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Inquiry-based High School Biology Using Sea Urchin Fertilization and Development

This project uses sea urchin embryos to provide a curriculum module for inquiry-based biology. The curriculum is provided via a new open access website. It addresses several of the National Science Content Standards and provides a range of activities suitable for all levels of high school biology. It will provide instructional support materials such as video demonstrations, animations, time lapse videos and image galleries relevant to each exercise, as well as professional development materials.

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Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Fri, 04/01/2005 to Tue, 03/31/2009

Application of Evidence-centered Design to States Large-scale Science Assessment

This project aims to (1) determine ways in which Evidence-Centered Design enhances the quality of large-scale, technology-based science assessments for middle school grades and high school equivalency; (2) implement resulting procedures in operational test development; (3) evaluate the efficiency, effectiveness and generalizability of these procedures, and (4) disseminate findings to the assessment community.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2007 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Haynie Research and Evaluation--Doreen Finkelstein, Kathleen Haynie
Full Description: 

The project began as a collaborative research effort among six organizations—a non-profit research company (SRI International), a university (University of Maryland), a commercial test publishing company (Pearson), Minnesota’s (MN) state department of education, a software engineering firm (Codeguild, Inc.), and an educational evaluation firm (Haynie Research and Evaluation). Due to changes in the affiliation of key personnel, the project transitioned to a collaboration among five organizations--SRI International, ETS, University of Maryland, Pearson and Haynie Research and Evaluation. Together these groups designed and implemented several studies to document the influence of evidence-centered design when applied to Pearson's science assessment design and development processes.

The goals of the project are: (1) to determine leverage points by which ECD can enhance the quality of large-scale technology-based assessments and the efficiency of their design, (2) to implement resulting procedures in operational test development cycles, (3) to evaluate efficiency, effectiveness and generalizability of these procedures, (4) to develop two software wizards to support design of task-based scenarios and assessment items, and (5) to disseminate findings to the assessment community.

This project will develop an exemplar set of design patterns based on the critical benchmarks identified in the Minnesota Academic Standards for science and on the GED science practice indicators and content targets. It is of particular interest in this project that elements of ECD will be applied to an existing large-scale accountability and credentialing assessments, in the context of existing test development and delivery processes.  The project is constrained to maintain adherence to existing test specifications, “look and feel” of tasks, timelines, and delivery and scoring procedures.  Rather than designing new assessment systems or re-engineering existing ones, the present project seeks to identify and implement ideas from ECD in existing large-scale, high-stakes testing programs. Principles of ECD have been implemented in several training workshops for assessment designers and item writers to support the development of scenario-based science tasks. The project's technical report series is available at

Biocomplexity and the Habitable Planet -- An Innovative Capstone Course for High School (Collaborative Research: Puttick)

This project is developing a set of instructional materials that engages students and teachers in the science of coupled natural human (CNH) systems. Teacher guides, a website and multimedia resources accompany the four student modules (which focus on an urban watershed, an urban/agricultural system, Amazonia and a polar system).

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Sun, 10/01/2006 to Sun, 03/31/2013
Project Evaluator: 
Full Description: 

Biocomplexity — A frontier of modern science

The science disciplines that try to understand how biological and earth systems work arose in previous centuries when places that humans had not affected still remained. But in the past century, scientists have begun to realize that to really understand the world we inhabit — how it works, and how it’s changing — we have to accept Homo sapiens as an essential player, and not an intruder. This kind of thinking, which links biology, ecology, physics, chemistry, with human society and behavior, is leading to some very exciting, and sometimes surprising, science.

One term for this emerging science is biocomplexity. Biocomplexity is an umbrella science that integrates the core concepts of ecology, biogeography, ecosystem services, and landscape ecology to understand “coupled human-natural systems” and to identify more effective solutions to the challenges we face in the biosphere.

This course is designed to help students acquire a “biocomplex” way of thinking, by looking at several real situations, some familiar, and some unfamiliar, in which humans are involved as the world changes. Our mission is to foster the understanding of the complex fabric of relationships between humans and the environment, vital and important knowledge for all citizens in an era of global human impact on the environment. We can no longer study “natural” systems without considering human interactions. High school science materials should reflect this critically important fact, and also support students to engage in authentic investigations.

The curriculum uses a case study approach to engage students with biocomplexity in urban, agricultural, tropical and polar systems, in which students address environmental land and resource use challenges increasingly confronted by society. Students engage in inquiry-based investigations, gather data from primary sources, and construct evidence-based arguments. The curriculum is enlivened by multimedia resources, including video, animations, podcasts and slideshows.  The four units each take 7-9 weeks to complete.

Unit One: Urban Biocomplexity : Students develop an understanding of systems thinking at the local scale of their familiarschoolyard ecosystem. They make a land use decision regarding the addition of anathletic field to the school grounds and investigate how land use impacts hydrology,nitrogen flux, biotic factors, social factors, and ecosystem services.

