Biology

Multiple Instrumental Case Studies of Inclusive STEM-Focused High Schools: Opportunity Structures for Preparation and Inspiration (OSPrl)

The aim of this project is to examine opportunity structures provided to students by inclusive STEM-focused high schools, with an emphasis on studying schools that serve students from underrepresented groups. The project is studying inclusive STEM-focused high schools across the United States to determine what defines them. The research team initially identified ten candidate critical components that define STEM-focused high schools and is refining and further clarifying the critical components through the research study.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1118851
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Mon, 08/31/2015
Full Description: 

The aim of this project is to examine opportunity structures provided to students by inclusive STEM-focused high schools, with an emphasis on studying schools that serve students from underrepresented groups. In contrast to highly selective STEM-focused schools that target students who are already identified as gifted and talented in STEM, inclusive STEM-focused high schools aim to develop new sources of STEM talent, particularly among underrepresented minority students, to improve workforce development and prepare STEM professionals. A new NRC report, Successful K-12 STEM Education (2011), identifies areas in which research on STEM-focused schools is most needed. The NRC report points out the importance of providing opportunities for groups that are underrepresented in the sciences, especially Blacks, Hispanics, and low-income students who disproportionately fall out of the high-achieving group in K-12 education. This project responds specifically to the call for research in the NRC report and provides systematic data to define and clarify the nature of such schools. 

The project is studying inclusive STEM-focused high schools across the United States to determine what defines them. The research team initially identified ten candidate critical components that define STEM-focused high schools and is refining and further clarifying the critical components through the research study. The first phase of the study is focusing on 12 well-established and carefully planned schools with good reputations and strong community and business support, in order to capture the critical components as intended and implemented. Case studies of these high-functioning schools and a cross-case analysis using a set of instruments for gauging STEM design and implementation are contributing toward building a theory of action for such schools that can be applied more generally to STEM education. The second phase of the study involves selecting four school models for further study, focusing on student-level experiences and comparing student outcomes against comprehensive schools in the same district. Research questions being studied include: 1) Is there a core set of likely critical components shared by well-established, promising inclusive STEM-focused high schools? Do other components emerge from the study? 2) How are the critical components implemented in each school? 3) What are the contextual affordances and constraints that influence schools' designs, their implementation, and student outcomes? 4) How do student STEM outcomes in these schools compare with school district and state averages? 5) How do four promising such schools compare with matched comprehensive high schools within their respective school districts, and how are the critical components displayed? 6) From the points of view of students underrepresented in STEM fields, how do education experiences at the schools and their matched counterparts compare? And 7) How do student outcomes compare?

The research uses a multiple instrumental case study design in order to describe and compare similar phenomena. Schools as critical cases are being selected through a nomination process by experts, followed by screening and categorization according to key design dimensions. Data sources include school documents and public database information; a survey, followed by telephone interviews that probe for elaborated information, to provide a systematic overview of the candidate components; on-site visitations to each school provide data on classroom observations at the schools; interviews with students, teachers and administrators in focus groups; and discussions with critical members of the school community that provide unique opportunities to learn such as mentors, business leaders, and members of higher education community that provide outside of school learning experiences. The project is also gathering data on a variety of school-level student outcome indicators, and is tracking the likely STEM course trajectories for students, graduation rates, and college admission rates for students in the inclusive STEM-focused schools, as compared to other schools in the same jurisdiction. Analysis of the first phase of the study aims to develop rich descriptions that showcase characteristics of the schools, using axial and open coding, to determine a theory of action that illustrates interconnections among context, design, implementation, and outcome elements. Analysis of the second phase of the study involves similar processes on four levels: school, student, databases, and a synthesis of the three. Evaluation of the project consists of an internal advisory board and an external advisory board, both of which provide primarily formative feedback on research procedures.

