Educational Technology

Conceptual Model-based Problem Solving: A Response to Intervention Program for Students with Learning Difficulties in Mathematics

This project will develop a cross-platform mathematics tutoring program that addresses the problem-solving skill difficulties of second- and third-grade students with learning disabilities in mathematics (LDM). COMPS-A is a computer-generated instructional program focusing on additive word problem solving; it will provide tutoring specifically tailored to each individual student's learning profile in real time. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503451
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2015 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

The 3-year exploratory project, Conceptual Model-based Problem Solving: A Response to Intervention Program for Students with Learning Difficulties in Mathematics, will develop a cross-platform mathematics tutoring program that addresses the problem-solving skill difficulties of second- and third-grade students with learning disabilities in mathematics (LDM). While mathematics problem-solving skills are critical in all areas of daily life, many students with LDM do not acquire key math concepts such as additive and multiplicative reasoning in a proficient manner during the early school years. In fact, about 5-10% of school-age children are identified as having mathematical disabilities which might cause them to experience considerable difficulties in the upper grades and experience persistent academic, life, and work challenges. Despite the proliferation of web-based mathematical games for early learners, there are very few programs or tools that target growth in the conceptual understanding of fundamental mathematical ideas, which is essential in enabling young students with LDM to perform proficiently in mathematical and everyday contexts. COMPS-A is a computer-generated instructional program focusing on additive word problem solving; it will provide tutoring specifically tailored to each individual student's learning profile in real time. COMPS-A will also make the reasoning and underlying mathematical model more explicit to them, and the tool's flexibility will facilitate group or one-on-one instruction in regular classroom settings, in other sessions during or after the school day, and at home. COMPS-A addresses a significant practical issue in today's classrooms by providing individualized and effective RtI intervention programs for students with LDM.

COMPS-A program represents a mathematical model-based problem-solving approach that emphasizes understanding and representation of mathematical relations in algebraic equations and, thus, will support growth in generalized problem-solving skills.COMPS-A will achieve the following objectives: 1) Create the curriculum content, screen design, and a teacher's manual for all four modules in the area of additive word problem solving; 2) Design and develop the cross-platform computer application that can be ported as a web-based, iPad, Android, or Windows app, and this flexibility will make the program accessible to all students; and 3) Conduct small-scale single subject design and randomized controlled trial studies to evaluate the potential of COMPS-A to enhance students' word problem-solving performance. The following research questions will be resolved: (1) What is the functional relationship between the COMPS-A program and students' performance in additive mathematics problem solving? (2) What is the teacher's role in identifying students' misconceptions, alternative reasoning, and knowledge gaps when students are not responsive to the intervention program? (3) What are the necessary instructional scaffolds that will address students' knowledge gaps and therefore facilitate the connection between students' conceptual schemes and the mathematical models necessary for problem solving in order to promote meaningful understanding and construction of additive reasoning? A functional prototype of the COMPS-A will be developed followed by a single-subject design study with a small group of students with LDM to field-test the initial program. Finally, a pretest-posttest, comparison group design with random assignment of participants to groups will then be used to examine the effects of the two intervention conditions: COMPS-A and business as usual. An extensive dissemination plan will enable the project team to share results to a wider community that is responsible for educating all students and, especially, students with LDM.

 

Ramping Up Accessibility in STEM: Inclusively Designed Simulations for Diverse Learners

This project brings together leaders in simulation design and accessibility to develop and study interactive science simulations for diverse middle school students including those with sensory, mobility, or learning disabilities. The resulting simulations and research findings will help to address the significant disparity that exists between the achievement in science by students with and without disabilities.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503439
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/15/2015 to Fri, 06/30/2017
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

