer Institutes – scaled-up to teachers from the new schools each summer to provide training in how to incorporate computing into their curriculum.
  • Administrator sessions during the Teacher Summer Institutes; designed to provide insight into how the laptops can facilitate the education and comprehension of their students in all areas of the curriculum, discuss flexible models for physical classroom organization to facilitate student learning, and discussions related to how to optimize the use of computing to enhance STEM curricula in their schools.  Student Summer Computing Camps – designed to teach students computing concepts, make computing fun, and enhance their interest in STEM careers.  
  • ICAC will sponsor a yearly showcase event in Years 2-5 that provides opportunities for parents to learn more about technology skills their children are learning (e.g., career options in STEM areas, overview of ICAC, and summary of student projects). At this event, a yearly citywide competition among students also will be held that is an expanded version of the weeklong showcase event during the student summer camps.
  • Surveying of students twice a year in intervention schools.
  • Surveying of teachers at Summer Institutes and then at the end of the academic year.
  • Coding and entry of survey data; coding of interview and observational data.
  • Data analysis to examine the specific aims (SA) noted above:
    • The impact of ICAC on teacher computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b).
    • Assess the effects of (1) teacher XO training on student computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b), (2) training on changes in interest in STEM careers (SA 3.c), and (3) XO training on student engagement (SA 3.a).
    • A quasi-experimental comparison of intervention and non-intervention schools to assess intervention effects on student achievement (SA 3.a).
    • Survey of parents attending the yearly ICAC showcase to assess effects on parental attitudes toward STEM careers and computing (SA 3.d).

The proposed research has the potential for broad impact by leveraging technology in BCS to influence over 8,000 students in the Birmingham area. By targeting 4th and 5th grade students, we expect to impact STEM engagement and preparedness of students before they move into a critical educational and career decision-making process. Further, by bolstering student computer and STEM knowledge, ICAC will impart highly marketable skills that prepare them for the 81% of new jobs that are projected to be in computing and engineering in coming years (as predicted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics).3 Through its formative and summative assessment, ICAC will offer intellectual merit by providing teachers throughout the US with insights into how computers can be used to integrate the elementary STEM curriculum. ICAC will develop a model for using computers to enhance STEM education across the curriculum while instilling a culture among BCS schools where computing is viewed as a tool for learning.

(Previously listed under Award # 0918216)

Supports for Learning to Manage Classroom Discussions: Exploring the Role of Practical Rationality and Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching

This project focuses on practicing and preservice secondary mathematics teachers and mathematics teacher educators. The project is researching, designing, and developing materials for preservice secondary mathematics teachers that enable them to acquire the mathematical knowledge and situated rationality central to teaching, in particular as it regards the leading of mathematical discussions in classrooms.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Project Evaluator: 
Miriam Gamoran Sherin
Full Description: 

Researchers at the Universities of Michigan and Maryland are developing materials to survey the rationality behind secondary mathematics teaching practice and to support the development by secondary mathematics preservice teachers of specialized knowledge and skills for teaching. The project focuses on the leading of classroom discussions for the learning of algebra and geometry.

Using animations of instructional scenarios, the project is developing online, multimedia questionnaires and using them to assess practicing teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching and their evaluations of teacher decision making. Reports and forum entries from the questionnaires are integrated into a learning environment for prospective teachers and their instructors built around these animated scenarios. This environment allows pre-service teachers to navigate, annotate, and communicate about the scenarios; and it allows their instructors to plan using those scenarios and share experiences with their counterparts.

The research on teachers' rationality uses an experimental design with embedded one-way ANOVA, while the development of the learning environment uses a process of iterative design, implementation, and evaluation. The project evaluation by researchers at Northwestern University uses qualitative methods to examine the content provided in the environment as well as the usefulness perceived by teacher educators of a state network and their students.


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