Research findings, as well as case studies, records of instrument and rubric development and use, annual reports, and conference proposals and papers are being provided on a website, in order to provide an immediate and ongoing resource for education leaders, researchers and policymakers to learn about research on these schools and particular models. An effort is also being made to give voice to the experiences of high school students from the four pairs of high schools studied in the second phase of the study. Findings are also being disseminated by more traditional means, such as papers in peer-reviewed journals and conference presentations.

Leveling Up: Supporting and Measuring High School STEM Knowledge Building in Social Digital Games

This project designs, develops and tests a digital gaming environment for high school students that fosters and measures science learning within alternate reality games about saving Earth's ecosystems. Players work together to solve scientific challenges using a broad range of tools including a centralized web-based gaming site and social networking tools, along with handheld smart-phones, and an avatar-based massively multiplayer online environment. The game requires players to contribute to a scientific knowledge building community.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1119144
Funding Period: 
Fri, 07/01/2011 to Mon, 06/30/2014
Project Evaluator: 
New Knowledge Organization
Full Description: 

This project designs, develops and tests a digital gaming environment for high school students that fosters and measures science learning within alternate reality games about saving Earth's ecosystems. Players work together to solve scientific challenges using a broad range of tools including a centralized web-based gaming site and social networking tools, along with handheld smart-phones, and an avatar-based massively multiplayer online environment (MMO). EdGE at TERC joins with GameGurus, high school teachers and assessment specialists to develop Leveling Up. The game requires players to contribute to a scientific knowledge building community; and players rate each other's contributions for their value to the communities' learning and decision-making in solving the challenge. Designers also work with high-school teachers to develop bridge activities that leverage science learning in games for use in formal education. Overall, the project goal is to understand the potential of the gaming environment as a direct intervention and as a catalyst to transform and measure high school STEM learning.

The research on Leveling Up compares the science learning measured within social digital games to class-based assessments of similar content and skills and explains the results using data from design documents, participant observations, surveys, interviews and student work. Formative research and iterative design with a cohort of with 15 testbed classes (grades 10-12) result in a set of assessments that have been validated in terms of scientific constructs and a set of common equivalent curriculum and assessments for implementation studies. In the third year of the project, researchers study 12 treatment classes and 3 control classes to compare students' advancement in the game to their gains on classroom assessments. In addition, half of the testbed classes use the classroom bridge activities and half do not, yielding samples of 180 students for each treatment and 90 students for the control sample. Researchers use multilevel models to examine the impact of the Leveling Up game play and bridge activities on high-school students' science knowledge. Independent evaluators (ILI) validate the interpretation of findings from the formative and implementation research.

Leveling Up is a fundamental first step for the STEM education field to understand how the pervasive social media emerging in today's society, including the phenomena of social digital gaming, can be leveraged to create exciting and productive STEM learning environments for the future. These technologies and knowledge building processes are critical for building a workforce of tomorrow that is scientifically, technologically, and data literate and also embody the inquiry and collaboration skills to contribute to productive and informed decisions about Earth's ecosystems and other important scientific and societal issues of our times. The project, Leveling Up, results in an ongoing STEM gaming environment for the public as well as a model for high school STEM assessment that may be used in other social digital games. Finally, Leveling Up also contributes a model for activities that bridge scientific inquiry occurring in social digital games with skills and content taught in high school STEM classes.

Taking Foundation Science to Scale—Digitally: Transforming a Print Curriculum into an Innovative Learning Tool for Commercial Distribution

This project provides a model of how existing, tested digital enhancements can increase student learning. Increasing the quality of science education requires careful coupling of effective, research-based curricula with innovative digital features that deepen and enhance science learning and teaching. This RAPID is to ensure that the content and pedagogical expertise is present during the development of the digital version of Foundation science.