This project will bring together leaders in simulation design and accessibility to develop and study interactive science simulations for diverse middle school students including those with sensory, mobility, or learning disabilities. The resulting simulations and research findings will help to address the significant disparity that exists between the achievement in science by students with and without disabilities. The Physics Education Technology (PhET) Interactive Simulations project (University of Colorado Boulder) will develop and research interactive science and math simulations used by teachers and students around the world. The Inclusive Design Research Centre (OCAD University, Toronto, Ontario) is an international leader in inclusively designed technology, with the goal of designing for the full range of human diversity including those with and without disabilities. Together, the project team will engage in an iterative design process to develop innovative solutions for making the highly interactive environment of an educational simulation simultaneously intuitive, accessible, and supportive of exploration and discovery practices in science. Development efforts will focus on three inclusive simulations and optimize the design and implementation of several inclusive simulation features, including keyboard navigation, auditory descriptions for screen readers, the use of non-speech sounds to provide feedback (sonification), and the ability to control the simulation with assistive technology (AT) devices. For each simulation, professional development materials for teachers, including classroom activities and user guides, will be developed to support teachers in effectively using the inclusively designed simulations in their classrooms. 

Through new research, this project will seek to understand: 1) how inclusive simulations can support students with disabilities to engage in science practices, 2) how students with and without disabilities utilize inclusive simulations for learning STEM content, and 3) how students can engage in collaborative learning between students with and without disabilities - with an inclusive simulation. Researchers will use individual interviews with diverse students to closely examine these questions. The resulting resources, models, and tools will provide exemplars and important building blocks for an inclusively designed interactive curriculum, educational games, and assessment tools. Resulting simulations, research findings, design guidelines, and exemplars will be disseminated through the project team and advisor partner networks, education resource websites, and educator professional organizations.

PBS NewsHour STEM Student Reporting Labs: Broad Expansion of Youth Journalism to Support Increased STEM Literacy Among Underserved Student Populations and Their Communities

The production of news stories and student-oriented instruction in the classroom are designed to increase student learning of STEM content through student-centered inquiry and reflections on metacognition. This project scales up the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL), a model that trains teens to produce video reports on important STEM issues from a youth perspective.

Award Number: 
1503315
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2015 to Wed, 07/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DR-K12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. This project scales up the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL), a model that trains teens to produce video reports on important STEM issues from a youth perspective. Participating schools receive a SRL journalism and digital media literacy curriculum, a mentor for students from a local PBS affiliate, professional development for educators, and support from the PBS NewsHour team. The production of news stories and student-oriented instruction in the classroom are designed to increase student learning of STEM content through student-centered inquiry and reflections on metacognition. Students will develop a deep understanding of the material to choose the best strategy to teach or tell the STEM story to others through digital media. Over the 4 years of the project, the model will be expanded from the current 70 schools to 150 in 40 states targeting schools with high populations of underrepresented youth. New components will be added to the model including STEM professional mentors and a social media and media analytics component. Project partners include local PBS stations, Project Lead the Way, and Share My Lesson educators.

The research study conducted by New Knowledge, LLC will add new knowledge about the growing field of youth science journalism and digital media. Front-end evaluation will assess students' understanding of contemporary STEM issues by deploying a web-based survey to crowd-source youth reactions, interest, questions, and thoughts about current science issues. A subset of questions will explore students' tendencies to pass newly-acquired information to members of the larger social networks. Formative evaluation will include qualitative and quantitative studies of multiple stakeholders at the Student Reporting Labs to refine the implementation of the program. Summative evaluation will track learning outcomes/changes such as: How does student reporting on STEM news increase their STEM literacy competencies? How does it affect their interest in STEM careers? Which strategies are most effective with underrepresented students? How do youth communicate with each other about science content, informing news media best practices? The research team will use data from pre/post and post-delayed surveys taken by 1700 students in the STEM Student Reporting Labs and 1700 from control groups. In addition, interviews with teachers will assess the curriculum and impressions of student engagement.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: How Video Storytelling Reengages Teenagers in STEM Learning

Presenter(s): Leah Clapman & William Swift

2018 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: PBS NewsHour's STEM SRL Transforms Classrooms into Newsrooms

Presenter(s): Leah Clapman & William Swift

2017 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: PBS is Building the Next Generation of STEM Communicators

Presenter(s): Leah Clapman, John Fraser, Su-Jen Roberts, & Bill Swift


Playing with the Data: Developing Digital Supports for Middle School Science Teachers using Game-based Formative Assessment

This project will use cycles of design-based research to build new knowledge about how to facilitate teachers' interpretation and use of digital game-based formative assessment data. The research will also inform the revision and expansion of Playfully, an existing, online data-reporting dashboard that can be used with multiple digital games.

