Biology

Professional Development Supports for Teaching Bioinformatics through Mobile Learning

This project will investigate the professional development supports needed for teaching bioinformatics at the high school level. The project team will work with biology and mathematics teachers to co-design instructional modules to engage students with core bioinformatics concepts and computational literacies, by focusing on local community health issues supported through mobile learning activities.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1812738
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Mon, 02/28/2022
Full Description: 

Bioinformatics is an emerging area of research that develops new knowledge through computational analysis of vast biological and biomedical data. This project will investigate the professional development supports needed for teaching bioinformatics at the high school level. Building from a robust literature in professional development design research, project team will work with biology and mathematics teachers to co-design instructional modules to engage students with core bioinformatics concepts and computational literacies, by focusing on local community health issues supported through mobile learning activities. The overarching goal of the project is to help create an engage population of informatics-informed students who are capable of critically analyzing information and able to solve local problems related to their health and well-being.

The project team will use a design-based implementation research approach to identify the curricular and instructional supports needed to achieve the teaching and learning goals through iterative project revisions, employing mixed methods to evaluate teacher and student learning processes and outcomes. Teachers from local high needs schools will participate in a three-week summer workshop, where they will learn about state-of-the-art bioinformatics content, project-based pedagogies that promote computational literacy, and strategies integrate mobile technologies into instruction.  They will implement the instructional units during the year, and the summer workshop will be revised and delivered to an expanded cohort of teachers the following summer. The data collection and analysis conducted on teachers' enactment of these modules will reveal the professional development and implementation areas needed to support particular populations, specifically underrepresented groups in STEM, to engage with bioinformatics learning and take authentic action on local community issues.

Supporting Teachers in Responsive Instruction for Developing Expertise in Science (Collaborative Research: Linn)

This project takes advantage of advanced technologies to support science teachers to rapidly respond to diverse student ideas in their classrooms. Students will use web-based curriculum units to engage with models, simulations, and virtual experiments to write multiple explanations for standards-based science topics. The project will also design planning tools for teachers that will make suggestions relevant research-proven instructional strategies based on the real-time analysis of student responses.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1813713
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Wed, 08/31/2022
Full Description: 

Many teachers want to adapt their instruction to meet student learning needs, yet lack the time to regularly assess and analyze students' developing understandings. The Supporting Teachers in Responsive Instruction for Developing Expertise in Science (STRIDES) project takes advantage of advanced technologies to support science teachers to rapidly respond to diverse student ideas in their classrooms. In this project students will use web-based curriculum units to engage with models, simulations, and virtual experiments to write multiple explanations for standards-based science topics. Advanced technologies (including natural language processing) will be used to assess students' written responses and summaries their science understanding in real-time. The project will also design planning tools for teachers that will make suggestions relevant research-proven instructional strategies based on the real-time analysis of student responses. Research will examine how teachers make use of the feedback and suggestions to customize their instruction. Further we will study how these instructional changes help students develop coherent understanding of complex science topics and ability to make sense of models and graphs. The findings will be used to refine the tools that analyze the student essays and generate the summaries; improve the research-based instructional suggestions in the planning tool; and strengthen the online interface for teachers. The tools will be incorporated into open-source, freely available online curriculum units. STRIDES will directly benefit up to 30 teachers and 24,000 students from diverse school settings over four years.

Leveraging advances in natural language processing methods, the project will analyze student written explanations to provide fine-grained summaries to teachers about strengths and weaknesses in student work. Based on the linguistic analysis and logs of student navigation, the project will then provide instructional customizations based on learning science research, and study how teachers use them to improve student progress. Researchers will annually conduct at least 10 design or comparison studies, each involving up to 6 teachers and 300-600 students per year. Insights from this research will be captured in automated scoring algorithms, empirically tested and refined customization activities, and data logging techniques that can be used by other research and curriculum design programs to enable teacher customization.

Building Middle School Students' Understanding of Heredity and Evolution

This project will develop and test the impact of heredity and evolution curriculum units for middle school grades that are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The project will advance science teaching by investigating the ways in which two curriculum units can be designed to incorporate science and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas, the three dimensions of science learning described by the NGSS. The project will also develop resources to support teachers in implementation of the new modules.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1814194
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Wed, 08/31/2022
Full Description: 

This project will develop and test the impact of heredity and evolution curriculum units for middle school grades that are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The project will advance science teaching by investigating the ways in which two curriculum units can be designed to incorporate science and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas, the three dimensions of science learning described by the NGSS. The project will also develop resources to support teachers in implementation of the new modules. The planned research will also examine whether student understanding of evolution depends on the length and time of exposure to learning about heredity prior to learning about evolution.

