Biology

Online Resources for Educating Students about Ebola and Other Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases

This project will develop a Web-based set of instructional materials and resources that will use the recent Ebola outbreak as the overarching narrative for educating middle and high school students about the disease, its causative agent, how it is spread, and approaches for responding to it and controlling the epidemic.

Award Number: 
1518824
Funding Period: 
Sun, 02/01/2015 to Sun, 01/31/2016
Full Description: 

This project will develop a Web-based set of instructional materials and resources that will use the recent Ebola outbreak as the overarching narrative for educating middle and high school students about the disease, its causative agent, how it is spread, and approaches for responding to it and controlling the epidemic. Secondary school students will receive valuable information that they need to think critically and with a strong knowledge base about the current Ebola outbreak. The resources will strengthen their skills in accessing, making sense of, and assessing the information they find and applying it to understanding the implications of the outbreak to their own lives. The instructional materials based on the Ebola outbreak will be used as a gateway to developing similar materials for other emerging and re-emerging diseases. This extension is critically important because the Ebola crisis will end, hopefully soon, but the threat of epidemics and pandemics will continue.

The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has resulted in widespread concerns and unfounded fears in this country. To avoid overreaction and inappropriate responses to these epidemics, and also to ensure sensible preparation in the event of a real threat, citizens must have a foundational knowledge about these diseases to build upon. One effective way to address this lack of understanding in the populace is to introduce students to the topic during their secondary education. Most curricula and standards do not explicitly include this important area of study even though students are generally fascinated by the topic and it provides an engaging vehicle for learning fundamental concepts in biology. Students need to understand what further information they need, to have the evaluative skills to determine reliable information from misinformation, and to know how to apply this information in determining what actions need to be taken. This project will provide students with valuable information that they need to think critically and with a strong knowledge base about the current Ebola outbreak.

Developing Teachers' Capacity to Promote Argumentation in Secondary Science

This project will produce insights into the challenges teachers face in modifying their teaching in the substantial and complex ways demanded by the Next Generation Science Standards. This project will develop and study a program of professional development to help middle and high school science teachers support their students to learn to argue scientifically. 

Award Number: 
1503511
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sun, 06/30/2019
Full Description: 

This project will produce insights into the challenges teachers face in modifying their teaching in the substantial and complex ways demanded by the Next Generation Science Standards. This project will develop and study a program of professional development to help middle and high school science teachers support their students to learn to argue scientifically. The program includes strategies for organizing science activities to create contexts where students have something to argue about and teaching practices that promote sustained, productive argumentation among students. Results will document what aspects of these new practices teachers find easier and more difficult to implement, and how challenges are influenced by the urban schooling contexts in which project teachers work. The project will also further our understanding of how site-based professional development can be structured to support teacher learning and improvement.

The project is a longitudinal study of a cohort of 30 secondary science teachers from an urban school district in California. The professional development (PD) program will be organized around intensive summer institutes followed by 2 school-based lesson study cycles each year, facilitated by trained coaches. The PD work will be carried out over three years. All PD sessions will be recorded for interaction analysis to identify variations in coaching and teacher participation and the influences of such variation on teacher learning. Repeated measures of teachers' conceptions of argumentation will be given over 3 years as a measure of teacher learning. An observation protocol will be developed and used to measure teacher talk and its change over time. A sub-sample of teachers' classrooms will be video recorded to produce a longitudinal record for interaction analyses to link teacher talk to patterns of student argumentation. The third year of the project will add measures of student learning and link them to variations in teacher practice. The final year of the project will produce retrospective analyses that link pathways in teacher learning to features of the PD program and teachers' participation. 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.

Understanding Ebola Virus Disease

This project will develop and disseminate an online educational resource called Understanding Ebola Virus Disease (UEVD). The objective is to provide users with an interactive learning experience that helps them acquire a basic understanding of factors that influence infection, transmission, and management of Ebola virus disease. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1518346
Funding Period: 
Sun, 02/01/2015 to Sun, 01/31/2016
Full Description: 

This project will develop and disseminate an online educational resource called Understanding Ebola Virus Disease (UEVD). The objective is to provide users with an interactive learning experience that helps them acquire a basic understanding of factors that influence infection, transmission, and management of Ebola virus disease. Irrational fears about the current Ebola outbreak argue for the development of educational resources that can help people better understand the biology of viruses. The UEVD materials will include a knowledge pretest and posttest. These tests will allow the researchers to identify misconceptions users have about virus infection, and Ebola disease in particular, and enable them to assess how well the UEVD materials address these misconceptions.