Award Number: 
1503255
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

This project will use cycles of design-based research to build new knowledge about how to facilitate teachers' interpretation and use of digital game-based formative assessment data. The research will also inform the revision and expansion of Playfully, an existing, online data-reporting dashboard that can be used with multiple digital games. The project is a collaboration between researchers at Education Development Center Inc.'s Center for Children and Technology (EDC|CCT) and the assessment and game development teams at GlassLab. The research and development teams will engage in a three-year partnership with 60 middle-grade science teachers working in diverse school settings in different parts of the country. The aim of the project is to refine an online formative assessment platform that utilizes data from a video game designed to teach argumentation at the middle school level. It provides rigorous research on the design features of data tools and associated materials available to teachers to inform their ongoing instruction (i.e., formative assessment tools) when using game-based platforms.

Dissemination of the results of this project will include practical, evidence-based suggestions for supporting middle school science teachers' use of digital games for assessment, and for the design and implementation of data dashboards. Key audiences include educational game designers, game-based assessment developers, formative assessment experts, and leaders in middle grade science teaching and learning.

Visual Access to Mathematics: Professional Development for Teachers of English Learners

This project addresses a critical need, developing professional development materials to address the teachers of ELLs. The project will create resources to help teachers build ELLs' mathematical proficiency through the design and development of professional development materials building on visual representations (VRs) for mathematical reasoning across a range of mathematical topics.

Award Number: 
1503057
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2015 to Fri, 07/31/2020
Full Description: 

The demands placed on mathematics teachers of all students have increased with the introduction of college and career readiness standards. At the same time, the mathematics achievement of English Language Learners (ELLs) lags behind that of their peers. This project addresses a critical need, developing professional development materials to address the teachers of ELLs. The project will create resources to help teachers build ELLs' mathematical proficiency through the design and development of professional development materials building on visual representations (VRs) for mathematical reasoning across a range of mathematical topics. The project will study how to enhance teachers' pedagogical content knowledge that is critical to fostering ELLs' mathematical problem solving and communication to help support fluency in using VRs among teachers and students. To broaden the participation of students who have traditionally not demonstrated high levels of achievement in mathematics, a critical underpinning to further success in the sciences and engineering, there will need to be greater support for teachers of these students using techniques that have been demonstrated to improve student learning. 

The project will use an iterative design and development process to develop a blended learning model of professional development on using VRs with a 30-hour face-to-face summer institute and sixteen 2-hour online learning sessions. Teachers and teacher-leaders will help support the development of the professional development materials. A cluster randomized control trial will study the piloting of the materials and their impact on teacher outcomes. Thirty middle schools from Massachusetts and Maine serving high numbers of ELLs, with approximately 120 teachers, will be randomly assigned to receive the treatment or control conditions. Using a two-level random intercepts hierarchical linear model, the study will explore the impact of participation in the professional development on teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching and instructional practice. The pilot study will also explore the feasibility of delivering the professional development model more broadly. It builds on prior work that has shown efficacy in geometry, but expands the work beyond a single area in mathematics. At the same time, they will test the model for feasibility of broad implementation.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Designing PD for Math Educators of Students Who are ELs

Presenter(s): Peter Tierney-Fife, Pamela Buffington, Josephine Louie, Jill Neumayer Depiper, & Johannah Nikula

2016 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Visual Access to Mathematics: Supporting Teachers of ELs

