Digital Media

CAREER: Making Science Visible: Using Visualization Technology to Support Linguistically Diverse Middle School Students' Learning in Physical and Life Sciences

Award Number: 
1552114
Funding Period: 
Wed, 06/01/2016 to Mon, 05/31/2021
Full Description: 

The growing diversity in public schools requires science educators to address the specific needs of English language learners (ELLs), students who speak a language other than English at home. Although ELLs are the fastest-growing demographic group in classrooms, many are historically underserved in mainstream science classrooms, particularly those from underrepresented minority groups. The significant increase of ELLs at public schools poses a challenge to science teachers in linguistically diverse classrooms as they try to support and engage all students in learning science. The proposed project will respond to this urgent need by investigating the potential benefits of interactive, dynamic visualization technologies, including simulations, animations, and visual models, in supporting science learning for all middle school students, including ELLs. This project will also identify design principles for developing such technology, develop additional ways to support student learning, and provide new guidelines for effective science teachers' professional development that can assist them to better serve students from diverse language backgrounds. The project has the potential to transform traditional science instruction for all students, including underserved ELLs, and to broaden their participation in science.

In collaboration with eighth grade science teachers from two low-income middle schools in North Carolina, the project will focus on three objectives: (1) develop, test, and refine four open-source, web-based inquiry units featuring dynamic visualizations on energy and matter concepts in physical and life sciences, aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS); (2) investigate how dynamic visualizations can engage eighth-grade ELLs and native-English-speaking students in science practices and improve their understanding of energy and matter concepts; and (3) investigate which scaffolding approaches can help maximize ELLs' learning with visualizations. Research questions include: (1) Which kinds of dynamic visualizations (simulations, animations, visual models) lead to the best learning outcomes for all students within the four instructional science units?; (2) Do ELLs benefit more from visualizations (or particular kinds of visualizations) than do native-English-speaking students?; and (3) What kinds of additional scaffolding activities (e.g., critiquing arguments vs. generating arguments) are needed by ELLs in order to achieve the greatest benefit? The project will use design-based research and mixed-methods approaches to accomplish its research objectives and address these questions. Furthermore, it will help science teachers develop effective strategies to support students' learning with visualizations. Products from this project, including four NGSS-aligned web-based inquiry units, the visualizations created for the project, professional development materials, and scaffolding approaches for teachers to use with ELLs, will be freely available through a project website and multiple professional development networks. The PI will collaborate with an advisory board of experts to develop the four instructional units, visualizations, and scaffolds, as well as with the participating teachers to refine these materials in an iterative fashion. Evaluation of the materials and workshops will be provided each year by the advisory board members, and their feedback will be used to improve design and implementation for the next year. The advisory board will also provide summative evaluation of student learning outcomes and will assess the success of the teachers' professional development workshops.

CAREER: Investigating Fifth Grade Teachers' Knowledge of Noticing Appalachian Students' Thinking in Science

This project will investigate teachers' knowledge of noticing students' science thinking. The project will examine teacher noticing in practice, use empirical evidence to model the teacher knowledge involved, and design teacher learning materials informed by the model. The outcomes of this project will be a model of teachers' knowledge of noticing Appalachian students' thinking in science and the design of web-based interactive instructional materials supporting teachers' knowledge construction around noticing Appalachian students' thinking in science.

Award Number: 
1552428
Funding Period: 
Fri, 07/01/2016 to Wed, 06/30/2021
Full Description: 

Based on findings from research on effective science teaching supporting the notion that meaningful learning occurs when teachers attend to students' thinking, this project will conduct an in-depth investigation of teachers' knowledge of noticing students' science thinking in terms of what they do and say, to not only attend to their ideas, but also to make sense of and respond to those ideas. The work will be grounded on the premise that there is a relationship between teachers' practice and knowledge, and that it is possible to observe practice in order to infer knowledge. The project will examine teacher noticing in practice, use empirical evidence to model the specialized teacher knowledge involved, and design teacher learning materials informed by the model. The setting of the study will include an existing school-university partnership serving diverse student populations in Appalachian communities, where students significantly underperform nationally in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics areas across grades levels. It will target fifth grade science teachers' noticing their students' thinking as they engage in science learning in six rural and semi-rural elementary schools.

