Computer Science

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.

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.

The Challenge of Interdisciplinary Education: Math-Bio

This project continues research and development work on high school instructional materials that integrate biology, computing, and mathematics. The project goal is to develop and test a one-semester high school course. The course consists of some modules developed under a previous NSF grant as well as some new material. Intended deliverables include up to five new instructional modules and a coherent one-semester course suitable for the increasing state requirements for a fourth year of mathematics.

Project Email: 
Award Number: 
1020166
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/15/2010 to Sun, 08/31/2014
Project Evaluator: 
Len Albright at CSU
Full Description: 

Developers and researchers at Rutgers University, Boston University, Colorado State University, and the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP) are continuing research and development work on high school instructional materials that integrate biology, computing, and mathematics. The project goal is to develop and test a one-semester high school course. The course consists of some modules developed under a previous NSF grant as well as some new material.

COMAP leads the effort to develop the instructional materials and the process involves mathematicians, biologists, computer scientists, teachers, and writers. The materials are pilot- and field-tested in a number of schools and revised after each test. Subject matter experts review the materials for accuracy and teachers and education professionals review them for their usability. Researchers at Colorado State University collect and analyze data on student learning and interest at all stages of the pilot- and field-testing.

The intended deliverables include up to five new instructional modules and a coherent one-semester course suitable for the increasing state requirements for a fourth year of mathematics. The course is supported by a book in print and electronic format and includes teacher training support tools and activities to prepare teachers to present interdisciplinary bio-mathematics material.

The Value of Computational Thinking Across Grade Levels

This project is developing and testing a set of 12 curriculum modules designed to engage high school students and their teachers in the process of applying computational concepts and methods to problem solving in a variety of scientific contexts. The project perspective is that computational thinking can be usefully thought of as a specialized form of mathematical modeling.

Project Email: 
Award Number: 
1020201
Funding Period: 
Thu, 07/01/2010 to Mon, 06/30/2014
Project Evaluator: 
Len Albright and Andrea Weinberg at CSU
Full Description: 

The Value of Computational Thinking (VCT) project combines the talents and resources of STEM professionals at the Rutgers University DIMACS Center, the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP), Colorado State University, Hobart and William Smith College, the Computer Science Teachers Association, and five partner school districts to develop and test a set of 12 curriculum modules designed to engage high school students and their teachers in the process of applying computational concepts and methods to problem solving in a variety of scientific contexts. The project perspective is that computational thinking can be usefully thought of as a specialized form of mathematical modeling. The product of computational thinking in a particular domain is a model of a situation, a structuring and representation of the situation, that enables computations to be performed to answer questions, solve problems, control processes, predict consequences, or enhance understanding.

Since computational thinking is a relatively new construct in STEM and STEM education, there are few available curriculum materials to support instruction intended to develop the understanding, habits of mind, and specific techniques that are involved. The fundamental goal of the VCT project is to answer an engineering research question: "What kinds of instructional materials and learning experiences will develop effective computational thinking skills and attitudes?" The VCT project is applying a design research process involving iterative phases of development, pilot testing, and revision to produce prototype instructional materials that will be useful as stand-alone curriculum modules or when collected into different packages to support full high school courses. Project field test evaluation will provide preliminary evidence about the efficacy of the materials in developing desired student learning.

Proponents of computational thinking in STEM and STEM education have argued that it offers a powerful general approach to problem solving in discipline-specific and inter-disciplinary settings. They also argue that, when properly taught, it can provide an effective introduction and attraction to careers in computer science and other computing-intensive fields. Thus the VCT project has a long-term goal of broadening participation in computer science and related technology fields. Materials are being designed with special features to enhance their effectiveness in reaching this objective.