Unit Two: Sprawl and Biocomplexity: Students explore the impact of habitat fragmentation as they consider the proposedconversion of farmland to a suburban housing development. They map landscapeelements and investigate biodiversity, social factors, fluxes of carbon, the economics androle of commodity subsidies, and the impact of “green” design. They debate land usealternatives that include sustainable practices, and build a coherent scientific case to support their land use choice.

Unit Three: Amazonia and Biocomplexity: Students explore connections between the agricultural and grazing practicescurrently responsible for large-scale deforestation in Amazonia and the connections ofdeforestation to local, regional, and global climate. They investigate the role of rainforestin regulating atmospheric gases and stabilizing rainfall. They analyze patterns ofAmazonian deforestation and habitat fragmentation, analyze the economic ecology ofsoybean production, cattle ranching and forestry land uses, and conduct a stakeholderanalysis. Finally, student teams prepare a plan for land in a region in Amazonia, jugglingtypes of land use to optimize other critical factors such as conservation, carbonsequestration, economic benefits and viable agriculture. 

Unit Four: Arctic Biocomplexity: Many arctic species are showing signs of rapid impacts from habitat disruption due to climate change. Students explore these impacts, investigate the flux of heat energy, and learn about population dynamics, conservation biology, adaptation and natural selection to be able to forecast what is likely to happen to selected Arctic species as the climate changes. They construct a case to support recommended conservation strategies.



Talk Science: Scalable, Web-Based Professional Learning to Improve Science Achievement

This project is designed to enhance and study the development of elementary science teachers’ skills in managing productive classroom talk in inquiry-based physical science studies of matter. The project hypothesizes that aligning professional learning with conceptually-driven curricula and emphasizing the development of scientific discourse changes classroom culture and increases student learning. The project is developing new Web-based resources, Talk Science PD, to help elementary teachers facilitate scientific discourse.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Katherine Paget
Full Description: 


Scalable, Web-based Professional Learning to Improve Science Achievement


      In spite of its centrality in science, genuine scientific argumentation is rarely observed in classrooms. Instead, most of the talk comes from teachers, and it seems oriented primarily toward persuading students of the validity of the scientific worldview…if the educational goal is to help students understand not just the conclusions of science, but also how one knows and why one believes, then talk needs to focus on how evidence is used in science for the construction of explanations. (Duschl, Schweingruber et al. 2007)

Research from the learning sciences, classroom research, and the National Research Council’s consensus reports on teaching and learning science are clear: talk is central to doing and learning science well (Duschl and Osborne 2002; Duschl, Schweingruber et al. 2007; Michaels, Shouse et al. 2008). Discussion is essential to inquiry, enabling students to compare and evaluate observations and data, raise questions, develop hypotheses and explanations, debate and explore alternative interpretations, develop insight into reasoning they may not have considered, and “make meaning” of inquiry experiences. In fact, mastery of science is to a large extent mastery of its specialized uses of language (Lemke 1993).

            Yet effective scientific discourse is mostly absent in classrooms (Barnes 1992; Lemke 1993; Alexander 2001; Cazden 2001). Few teachers are sufficiently prepared to manage classroom talk or effectively improvise and facilitate dialogue in the unpredictable flow of classroom discussion. Thus, despite well-designed curricula and well-intentioned teachers, students are failing to obtain a deep understanding of science and to develop critical 21st century skills, such as negotiating shared meaning and co-construction of problem resolution (Dede 2007). This is the challenge we are addressing.

TERC, in close collaboration with the Mason School in Roxbury, MA, the Benjamin A. Banneker School in Cambridge, MA, Newton Massachusetts Schools, Lamoille North Schools in Vermont, and scientists and linguists from three Boston area universities, is:   

1.     developing and pilot-testing Talk Science!, a web-enabled collection of rich, multimedia professional learning resources for 4th and 5th grade teachers that supports the NSF-funded Inquiry Curriculum and that is focused on promoting scientific discourse in the classroom. These resources are being deployed on the Inquiry Project web site ( This effort is resulting in a model of web-based professional learning that is scalable, accessible and of consistent quality.

2.     investigating the development of teachers' skills with regard to facilitating productive discourse in the science classroom. We hypothesized that aligning professional learning with conceptually-driven curriculum and emphasizing development of scientific discourse would promote changes in classroom culture and increased student learning. We further hypothesized that as teachers implement strategies for scientific discourse, the nature of talk in classrooms and classroom culture will shift toward shared scientific meaning-making. This research is currently underway with results expected by December 2012.