Award Number: 
1119736
Funding Period: 
Fri, 04/01/2011 to Sun, 03/31/2013
Full Description: 

The print version of Foundation Science, a comprehensive high school science curriculum, has been extensively field tested and shown to be effective in increasing student learning and changing teacher practice. Carolina Biological Supply is scheduled to publish a digital version of Biology and Chemistry portions of Foundation Science that goes well beyond the conversion of print text to digital delivery by September 2012. Many digital enhancements have been developed and tested in the biology unit of Foundation Science, which was used as a model to develop a system to incorporate Universal Design for learning features in materials development and in on-line professional development for cross-over teachers. Some of the digital resources include a digital book reader; a notebook in which notes can take various forms such as text, drawing, voice recording; separate unscored assessments; an interactive glossary; graphing capabilities and an online research tool.

Thus this project provides a model of how existing, tested digital enhancements can increase student learning. Increasing the quality of science education requires careful coupling of effective, research-based curricula with innovative digital features that deepen and enhance science learning and teaching. This RAPID is to ensure that the content and pedagogical expertise is present during the development of the digital version of Foundation science.

Continuous Learning and Automated Scoring in Science (CLASS)

This five-year project investigates how to provide continuous assessment and feedback to guide students' understanding during science inquiry-learning experiences, as well as detailed guidance to teachers and administrators through a technology-enhanced system. The assessment system integrates validated automated scorings for students' written responses to open-ended assessment items into the "Web-based Inquiry Science Environment" (WISE) program.

Award Number: 
1119670
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Mon, 08/31/2015
Full Description: 

This five-year project investigates how to provide continuous assessment and feedback to guide students' understanding during science inquiry-learning experiences, as well as detailed guidance to teachers and administrators through a technology-enhanced system. The assessment system integrates validated automated scorings for students' written responses to open-ended assessment items (i.e., short essays, science narratives, concept mapping, graphing problems, and virtual experiments) into the "Web-based Inquiry Science Environment" (WISE) program. WISE is an online science-inquiry curricula that supports deep understanding through visualization of processes not directly observable, virtual experiments, graphing results, collaboration, and response to prompts for explanations. In partnership with Educational Testing Services (ETS), project goals are: (1) to develop five automated inquiry assessment activities that capture students' abilities to integrate their ideas and form coherent scientific arguments; (2) to customize WISE by incorporating automated scores; (3) to investigate how students' systematic feedback based on these scores improve their learning outcomes; and (4) to design professional development resources to help teachers use scores to improve classroom instruction, and administrators to make better informed decisions about teacher professional development and inquiry instruction. The project targets general science (life, physical, and earth) in three northern California school districts, five middle schools serving over 4,000 6th-8th grade students with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and 29 science teachers. It contributes to increase opportunities for students to improve their science achievement, and for teachers and administrators to make efficient, evidence-based decisions about high-quality teaching and learning.

A key research question guides this effort: How automated scoring of inquiry assessments can increase success for diverse students, improve teachers' instructional practices, and inform administrators' decisions about professional development, inquiry instruction, and assessment? To develop science inquiry assessment activities, scoring written responses include semantic, syntax, and structure of meaning analyses, as well as calibration of human-scored items with a computer-scoring system through the c-rater--an ETS-developed cyber learning technology. Validity studies are conducted to compare automated scores with human-scored items, teacher, district, and state scores, including sensitivity to the diverse student population. To customize the WISE curriculum, the project modifies 12 existing units and develops nine new modules. To design adaptive feedback to students, comparative studies explore options for adaptive guidance and test alternatives based on automated scores employing linear models to compare student performance across randomly assigned guidance conditions; controlling for covariates, such as prior science scores, gender, and language; and grouping comparison studies. To design teacher professional development, synthesis reports on auto-scored data are created to enable them to use evidence to guide curricular decisions, and comments' analysis to improve feedback quality. Workshops, classroom observations, and interviews are conducted to measure longitudinal teachers' change over time. To empower administrators' decision making, special data reports, using-evidence activities, individual interviews, and observation of administrators' meetings are conducted. An advisory board charged with project evaluation addresses both formative and summative aspects.