The core of the UEVD resource is an interactive model of virus infection. Users can manipulate four to six variables that relate to important concepts associated with viral infection and spread. The virus interactive will focus on the susceptibility of the target population, the transmissibility of the virus, virulence factors, and disease spread. Users will be able to put the biology of the Ebola virus into perspective by comparing and contrasting it to other types of viruses such as measles and influenza. The goal of this educational resource is to help users acquire a basic understanding of virulence factors and transmissibility so that they can appreciate the risks of virus infection more objectively. Armed with such knowledge, users may be less fearful of rare infections like Ebola and more concerned with common infections like influenza, which kills tens of thousands of people annually in the United States. An informed public is also more likely to treat people coping with viral diseases with empathy and compassion.

STEM Practice-Rich Investigations for NGSS Teaching (SPRINT)

This is an exploratory project that will research and develop resources and a model for professional learning needed to meet the demand of implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The Exploratorium Teacher Institute will engage middle school science teachers in a one-year professional learning program to study how familiar routines and classroom tools, specifically hands-on science activities, can serve as starting points for teacher learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503153
Funding Period: 
Mon, 06/01/2015 to Wed, 05/31/2017
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 (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.

STEM Practice-rich Investigations for NGSS Teaching (SPRINT) is an exploratory project that will research and develop resources and a model for professional learning needed to meet the demand of implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The Exploratorium Teacher Institute will engage middle school science teachers in a one-year professional learning program to study how familiar routines and classroom tools, specifically hands-on science activities, can serve as starting points for teacher learning. The Teacher Institute will use existing hands-on activities as the basis for developing "practice-rich investigations" that provide teachers and students with opportunities for deep engagement with science and engineering practices. The results of this project will include: (1) empirical evidence from professional learning experiences that support teacher uptake of practice-rich investigations in workshops and their classrooms; (2) a portfolio of STEM practice-rich investigations developed from existing hands-on activities that are shown to enhance teacher understanding of NGSS; and (3) a design tool that supports teachers in modifying existing activities to align with NGSS.

SPRINT conjectures that to address the immediate challenge of supporting teachers to implement NGSS, professional learning models should engage teachers in the same active learning experiences they are expected to provide for their students and that building on teachers' existing strengths and understanding through an asset-based approach could lead to a more sustainable implementation. SPRINT will use design-based research methods to study (a) how creating NGSS-aligned, practice-rich investigations from teachers' existing resources provides them with experiences for three-dimensional science learning and (b) how engaging in these investigations and reflecting on classroom practice can support teachers in understanding and implementing NGSS learning experiences.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Immersed in Phenomena: Helping Teachers Transition to NGSS

Presenter(s): Julie Yu, Sara Heredia, & Jessica Parker


Scientific Data in Schools: Measuring the Efficacy of an Innovative Approach to Integrating Quantitative Reasoning in Secondary Science (Collaborative Research: Stuhlsatz)

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503005
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/15/2015 to Fri, 05/31/2019
Project Evaluator: 
Kristin Bass
Full Description: 

The goal of this project is to investigate whether the integration of real data from cutting-edge scientific research in grade 6-10 classrooms will increase students’ quantitative reasoning ability in the context of science. Data Nuggets are activity-based resources that address current needs in STEM education and were developed by science graduate students and science teachers at Michigan State University through prior support from the NSF GK-12 program and the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. The goal of Data Nuggets is to engage students in the practices of science through an innovative approach that combines scientific content from authentic research with key concepts in quantitative reasoning. Partners from Michigan State University and BSCS will adapt the materials to address current science and mathematics standards, create a professional development program for teachers, and test the efficacy of the materials through a cluster-randomized trial in the classrooms of 30 teachers in Michigan, Colorado, and California.

