Teacher Content Knowledge

Survey of U.S. Middle School Mathematics Teachers and Teaching

This descriptive study will systematically track key instructional indicators in middle school mathematics classrooms, specifically, teachers' mathematical knowledge, the curriculum in place, and the nature of mathematics instruction offered to students. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1417731
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

For the past 25 years, three major goals have animated U.S. educational policy: developing more knowledgeable teachers, implementing more challenging curricula, and fostering more ambitious instruction in classrooms. Yet despite volumes of policy guidance, on-the-ground effort, and research over the past decades, few comprehensive and representative portraits of teacher and teaching quality in U.S. classrooms exist. Instead, most research into these topics has been conducted with small or nonrepresentative samples, with the result that it is difficult to ascertain what, if any, progress has been made toward the three goals. Unlike student achievement, which the National Assessment of Educational Progress has tracked for almost 50 years, the classroom experiences of the typical U.S. student remain obscure.

To address this issue, the 4-year descriptive study will begin by systematically tracking key instructional indicators in middle school mathematics classrooms, specifically, teachers' mathematical knowledge, the curriculum in place, and the nature of mathematics instruction offered to students. To initiate this line of research, the research team will collect data in 2015 from a national representative sample of 600 U.S. middle school mathematics teachers. A written survey will build on one conducted in 2005-06, allowing for the comparison over time of teachers' curriculum use and mathematical knowledge. The research team will also record and score videos of instruction from a subset of these teachers, enabling both a description of current instruction and a comparison to lessons captured during the 1999 TIMSS video study. Both the survey and video datasets can serve as referents for future studies of instruction, for instance, studies investigating whether student participation in the development of mathematical ideas has changed over time. The research team will use both old and new technologies to complete the study. The mail survey will consist of existing items that tap teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching, or the professional knowledge teachers draw upon in providing mathematics instruction to children. To conduct the video study, they will mail tablets for teachers to record their own instruction, and guidance on taping will be provided via YouTube video. The lessons that result will be scored using the Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI) instrument. The MQI measures key dimensions of mathematics classrooms, including the proportion of class time spent on mathematical tasks, the mathematical integrity of lesson content, and the nature of student participation in the development of mathematical ideas. Video and data from the survey will be made available to other researchers for scoring with other methods and observation instruments. Teachers, parents and students will be asked to consent to their classroom videos being made available. The study is largely descriptive, as are many others of its kind. However, describing the range of U.S. instruction can have a profound effect on the field, much as the TIMSS video studies did over a decade ago. Establishing methodologies for studying teachers and teaching at scale will contribute to efforts to evaluate and monitor progress toward broad-reaching national goals.

Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG): Factors that Support Racial and Ethnic Minority Students’ Success in Low-Income Middle Schools

Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG) designs and implements curriculum aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and uses school gardens as learning contexts in grade 6 (2014-2015), grade 7 (2015-2016) and grade 8 (2016-2017) in two low-income urban schools. The project investigates the extent to which SciLG activities predict students’ STEM identity, motivation, learning, and grades in science using a theoretical model of motivational development.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418270
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG) will use school gardens as the context for learning at two low-income middle schools with predominantly racial and ethnic minority students in Portland, Oregon. There are thousands of gardens flourishing across the country that are underutilized as contexts for active engagement in the middle grades. School gardens provide important cultural contexts while addressing environmental and food issues. SciLG will bring underrepresented youth into gardens at a critical time in their intellectual development to broaden the factors that support motivation to pursue STEM careers and educational pathways. The project will adapt, organize, and align two disparate sets of existing resources into the project curriculum: 6th grade science curriculum resources, and garden-based lessons and units. The curriculum will be directly aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 

The project will use a design-based research approach to refine instruction and formative assessment, and to investigate factors for student success in science proficiency and their motivational engagement in relation to the garden curriculum. The curriculum will be pilot-tested during the first year of the project in five sixth-grade classes with 240 students in Portland Public Schools. Students will be followed longitudinally in grades 7 and 8 in years 2 and 3 respectively, as curricular integration continues. The research team will support participating teachers each year in using their schools' gardens, and study how this context can serve as an effective pedagogical strategy for NGSS-aligned science curriculum. Academic learning will be measured by assessments of student progress towards the end of middle-school goals defined by NGSS. Motivation will be measured by a validated motivational engagement instrument. SciLG results along with the motivational engagement instrument will be disseminated widely through a variety of professional networks to stimulate implementation nationwide.