This Early Stage Design and Development project will develop two new 3-week middle school curriculum units, with one focusing on heredity and the other focusing on evolution. The units will include embedded formative and summative assessment measures and online teacher support materials. These units will be developed as part of a curriculum learning progression that will eventually span the elementary grades through high school. This curriculum learning progression will integrate heredity, evolution, data analysis, construction of scientific explanations, evidence-based argumentation, pattern recognition, and inferring cause and effect relationships. To inform development and iterative revisions of the units, the project will conduct nation-wide beta and pilot tests, selecting schools with broad ranges of student demographics and geographical locations. The project will include three rounds of testing and revision of both the student curriculum and teacher materials. The project will also investigate student understanding of evolution in terms of how their understanding is impacted by conceptual understanding of heredity. The research to be conducted by this project is organized around three broad research questions: (a) In what ways can two curriculum units be designed to incorporate the three dimensions of science learning and educative teacher supports to guide students' conceptual understanding of heredity and evolution? (b) To what extent does student understanding of evolution depend on the length and timing of heredity lessons that preceded an evolution unit? And (c) In what ways do students learn heredity and evolution?

Promoting Engineering Problem Framing Skill-Development in High School Science and Engineering Courses

This project will develop curricular activities and assessment guidance for K-12 science and engineering educators who seek to incorporate engineering design content into their biology, chemistry, and physics classes.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1812823
Funding Period: 
Wed, 08/01/2018 to Sat, 07/31/2021
Full Description: 

This collaborative project involving Ohio Northern University, Ohio State University, and Olathe Northwest High School will develop curricular activities and assessment guidance for K-12 science and engineering educators who seek to incorporate engineering design content into their biology, chemistry, and physics classes. This work is important because students' limited exposure to engineering activities can negatively impact their decisions to enroll in STEM courses and to pursue engineering careers. Further, many states are adopting or considering adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a set of classroom standards which integrate engineering content into traditional science disciplines. While high school teachers under these standards are expected to incorporate the cross-cutting engineering content into their courses, they generally receive little high-quality support for doing so. If successful, the project could provide a powerful model of how to support busy and resource-constrained STEM teachers, and create broader student interest in STEM careers.

Drawing from best practices on instructional design, the project's main objectives are to: (1) design, field-test, and evaluate the impact of 12 NGSS-aligned, engineering problem-framing design activities on students enrolled in grades 9-12 science courses and (2) design and conduct high-quality, sustained professional development that fosters participating high school science teachers' ability to deploy the NGSS concepts-linked activities. Data sources include student design artifacts, video of classroom instruction, and surveys assessing student and teacher attitudes toward engineering, student design self-efficacy and teacher self-efficacy for teaching engineering content. These data will be analyzed to determine what teachers learned from the professional development activities, how those activities informed their teaching and in turn, how students' engagement with the engineering activities relates to their engineering design skills and attitudes. In terms of intellectual merit, the project aims to develop a learning progression of students' engineering design problem-framing skills by characterizing any observed change in students' design work and attitudes over time.

Design and Development of Transmedia Narrative-based Curricula to Engage Children in Scientific Thinking and Engineering Design (Collaborative Research: Ellis)

This project will address the need for engineering resources by applying an innovative pedagogy called Imaginative Education (IE) to create middle school engineering curricula. In IE, developmentally appropriate narratives are used to design learning environments that help learners engage with content and organize their knowledge productively. This project will combine IE with transmedia storytelling.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1814033
Funding Period: 
Sun, 07/15/2018 to Thu, 06/30/2022
Full Description: 

Engineering is an important component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). However, resources for supporting teachers in implementing these standards are scarce. This project will address the need for resources by applying an innovative pedagogy called Imaginative Education (IE) to create middle school engineering curricula. In IE, developmentally appropriate narratives are used to design learning environments that help learners engage with content and organize their knowledge productively. To fully exploit the potential of this pedagogy, this project will combine IE with transmedia storytelling. In transmedia storytelling, different elements of a narrative are spread across a variety of formats (such as books, websites, new articles, videos and other media) in a way that creates a coordinated experience for the user. Once created, the curricula will be implemented in classrooms to research its impact on (1) increasing learners' capacities to engage in both innovative and direct application of engineering concepts, and (2) improving learners' science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) identity. 