Presenter(s): Johannah Nikula, Pam Buffington, Mark Driscoll & Peter Tierney-Fife


Zoombinis: The Full Development Implementation Research Study of a Computational Thinking Game for Upper Elementary and Middle School Learners

This project leverages an existing game by embedding tools for studying patterns of students' decision-making and problem solving in the environment. This allows researchers to understand how students learn about computational thinking within a tool that bridges informal and formal learning settings to engage a wide variety of students. The project will also develop tools and resources for classroom teachers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1502882
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/15/2015 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis implementation research study examines the development of computational thinking for upper elementary and middle grades students. Computational thinking is the set of ideas and practices considered vital for computer science skills and has been attracting increased attention over the past several years in K-12 education. This project leverages an existing game by embedding tools for studying patterns of students' decision-making and problem solving in the environment. This allows researchers to understand how students learn about computational thinking within a tool that bridges informal and formal learning settings to engage a wide variety of students. The project will also develop tools and resources for classroom teachers. The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

The research examines three questions. First, what strategies do players develop during Zoombinis gameplay that may provide evidence of implicit computational thinking? Second, how can teachers leverage implicit knowledge of computational thinking developed in Zoombinis to improve formal (explicit) learning? Third, how can a large-scale commercial game be used for broad and equitable improvement of computational thinking? The research uses and develops educational data mining techniques to assess students' learning in conjunction with pre-post computational thinking assessments (external to the game), teacher interviews, classroom observations, and case studies of classroom use. The goal is to understand both students' learning of computational thinking and how to bridge the formal and informal learning via classroom implementation of the Zoombinis game.

Teaching and Learning Algebraic Thinking Across the Middle Grades: A Research-based Approach Using PhET Interactive Simulations

This project addresses three central challenges: 1) the tendency for students to not engage in real mathematical thinking as they use technologies; 2) the tendency for teachers to not enact pedagogically-effective approaches; and 3) the lack of adoption of effective technologies by teachers due to a variety of barriers. This project will use rich, exploratory, interactive simulations and associated instructional materials as a pathway for making rapid progress and focusing on advancing algebraic thinking in Grades 6-9.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503510
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2015 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. 

Widespread, high-quality use of technology has great potential to transform today's mathematics classrooms and enable all students to develop a robust conceptual understanding of mathematics. Critical challenges are currently limiting the realization of this potential, and 69% of US Grade 8 students are scoring below proficient in national studies. In this 3-year Discovery Research K-12 Full Research and Development project, Teaching and Learning Algebraic Thinking Across the Middle Grades: A Research-based Approach Using PhET Interactive Simulations, the PhET Interactive Simulations group at the University of Colorado Boulder is partnering with mathematics education researchers at the University of South Florida St. Petersberg and Florida State University to address three central challenges, as follows: 1) the tendency for students to not engage in real mathematical thinking as they use technologies; 2) the tendency for teachers to not enact pedagogically-effective approaches; and 3) the lack of adoption of effective technologies by teachers due to a variety of barriers. This collaborative effort uses rich, exploratory, interactive simulations and associated instructional materials as a pathway for making rapid progress and focuses on advancing algebraic thinking in Grades 6-9.

This project seeks to enable teachers to fully-leverage the benefits of interactive simulations to advance student engagement and learning of mathematics, moving technology from the margins to a core part of instruction. The project will answer critical research questions, such as: how the design of an interactive simulation can generate pedagogically-productive use; how instruction with simulations can be best structured to support learning of mathematical concepts and engagement in mathematical practices; how sim-based instruction can be made attractive, feasible and effective for teachers; and finally, how student learning is impacted by sim-based instruction. At the same time, this project will produce a collection of open educational resources for teachers and students. These resources will include 15 research-based, student-tested simulations for teaching and learning of algebraic thinking, associated instructional support materials, and teacher professional development resources for effective implementation. Based on the 75 million uses per year of PhET?s science simulations, we expect these resources to transform mathematics instruction for millions of students and thousands of teachers.