Promoting Active Learning Strategies in Biology (PALS)

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

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

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

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

Professional Development Models and Outcomes for Science Teachers (PDMOST)

The investigators propose to characterize the multitude of approaches currently employed in the professional development of K-12 teachers of science, and to measure the effectiveness of such approaches in increasing teacher knowledge in the sciences. The project will result in a website, conference presentations, and scholarly and professional publications.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1417438
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

The investigators propose to characterize the multitude of approaches currently employed in the professional development of K-12 teachers of science, and to measure the effectiveness of such approaches in increasing teacher knowledge in the sciences. The project will study 150 professional development programs for teachers of science in grades K-12. The sample will cover grade bands K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. Subject matter will include life science (biology), physical science (physics, chemistry), earth and space science. Such programs are funded through competitive federal grants for local implementation (by universities, museums, schools, and others), by state and local governments, by private institutions, and conducted by many federal agencies. To date, there has not been a national inventory and study of the effectiveness of teacher professional development programs in science, using common outcome measures of teacher instructional practice. If successful, the findings from this research will allow professional development providers and policymakers to design more effective teacher professional development programs and should provide a national landscape of teacher professional development in science.

In specific, the researchers will focus on assessing gains in teachers' subject matter knowledge and knowledge of student misconceptions, and will correlate these with professional development program design features. Teachers of students from underrepresented groups will be oversampled to ensure special analyses for this group are possible. Hierarchical linear modeling will be used in analyzing the results. The project will result in a website, conference presentations, and scholarly and professional publications.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Improving Science Teachers' Knowledge through PD

Presenter(s): Susan Sunbury, Cynthia Crockett, & Jacqueline Doyle


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

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

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

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

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

GRIDS: Graphing Research on Inquiry with Data in Science

The Graphing Research on Inquiry with Data in Science (GRIDS) project will investigate strategies to improve middle school students' science learning by focusing on student ability to interpret and use graphs. GRIDS will undertake a comprehensive program to address the need for improved graph comprehension. The project will create, study, and disseminate technology-based assessments, technologies that aid graph interpretation, instructional designs, professional development, and learning materials.

Award Number: 
1418423
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Graphing Research on Inquiry with Data in Science (GRIDS) project is a four-year full design and development proposal, addressing the learning strand, submitted to the DR K-12 program at the NSF. GRIDS will investigate strategies to improve middle school students' science learning by focusing on student ability to interpret and use graphs. In middle school math, students typically graph only linear functions and rarely encounter features used in science, such as units, scientific notation, non-integer values, noise, cycles, and exponentials. Science teachers rarely teach about the graph features needed in science, so students are left to learn science without recourse to what is inarguably a key tool in learning and doing science. GRIDS will undertake a comprehensive program to address the need for improved graph comprehension. The project will create, study, and disseminate technology-based assessments, technologies that aid graph interpretation, instructional designs, professional development, and learning materials.

GRIDS will start by developing the GRIDS Graphing Inventory (GGI), an online, research-based measure of graphing skills that are relevant to middle school science. The project will address gaps revealed by the GGI by designing instructional activities that feature powerful digital technologies including automated guidance based on analysis of student generated graphs and student writing about graphs. These materials will be tested in classroom comparison studies using the GGI to assess both annual and longitudinal progress. Approximately 30 teachers selected from 10 public middle schools will participate in the project, along with approximately 4,000 students in their classrooms. A series of design studies will be conducted to create and test ten units of study and associated assessments, and a minimum of 30 comparison studies will be conducted to optimize instructional strategies. The comparison studies will include a minimum of 5 experiments per term, each with 6 teachers and their 600-800 students. The project will develop supports for teachers to guide students to use graphs and science knowledge to deepen understanding, and to develop agency and identity as science learners.

From Elementary Generalist to Mathematics Specialist: Examining Teacher Practice and Student Outcomes in Departmental and Self-Contained Models

This research investigates student mathematics learning outcomes at the elementary level in relation to teacher expertise (elementary teachers with math specialist certification versus generally prepared elementary teachers) and school organization (departmentalized versus self-contained mathematics classrooms). Findings will provide evidence of the impact of content-specific teacher expertise and a departmentalized school organizational model that offers students access to well-qualified teachers of mathematics with no additional staffing costs.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1414438
Funding Period: 
Fri, 08/01/2014 to Tue, 07/31/2018
Full Description: 

