Teacher Content Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Transforming Engineering Education for Middle School (TEEMS)

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


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

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

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

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

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


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Transforming Engineering Education for Middle School (TEEMS)

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


Investigating Impact of Different Types of Professional Development on What Aspects Mathematics Teachers Take Up and Use in Their Classroom

This project will study the design and development of PD that supports teacher development and student learning, and provide accumulation of evidence to inform teacher educators, administrators, teachers, and policymakers of factors associated with successful PD experiences and variation across teachers and types of PDs.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1813439
Funding Period: 
Sun, 07/01/2018 to Wed, 06/30/2021
Full Description: 

Professional development is a critical way in which teachers who are currently in classrooms learn about changes in mathematics teaching and learning and improve their practice. Little is known about what types of professional development (PD) support teachers' improved practice and student learning. However, federal, state, and local governments spend resources on helping teachers improve their teaching practice and students' learning. PD programs vary in their intent and can fall on a continuum from highly adaptive, with great latitude in the implementation, to highly specified, with little ability to adapt the program during implementation. The project will study the design and development of PD that supports teacher development and student learning, and provide accumulation of evidence to inform teacher educators, administrators, teachers, and policymakers of factors associated with successful PD experiences and variation across teachers and types of PDs. The impact study will expand on the evidence of promise from four 2015 National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded projects - two adaptive, two specified - to provide evidence of the impact of the projects on teachers' instructional practice over time. Although the four projects are different in terms of structure and design elements, they all share the goal to support challenging mathematics content, practice standards, and differentiation techniques to support culturally and linguistically diverse, underrepresented populations. Understanding the nature of the professional development including structure and design elements, and unpacking what teachers take up and use in their instructional practice potentially has widespread use to support student learning in diverse contexts, especially those serving disadvantaged and underrepresented student populations.

This study will examine teachers' uptake of mathematics content, pedagogy and materials from different types of professional development in order to understand and unpack the factors that are associated with what teachers take up and use two-three years beyond their original PD experience: Two specified 1) An Efficacy Study of the Learning and Teaching Geometry PD Materials: Examining Impact and Context-Based Adaptations (Jennifer Jacobs, Karen Koellner & Nanette Seago), 2) Visual Access to Mathematics: Professional Development for Teachers of English Learners (Mark Driscoll, Johanna Nikula, & Pamela Buffington), two adaptive: 3) Refining a Model with Tools to Develop Math PD Leaders: An Implementation Study (Hilda Borko & Janet Carlson), 4), TRUmath and Lesson Study: Supporting Fundamental and Sustainable Improvement in High School Mathematics Teaching (Suzanne Donovan, Phil Tucher, & Catherine Lewis). The project will utilize a multi-case method which centers on a common focus of what content, pedagogy and materials teachers take up from PD experiences. Using a specified sampling procedure, the project will select 8 teachers from each of the four PD projects to serve as case study teachers. Subsequently, the project will conduct a cross case analysis focusing on variation among and between teachers and different types of PD. The research questions that guide the project's impact study are: RQ1: What is the nature of what teachers take up and use after participating in professional development workshops? RQ2: What factors influence what teachers take up and use and in what ways? RQ3: How does a professional development's position on the specified-adaptive continuum affect what teachers take up and use?

Developing and Validating Assessments to Measure and Build Elementary Teachers' Content Knowledge for Teaching about Matter and Its Interactions within Teacher Education Settings (Collaborative Research: Hanuscin)

The fundamental purpose of this project is to examine and gather initial validity evidence for assessments designed to measure and build kindergarten-fifth grade science teachers' content knowledge for teaching (CKT) about matter and its interactions in teacher education settings.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1814275
Funding Period: 
Sun, 07/01/2018 to Thu, 06/30/2022
Full Description: 

This is an Early-Stage Design and Development collaborative effort submitted to the assessment strand of the Discovery Research PreK-12 (DRK-12) Program. Its fundamental purpose is to examine and gather initial validity evidence for assessments designed to measure and build kindergarten-fifth grade science teachers' content knowledge for teaching (CKT) about matter and its interactions in teacher education settings. The selection of this topic will facilitate the development of a proof-of-concept to determine if and how CKT assessments can be developed and used to measure and build elementary teachers' CKT. Also, it will facilitate rapid and targeted refinement of an evidence-centered design process that could be applied to other science topics. Plans are to integrate CKT assessments and related resources into teacher education courses to support the ability of teachers to apply their content knowledge to the work of teaching and learning science. The project will combine efforts from prior projects and engage in foundational research to examine the nature of teachers' CKT and to build theories and hypotheses about the productive use and design of CKT assessment materials to support formative and summative uses. Likewise, the project will create a set of descriptive cases highlighting the use of these tools. Understanding how CKT science assessments can be leveraged as summative tools to evaluate current efforts, and as formative tools to build elementary teachers' specialized, practice-based knowledge will be the central foci of this effort.