A research-informed model to improve science teaching and learning at the middle school level through cyber-enabled assessment is the main outcome of this effort. A total of 21 new, one- to three-week duration standards-based science units, each with four or more automatically scored items, serve as prototypes to improve students' performance, teachers' instructional approaches, and administrators' school policies and practices.

Expanding and Sustaining Understanding Evolution

This project will (1) identify the characteristics and needs of college-level target learners and their instructors with respect to evolution, (2) articulate the components for expanding the Understanding Evolution (UE) site to include an Undergraduate Lounge in which students and instructors will be able to access a variety of evolution resources, (3) develop a strategic plan for increasing awareness of UE, and (4) develop a strategic plan for maintenance and continued growth of the site.

Award Number: 
0841757
Funding Period: 
Wed, 10/15/2008 to Thu, 09/30/2010
Full Description: 

The University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) will bring together an experienced group of evolution educators in order to inform the development and maintenance of an effective resource for improving evolution education at the college level. This effort falls under the umbrella of UCMP's highly successful Understanding Evolution (UE) project (http://evolution.berkeley.edu), which currently receives over one million page requests per month during the school year. UE was originally designed around the needs of the K-12 education community; however, increasingly, the site is being used by the undergraduate education community. UCMP intends to embark on an effort to enhance the utility of the UE site for that population, increase awareness of the site at the college level, and secure the project's future so that it can continue to serve K-16 teachers and students. To inform and guide these efforts, UCMP proposes to establish and convene a UE Advisory Board, which will be charged with helping to: (1) identify the characteristics and needs of college-level target learners and their instructors with respect to evolution, (2) articulate the recommended components for expanding the UE site to include an Undergraduate Lounge in which students and their instructors will be able to access a variety of resources for increasing understanding of evolution, (3) develop a strategic plan for increasing awareness of UE within the undergraduate education community, and (4) develop a strategic plan for maintenance and continued growth of the UE site.

Modeling Engineered Levers for the 21st Century Teaching of STEM (Collaborative Research: Schunn)

This project will develop three replacement units for biology and refine them through classroom testing. The units will be models of STEM integration by using the important concepts of proportional reasoning and algebraic thinking and engineering re-design to address big ideas in science while also promoting the learning of 21st century skills. The materials will be educative for teachers, and the teacher materials and professional development methods will work at scale and distance.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1027629
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Sun, 08/31/2014
Project Evaluator: 
Bill Bickel
Full Description: 

Research in biology has become increasingly mathematical, but high school courses in biology use little mathematics. To address this concern, this project will develop three replacement units for biology and refine them through classroom testing. The units will be models of STEM integration by using the important concepts of proportional reasoning and algebraic thinking and engineering re-design to address big ideas in science while also promoting the learning of 21st century skills. The materials build on existing work on the use of model eliciting activities and focus science and technology instruction on high-stakes weaknesses in mathematics and science. They address the scaling issue as part of the core design work by developing small units of curriculum that can be applied by early adopters in each context. The materials will undergo many rounds of testing and revision in the early design process with at least ten teachers each time. The materials will be educative for teachers, and the teacher materials and professional development methods will work at scale and distance.

Learning of science content will be measured through the use of existing instruments in wide use. Existing scales of task values, achievement goals and interest are used to measure student motivation. The work performed is guided by a content team; a scaling materials team; a scaling research team; the PI team of a cognitive scientist, a robotics educator, and a mathematics educator specializing in educational reform at scale; and the summative evaluation team lead by an external evaluator.

There is great interest in understanding whether integrated STEM education can interest more students in STEM disciplines. The focus on mathematics integrated with engineering in the context of a science topic is interesting and novel and could contribute to our understanding of integrating mathematics, engineering and science. The development team includes a cognitive scientist, a mathematics educator, teachers and scientists. The issues and challenges of interdisciplinary instruction will be investigated.