This research investigates student mathematics learning outcomes at the elementary level in relation to teacher expertise (elementary teachers with math specialist certification versus generally prepared elementary teachers) and school organization (departmentalized versus self-contained mathematics classrooms). University of Missouri researchers will organize and facilitate the research in multiple Missouri public and private school sites. Findings will provide evidence of the impact of content-specific teacher expertise and a departmentalized school organizational model that offers students access to well-qualified teachers of mathematics with no additional staffing costs. To investigate the impact of teacher expertise and school organization on student learning experimental, quasi-experimental, and qualitative designs are employed. Specifically, 80 teachers who have earned state certification as Elementary Mathematics Specialists (hereafter, "EMS teachers") will be selected to participate in the study. Employing a randomized experimental design, half of the EMS teachers will be assigned to teach in a departmental model (Condition 1) in their school, teaching two or more sections of grade 4 mathematics. The other half will remain in generalist (hereafter, self-contained) positions (Condition 2) in their school, teaching all regular subjects to a single class of students. A comparison group of 40 non-EMS teachers with self-contained teaching assignments (Condition 3) will be selected from the same schools in Condition 2. The Smarter Balanced assessment will provide a baseline measure of students' prior achievement in grade 3 and also a measure of the mathematics achievement of grade 4 students taught by the 120 teachers in the study. The project team will analyze student-level mathematics scores linked with specific teachers.

Improving student achievement in mathematics at the elementary level is particularly challenging due to the way elementary students are generally organized for instruction (e.g., one teacher responsible for teaching all subjects to 25-30 students). Because elementary teachers must be knowledgeable about many content areas, they rarely study mathematics in depth, even though there is a growing body of evidence showing the impact of specialized mathematical knowledge for teaching on student learning outcomes. This study carefully researches an alternative model, where elementary teachers with special training in mathematics teaching and learning are assigned more than one single class of students for mathematics instruction. Findings from the research will provide evidence about the impact of both certification as an elementary mathematics specialist and teaching in a departmental assignment on student learning. The results will help school and district leaders better plan for assignment of staff to provide all students with access to high quality mathematics instruction.

Focus on Energy: Preparing Elementary Teachers to Meet the NGSS Challenge (Collaborative Research: Seeley)

This project will develop and investigate the opportunities and limitations of Focus on Energy, a professional development (PD) system for elementary teachers (grades 3-5). The PD will contain: resources that will help teachers to interpret, evaluate and cultivate students' ideas about energy; classroom activities to help them to identify, track and represent energy forms and flows; and supports to help them in engaging students in these activities.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418211
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) identify an ambitious progression for learning energy, beginning in elementary school. To help the nation's teachers address this challenge, this project will develop and investigate the opportunities and limitations of Focus on Energy, a professional development (PD) system for elementary teachers (grades 3-5). The PD will contain: resources that will help teachers to interpret, evaluate and cultivate students' ideas about energy; classroom activities to help them to identify, track and represent energy forms and flows; and supports to help them in engaging students in these activities. Teachers will receive the science and pedagogical content knowledge they need to teach about energy in a crosscutting way across all their science curricula; students will be intellectually engaged in the practice of developing, testing, and revising a model of energy they can use to describe phenomena both in school and in their everyday lives; and formative assessment will guide the moment-by-moment advancement of students' ideas about energy.

This project will develop and test a scalable model of PD that will enhance the ability of in-service early elementary teachers to help students learn energy concepts by coordinating formative assessment, face-to-face and web-based PD activities. Researchers will develop and iteratively refine tools to assess both teacher and student energy reasoning strategies. The goals of the project include (1) teachers' increased facility with, and disciplined application of, representations and energy reasoning to make sense of everyday phenomena in terms of energy; (2) teachers' increased ability to interpret student representations and ideas about energy to make instructional decisions; and (3) students' improved use of representations and energy reasoning to develop and refine models that describe energy forms and flows associated with everyday phenomena. The web-based product will contain: a set of formative assessments to help teachers to interpret student ideas about energy based on the Facets model; a series of classroom tested activities to introduce the Energy Tracking Lens (method to explore energy concept using multiple representations); and videos of classroom exemplars as well as scientists thinking out loud while using the Energy Tracking Lens. The project will refine the existing PD and build a system that supports online implementation by constructing a facilitator's guide so that the online community can run with one facilitator.

EarSketch: An Authentic, Studio-based STEAM Approach to High School Computing Education

This project will study the influence on positive student achievement and engagement (particularly among populations traditionally under-represented in computer science) of an intervention that integrates a computational music remixing tool -EarSketch- with the Computer Science Principles, a view of computing literacy that is emerging as a new standard for Advanced Placement and other high school computer science courses.