The project will study whether short, targeted interventions of classroom activities embedded within a typical curriculum can impact student outcomes. Prior to the study teachers will participate in professional development. Classrooms of the teachers in the study will be randomly assigned to either a treatment or comparison condition. Student outcome measures will include understanding of quantitative reasoning in the context of science, understanding of the practices and processes of science, student engagement and motivation, and interest in science.

In order to adequately train the next generation of citizens and scientists, research is needed on how quantitative reasoning skills build upon each other throughout K-16 science education Students need to experience activities that emphasize how science is conducted, and apply their understandings of how scientists reason quantitatively. Establishing the efficacy of Data Nuggets could provide the field with information about supplementing existing curriculum with short interventions targeted at particular scientific practices. By facilitating student access to authentic science, Data Nuggets bridge the gap between scientists and the public. Scientists who create Data Nuggets practice their communication skills and share both the process of science and research findings with K-12 students (and perhaps their families), undergraduates, and teachers, improving the understanding of science in society.

Learning about Ecosystems Science and Complex Causality through Experimentation in a Virtual World

This project will develop a modified virtual world and accompanying curriculum for middle school students to help them learn to more deeply understand ecosystems patterns and the strengths and limitations of experimentation in ecosystems science. The project will build upon a computer world called EcoMUVE, a Multi-User Virtual Environment or MUVE, and will develop ways for students to conduct experiments within the virtual world and to see the results of those experiments.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1416781
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

EcoXPT from videohall.com on Vimeo.

Comprehending how ecosystems function is important knowledge for citizens in making decisions and for students who aspire to become scientists. This understanding requires deep thinking about complex causality, unintended side-effects, and the strengths and limitations of experimental science. These are difficult concepts to learn due to the many interacting components and non-linear interrelationships involved. Ecosystems dynamics is particularly difficult to teach in classrooms because ecosystems involve complexities such as phenomena distributed widely across space that change over long time frames. Learning when and how experimental science can provide useful information in understanding ecosystems dynamics requires moving beyond the limited affordances of classrooms. The project will: 1) advance understanding of experimentation in ecosystems as it can be applied to education; 2) show how student learning is affected by having opportunities to experiment in the virtual world that simulate what scientists do in the real world and with models; and 3) produce results comparing this form of teaching to earlier instructional approaches. This project will result in a learning environment that will support learning about the complexities of the earth's ecosystem.

The project will build upon a computer world called EcoMUVE, a Multi-User Virtual Environment or MUVE, developed as part of an earlier NSF-funded project. A MUVE is a simulated world in which students can virtually walk around, make observations, talk to others, and collect data. EcoMUVE simulates a pond and a forest ecosystem. It offers an immersive context that makes it possible to teach about ecosystems in the classroom, allowing exploration of the complexities of large scale problems, extended time frames and and multiple causality. To more fully understand how ecosystems work, students need the opportunity to experiment and to observe what happens. This project will advance this earlier work by developing ways for students to conduct experiments within the virtual world and to see the results of those experiments. The project will work with ecosystem scientists to study the types of experiments that they conduct, informing knowledge in education about how ecosystem scientists think, and will build opportunities for students that mirror what scientists do. The project will develop a modified virtual world and accompanying curriculum for middle school students to help them learn to more deeply understand ecosystems patterns and the strengths and limitations of experimentation in ecosystems science. The resulting program will be tested against existing practice, the EcoMUVE program alone, and other programs that teach aspects of ecosystems dynamics to help teachers know how to best use these curricula in the classroom.