The three research questions will be: (1) What disciplinary ideas in students' thinking do elementary teachers notice in practice?; (2) What knowledge do elementary teachers draw on when noticing the disciplinary ideas in students' thinking in practice?; and (3) How does a set of web-based interactive instructional materials support teachers' knowledge construction around noticing the disciplinary ideas in students' thinking in science? In order to investigate teachers' noticing students' thinking, and answer the research questions, the project will use two wearable technologies to collect data of teachers' "in-the-moment" noticing while engaged in planning, instructional, and assessment activities. One is a point-of-view digital video system consisting of three parts: a small video camera, a hand-held remote, and a separate recording module. The other is an audio-recording wristband with a recording mode allowing the user to capture previous one-minute loops of audio data. An audio loop is saved whenever the user taps the wristband. Data will be analyzed for evidence of students' disciplinary knowledge and skills in order to give insight of teachers' knowledge involved in noticing each instance using the three interconnected dimensions featured in "A Framework for K-12 Science Education" (National Research Council, 2012). The project will consist of four strands of work: (1) empirically investigating teachers' noticing of students' thinking; (2) developing an initial conceptual model of teachers' knowledge of noticing students' thinking; (3) conducting design-based research to develop instructional materials supporting teachers' knowledge construction around noticing students' thinking in science; and (4) producing and disseminating these instructional materials through an interactive web-based platform. The main outcomes of this project will be (a) an empirically grounded model of fifth grade teachers' knowledge of noticing Appalachian students' thinking in science; and (b) the design of web-based interactive instructional materials supporting fifth grade teachers' knowledge construction around noticing Appalachian students' thinking in science. These outcomes will serve as the foundation for a more comprehensive future research agenda testing and refining the initial model and instructional materials in other learning environments in order to eventually contribute to a practice-based theory of teachers' knowledge of noticing students' thinking in science to inform and impact science teaching practice. An advisory board will oversee the project's progress, and an external evaluator will conduct both formative and summative evaluation.

Teaching and Learning Algebraic Thinking Across the Middle Grades: A Research-based Approach Using PhET Interactive Simulations

This project addresses three central challenges: 1) the tendency for students to not engage in real mathematical thinking as they use technologies; 2) the tendency for teachers to not enact pedagogically-effective approaches; and 3) the lack of adoption of effective technologies by teachers due to a variety of barriers. This project will use rich, exploratory, interactive simulations and associated instructional materials as a pathway for making rapid progress and focusing on advancing algebraic thinking in Grades 6-9.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503510
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2015 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. 

Widespread, high-quality use of technology has great potential to transform today's mathematics classrooms and enable all students to develop a robust conceptual understanding of mathematics. Critical challenges are currently limiting the realization of this potential, and 69% of US Grade 8 students are scoring below proficient in national studies. In this 3-year Discovery Research K-12 Full Research and Development project, Teaching and Learning Algebraic Thinking Across the Middle Grades: A Research-based Approach Using PhET Interactive Simulations, the PhET Interactive Simulations group at the University of Colorado Boulder is partnering with mathematics education researchers at the University of South Florida St. Petersberg and Florida State University to address three central challenges, as follows: 1) the tendency for students to not engage in real mathematical thinking as they use technologies; 2) the tendency for teachers to not enact pedagogically-effective approaches; and 3) the lack of adoption of effective technologies by teachers due to a variety of barriers. This collaborative effort uses rich, exploratory, interactive simulations and associated instructional materials as a pathway for making rapid progress and focuses on advancing algebraic thinking in Grades 6-9.

This project seeks to enable teachers to fully-leverage the benefits of interactive simulations to advance student engagement and learning of mathematics, moving technology from the margins to a core part of instruction. The project will answer critical research questions, such as: how the design of an interactive simulation can generate pedagogically-productive use; how instruction with simulations can be best structured to support learning of mathematical concepts and engagement in mathematical practices; how sim-based instruction can be made attractive, feasible and effective for teachers; and finally, how student learning is impacted by sim-based instruction. At the same time, this project will produce a collection of open educational resources for teachers and students. These resources will include 15 research-based, student-tested simulations for teaching and learning of algebraic thinking, associated instructional support materials, and teacher professional development resources for effective implementation. Based on the 75 million uses per year of PhET?s science simulations, we expect these resources to transform mathematics instruction for millions of students and thousands of teachers.