This project will employ a variety of research methods to approach these questions. Researchers will use individual interviews from a diverse group of Grades 6-9 students as they use the 15 new simulations to examine usability, engagement, and achievement and to identify design approaches that stimulate productive use. In parallel, classroom-based studies in Colorado and Florida will investigate ways in which simulations can be combined with instructional materials and teacher facilitation to engage groups of students in inquiry, promote rich discussions of important mathematical ideas, and advance achievement in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. The project will employ an iterative design and development process involving qualitative and quantitative analysis of diverse measures including the quality of mathematical instruction. Finally, a pilot study and an evaluation of teacher PD supports will examine the feasibility and fidelity with which teachers implement the innovation, and the impact on student learning.

Sample Publications

Hensberry, KKR, Whitacre, I., Findley, K., Schellinger, J., & Burr, M. (2018). Engaging students with mathematics through play. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 24(3), 197-183. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5951/mathteacmiddscho.24.3.0179)

Ian Whitacre, Karina Hensberry, Jennifer Schellinger & Kelly Findley (2019) Variations on play with interactive computer simulations: balancing competing priorities, International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 50:5 , 665-681. (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0020739X.2018.1532536

Findley, K., Whitacre, I., Schellinger, J. & Hensberry, K. (2019). Orchestrating Mathematics Lessons with Interactive Simulations: Exploring Roles in the Classroom. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 27(1), 37-62. (https://www.learntechlib.org/noaccess/184666/)

Jeffrey B. Bush, David C. Webb, Nancy Emerson Kress, Wanqiu Yang and Katherine K. Perkins, Classroom Activities for Digital Interactive Simulations to Support Realistic Mathematics Education, Paper presented at the 6th International Realistic Mathematics Education Conference Georgetown, Cayman Islands, September 20, 2018. (https://www.icrme.net/uploads/1/0/9/8/109819470/bush_etal_phet_rme6paper_final.pdf)


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Transforming Math Classrooms with PhET Simulations

Presenter(s): Kathy Perkins, Sebnem Atabas, Jeff Bush, Karina Hensberry, Amanda McGarry, Corinne Singleton, David Webb, & Ian Whitacre

2017 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Teaching and Learning Math with PhET Simulations

Presenter(s): Kathy Perkins, Karina Hensberry, Amanda McGarry, David Webb, & Ian Whitacre


SimScientists Games: Development of Simulation-Based Game Designs to Enhance Formative Assessment and Deep Science Learning in Middle School

This project will focus on understanding how educational games, designed according to research-based learning and assessment design principles, can better assess and promote students' science knowledge, application of science process skills, and motivation and engagement in learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503481
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2015 to Wed, 07/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) program seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers through research and development of innovative resources, models, and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. This project is a four-year design and development study submitted to the assessment strand of the program. It will focus on understanding how educational games, designed according to research-based learning and assessment design principles, can better assess and promote students' science knowledge, application of science process skills, and motivation and engagement in learning. The project will develop a new genre of games to serve as formative assessment resources designed to collect evidence of science learning during gameplay, provide feedback and coaching in the form of hints, and reinforce middle grade (6th-8th) students' life science concepts and investigation practices about ecosystems described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (Achieve, 2013). The games will build on the designs of the simulation-based, curriculum-embedded assessments developed in previous NSF-funded efforts, which include student progress reports and reflection activities that allow teachers to provide feedback to students and adjust instruction. The design of the games will draw from multiple lines of research, such as cognition, particularly model-based learning; principled assessment design; and motivation. Intended to provide engaging activities for understanding and investigating the system components, roles, interactions, and population dynamics of ecosystems, the project will produce two sets of comprehensive games: (1) Organisms and Interactions, and (2) Emergent Population Levels: Managing an Ecosystem. Each game will consist of progressively advanced mini-games. Twenty-four California Bay Area middle school teachers will participate in the study. Teacher professional development (PD) will include face-to-face sessions and an online platform that permits a wide range of interactions among participants and the facilitators. The PD will emphasize the alignment of the ecosystem simulation-based curriculum modules with their state standards, instructional materials, and the new games. 

