Educational Technology

Supporting Teachers in Responsive Instruction for Developing Expertise in Science (Collaborative Research: Riordan)

This project takes advantage of advanced technologies to support science teachers to rapidly respond to diverse student ideas in their classrooms. Students will use web-based curriculum units to engage with models, simulations, and virtual experiments to write multiple explanations for standards-based science topics. The project will also design planning tools for teachers that will make suggestions relevant research-proven instructional strategies based on the real-time analysis of student responses.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1812660
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Wed, 08/31/2022
Full Description: 

Many teachers want to adapt their instruction to meet student learning needs, yet lack the time to regularly assess and analyze students' developing understandings. The Supporting Teachers in Responsive Instruction for Developing Expertise in Science (STRIDES) project takes advantage of advanced technologies to support science teachers to rapidly respond to diverse student ideas in their classrooms. In this project students will use web-based curriculum units to engage with models, simulations, and virtual experiments to write multiple explanations for standards-based science topics. Advanced technologies (including natural language processing) will be used to assess students' written responses and summaries their science understanding in real-time. The project will also design planning tools for teachers that will make suggestions relevant research-proven instructional strategies based on the real-time analysis of student responses. Research will examine how teachers make use of the feedback and suggestions to customize their instruction. Further we will study how these instructional changes help students develop coherent understanding of complex science topics and ability to make sense of models and graphs. The findings will be used to refine the tools that analyze the student essays and generate the summaries; improve the research-based instructional suggestions in the planning tool; and strengthen the online interface for teachers. The tools will be incorporated into open-source, freely available online curriculum units. STRIDES will directly benefit up to 30 teachers and 24,000 students from diverse school settings over four years.

Leveraging advances in natural language processing methods, the project will analyze student written explanations to provide fine-grained summaries to teachers about strengths and weaknesses in student work. Based on the linguistic analysis and logs of student navigation, the project will then provide instructional customizations based on learning science research, and study how teachers use them to improve student progress. Researchers will annually conduct at least 10 design or comparison studies, each involving up to 6 teachers and 300-600 students per year. Insights from this research will be captured in automated scoring algorithms, empirically tested and refined customization activities, and data logging techniques that can be used by other research and curriculum design programs to enable teacher customization.

GeoHazard: Modeling Natural Hazards and Assessing Risks

This project will develop and test a new instructional approach that integrates a data analysis tool with Earth systems models in a suite of online curriculum modules for middle and high school Earth science students. The modules will facilitate development of rich conceptual understandings related to the system science of natural hazards and their impacts.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1812362
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Wed, 08/31/2022
Full Description: 

As human populations grow and spread into areas where extreme natural events impact lives, there is increasing need for innovative Earth science curriculum materials that help students interpret data and and understand the factors and risks associated with natural hazards. Studying the processes underlying these naturally occurring events and the relationships between humans and their environments would enrich the standard Earth science curriculum by providing students with valuable insights about the potential impacts of extreme natural events. This project will respond to that need by developing and testing a new instructional approach that integrates a data analysis tool with Earth systems models in a suite of online curriculum modules for middle and high school Earth science students. Each module will be designed as a sequence of activities lasting approximately 7-10 class periods. These will be stand-alone modules so each teacher can implement just one module or several modules. The modules will facilitate development of rich conceptual understandings related to the system science of natural hazards and their impacts. Students will develop scientific arguments that include risk assessment based on their understanding of real-world data and the particular Earth system being studied. The project will develop a set of computational models designed specifically to explore geoscience systems responsible for natural hazards. An open-source data analysis tool will also be modified for students to create and analyze visualizations of the magnitude, frequency, and distribution of real-world hazards and the impact of those hazards on people. Students will compare data generated from the Earth systems models with real-world data in order to develop an understanding of the cause and progression of natural hazards, as well as to make predictions and evaluate future risks.