This project will employ a variety of research methods to approach these questions. Researchers will use individual interviews from a diverse group of Grades 6-9 students as they use the 15 new simulations to examine usability, engagement, and achievement and to identify design approaches that stimulate productive use. In parallel, classroom-based studies in Colorado and Florida will investigate ways in which simulations can be combined with instructional materials and teacher facilitation to engage groups of students in inquiry, promote rich discussions of important mathematical ideas, and advance achievement in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. The project will employ an iterative design and development process involving qualitative and quantitative analysis of diverse measures including the quality of mathematical instruction. Finally, a pilot study and an evaluation of teacher PD supports will examine the feasibility and fidelity with which teachers implement the innovation, and the impact on student learning.

Sample Publications

Hensberry, KKR, Whitacre, I., Findley, K., Schellinger, J., & Burr, M. (2018). Engaging students with mathematics through play. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 24(3), 197-183. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5951/mathteacmiddscho.24.3.0179)

Ian Whitacre, Karina Hensberry, Jennifer Schellinger & Kelly Findley (2019) Variations on play with interactive computer simulations: balancing competing priorities, International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 50:5 , 665-681. (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0020739X.2018.1532536

Findley, K., Whitacre, I., Schellinger, J. & Hensberry, K. (2019). Orchestrating Mathematics Lessons with Interactive Simulations: Exploring Roles in the Classroom. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 27(1), 37-62. (https://www.learntechlib.org/noaccess/184666/)

Jeffrey B. Bush, David C. Webb, Nancy Emerson Kress, Wanqiu Yang and Katherine K. Perkins, Classroom Activities for Digital Interactive Simulations to Support Realistic Mathematics Education, Paper presented at the 6th International Realistic Mathematics Education Conference Georgetown, Cayman Islands, September 20, 2018. (https://www.icrme.net/uploads/1/0/9/8/109819470/bush_etal_phet_rme6paper_final.pdf)


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Transforming Math Classrooms with PhET Simulations

Presenter(s): Kathy Perkins, Sebnem Atabas, Jeff Bush, Karina Hensberry, Amanda McGarry, Corinne Singleton, David Webb, & Ian Whitacre

2017 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Teaching and Learning Math with PhET Simulations

Presenter(s): Kathy Perkins, Karina Hensberry, Amanda McGarry, David Webb, & Ian Whitacre


Thinking Spatially about the Universe: A Physical and Virtual Laboratory for Middle School Science (Collaborative Research: Sadler)

This project will develop and study three week-long middle school lab units designed to teach spatial abilities using a blend of physical and virtual (computer-based) models. "ThinkSpace" labs will help students explore 3-dimensional astronomical phenomena in ways that will support both understanding of these topics and a more general spatial ability. Students will learn both through direct work with the lab unit interface and through succeeding discussions with their peers.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1502798
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

Critical breakthroughs in science (e.g., Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, and Watson & Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA), originated with those scientists' ability to think spatially, and research has shown that spatial ability correlates strongly with likelihood of entering a career in STEM. This project will develop and study three week-long middle school lab units designed to teach spatial abilities using a blend of physical and virtual (computer-based) models. "ThinkSpace" labs will help students explore 3-dimensional astronomical phenomena (moon phases and eclipses; planetary systems around stars other than the Sun; and celestial motions within the broader universe) in ways that will support both understanding of these topics and a more general spatial ability. Students will learn both through direct work with the lab unit interface and through succeeding discussions with their peers. The research program will determine which elements in the labs best promote both spatial skills and understanding of core ideas in astronomy; and how then to optimize interactive dynamic visualizations toward these ends. Virtual models of the sky and universe will be created using WorldWide Telescope, a free visualization tool that runs on desktop computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The ThinkSpace lab materials will be available at no cost on popular curriculum-sharing sites, including PBS Learning Media and BetterLesson.