INK-12: Teaching and Learning Using Interactive Ink Inscriptions in K-12 (Collaborative Research: Rubin)

This is a continuing research project that supports (1) creation of what are termed "ink inscriptions"--handwritten sketches, graphs, maps, notes, etc. made on a computer using a pen-based interface, and (2) in-class communication of ink inscriptions via a set of connected wireless tablet computers. The primary products are substantiated research findings on the use of tablet computers, inscriptions, and networks in 4th/5th grade classrooms as well as models for teacher education and use.
Award Number: 
1019841
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Sun, 08/31/2014
Project Evaluator: 
David Reider
Full Description: 

The research project continues a collaboration between MIT's Center for Educational Computing Initiatives and TERC focusing on the enhancement of K-12 STEM math and science education by means of technology that supports (1) creation of what are termed "ink inscriptions"--handwritten sketches, graphs, maps, notes, etc. made on a computer using a pen-based interface, and (2) in-class communication of ink inscriptions via a set of connected wireless tablet computers. The project builds on the PIs' prior work, which demonstrated that both teachers and students benefit from such technology because they can easily draw and write on a tablet screens, thus using representations not possible with only a typical keyboard and mouse; and they can easily send such ink inscriptions to one another via wireless connectivity. This communication provides teachers the opportunity to view all the students' work and make decisions about which to share anonymously on a public classroom screen or on every student's screen in order to support discussion in a "conversation-based" classroom. Artificial intelligence methods are used to analyze ink inscriptions in order to facilitate selection and discussion of student work.

The project is a series of design experiments beginning with the software that emerged from earlier exploratory work. The PIs conduct two cycles of experiments to examine how tablets affect students learning in 4th and 5th grade mathematics and science. The project research questions and methods focus on systematic monitoring of teachers' and students' responses to the innovation in order to inform the development process. The PIs collect data on teachers' and students' use of the technology and on student learning outcomes and use those data as empirical evidence about the promise of the technology for improving STEM education in K-12 schools. An external evaluator uses parallel data collection, conducting many of the same research activities as the core team and independently providing analysis to be correlated with other data. His involvement is continuous and provides formative evaluation reports to the project through conferences, site visits, and conference calls.

The primary products are substantiated research findings on the use of tablet computers, inscriptions, and networks in 4th and 5 grade classrooms. In addition the PIs develop models for teacher education and use, and demonstrate the utility of artificial intelligence techniques in facilitating use of the technology. With the addition of Malden Public Schools to the list of participating districts, which includes Cambridge Public Schools and Waltham Public Schools from earlier work, the project expands the field test sites to up 20 schools' classrooms.

Integrating Computing Across the Curriculum (ICAC): Incorporating Technology into STEM Education Using XO Laptops

This project builds and tests applications tied to the school curriculum that integrate the sciences with mathematics, computational thinking, reading and writing in elementary schools. The investigative core of the project is to determine how to best integrate computing across the curriculum in such a way as to support STEM learning and lead more urban children to STEM career paths.

Project Email: 
Award Number: 
1404467
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2009 to Sun, 07/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Leslie Cooksy - Univ. of Delaware
Full Description: 

Computer access has opened an exciting new dimension for STEM education; however, if computers in the classroom are to realize their full potential as a tool for advancing STEM education, methods must be developed to allow them to serve as a bridge across the STEM disciplines. The goal of this 60-month multi-method, multi-disciplinary ICAC project is to develop and test a program to increase the number of students in the STEM pipeline by providing teachers and students with curricular training and skills to enhance STEM education in elementary schools. ICAC will be implemented in an urban and predominantly African American school system, since these schools traditionally lag behind in filling the STEM pipeline. Specifically, ICAC will increase computer proficiency (e.g., general usage and programming), science, and mathematics skills of teachers and 4th and 5th grade students, and inform parents about the opportunities available in STEM-centered careers for their children.

The Specific Aims of ICAC are to:

SA1. Conduct a formative assessment with teachers to determine the optimal intervention to ensure productive school, principal, teacher, and student participation.

SA2. Implement a structured intervention aimed at (1) teachers, (2) students, and (3) families that will enhance the students’ understanding of STEM fundamentals by incorporating laptops into an inquiry-based educational process.

SA3. Assess the effects of ICAC on:

a. Student STEM  engagement and performance.

b. Teacher and student computing specific confidence and utilization.

c. Student interest in technology and STEM careers.

d. Parents’ attitudes toward STEM careers and use of computers.