Supporting Scientific Practices in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms

This project will develop a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020316
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Full Description: 

Research on student learning has developed separate progressions for scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling. Engaging Learners in Scientific Practices develops a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus. The learning progression is constructed through improvements in students' performance and understanding of scientific practice as measured by their attention to generality of explanation, attention to clarity of communication and audience understanding, attention to evidentiary support, and attention to mechanistic versus descriptive accounts. The project is led by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Texas, Wright State University, Michigan State University, and the BEAR assessment group. Two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 4th to 5th grade in Illinois and two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 5th to 6th grade in Michigan The elementary school students will work with FOSS curriculum units modified to embed supports for scientific practices. Two cohorts of 500 middle school students are followed for three years from 6th to 8th grade as they work with coordinated IQWST units over three years. The outcome measures include analyses of classroom discourse, pre- and pos-test assessments of student learning, and reflective interviews grounded in students' own experiences with practices in the classroom to assess their growth across the dimensions. The BEAR team is responsible for validation and calibration of the frameworks and instruments, and design of the scheme for analysis of the data. Horizon Research performs the formative and summative evaluation. The project will produce an empirically-tested learning progression for scientific practices for grades 4-8 along with tested curriculum materials and validated assessment items that support and measure students' ability in the scientific practices of explanation, argumentation and modeling. In the process of development, an understanding is gained about how to design and test this learning progression. The framework is articulated on a website for use by other researchers and developers. The project also builds capacity by educating several graduate students.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Science Storylines

Presenter(s): Brian Reiser, Kelsey Edwards, Barbara Hug, Tara McGill, Jamie Noll, Michael Novak, Bill Penuel, Trey Smith, & Aliza Zivic


Life on Earth: Biodiversity and Evolution

This project will develop an online curriculum module for high school biology. It has three main goals: 1) Demonstrate how a story like malaria can integrate the teaching of multiple science topics and facilitate the diffusion of biodiversity and evolution across curriculum; 2) Model for students how to think like a scientist and show science as worthy of career consideration; and 3) Provide versatile multimedia as an alternative to textbook-centered instruction.

Award Number: 
1005460
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Wed, 08/31/2011
Full Description: 

This project will develop an online curriculum module for high school biology. The module is intended to be a major component of the larger Life on Earth (LOE) online textbook project being prepared by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. LOE is the cornerstone educational project of the foundation, conceived to lead the way into a new era of science learning in which versatile multimedia resources, available online, will replace bound textbooks as the principal tool of instructional support. In addition to be being more engaging, flexible, and cost-effective compared to textbooks, LOE is intended to bring a coherence often lacking in online resources. The approach is potentially transformative in offering a comprehensive and superior alternative to printed textbooks, while also providing features to help improve the way that science is taught, using a thoroughly interdisciplinary approach tied to cutting-edge scientific research. A nagging problem with the use of online materials is the sometimes inconsistent and seemingly haphazard nature of resources obtained from myriad places. For LOE, coherence will be achieved through careful consideration of how teachers and students actually use online resources, combined with the talents of a team of award-winning scientists, media developers, and educators. Careful attention to teachers' classroom, standards and curricular needs should facilitate wide adoption and dissemination.

This project will develop a pilot series of high school lessons with three main goals: 1) Demonstrate how a compelling multidimensional story like malaria can be used to integrate the teaching of multiple science topics and facilitate the diffusion of biodiversity and evolution across the life sciences curriculum; 2) Model for students how to think like a scientist and show science as an active enterprise, essential to a good education and worthy of career consideration; and 3) Provide versatile multimedia as an alternative to textbook-centered instruction that can better support a broad range of learning styles as promoted, for example, by the proponents of Universal Design for Learning. To achieve these goals, the LOE team will produce test materials and design a prototype website, as well as build a network of partnerships that includes teachers, scientists, scientist-educators and key organizations with similar goals and complementary interests.