Talk Science! PD is comprised of two nine-week professional development courses of study (i.e. professional pathways), aligned with the 4th and 5th grade web-based, Inquiry Curriculum. Thus, curriculum and professional learning “live” together side-by-side within the same web site so teachers can shift seamlessly between the curriculum and their own professional learning as they prepare to teach. The professional development is comprised of three main components: classroom cases, scientist cases, and talk strategies.


We are using a pedagogical approach in which teachers strengthen their understanding of science, develop specific pedagogical skills, and implement skills into their teaching through a cognitive apprenticeship model (Collins, Brown et al). This involves 1) modeling, coaching, and scaffolding that help teachers acquire professional skills and scientific understanding through observation (in our case video) and guided practice, 2) articulation and reflection in which teachers articulate their understanding and questions, and 3) exploration in which they incorporate new practices into their teaching.


Talk Science! is based on four major principles that effectively change teacher practice and student learning:

  1. Close alignment between professional learning and specific curriculum offers a relevant context for teacher learning and ensures transfer from professional learning to classroom application.
  2. Understanding science as a knowledge-generating enterprise helps teachers facilitate student learning that deepens understanding of core concepts and blends the development of conceptual understanding and disciplinary practice.
  3. Developing abilities to facilitate productive academic talk in the classroom helps teachers establish a classroom culture where norms of discourse are in place and students make claims based on evidence and advance toward deeper understanding of scientific ideas.
  4. Providing opportunity for teachers to work together and learn from each other while using the affordances of web-based technologies to exploit the power of professional learning communities.

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)

The Classroom Ecosystem Explorer (CEE): Developing and Testing a Multimedia Tool to Support Early Grades Instruction in Science

This project is designed to assist K-3 teachers in teaching life and physical science for conceptual understanding. It integrates videos, stills and voice-over into one multimedia web-based tool. The program provides teachers with experiences in understanding details related to the \"how\" of high quality science teaching. The professional development activities illuminate what happens in planning and in arranging science classrooms to promote student learning.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Sat, 07/01/2006 to Wed, 06/30/2010

Calipers II: Using Simulations to Assess Complex Science Learning

This project has pioneered simulation-based assessments of model-based science learning and inquiry practices for middle school physical and life science systems. The assessment suites include curriculum-embedded, formative assessments that provide  immediate, individualized feedback and graduated coaching with supporting reflection activities as well as summative end-of-unit benchmark assessments. The project has documented the instructional benefits, feasibility, utility, and technical quality of the assessments with over 7,000 students and 80 teachers in four states.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Mon, 10/01/2007 to Thu, 09/30/2010
Project Evaluator: 

Math Pathways and Pitfalls: Capturing What Works for Anytime Anyplace Professional Development

Math Pathways & Pitfalls lessons for students boost mathematics achievement for diverse students, including English Learners, English Proficient students, and Latino students. This project develops modules that increase teachers’ capacity to employ the effective and equitable principles of practice embodied by Math Pathways & Pitfalls and apply these practices to any mathematics lesson. This four-year project develops, field tests, and evaluates 10 online professional development modules.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/15/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Full Description: 

Researchers and developers at WestEd are developing, field-testing, and evaluating ten online professional development modules anchored in research-based teaching principles and achievement-boosting mathematics materials. The modules provide interactive learning opportunities featuring real classroom video demonstrations, simulations, and scaffolded implementation. The professional development module development builds on the Math Pathways and Pitfalls instructional modules for elementary and middle school students developed with NSF support. The professional development provided through the use of these modules is web-based (rather than face-to-face), is provided in chunks during the school year and immediately applied in the classroom (rather than summer professional development and school year application), and explicitly models ways to apply key teaching principles to regular mathematics lessons (rather than expecting teachers to extract and apply principles spontaneously).

The project studies the impact of the modules on teaching practice with an experimental design that involves 20 treatment teachers and 20 control teachers. Data are gathered from teacher questionnaires, classroom observations, and post-observation interviews.

Tool Systems to Support Progress Toward Expert-like Teaching by Early Career Science Educators

The goal of this project is to accelerate the progress of early-career and pre-service science teachers from novice to expert-like pedagogical reasoning and practice by developing and studying a system of discourse tools. The tools are aimed at developing teachers' capabilities in shaping instruction around the most fundamental science ideas; scaffolding student thinking; and adapting instruction to diverse student populations by collecting and analyzing student data on their thinking levels.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/15/2008 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Jim Minstrell

Closing the Math Achievement Gap for English Language Learners: Technology Resources for Pre-algebra

The project addresses the relatively poor mathematics achievement of students who are not proficient in English. It includes research on how English language learners in beginning algebra classes solve math word problems with different text characteristics. The results of this research inform the development of technology-based resources to support ELLs’ ability to learn mathematics through instruction in English, including tutorials in math vocabulary, integrated glossaries, and interactive assistance with forming equations from word problem text.

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Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
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Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/21/2008 to Sun, 07/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
RAND Education, Santa Monica CA


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