Supports for Science and Mathematics Learning in Pre-Kindergarten Dual Language Learners: Designing and Expanding a Professional Development System

SciMath-DLL is an innovative preschool professional development (PD) model that integrates supports for dual language learners (DLLs) with high quality science and mathematics instructional offerings. It engages teachers with workshops, classroom-based coaching, and professional learning communities. Based on initial evidence of promise, the SciMath-DLL project will expand PD offerings to include web-based materials.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1417040
Funding Period: 
Tue, 07/01/2014 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

The 4-year project, Supports for Science and Mathematics Learning in Pre-Kindergarten Dual Language Learners: Designing and Expanding a Professional Development System (SciMath-DLL), will address a number of educational challenges. Global society requires citizens and a workforce that are literate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), but many U.S. students remain ill prepared in these areas. At the same time, the children who fill U.S. classrooms increasingly speak a non-English home language, with the highest concentration in the early grades. Many young children are also at risk for lack of school readiness in language, literacy, mathematics, and science due to family background factors. Educational efforts to offset early risk factors can be successful, with clear links between high quality early learning experiences and later academic outcomes. SciMath-DLL will help teachers provide effective mathematics and science learning experiences for their students. Early educational support is critical to assure that all students, regardless of socioeconomic or linguistic background, learn the STEM content required to become science and mathematics literate. Converging lines of research suggest that participation in sustained mathematics and science learning activities could enhance the school readiness of preschool dual language learners. Positive effects of combining science inquiry with supports for English-language learning have been identified for older students. For preschoolers, sustained science and math learning opportunities enhance language and pre-literacy skills for children learning one language. Mathematics skills and science knowledge also predict later mathematics, science, and reading achievement. What has not been studied is the extent to which rich science and mathematics experiences in preschool lead to better mathematics and science readiness and improved language skills for preschool DLLs. Because the preschool teaching force is not prepared to support STEM learning or to provide effective supports for DLLs, professional development to improve knowledge and practice in these areas is required before children's learning outcomes can be improved.

SciMath-DLL is an innovative preschool professional development (PD) model that integrates supports for DLLs with high quality science and mathematics instructional offerings. It engages teachers with workshops, classroom-based coaching, and professional learning communities. Development and research activities incorporate cycles of design-expert review-enactment- analysis-redesign; collaboration between researcher-educator teams at all project stages; use of multiple kinds of data and data sources to establish claims; and more traditional, experimental methodologies. Based on initial evidence of promise, the SciMath-DLL project will expand PD offerings to include web-based materials, making the PD more flexible for use in a range of educational settings and training circumstances. An efficacy study will be completed to examine the potential of the SciMath-DLL resources, model, and tools to generate positive effects on teacher attitudes, knowledge, and practice for early mathematics and science and on children's readiness in these domains in settings that serve children learning two languages. By creating a suite of tools that can be used under differing educational circumstances to improve professional knowledge, skill, and practice around STEM, the project increases the number of teachers who are prepared to support children as STEM learners and, thus, the number of children who can be supported as STEM learners.

Reclaiming Access to Inquiry-based Science Education (RAISE) for Incarcerated Students

This project will develop a Universal Design for Learning, project-based inquiry science program that includes virtual learning environments, virtual laboratories, and digital scaffolds and supports that promote scientific learning for incarcerated youth.

Award Number: 
1418152
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

This project is unique in targeting arguably the most vulnerable learners in the American education system: youth confined in juvenile corrections facilities. Three primary problems confronting science education in these settings are: (1) inadequate curriculum and resources; (2) inadequately prepared and supported teachers; and (3) a heterogeneous group of learners, many of whom have disabilities, are disengaged, and/or lack reading and mathematics skills. Failure to address these challenges and the broader educational needs of incarcerated juveniles has broad implications for society, so this project is timely and has high potential for broad impacts.

To address these problems project personnel will employ an iterative development process to develop a curriculum designed to increase access to and mastery of science content, concepts, and inquiry skills critical for careers in the 21st Century STEM workforce. They will then prepare teachers to implement the program in pilot testing in juvenile corrections facilities in Massachusetts. Specifically, the investigators will: (1) align and adapt an existing biology curriculum using Common Core State Standards and Universal Design for Learning principles; (2) develop all materials, digital supports and scaffolds, virtual learning environments and labs, assessments, and teacher professional development materials for one curriculum unit; (3) conduct usability evaluation of all materials and use the results to refine and finalize two curriculum units; (4) prepare teachers to implement the biology program in juvenile corrections education settings; (5) conduct a quasi-experimental study to examine the impacts of the biology program on the content knowledge and inquiry skills of students, their interests, and their levels of engagement; and, (6) disseminate the findings to various constituency groups. The final product will be a Universal Design for Learning, project-based inquiry science program that includes virtual learning environments, virtual laboratories, and digital scaffolds and supports that promote scientific learning for incarcerated youth.