Award Number: 
1417835
Funding Period: 
Fri, 08/01/2014 to Tue, 07/31/2018
Project Evaluator: 
Mary Moriarity
Full Description: 

This project will study the influence on positive student achievement and engagement (particularly among populations traditionally under-represented in computer science) of an intervention that integrates a computational music remixing tool -EarSketch- with the Computer Science Principles, a view of computing literacy that is emerging as a new standard for Advanced Placement and other high school computer science courses. The project is grounded on the premise that EarSketch, a STEM + Art (STEAM) learning environment, embodies authenticity (i.e., its cultural and industry relevance in both arts and STEM domains), along with a context that facilitates communication and collaboration among students (i.e., through a studio-based learning approach). These elements are critical to achieving successful outcomes across diverse student populations. Using agent-based modeling, the research team will investigate what factors enhance or impede implementation of authentic STEAM tools in different school settings.

The researchers will be engaged in a multi-stage process to develop: a) an implementation-ready, web-based EarSketch learning environment that integrates programming, digital audio workstation, curriculum, audio loop library, and social sharing features, along with studio-based learning functionality to support student presentation, critique, discussion, and collaboration; and b) an online professional learning course for teachers adopting EarSketch in Computer Science Principles courses. Using these resources, the team will conduct a quasi-experimental study of EarSketch in Computer Science Principles high school courses across the state of Georgia; measure student learning and engagement across multiple demographic categories; and determine to what extent an EarSketch-based CS Principles course promotes student achievement and engagement across different student populations. The project will include measures of student performance, creativity, collaboration, and communication in student programming tasks to determine the extent to which studio-based learning in EarSketch promotes success in these important areas. An agent-based modeling framework in multiple school settings will be developed to determine what factors enhance or impede implementation of EarSketch under conditions of routine practice.

Driven to Discover: Citizen Science Inspires Classroom Investigation

This project utilizes existing citizen science programs as springboards for professional development for teachers during an intensive summer workshop. The project curriculum helps teachers use student participation in citizen science to engage them in the full complement of science practices; from asking questions, to conducting independent research, to sharing findings.

Award Number: 
1417777
Funding Period: 
Wed, 10/01/2014 to Sun, 09/30/2018
Full Description: 

Citizen science refers to partnerships between volunteers and scientists that answer real world questions. The target audiences in this project are middle and high school teachers and their students in a broad range of settings: two urban districts, an inner-ring suburb, and three rural districts. The project utilizes existing citizen science programs as springboards for professional development for teachers during an intensive summer workshop. The project curriculum helps teachers use student participation in citizen science to engage them in the full complement of science practices; from asking questions, to conducting independent research, to sharing findings. Through district professional learning communities (PLCs), teachers work with district and project staff to support and demonstrate project implementation. As students and their teachers engage in project activities, the project team is addressing two key research questions: 1) What is the nature of instructional practices that promote student engagement in the process of science?, and 2) How does this engagement influence student learning, with special attention to the benefits of engaging in research presentations in public, high profile venues? Key contributions of the project are stronger connections between a) ecology-based citizen science programs, STEM curriculum, and students' lives and b) science learning and disciplinary literacy in reading, writing and math.

Research design and analysis are focused on understanding how professional development that involves citizen science and independent investigations influences teachers' classroom practices and student learning. The research utilizes existing instruments to investigate teachers' classroom practices, and student engagement and cognitive activity: the Collaboratives for Excellence in Teacher Preparation and Classroom Observation Protocol, and Inquiring into Science Instruction Observation Protocol. These instruments are used in classroom observations of a stratified sample of classes whose students represent the diversity of the participating districts. Curriculum resources for each citizen science topic, cross-referenced to disciplinary content and practices of the NGSS, include 1) a bibliography (books, web links, relevant research articles); 2) lesson plans and student science journals addressing relevant science content and background on the project; and 3) short videos that help teachers introduce the projects and anchor a digital library to facilitate dissemination. Impacts beyond both the timeframe of the project and the approximately 160 teachers who will participate are supported by curriculum units that address NGSS life science topics, and wide dissemination of these materials in a variety of venues. The evaluation focuses on outcomes of and satisfaction with the summer workshop, classroom incorporation, PLCs, and student learning. It provides formative and summative findings based on qualitative and quantitative instruments, which, like those used for the research, have well-documented reliability and validity. These include the Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument to assess teacher beliefs; the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol to assess teacher practices; the Standards Assessment Inventory to assess PLC quality; and the Scientific Attitude Inventory to assess student attitudes towards science. Project deliverables include 1) curriculum resources that will support engagement in five existing citizen science projects that incorporate standards-based science content; 2) venues for student research presentations that can be duplicated in other settings; and 3) a compilation of teacher-adapted primary scientific research articles that will provide a model for promoting disciplinary literacy. The project engages 40 teachers per year and their students.

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