The ThinkSpace team will address two main research questions: 1) How can spatial tasks that blend physical and virtual models be embedded into a STEM curriculum in ways that lead to significant improvements in spatial thinking? and 2) How can practitioners optimize design of interactive, dynamic visualizations for teaching spatially complex concepts? The first year of the study will examine two of the lab units with four teachers and about 320 students. The second year of the study will be similar. The third year of the study will test all three lab units in 10 classrooms. Over this study, each week-long ThinkSpace Lab will be formatively tested, using pre/post written assessments of astronomy content and spatial thinking; pre/post interviews with students; and in-class video of students using the lab activities. Scaffolded learning designs will support students in making connections between different spatial views of the phenomena, and will guide them to construct explanations and argue from evidence about how various phenomena (e.g. moon phases) arise in the real Universe, as Next Generation Science Standards demand. The impact of the ThinkSpace labs will be felt far beyond astronomy because the learning models being tested can transfer to other fields where spatial models are critical, and findings on optimization of dynamic visualizations can help to inform instructional design in the age of online learning. The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

Thinking Spatially about the Universe: A Physical and Virtual Laboratory for Middle School Science (Collaborative Research: Goodman)

This project will develop and study three week-long middle school lab units designed to teach spatial abilities using a blend of physical and virtual (computer-based) models. "ThinkSpace" labs will help students explore 3-dimensional astronomical phenomena in ways that will support both understanding of these topics and a more general spatial ability. Students will learn both through direct work with the lab unit interface and through succeeding discussions with their peers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503395
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

Critical breakthroughs in science (e.g., Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, and Watson & Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA), originated with those scientists' ability to think spatially, and research has shown that spatial ability correlates strongly with likelihood of entering a career in STEM. This project will develop and study three week-long middle school lab units designed to teach spatial abilities using a blend of physical and virtual (computer-based) models. "ThinkSpace" labs will help students explore 3-dimensional astronomical phenomena (moon phases and eclipses; planetary systems around stars other than the Sun; and celestial motions within the broader universe) in ways that will support both understanding of these topics and a more general spatial ability. Students will learn both through direct work with the lab unit interface and through succeeding discussions with their peers. The research program will determine which elements in the labs best promote both spatial skills and understanding of core ideas in astronomy; and how then to optimize interactive dynamic visualizations toward these ends. Virtual models of the sky and universe will be created using WorldWide Telescope, a free visualization tool that runs on desktop computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The ThinkSpace lab materials will be available at no cost on popular curriculum-sharing sites, including PBS Learning Media and BetterLesson.

The ThinkSpace team will address two main research questions: 1) How can spatial tasks that blend physical and virtual models be embedded into a STEM curriculum in ways that lead to significant improvements in spatial thinking? and 2) How can practitioners optimize design of interactive, dynamic visualizations for teaching spatially complex concepts? The first year of the study will examine two of the lab units with four teachers and about 320 students. The second year of the study will be similar. The third year of the study will test all three lab units in 10 classrooms. Over this study, each week-long ThinkSpace Lab will be formatively tested, using pre/post written assessments of astronomy content and spatial thinking; pre/post interviews with students; and in-class video of students using the lab activities. Scaffolded learning designs will support students in making connections between different spatial views of the phenomena, and will guide them to construct explanations and argue from evidence about how various phenomena (e.g. moon phases) arise in the real Universe, as Next Generation Science Standards demand. The impact of the ThinkSpace labs will be felt far beyond astronomy because the learning models being tested can transfer to other fields where spatial models are critical, and findings on optimization of dynamic visualizations can help to inform instructional design in the age of online learning. The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

Preparing Urban Middle Grades Mathematics Teachers to Teach Argumentation Throughout the School Year

The objective of this project is to develop a toolkit of resources and practices that will help inservice middle grades mathematics teachers support mathematical argumentation throughout the school year. A coherent, portable, two-year-long professional development program on mathematical argumentation has the potential to increase access to mathematical argumentation for students nationwide and, in particular, to address the needs of teachers and students in urban areas.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1417895
Funding Period: 
Sun, 06/15/2014 to Thu, 05/31/2018
Full Description: 

The project is an important study that builds on prior research to bring a comprehensive professional development program to another urban school district, The District of Columbia Public Schools. The objective of this full research and development project is to develop a toolkit  that provides resources and practices for inservice middle grades mathematics teachers to support mathematical argumentation throughout the school year. Mathematical argumentation, the construction and critique of mathematical conjectures and justifications, is a fundamental disciplinary practice in mathematics that students often never master. Building on a proof of concept of the project's approach ifrom two prior NSF-funded studies, this project expands the model to help teachers support mathematical argumentation all year. A coherent, portable, two-year-long professional development program on mathematical argumentation has the potential to increase access to mathematical argumentation for students nationwide and, in particular, to address the needs of teachers and students in urban areas. Demonstrating this program in the nation's capital will likely attract broad interest and produces important knowledge about how to implement mathematical practices in urban settings. Increasing mathematical argumentation in schools has the potential for dramatic contributions to students' achievement and participation in 21st century workplaces.