The four-year, early stage design and development project will be conducted in two phases. In Phase 1, design-based research will be used to iteratively design and test Earth systems models. A team of five lead teachers will field test modules and provide focus group feedback during the development phase of the curricula. These lead teachers will provide input into the design and development of the tools, the organization and structure of the curriculum, and provide suggestions about classroom implementation to support the development of teacher support materials. After the models are developed, four curriculum modules related to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and wildfires will be developed, tested, and revised. In Phase 2, a group of 30 teachers will participate in implementation studies that will test usability of the modules across students from diverse backgrounds and feasibility of implementation across a range of classroom settings. Research will focus on understanding how to support student analysis of real-world datasets in order to improve their conceptual understanding of complex Earth systems associated with natural hazards. The project will also examine the role of uncertainty when students make scientific arguments that include predictions about the behaviors of complex systems and the uncertainties related to risk assessment. The project aims to clarify student views of uncertainty and how teachers can better support student understanding of the inherently uncertain nature of systems, models, and natural hazards, while understanding that models can be used to reduce impact. Questions guiding project research include: (1) How do students use flexible data visualizations to make sense of data and build and refine conceptual models about natural hazards? (2) How do students incorporate data from models and the real world in formulating scientific arguments; how do students use scientific uncertainty to assess risks based on their understanding of a natural hazard system; and how do students quantify and explain risks to humans and compare different sources of risks? And (3) Do GeoHazard curriculum modules help students make gains in risk-infused scientific argumentation practice and conceptual understanding underlying natural hazards? To what extent, for whom, and under what conditions is the GeoHazard curriculum useful in developing risk-infused scientific argumentation practice and conceptual understanding?

Engaging High School Students in Computer Science with Co-Creative Learning Companions (Collaborative Research: Magerko)

This research investigates how state-of-the-art creative and pedagogical agents can improve students' learning, attitudes, and engagement with computer science. The project will be conducted in high school classrooms using EarSketch, an online computer science learning environments that engages learners in making music with JavaScript or Python code.

Award Number: 
1814083
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/15/2018 to Wed, 08/31/2022
Full Description: 
This research investigates how state-of-the-art creative and pedagogical agents can improve students' learning, attitudes, and engagement with computer science. The project will be conducted in high school classrooms using EarSketch, an online computer science learning environments that engages over 160,000 learners worldwide in making music with JavaScript or Python code. The researchers will build the first co-creative learning companion, Cai, that will scaffold students with pedagogical strategies that include making use of learner code to illustrate abstraction and modularity, suggesting new code to scaffold new concepts, providing help and hints, and explaining its decisions. This work will directly address the national need to develop computing literacy as a core STEM skill.
 
The proposed work brings together an experienced interdisciplinary team to investigate the hypothesis that adding a co-creative learning companion to an expressive computer science learning environment will improve students' computer science learning (as measured by code sophistication and concept knowledge), positive attitudes towards computing (self-efficacy and motivation), and engagement (focused attention and involvement during learning). The iterative design and development of the co-creative learning companion will be based on studies of human collaboration in EarSketch classrooms, the findings in the co-creative literature and virtual agents research, and the researchers' observations of EarSketch use in classrooms. This work will address the following research questions: 1) What are the foundational pedagogical moves that a co-creative learning companion for expressive programming should perform?; 2) What educational strategies for a co-creative learning companion most effectively scaffold learning, favorable attitudes toward computing, and engagement?; and 3) In what ways does a co-creative learning companion in EarSketch increase computer science learning, engagement, and positive attitudes toward computer science when deployed within the sociocultural context of a high school classroom? The proposed research has the potential to transform our understanding of how to support student learning in and broaden participation through expressive computing environments.

Understanding the Role of Simulations in K-12 Science and Mathematics Teacher Education

This project will develop and implement a working conference for scholars and practitioners to articulate current use cases and theories of action regarding the use of simulations in PreK-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The conference will be structured to provide opportunities for attendees to share their current research, theoretical models, conceptual views, and use cases focused on the design and use of digital and non-digital simulations for building and assessing K-12 science and mathematics teacher competencies.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1813476
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

The recent emergence of updated learning standards in science and mathematics, coupled with increasingly diverse school students across the nation, has highlighted the importance of updating professional learning opportunities for science and mathematics teachers. One promising approach that has emerged is the use of simulations to engage teachers in approximations of practice where the focus is on helping them learn how to engage in ambitious content teaching. In particular, recent technological advances have supported the emergence of new kinds of digital simulations and have brought increased attention to simulations as a tool to enhance teacher learning. This project will develop and implement a working conference for scholars and practitioners to articulate current use cases and theories of action regarding the use of simulations in PreK-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The conference will be structured to provide opportunities for attendees to share their current research, theoretical models, conceptual views, and use cases focused on the design and use of digital and non-digital simulations for building and assessing K-12 science and mathematics teacher competencies.