The main research questions will be: (1) What is the nature of elementary science teachers' CKT about matter and its interactions?; and (2) How can the development of prospective elementary teachers' CKT be supported within teacher education? To address the research questions, the study will employ a mixed-methods, design-based research approach to gather various sources of validity evidence to support the formative and summative use of the CKT instrument, instructional tasks, and supporting materials. The project will be organized around two main research and development strands. Strand One will build an empirically grounded understanding of the nature of elementary teachers' CKT. Strand Two will focus on developing and studying how CKT instructional tasks can be used formatively within teacher education settings to build elementary teachers' CKT. In addition, the project will refine a conceptual framework that identifies the science-specific teaching practices that comprise the work of teaching science. This will be used as well to assess the CKT that teachers leverage when recognizing, understanding, and responding to the content-intensive practices that they engage in as they teach science. To that end, the study will build on two existing frameworks from prior NSF-funded work. The first was originally developed to create CKT assessments for elementary and middle school teachers in English Language Arts and mathematics. The second focuses on the content challenges that novice elementary science teachers face. It is organized by the instructional tools and practices that elementary science teachers use, such as scientific models and explanations. These instructional practices cut across those addressed in the Next Generation Science Standards' (NGSS; Lead States, 2013) disciplinary strands. The main project's outcomes will be knowledge that builds and refines theories about the nature of elementary teachers' CKT, and how CKT elementary science assessment materials can be designed productively for formative and summative purposes. The project will also result in the development of a suite of valid and reliable assessments that afford interpretations on CKT matter proficiency and can be used to monitor elementary teachers learning. An external advisory board will provide formative and summative feedback on the project's activities and progress.

Project MAPLE: Makerspaces Promoting Learning and Engagement

The project plans to develop and study a series of metacognitive strategies that support learning and engagement for struggling middle school students during makerspace experiences. The study will focus narrowly on establishing a foundational understanding of how to ameliorate barriers to engaging in design learning through the use of metacognitive strategies.

Award Number: 
1721236
Funding Period: 
Fri, 09/01/2017 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

The project plans to develop and study a series of metacognitive strategies that support learning and engagement for struggling middle school students during makerspace experiences. The makerspace movement has gained recognition and momentum, which has resulted in many schools integrating makerspace technologies and related curricular practices into the classroom. The study will focus narrowly on establishing a foundational understanding of how to ameliorate barriers to engaging in design learning through the use of metacognitive strategies. The project plans to translate and apply research on the use of metacognitive strategies in supporting struggling learners to develop approaches that teachers can implement to increase opportunities for students who are the most difficult to reach academically. Project strategies, curricula, and other resources will be disseminated through existing outreach websites, research briefs, peer-reviewed publications for researchers and practitioners, and a webinar for those interested in middle-school makerspaces for diverse learners.

The research will address the paucity of studies to inform practitioners about what pedagogical supports help struggling learners engage in these makerspace experiences. The project will focus on two populations of struggling learners in middle schools, students with learning disabilities, and students at risk for academic failure. The rationale for focusing on metacognition within makerspace activities comes from the literature on students with learning disabilities and other struggling learners that suggests that they have difficulty with metacognitive thinking. Multiple instruments will be used to measure metacognitive processes found to be pertinent within the research process. The project will tentatively focus on persistence (attitudes about making), iteration (productive struggle) and intentionality (plan with incremental steps). The work will result in an evidence base around new instructional practices for middle school students who are struggling learners so that they can experience more success during maker learning experiences.

Integrating Chemistry and Earth Science

This project will design, develop, and test a new curriculum unit for high school chemistry courses that is organized around the question, "How does chemistry shape where I live?" The new unit will integrate relevant Earth science data, scientific practices, and key urban environmental research findings with the chemistry curriculum to gain insights into factors that support the approach to teaching and learning advocated by current science curriculum standards.