Promoting Active Learning Strategies in Biology (PALS)

This project examines the potential of two research-based and college-tested active learning strategies in high school classrooms: Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) and Peer Instruction by adapting the strategies for implementation in biology classes, with the goal of determining which strategy shows the most promise for increasing student achievement and attitudes toward science.

Award Number: 
1417735
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

The use of active learning strategies has long been advocated in the sciences, but high school science instruction remains highly didactic across the country. This project addresses this longstanding concern by examining the potential of two research-based and college-tested learning strategies in high school classrooms: Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) and Peer Instruction. The POGIL strategy was developed initially for chemistry classes, and Peer Instruction was developed within physics classes. These two learning strategies will be adapted for implementation in biology classes, with the goal of determining which strategy shows the most promise for increasing student achievement and attitudes toward science. The project will also study the influence of these instructional strategies on teacher beliefs about active learning and the contributions of these beliefs on student success in biology. Creation of the professional development model and materials for this project bring together high school biology teachers, university biology faculty, and science education specialists.

The project will conduct design and development research to iteratively develop the instructional materials through a collaboration of high school teachers and college faculty members experienced in using the instructional approaches being compared. Adaptation of the learning strategies for use in biology was chosen because biology is the science course most often taught across schools in the country, and it is required for graduation in the state where this project is being conducted. To compare the outcomes of the two instructional approaches, 42 teacher pairs will be randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: POGIL, Peer Instruction, or traditional instruction. Outcomes of the instructional approaches will be measured in terms of conceptual gains among teachers and students, attitudes toward science, personal agency beliefs, and instructional implementation fidelity.

Knowledge Assets to Support the Science Instruction of Elementary Teachers (ASSET)

This project will address two obstacles that hinder elementary science instruction: (1) a lack of content-specific teaching knowledge (e.g., research on effective topic-specific instructional strategies); and (2) the knowledge that does exist is often not organized for use by teachers in their lesson planning and instruction. The project will collect existing empirical literature for two science topics and synthesize it with an often-overlooked resource -- practice-based knowledge. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1417838
Funding Period: 
Tue, 07/01/2014 to Fri, 06/30/2017
Full Description: 

This project will address two obstacles that hinder elementary science instruction: (1) a lack of content-specific teaching knowledge (e.g., research on effective topic-specific instructional strategies); and (2) the knowledge that does exist is often not organized for use by teachers in their lesson planning and instruction. The problem is particularly acute at the elementary level, where many teachers have limited science background and many have not taught science before. The project will collect existing empirical literature for two science topics and synthesize it with an often-overlooked resource -- practice-based knowledge. The resulting knowledge resources will be made available to teachers on a website. The resource will support elementary teachers as they plan for science instruction, and to enable them to productively adapt their own science materials to improve student learning. The project will work with teachers in high minority schools.

The project will contribute to a developing theory of Collective Pedagogical Content Knowledge (C-PCK) which includes the research literature, practitioner literature and collective wisdom of practice. The researchers will seek to understand how C-PCK can be made more useful for teachers. The research questions are: (1) What are the strengths and weaknesses of the knowledge collection and synthesis method? (2) What factors must be taken into account in applying the knowledge collection and synthesis method across science topics? (3) What affordances and limitations does the web-based resource present for teachers primarily, and for teacher educators and instructional materials developers? (4) How does access to content-specific teaching knowledge affect teachers' planning and instruction? Content-specific teaching knowledge will be collected through literature reviews (for empirical knowledge) and a series of iterative, on-line expert panels (to gather practice-based knowledge). The two sources of knowledge will be synthesized for each of the science topics and organized in a web-based resource for teachers. A group of pilot teachers will use the resource as they plan for and teach a unit of instruction on the science topics. Project researchers will observe their instruction and interview the teachers to look for evidence of the resource facilitating their instruction. In addition, researchers will administer assessments to teachers and their students to gauge changes on content knowledge that might be attributable to the resource. Teacher feedback will be used to modify the web-based resource and maximize its usability.

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