While the use of simulations in teacher education is neither new nor limited to digital simulation, emerging technological capabilities have enabled digital simulations to become practical in ways not formerly available. The current literature base, however, is dated and the field lacks clear theoretic models or articulated theories of action regarding what teachers could or should learn via simulations, and the essential components of effective learning trajectories. This working conference will be structured to provide opportunities for attending, teacher educators, researchers, professional development facilitators, policy makers, preservice and inservice teachers, and school district leaders to share their current research, theoretical models, conceptual views, and use cases regarding the role of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The conference will be organized around four major goals, including: (1) Define how simulations (digital and non-digital) are conceptualized, operationalized, and utilized in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education; (2) Document and determine the challenges and affordances of the varied contexts, audiences, and purposes for which simulations are used in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education and the variety of investigation methods and research questions employed to investigate the use of simulations in these settings; (3) Make explicit the theories of action and conceptual views undergirding the various simulation models being used in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education; and (4) Determine implications of the current research and development work in this space and establish an agenda for studying the use of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The project will produce a white paper that presents the research and development agenda developed by the working conference, describes a series of use cases describing current and emergent practice, and identifies promising directions for future research and development in this area. Conference outcomes are expected to advance understanding of the varied ways in which digital and non-digital simulations can be used to foster and assess K-12 science and mathematics teacher competencies and initiate a research and development agenda for examining the role of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Understanding the Role of Simulations in Teacher Preparation

Presenter(s): Lisa Dieker, Angelica Fulchini Scruggs, Heather Howell, Michael Hynes, & Jamie Mikeska


Prospective Elementary Teachers Making for Mathematical Learning

This study takes an innovative approach to documenting how teacher knowledge can be enhanced by incorporating a design experience into pre-service mathematics education. Teachers will use digital and fabrication technologies (e.g., 3D printers and laser cutters) to design and use manipulatives for K-6 mathematics learning. The goals of the project include describing how this experience influences the prospective teachers' knowledge and identities while creating curriculum for teacher education.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1812887
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

What teachers know and believe is central to what they can do in classrooms. This study takes an innovative approach to documenting how teacher knowledge can be enhanced by incorporating a design experience into pre-service mathematics education. The study's participating prospective teachers will use digital and fabrication technologies (e.g., 3D printers and laser cutters) to design and use manipulatives for K-6 mathematics learning. The goals of the project include describing how this experience influences the prospective teachers' knowledge and identities while creating curriculum for teacher education. Also, because more schools and students have access to 3D fabrication capabilities, teacher education can utilize these capabilities to prepare teachers to take advantage of these resources. Prior research by the team demonstrated how the process of making a manipulative can support prospective teachers in learning about mathematics and how to teach elementary mathematics concepts. The project will generate resources for other elementary teacher education programs and research about how prospective elementary teachers learn mathematics for teaching.

The project includes three research questions. First, what forms of knowledge are brought to bear as prospective elementary teachers make new manipulatives and write corresponding tasks to support the teaching and learning of mathematics? Second, how does prospective elementary teachers' knowledge for teaching mathematics develop as they make new manipulatives and write tasks to support the teaching and learning of mathematics? Third, as prospective elementary teachers make new manipulatives and write tasks to support the teaching and learning of mathematics, how do they see themselves in relation to the making, the mathematics, and the mathematics teaching? The project will employ a design-based research methodology with cycles of design, enactment, analysis and redesign to create curriculum modules for teacher education focused on making mathematics manipulatives. Data collection will include video recording of class sessions, participant observation, field notes, artifacts from the participants' design of manipulatives, and assessments of mathematical knowledge for teaching. A qualitative analysis will use multiple frameworks from prior research on mathematics teacher knowledge and identity development.

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


Developing a Generalized Storyline that Organizes the Supports for Evidence-based Modeling of Long-Term Impacts of Disturbances in Complex Systems

This project will support students to develop evidence-based explanations for the impact of disturbances on complex systems.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1813802
Funding Period: 
Sun, 07/15/2018 to Thu, 06/30/2022
Full Description: 

This project will support students to develop evidence-based explanations for the impact of disturbances on complex systems. The project will focus on middle school environmental science disciplinary core ideas in life, Earth, and physical sciences. There are a wide variety of complex systems principles at work in disturbance ecology. This project serves as a starting point on supporting students to coordinate different sources of information to parse out the direct and indirect effects of disturbances on components of a system and to examine the interconnections between components to predict whether a system will return to equilibrium (resilience) or the system will change into a new state (hysteresis). These same complex systems principles can be applied to other scientific phenomena, such as homeostasis and the spread of infectious disease. This project will bring the excitement of Luquillo Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) to classrooms outside of Puerto Rico, and has a special emphasis on low performing, low income, high minority schools in Chicago. Over 6000 students will directly benefit from participation in the research program. The units will be incorporated into the Journey to El Yunque web site for dissemination throughout Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the LTER network. The units will be submitted for review at the Achieve network, thus extending the reach to teachers around the country. The project will impact science teachers and curriculum designers through an online course on storyline development. This project aims to improve students' ability to engage in argument from evidence and address what the literature has identified as a significant challenge, namely the ability to evaluate evidence. Researchers will also demonstrate how it is possible to make progress on implementing Next Generation Science Standards in low performing schools. Through the web-based platform, these results can be replicated across many other school districts.