This research will be led by Smith College and Springfield Technical Community College in collaboration with Springfield (MA) Public Schools (SPS). Additional expertise in evaluating the findings will be provided by the Collaborative for Educational Services and an external advisory board of leaders in STEM education and transmedia storytelling. The project will result in the development of a transmedia learning environment that includes two NGSS-aligned, interdisciplinary engineering units and seven lessons that integrate science and engineering. The research study will be implemented in four phases in eight SPS middle schools. Approximately 900 students will participate each year. In Phase 1, the project team will collaborate with SPS teachers to create engineering units, lessons, and standards-based achievement measures. In Phase 2, teachers in the treatment group will participate in professional development (PD) workshops covering IE, transmedia learning environments, structure of the curriculum, and connections to NGSS. In Phase 3 the curricula will be implemented in treatment classrooms and both treatment and control group students will be assessed. In Phase 4, testing and assessment will continue in SPS schools and will be expanded to rural and suburban classrooms. Teachers in these classrooms will use online multimedia PD that will ensure scalability and mirrors the structure and content of in-person PD. Data analysis will provide evidence of whether this imaginative and transmedia educational approach improves students' capacities for using engineering concepts and enhances their STEM identity.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Transforming Engineering Education for Middle School (TEEMS)

Presenter(s): Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh, Sonia Ellis, & Crystal Ford


Design and Development of Transmedia Narrative-based Curricula to Engage Children in Scientific Thinking and Engineering Design (Collaborative Research: McGinnis-Cavanaugh)

This project will address the need for engineering resources by applying an innovative pedagogy called Imaginative Education (IE) to create middle school engineering curricula. In IE, developmentally appropriate narratives are used to design learning environments that help learners engage with content and organize their knowledge productively. This project will combine IE with transmedia storytelling.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1813572
Funding Period: 
Sun, 07/15/2018 to Thu, 06/30/2022
Project Evaluator: 
Collaborative for Educational Services (CES)
Full Description: 

Engineering is an important component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). However, resources for supporting teachers in implementing these standards are scarce. This project will address the need for resources by applying an innovative pedagogy called Imaginative Education (IE) to create middle school engineering curricula. In IE, developmentally appropriate narratives are used to design learning environments that help learners engage with content and organize their knowledge productively. To fully exploit the potential of this pedagogy, this project will combine IE with transmedia storytelling. In transmedia storytelling, different elements of a narrative are spread across a variety of formats (such as books, websites, new articles, videos and other media) in a way that creates a coordinated experience for the user. Once created, the curricula will be implemented in classrooms to research its impact on (1) increasing learners' capacities to engage in both innovative and direct application of engineering concepts, and (2) improving learners' science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) identity. 

This research will be led by Smith College and Springfield Technical Community College in collaboration with Springfield (MA) Public Schools (SPS). Additional expertise in evaluating the findings will be provided by the Collaborative for Educational Services and an external advisory board of leaders in STEM education and transmedia storytelling. The project will result in the development of a transmedia learning environment that includes two NGSS-aligned, interdisciplinary engineering units and seven lessons that integrate science and engineering. The research study will be implemented in four phases in eight SPS middle schools. Approximately 900 students will participate each year. In Phase 1, the project team will collaborate with SPS teachers to create engineering units, lessons, and standards-based achievement measures. In Phase 2, teachers in the treatment group will participate in professional development (PD) workshops covering IE, transmedia learning environments, structure of the curriculum, and connections to NGSS. In Phase 3 the curricula will be implemented in treatment classrooms and both treatment and control group students will be assessed. In Phase 4, testing and assessment will continue in SPS schools and will be expanded to rural and suburban classrooms. Teachers in these classrooms will use online multimedia PD that will ensure scalability and mirrors the structure and content of in-person PD. Data analysis will provide evidence of whether this imaginative and transmedia educational approach improves students' capacities for using engineering concepts and enhances their STEM identity.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Transforming Engineering Education for Middle School (TEEMS)

Presenter(s): Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh, Sonia Ellis, & Crystal Ford


Extending and Investigating the Impact of the High School Model-based Educational Resource (Collaborative Research: Wilson)

This project builds on a line of work that has developed and studied the Model Based Educational Resource (MBER), a year-long curriculum for high school biology. The project will generate rigorous causal evidence on how this approach to biology teaching and learning can support student learning, and foundational information on how to support high school teachers in improving their teaching. It will also provide resources to expand and update MBER to reflect the changing high school science landscape by integrating Earth Science standards into the year long sequence.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1813538
Funding Period: 
Wed, 08/01/2018 to Sun, 07/31/2022
Full Description: 

This project builds on a line of work that has developed and studied the Model Based Educational Resource (MBER), a year-long curriculum for high school biology. In classrooms using MBER, modeling serves as an anchoring practice that keeps the inquiry tied to the goal of making sense of the world, helping teachers to engage their students in a range of cognitive and social activities that lead to deep understanding of scientific ideas. This project will generate rigorous causal evidence on how this approach to biology teaching and learning can support student learning, and foundational information on how to support high school teachers in improving their teaching. This funding will also provide resources to expand and update MBER to reflect the changing high school science landscape by integrating Earth Science standards into the year long sequence. The study will address the general research question: What is the impact of the Model Based Educational Resource (MBER) on high school students' science achievement, and what factors influence that impact? In addition to generating important research findings, the materials revised and studied in this project will be open-source and freely available to teachers and schools.