Signing High School Science

This project integrates American Sign Language (ASL) into the life and physical sciences content of 9th-12th grade deaf or hard-of-hearing students. Project partners incorporate the use of the assistive technology in order to develop, research, and disseminate two interactive 3D dictionaries: Signing Life Science Dictionary (SLSD), and Signing Physical Science Dictionary (SPSD) with audio modes and approximately 750 standards-based terms in English and Spanish text that can be signed or listened to on demand.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1019542
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Full Description: 

With this project, TERC and Vcom3D are using the SigningAvatar® assistive technology to research, develop, and disseminate two illustrated interactive 3D dictionaries. Each dictionary will have an audio mode and will include at least 750 standards-based terms in English and Spanish text that can be signed or listened to on demand. One dictionary will be a Signing Life Science Dictionary (SLSD); one will be a Signing Physical Science Dictionary (SPSD). To begin to establish effectiveness, the partners will investigate two research questions: 1) What kinds of learning gains in life science are possible with use of the SLSD? 2) What kinds of learning gains in physical science are possible with use of the SPSD? Extrapolating from the findings from their Signing Science Dictionary (SSD), the partners’ hypotheses are that with the SLSD and SPSD, students will have assistive tools that help them 1) increase their ability to sign, understand, and use the languages of life and physical science; 2) improve their science content knowledge; 3) increase their ability to study each content area independently. An external evaluator will conduct a formative and summative project evaluation. Dissemination at the end of the 48-month project, together with a Signing Earth Science Dictionary (SESD) under development, will offer students who are deaf or hard of hearing increased access to the same learning opportunities in science that hearing students enjoy—opportunities that they can build on beyond high school and that may lead to careers in STEM. Additionally, new terms in English and Spanish will be added to Vcom3D’s sign lexicon and will be available for development of signed science materials.

Cyber-Enabled Learning: Digital Natives in Integrated Scientific Inquiry Classrooms (Collaborative Research: Wang)

This project investigated the professional development needed to make teachers comfortable teaching with multi-user simulations and communications that students use every day. The enactment with OpenSim (an open source, modular, expandable platform used to create simulated 3D spaces with customizable terrain, weather and physics) also provides an opportunity to demonstrate the level of planning and preparation that go into fashioning modules with all selected cyber-enabled cognitive tools framed by constructivism, such as GoogleEarth and Biologica.

Award Number: 
1020091
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Wed, 08/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
HRI
Full Description: 

There is an increasing gap between the assumptions governing the use of cyber-enabled resources in schools and the realities of their use by students in out of school settings. The potential of information and communications technologies (ICT) as cognitive tools for engaging students in scientific inquiry and enhancing teacher learning is explored. A comprehensive professional development program of over 240 hours, along with follow-up is used to determine how teachers can be supported to use ICT tools effectively in classroom instruction to create meaningful learning experiences for students, reducing the gap between formal and informal learning and improve student learning outcomes. In the first year, six teachers from school districts - two in Utah and one in New York - are educated to become teacher leaders and advisors. Then three cohorts of 30 teachers matched by characteristics are provided professional development and field test units over two years in a delayed-treatment design. Biologists from Utah State University and New York College of Technology develop four modules that meet the science standards for both states - the first being changes in the environment. Teachers are guided to develop additional modules. The key technological resource to be used in the project is the Opensimulator 3D application Server (OpenSim), an open source, modular, expandable platform used to create simulated 3D spaces with customizable terrain, weather and physics. 

The research methodology includes the use of the classroom observations using RTOP and Technology Use in Science Instruction (TUSI), selected interviews of teachers and students and validated assessments of student learning. Evaluation, by an external evaluator, assesses the quality of the professional development and the quality of the cyber-enabled learning resources, as well as reviews the research design and implementation. An Advisory Board will monitor the project. 

The project is to determine the professional development needed to make teachers comfortable teaching with multi-user simulations and communications that students use everyday. The enactment with OpenSim also provides an opportunity to demonstrate the level of planning and preparation that go into fashioning modules with all selected cyber-enabled cognitive tools framed by constructivism, such as GoogleEarth and Biologica.

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