Researchers will to use the scientific context of the LTER program to develop a generalized storyline template for using evidence-based modeling to teach basic principles of disturbance ecology. Though a co-design process with middle school teachers in CPS, researchers will test the application of learning principles to a generalized storyline template by developing and evaluating three units on disturbance ecology - one life science, one Earth system science, and one physical science. Through a task analysis, researchers have identified three key areas of support for students to be successful at explaining how a system will respond to a disturbance. First, students need to be able to record evidence in a manner that will guide them to developing their explanation. Causal model diagrams have been used successfully in the past to organize evidence, but little is known about how students can use their causal diagrams for developing explanations. Second, there have been a wide variety of scaffolds developed to support the evaluation of scientific arguments, but less is known about how to support students in organizing their evidence to produce scientific arguments. Third, evidence-based modeling and scientific argumentation are not tasks that can be successfully accomplished by following a recipe. Students need to develop a task model to understand the reason why they are engaged in a particular task and how that task will contribute to the primary goal of explanation.

Highly Adaptive Science Simulations for Accessible STEM Education

This project will research, design, and develop adaptive accessibility features for interactive science simulations. The proposed research will lay the foundation that advances the accessibility of complex interactives for learning and contribute to solutions to address the significant disparity in science achievement between students with and without disabilities.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1814220
Funding Period: 
Sun, 04/15/2018 to Wed, 03/31/2021
Full Description: 

This project will research, design, and develop adaptive accessibility features for interactive science simulations. The proposed research will lay the foundation that advances the accessibility of complex interactives for learning and contribute to solutions to address the significant disparity in science achievement between students with and without disabilities. The PhET Interactive Simulations project at the University of Colorado Boulder and collaborators at Georgia Tech, with expertise in accessible technology and design, will form the project team. The project team will conduct design-based implementation research, where adaptive accessibility features for interactive science simulations are developed through co-design with students with disabilities and their teachers. Students will include those with dyslexia, visual impairments or blindness, and students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ranging from 5th grade through high school, and recent high school graduates. The adaptive accessibility features will be implemented within a set of PhET interactive science simulations, and allow students with disabilities to access the science simulations with alternative input devices (such as keyboards, switches, and sip-and-puff devices), alter the visual display of the simulations (changing color contrast, zoom and enlarge, and simplify), hear different auditory representations of the visual display (descriptions, sonification, and text-to-speech), and control the rate of simulated events. All features will be capable of being turned on or off and modified on-the-fly by teachers or students through a global control panel that includes curated feature sets, resulting in highly flexible, highly accessible, interactive learning resources.

PhET simulations are widely used in US classrooms, evidence-based, aligned with standards, and highly engaging and effective learning resources. With the proposed highly adaptive features and supporting resources, teachers will be able to quickly adapt the PhET simulations to meet the needs of many students with disabilities, simplifying the task of creating differentiated learning opportunities for students and supporting students with disabilities to engage in collaborative learning - a foundational component of a high-quality STEM education - alongside their non-disabled peers. To research, design, and develop the adaptive features and investigate their use by students, project team members will co-teach in classrooms with students with disabilities and conduct co-design activities with students, where students engage in design thinking to help design and refine the adaptive features to meet identified accessibility needs (their own and those of their peers). In addition, interviews with individual students with and without disabilities will also be conducted, to test early prototypes of individual features, to later refine the layering of the many different features, and to ensure the presence of adaptive features does not negatively impact traditional use of the simulations. The proposed work also includes surveys of teachers and students and analysis of teacher use, to refine global control features, develop curated feature sets, and develop supporting teacher resources. The project will address key questions at the heart of educational design for students with diverse needs, including how to make adaptive features that support student achievement of specific learning goals. The project will use design-based implementation research, with significant co-designing with students with disabilities (including visual impairments, cognitive disabilities, or dyslexia), interviews, case studies, and classroom implementation to design and evaluate the accessibility features. This will inform new models and theories of learning with technology. The project will investigate: 1) How students engage with, use, and learn from adaptive accessibility features, 2) how adaptive accessibility features can be designed to layer harmoniously together in a learning resource, and 3) how to effectively support access to rich, dynamic feature controls and curated feature sets for intuitive classroom use by students and teachers. The project will produce 8 PhET simulations with adaptive accessibility features and supporting teacher resources. The foundational research knowledge will result in effective design and implementation of adaptive accessibility features through the analysis of student engagement, usability, and learning from accessible simulations. Additionally, the project will provide technical infrastructure, exemplars, and software for use by other STEM education technology developers. The project team will work together to create a deep understanding of how to design adaptive science simulations with practical, usable, effective accessibility, so that learners with diverse needs can advance their science content knowledge and participate in science practices alongside their peers. The work has great potential to transform STEM learning for students with disabilities and to make simulations more effective for all learners. Results will provide insight into the effectiveness of accessible simulation-based activities and their corresponding teacher materials in engaging students in science practices and learning in the classroom.