Award Number: 
1721163
Funding Period: 
Tue, 08/15/2017 to Wed, 07/31/2019
Full Description: 

This Integrating Chemistry and Earth science (ICE) project will design, develop, and test a new curriculum unit for high school chemistry courses that is organized around the question, "How does chemistry shape where I live?" The new unit will integrate relevant Earth science data, scientific practices, and key urban environmental research findings with the chemistry curriculum to gain insights into factors that support the approach to teaching and learning advocated by current science curriculum standards. The overarching goal of the project is to develop teacher capacity to teach and evaluate student abilities to use the practices of scientists and concepts from Earth science and chemistry to understand important phenomena in their immediate, familiar environments. The project has the potential to serve as a model for how to make cutting edge science directly accessible to all students. The project is a collaborative effort that engages scientists, science education researchers, curriculum developers, school curriculum and instruction leaders, and science teachers in the longer term challenge of infusing Earth science concepts and practices across the core high school science courses.

Current guidelines and standards for science education promote learning that engages students in three interrelated dimensions: disciplinary core ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting ideas. This project is guided by the hypothesis that when provided sustained opportunities to engage in three-dimensional learning experiences, in an integrated Earth science and chemistry context, students will improve in their ability to demonstrate the coordination of disciplinary core ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting concepts when solving problems and developing explanations related to scientific phenomena. This project will employ a design based research approach, and during the two development-enactment-analysis-and-redesign cycles, the project team will collect student assessment data, teacher interview data, observational data from lessons, teacher surveys, and reflective teacher logbooks. These collected data will provide information about how teachers implement the lessons, what students do during the lessons, and what students learn from them that will lead to better design and a better understanding of student learning. This information will be used to inform the modification of lessons from cycle to cycle, and to inform the professional development materials for teachers. The research agenda for the project is guided by the following questions: 1. What are the design features of ICE lessons that support teachers in enacting three-dimensional instruction within the context of their classroom? 2. What are the design features of embedded three-dimensional assessments that yield useful classroom data for teachers and researchers regarding their students' abilities to integrate core ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting concepts? 3. What is the nature of student learning related to disciplinary core ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting concepts that results from students' engagement in ICE lesson sets? 4. What differences emerge in student engagement and learning outcomes for ICE lessons that incorporate local phenomena or data sets as compared to lessons that do not? 5. What contextual factors (i.e., school context, administrative support, time constraints, etc.) influence teachers' implementation of three-dimensional instruction embedded within ICE lessons?


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Integrating Chemistry and Earth Science (ICE)

Presenter(s): Alan Berkowitz, Vonceil Anderson, Bess Caplan, Kevin Garner, & Jonathon Grooms


Mathematical Learning via Architectural Design and Modeling Using E-Rebuild

This project will explore the learning of mathematics through architectural tasks in an online simulation game, E-Rebuild. In the game-based architectural simulation, students will be able to complete tasks such as building and constructing structures while using mathematics and problem solving. The project will examine how to collect data about students' learning from data generated as they play the game, how students learn mathematics using the simulation, and how the simulation can be included in middle school mathematics learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1720533
Funding Period: 
Tue, 08/01/2017 to Sat, 07/31/2021
Full Description: 

This project will explore the learning of mathematics through architectural tasks in an online simulation game, E-Rebuild. There is a need to connect mathematics to real world contexts and problems. In the game-based architectural simulation, students will be able to complete tasks such as building and constructing structures while using mathematics and problem solving. The learning platform will be flexible so teachers can customize tasks for their students. The project will examine how to collect data about students' learning from data generated as they play the game. The project will explore how students learn mathematics using the simulation and how the simulation can be included in middle school mathematics learning.

The project includes two major research questions. First, how will the design of a scalable game-based, design-centered learning platform promote coordination and application of math representation for problem solving? Second, how and under what implementation circumstances will using a scalable architectural game-based learning platform improve students multi-stranded mathematical proficiency (i.e., understanding, problem solving and positive disposition)? A key feature of the project is stealth-assessment or data collected and logged as students use the architectural simulation activities that can be used to understand their mathematics learning. The project uses a design-based research approach to gather data from students and teachers that will inform the design of the learning environment. The qualitative and quantitative data will also be used to understand what students are learning as they play the game and how teachers are interacting with their students. The project will include a mixed methods study to compare classrooms using the architectural activities to classrooms that are using typical activities.

The Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching Measures: Refreshing the Item Pool

This project proposes an assessment study that focuses on improving existing measures of teachers' Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching (MKT). The research team will update existing measures, adding new items and aligning the instrument to new standards in school mathematics.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1620914
Funding Period: 
Thu, 12/01/2016 to Sat, 11/30/2019
Full Description: 

This project proposes an assessment study that focuses on improving existing measures of teachers' Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching (MKT). The research team will update existing measures, adding new items and aligning the instrument to new standards in school mathematics. In addition, the team will update the delivery system for the assessment to Qualtrics, a more flexible online system.

The research team will build an updated measure of teachers' Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching (MKT). Project researchers will conduct item writing camps, develop new items, cognitively pilot and revise items, and factor analyze items. The researchers will also determine item constructs and calibrate items (and constructs) through an innovative application of Item Response Theory (IRT) employing a variant of the standard 2-parameter IRT model. Finally, the team will oversee the transition of the Teacher Knowledge Assessment System to the Qualtrics data collection environment to allow for more flexible item specification.

Culturally Responsive Indigenous Science: Connecting Land, Language, and Culture

This Culturally Responsive Indigenous Science project seeks to advance this knowledge base through research and by catalyzing new approaches to Indigenous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (ISTEM) learning. Using an ISTEM focused model, the project will develop, test, and implement a culturally responsive land-based curriculum that integrates Western science, multimodal technologies and digital tools, and Native American tribal knowledge, cultures and languages to investigate and address local environmental science and sustainability concerns.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1720931
Funding Period: 
Fri, 09/01/2017 to Tue, 08/31/2021
Full Description: 

The intersection between Indigenous and Western science continues to be of great importance to K-12 science education, particularly with regards to broadening participation in STEM. With over five hundred federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States, there is much to learn and understand. This Culturally Responsive Indigenous Science project seeks to advance this knowledge base through research and by catalyzing new approaches to Indigenous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (ISTEM) learning. Using an ISTEM focused model, the project will develop, test, and implement a culturally responsive land-based curriculum that integrates Western science, multimodal technologies and digital tools, and Native American tribal knowledge, cultures and languages to investigate and address local environmental science and sustainability concerns. While Indigenous STEM teaching and learning as constructs have existed for many years, the rigorous research design and extensive integration of multimodal technologies as platforms for scientific inquiry, data management, knowledge dissemination and curation are innovative and timely. Few, if any, Design and Development projects in the current DRK-12 portfolio explore similar work. Therefore, the broader impacts of this project are poised to not only contribute to the DRK-12 portfolio but also advance knowledge in Indigenous STEM education and science education, more broadly.

Over a three year period, hundreds of Native American students (grades 4-9) in tribal schools located in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho will engage in the project. Each year, approximately 60-80 students (grades 7-9), with some returning students, will also participate in enrichment activities and in years 1-3, in the residential summer experience at Washington State University. A qualitative, quasi-experimental design-based study will be conducted to address three salient research questions: (a) What are the impacts of culturally responsive and land education-based ISTEM curriculum and technology on Native American student engagement, efficacy and achievement in school? (b) What types of professional development activities foster teacher efficacy and improve teacher learning and teaching of ISTEM in classrooms? and (c) How can ISTEM foster greater family and community engagement in schools and in Tribal Communities? Data will be collected through interviews, surveys, and or questionnaires from participating students, teachers, and Tribal members. Consistent with Indigenous methodologies, focus group interviews (talking circles) will also be facilitated after ISTEM community expositions and engagement activities to capture community impacts. Formative and summative evaluations will be conducted by the Learning and Performance Research Center (LPRC) at Washington State University, an independent entity of the University with extensive expertise in project evaluation. A broad range of dissemination activities will be employed to achieve maximum impacts, including the use of the Plateau People's Web Portal, a digital tool designed to help Native communities to manage, circulate, and curate their digital materials using their own cultural protocols, language and social systems. This regional collaboration includes partnerships with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Oregon), Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Washington), and the Coeur D'Alene Tribe (Idaho).

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