Mathematical argumentation is rich discussion in which students take on mathematical authority and co-construct conjectures and justifications. For many teachers, supporting such discourse is challenging; many are most comfortable with Initiate-Respond-Evaluate types of practices and/or have insufficient content understanding. The professional development trains teachers to be disciplined improvisers -- professionals with a toolkit of tools, knowledge, and practices to be deployed creatively and responsively as mathematical argumentation unfolds. This discipline includes establishing classroom norms and planning lessons for argumentation. The model's theory of action has four design principles: provide the toolkit, use simulations of the classroom to practice improvising, support learning of key content, and provide job-embedded, technology-enabled supports for using new practices all year. Three yearlong studies will address design, feasibility, and promise. In Study 1 the team co-designs tools with District of Columbia Public Schools staff. Study 2 is a feasibility study to examine program implementation, identify barriers and facilitators, and inform improvements. Study 3 is a quasi-experimental pilot to test the promise for achieving intended outcomes: expanding teachers' content knowledge and support of mathematical argumentation, and increasing students' mathematical argumentation in the classroom and spoken argumentation proficiency. The studies will result in a yearlong professional development program with documentation of the theory of action, design decisions, pilot data, and instrument technical qualities.

The Design and Findings of a Random-Controlled Trial for a Successful Game-Based Mathematics Intervention

Day: 
Tues

Join a discussion about designing and testing the effects of game-based products that facilitate middle school student learning of math concepts.

Date/Time: 
1:45 pm to 3:45 pm
2014 Session Types: 
Feedback Session (Work in Post-development)
Session Materials: 

The goal of this session is to assist other project teams in the design and testing of game-based mathematics products. The session includes a discussion of recently completed randomized control trials of the Math Snacks games. Participants leave with concrete ideas on designing and testing e-learning products designed for classroom use with a focus on middle school concepts.

Using Life Cycle Data to Help Teachers Understand Key Energy Concepts

Day: 
Tues

Participants engage in and provide feedback on digital interactive learning experiences that use National Renewable Energy Laboratory life cycle data and help teachers understand key energy concepts. Please bring your laptop.

Date/Time: 
9:45 am to 11:45 am
2014 Session Types: 
Feedback Session (Work in Development)
Session Materials: 

Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) and project partners are developing an online course for high school science teachers. The purpose of the course is to help teachers understand key energy concepts in alternative energy contexts. The course includes three interactive learning experiences (interactives) that use life cycle data from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).

Overcoming Obstacles of Affordability, Flexibility, and Effectiveness to Scaling-Up with a Cyberlearning Professional-Development Model

Day: 
Tues

Participants engage in and provide feedback on a CyberPD environment that overcomes the obstacles related to bringing curriculum-based professional development to scale.

Date/Time: 
9:45 am to 11:45 am
2014 Session Types: 
Feedback Session (Work in Development)

Research has shown that curriculum-based professional development for teachers is a key component in the effective implementation of innovative, researched-based science curricula. Scaling up to a broad-based national market, however, is logistically constrained and limited by the traditional face-to-face professional development model. A key factor in a districts’ decision-making process affecting the adoption of a research-based curricula is their ability to provide the necessary on-going and timely professional development.

Ocean Tracks: Bringing Large-Scale Marine Science Data to and Beyond the Classroom

Day: 
Tues

Participants engage in marine data investigations using the Ocean Tracks Web interface and analysis tools, offer feedback, and discuss possible synergies with other DR K12 programs.

Date/Time: 
9:45 am to 11:45 am
2014 Session Types: 
Feedback Session (Work in Post-development)
Session Materials: 

Digital, large-scale scientific data have become broadly available in recent decades, and analyzing data, identifying patterns, and extracting useful information have become gateway skills to full participation in the 21st century workforce. Yet, pre-college classrooms are falling short in preparing students for this world and are missing opportunities to harness the power of Big Data to engage students in scientific learning. To address this issue, scientists, educators, and researchers at Education Development Center, Inc.

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