To enable us to complete the specific aims noted above, we have conducted a variety of project activities in Years 1-3. These include:

  1. Classroom observations at the two Year 1 pilot schools
  2. Project scaling to 6 schools in Year 2 and 10 schools in Year 3
  3. Semi-structured school administrator interviews in schools
  4. Professional development sessions for teachers
  5. Drafting of curriculum modules to be used in summer teacher institutes and for dissemination
  6. In-class demonstration of curriculum modules
  7. Scratch festivals each May
  8. Summer teacher institutes
  9. Student summer camps
  10. Surveying of teachers in summer institutes
  11. Surveying of teachers and students at the beginning and end of the school year
  12. Showcase event at end of student workshops

The specific ICAC activities for Years 2-5 include:

  • Professional development sessions (twice monthly for teachers), to integrate the ‘best practices’ from the program.
  • Working groups led by a grade-specific lead teacher. The lead teacher for each grade in each school will identify areas where assistance is needed and will gather the grade-specific cohort of teachers at their school once every two weeks for a meeting to discuss the progress made in addition to challenges to or successes in curricula development.  
  • ICAC staff and prior trained teachers will visit each class monthly during the year to assist the teachers and to evaluate specific challenges and opportunities for the use of XOs in that classroom.  
  • In class sessions at least once per month (most likely more often given feedback from Teacher Summer Institutes) to demonstrate lesson plans and assist teachers as they implement lesson plans.
  • ICAC staff will also hold a joint meeting of administrators of all target schools each year to assess program progress and challenges. 
  • Teacher Summer Institutes – scaled-up to teachers from the new schools each summer to provide training in how to incorporate computing into their curriculum.
  • Administrator sessions during the Teacher Summer Institutes; designed to provide insight into how the laptops can facilitate the education and comprehension of their students in all areas of the curriculum, discuss flexible models for physical classroom organization to facilitate student learning, and discussions related to how to optimize the use of computing to enhance STEM curricula in their schools.  Student Summer Computing Camps – designed to teach students computing concepts, make computing fun, and enhance their interest in STEM careers.  
  • ICAC will sponsor a yearly showcase event in Years 2-5 that provides opportunities for parents to learn more about technology skills their children are learning (e.g., career options in STEM areas, overview of ICAC, and summary of student projects). At this event, a yearly citywide competition among students also will be held that is an expanded version of the weeklong showcase event during the student summer camps.
  • Surveying of students twice a year in intervention schools.
  • Surveying of teachers at Summer Institutes and then at the end of the academic year.
  • Coding and entry of survey data; coding of interview and observational data.
  • Data analysis to examine the specific aims (SA) noted above:
    • The impact of ICAC on teacher computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b).
    • Assess the effects of (1) teacher XO training on student computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b), (2) training on changes in interest in STEM careers (SA 3.c), and (3) XO training on student engagement (SA 3.a).
    • A quasi-experimental comparison of intervention and non-intervention schools to assess intervention effects on student achievement (SA 3.a).
    • Survey of parents attending the yearly ICAC showcase to assess effects on parental attitudes toward STEM careers and computing (SA 3.d).

The proposed research has the potential for broad impact by leveraging technology in BCS to influence over 8,000 students in the Birmingham area. By targeting 4th and 5th grade students, we expect to impact STEM engagement and preparedness of students before they move into a critical educational and career decision-making process. Further, by bolstering student computer and STEM knowledge, ICAC will impart highly marketable skills that prepare them for the 81% of new jobs that are projected to be in computing and engineering in coming years (as predicted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics).3 Through its formative and summative assessment, ICAC will offer intellectual merit by providing teachers throughout the US with insights into how computers can be used to integrate the elementary STEM curriculum. ICAC will develop a model for using computers to enhance STEM education across the curriculum while instilling a culture among BCS schools where computing is viewed as a tool for learning.

(Previously listed under Award # 0918216)

Visualizing to Integrate Science Understanding for All Learners (VISUAL)

This project is exploring how curricula and assessment using dynamic, interactive scientific visualizations of complex phenomena can ensure that all students learn significant science content. Dynamic visualizations provide an alternative pathway for students to understand science concepts, which can be exploited to increase the accessibility of a range of important science concepts. Computer technologies offer unprecedented opportunities to design curricula and assessments using visual technologies and to explore them in research, teaching, and learning.

Award Number: 
0918743
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Paul Holland

Capacity Building in Computer Science

This exploratory project aims to develop a community of individuals and organizations working together to address critical issues in K-12 computer science education by broadening the awareness of the need for curriculum computer science standards, providing multiple levels of professional development, conducting and disseminating research in computer science education, and promoting this subject as a unique field of study in schools.

Award Number: 
0733379
Funding Period: 
Tue, 01/01/2008 to Thu, 12/31/2009

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