This study addresses a significant gap in the research on next generation curriculum materials. While there is emerging agreement about the importance of instructional materials in supporting teachers in effectively engaging students in the practices of science, there is very little empirical evidence to support such claims. The goal of this project is to study the impact of the MBER program through a cluster randomized trial and expand the promise of efficacy and feasibility established in previous work. This study will be able to make causal claims by using an experimental design in which 32 high school teachers serve as their own controls, and by using multi-level modeling in the analysis. This study will advance the field's knowledge about the impact of innovative materials on student learning, measured by both project-level assessments and the state science test. Exploratory research questions will examine a) how using the MBER program develops teachers' vision of the Next Generation Science Standards, b) how student learning is mediated by the fidelity of implementation of the materials, c) how teachers interact with materials designed to be modified for their classroom context, and d) to what extent the MBER materials provide equitable opportunities to learn and close achievement gaps.

Extending and Investigating the Impact of the High School Model-based Educational Resource (Collaborative Research: Passmore)

This project builds on a line of work that has developed and studied the Model Based Educational Resource (MBER), a year-long curriculum for high school biology. The project will generate rigorous causal evidence on how this approach to biology teaching and learning can support student learning, and foundational information on how to support high school teachers in improving their teaching. It will also provide resources to expand and update MBER to reflect the changing high school science landscape by integrating Earth Science standards into the year long sequence.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1814263
Funding Period: 
Wed, 08/01/2018 to Sun, 07/31/2022
Full Description: 

This project builds on a line of work that has developed and studied the Model Based Educational Resource (MBER), a year-long curriculum for high school biology. In classrooms using MBER, modeling serves as an anchoring practice that keeps the inquiry tied to the goal of making sense of the world, helping teachers to engage their students in a range of cognitive and social activities that lead to deep understanding of scientific ideas. This project will generate rigorous causal evidence on how this approach to biology teaching and learning can support student learning, and foundational information on how to support high school teachers in improving their teaching. This funding will also provide resources to expand and update MBER to reflect the changing high school science landscape by integrating Earth Science standards into the year long sequence. The study will address the general research question: What is the impact of the Model Based Educational Resource (MBER) on high school students' science achievement, and what factors influence that impact? In addition to generating important research findings, the materials revised and studied in this project will be open-source and freely available to teachers and schools.

This study addresses a significant gap in the research on next generation curriculum materials. While there is emerging agreement about the importance of instructional materials in supporting teachers in effectively engaging students in the practices of science, there is very little empirical evidence to support such claims. The goal of this project is to study the impact of the MBER program through a cluster randomized trial and expand the promise of efficacy and feasibility established in previous work. This study will be able to make causal claims by using an experimental design in which 32 high school teachers serve as their own controls, and by using multi-level modeling in the analysis. This study will advance the field's knowledge about the impact of innovative materials on student learning, measured by both project-level assessments and the state science test. Exploratory research questions will examine a) how using the MBER program develops teachers' vision of the Next Generation Science Standards, b) how student learning is mediated by the fidelity of implementation of the materials, c) how teachers interact with materials designed to be modified for their classroom context, and d) to what extent the MBER materials provide equitable opportunities to learn and close achievement gaps.

A Practice-based Online Learning Environment for Scientific Inquiry with Digitized Museum Collections in Middle School Classrooms

This project will develop and study a prototype online learning environment that supports student learning via Engaging Practices for Inquiry with Collections in Bioscience (EPIC Bioscience), which uses authentic research investigations with digitized collections from natural history museums. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1812844
Funding Period: 
Fri, 06/15/2018 to Mon, 05/31/2021
Full Description: 