The Spectrum Laboratory: Towards Authentic Inquiry for All

This project proposes to design, implement, and investigate the impact on students of an innovative curriculum supplement called the Spectrum Laboratory. The Spectrum Lab will be an online, interactive learning environment that enables students to make use of the database of publicly available spectra from research scientists, as well as from students.

Award Number: 
1814077
Funding Period: 
Tue, 05/01/2018 to Fri, 04/30/2021
Full Description: 

This project addresses physics, astronomy, and chemistry education at the high-school level. Spectroscopy is the single most important diagnostic tool in the sciences, and is required for inquiry at the frontiers of science across many disciplines, yet is unavailable to most classrooms. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory proposes to design, implement, and investigate the impact on students of an innovative curriculum supplement called the Spectrum Laboratory. The Spectrum Lab will be an online, interactive learning environment that enables students to make use of the database of publicly available spectra from research scientists, as well as from students. The online learning resource and associated materials are purposefully being developed and tested with a demographically diverse set of schools. The project will determine how the design of a spectroscopy workspace can help students to use spectra while gaining fluency with a range of important science practices. The project's significance and importance is to greatly increase the opportunities for high school students to engage in authentic inquiry. Being able to evaluate and interpret real-world data is a hallmark of data literacy that is developed with Spectrum Lab. Project will potentially benefit the field through advances with respect to education and diversity, and benefit society by equipping high school students with the perceptual and cognitive factors that promote students' reasoning about spectra.

The Spectrum Lab's initial design applies research-based principles recommended for educational interfaces that engage students with graphical data advancing knowledge from prior research into understanding of how students make sense of spectroscopic data and its graphical representations. The project will be developed in collaboration with partner teachers in up to eight high school classrooms, representing a diverse population of learners, and then tested with a national group of 20 teachers with 600 to 800 students. A mix of quantitative and qualitative measures, including pre/post surveys and assessments, analysis of student project work, classroom video, and teacher surveys, will help address researcher's questions about students' experiences with the Spectrum Lab. The data to be gathered will be used to iteratively improve the design of the laboratory to aid students understand the source of these authentic data coming from spectroscopy to address real-world science questions of interest and importance to them. The Spectrum Lab will enable students to engage in a broad range of inquiry projects that were previously inaccessible, including projects near the frontiers of science. The students will become involved in their authentic inquiry projects, where each activity engages them in key science practices, including generating model spectrum plots to make predictions, assessing and interpreting data, and reasoning from evidence (and models) in support of a claim. The students will be using graphs of well-documented experiments and in physics, more challenging graphs of spectra of less familiar wavelength axis. The students in chemistry will learn how to relate the bright lines observed in an atom's spectrum to energy levels of the atom.  There will be studies that track students' eye movements show that students associate the peaks or valleys of a spectrum with individual atoms in a molecule, rather than with the overall properties of the molecule. The resources developed by the project will be freely available online for teachers and researchers. The Spectrum Lab is an advance in education technology that uses modern tools for enabling interactive data visualization. Its features enable students to integrate and apply the most important elements of science practice, such as the ability to draw evidence-based conclusions, as well as the ability to gather, evaluate and interpret data, intended to help students' science practice more closely resemble how research is done. The Spectrum Lab will modernize a critical part of high-school science classrooms, help teachers meet the expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards, and will better prepare students for college work.

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