There are an estimated 2-4 billion specimens in the world's natural history collections that contain the data necessary to address complex global issues, including biodiversity and climate. Digitized natural history collections present an untapped opportunity to engage learners in crucial questions of science with far-reaching potential consequences via object-based research investigations. This project will develop and study a prototype online learning environment that supports student learning via Engaging Practices for Inquiry with Collections in Bioscience (EPIC Bioscience). EPIC Bioscience uses authentic research investigations with digitized collections from natural history museums. The project team will create a curriculum aligned with the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) for middle school students, emphasizing a major disciplinary core idea in grades 6-8 life science, Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics. The project has three major goals: 1) Develop an online learning environment that guides students through research investigations using digitized natural history collections to teach NGSS life science standards. 2) Investigate how interactive features and conversational scaffolds in the EPIC Bioscience learning environment can promote deeper processing of science content and effective knowledge building. 3) Demonstrate effective approaches to using digitized collections objects for contextualized, research-based science learning that aligns to NGSS standards for middle school classrooms.

The project will examine how and when interactive features of a digital learning environment can be combined with deep questions and effective online scaffolds to promote student engagement, meaningful collaborative discourse, and robust learning outcomes during research with digitized museum collections. Research activities will address: How can interactive features of EPIC Bioscience help students learn disciplinary core ideas and cross cutting concepts via science practices through collections-based research? How can effective patterns of collaborative scientific discourse be supported and enhanced during online, collections-based research? How does the use of digitized scientific collections influence students' levels of engagement and depth of processing during classroom investigations? A significant impact of the proposed work is expanded opportunities for research with authentic museum objects for populations who are traditionally underserved in STEM and are underrepresented in museum visitor demographics (Title I schools, racial/ethnic minorities, and rural school populations). Research activities will engage over 1,500 Title I and rural students (50 classes across three years) in meaningful research investigations with collections objects that address pressing global issues.

CAREER: Supporting Elementary Science Teaching and Learning by Integrating Uncertainty Into Classroom Science Investigations

The goal of this study is to improve elementary science teaching and learning by developing, testing, and refining a framework and set of tools for strategically incorporating forms of uncertainty central to scientists' sense-making into students' empirical learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1749324
Funding Period: 
Fri, 06/01/2018 to Wed, 05/31/2023
Full Description: 

The goal of this study will be to improve elementary science teaching and learning by developing, testing, and refining a framework and set of tools for strategically incorporating forms of uncertainty central to scientists' sense-making into students' empirical learning. The framework will rest on the notion that productive uncertainty should be carefully built into students' empirical learning experiences in order to support their engagement in scientific practices and understanding of disciplinary ideas. To re-conceptualize the role of empirical investigations, the study will focus on the transitions between the experiences and processes students seek to understand, classroom investigations, evidence, and explanatory models as opportunities for sense-making, and how uncertainty can be built into these transitions. The project's underlying assumption is that carefully implementing these forms of uncertainty will help curriculum developers and teachers avoid the oversimplified investigations that are prevalent in K-8 classrooms that stand in stark contrast to authentic science learning and the recommendations of the Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012). Accordingly, the project will seek to develop curriculum design guidelines, teacher tools, professional development supports, and four elaborated investigations, including sets of lessons, videos, and assessments that embed productive uncertainty for second and fifth graders and designed for use with linguistically, culturally, and socio-economically diverse students.

The hypothesis of this work is that if specific forms of scientific uncertainty are carefully selected, and if teachers can implement these forms of uncertainty, elementary students will have more robust opportunities to develop disciplinary practices and ideas in ways consistent with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (Lead States, 2013). Employing Design-Based Research, the three research questions will be: (1) What opportunities for sense-making do elementary school empirical investigations afford where we might strategically build uncertainty?; (2) How can we design learning environments where uncertainty in empirical investigations supports opportunities for learning?; and (3) In classrooms with sustained opportunities to engage with uncertainty in empirical investigations, what progress do students make in content understandings and the practices of argumentation, explanation, and investigation? The work will consist of three design cycles: Design Cycle 1 will involve two small groups of six teachers in adapting their curricula to incorporate uncertainty, then describe how students engage around uncertainty in empirical investigations. Design Cycle 2 will involve the same small groups in implementing and refining task structures, tools, and teacher instructional strategies. In Design Cycle 3, teachers and researchers will further refine lesson materials, assessments, and supports. The project will partner with one school district and engage in design research with groups of teachers to develop: (1) a research-based description, with exemplars of opportunities for student sense-making within empirical investigations at both early and upper elementary grades; (2) a set of design principles and tools that allow teachers to elicit and capitalize on sense-making about uncertainty in investigations; and (3) four elementary investigations elaborated to incorporate and exemplify the first two products above. These materials will be disseminated through a website, and established networks for supporting implementation of the NGSS. An advisory board will oversee project progress and conduct both formative and summative evaluation.

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