The project will address six research questions: (1) How well do the games align with the ecosystem crosscutting concepts, core ideas, and inquiry practices in the NGSS?; (2) How well do game components meet quality standards?; (3) How well do the games integrate with the existing simulation-based curriculum modules and the teachers' existing instructional sequence?; (4) What effect does the use of the games have on students' understanding of the science concepts, scientific practices, and collaboration skills?; (5) How does success in gameplay relate to improved performance on the external outcome measures comprised of the simulation-based benchmark and the pre/posttest?; and (6) How does the use of the games affect students' engagement in science learning? In a Year 1 usability study, the project will test, analyze, and revise alpha versions of the games. In Year 2, a classroom feasibility study of beta versions will inform further revisions. In Year 3, six teachers will pilot-test the games. A second pilot test in Year 4 will examine the effectiveness of the games by comparing student performance in classes using the existing simulation-based curriculum-embedded assessments and reflection activities with classes using the curriculum-embedded assessments plus the new games. Data collection and analysis strategies include: (a) alignment reviews; (b) focus groups and usability testing; (c) cognitive labs for construct validity and usability; (d) game reports (badges); (e) pre/posttest of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) items; (f) benchmark assessment data; (g) student interest in the games and science; (h) teacher surveys; (i) case studies; (j) game quality analysis; (k) differential item functioning; (l) analysis of covariance; and (m) analysis of variance on posttest scores (outcome variable) to compare the means across student groups (by intervention mode) and their prior science achievement levels.

Math Snacks Early Algebra Using Games and Inquiry to Help Students Transition from Number to Variable

This project will develop games to build conceptual understanding of key early algebra topics. The materials will be freely accessible on the web in both English and Spanish. The project will develop 4-5 games. Each game will include supporting materials for use by students in inquiry-based classroom lessons, and web-based professional development tools for teachers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503507
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2015 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

Many U.S. students enter college without the necessary background in algebra to be successful in advanced mathematics and science courses, and are thereby blocked from many rewarding careers. Oftentimes, the problem goes back to early algebra in grades 4-6, where students are introduced to abstract formulations before they understand the underlying ideas and the reasons for the questions being asked. As a result of inadequate preparation many students turn away from mathematics when faced with abstract algebra. Without mathematics, students are not able to enter the STEM field which results in a weakened workforce in these fields in the United States. In this 4-year Full Research and Development project, Math Snacks Early Algebra: Using Games and Inquiry to Help Students Transition from Number to Variable, the interdisciplinary research group from New Mexico State University will build on their success in using games to increase students' understanding of proportional reasoning and fractions. They will develop games to build conceptual understanding of key early algebra topics. The materials will be freely accessible on the web in both English and Spanish. The project will develop 4-5 games. Each game will include supporting materials for use by students in inquiry-based classroom lessons, and web-based professional development tools for teachers.

Most students do not understand the variety of distinct ways that variables are used in mathematics: unknowns to be solved for, related quantities, general properties of numbers, and other uses. Algebra courses often emphasize the rules of manipulation, with less time spent on the underlying ideas. Students see variables as confusing new material, rather than as shortcuts for making sense of numbers, or as powerful tools for analyzing interesting problems. This hinders students' later interest and progress in STEM courses and careers.The intellectual merit for this R & D project includes the development of a new way to learn key underlying concepts in algebra, further investigation of the affordances of games and technology in learning abstract mathematical concepts, and a better understanding of learning assessment in early algebra. The broader impact for this R & D project includes making these tools widely available to students, and the potential shift of teachers towards effective mathematical pedagogy that is engaging and inquiry-based. Development will begin with existing research on early algebraic thinking and learning, and proceed through an iterative process involving design, testing in the NMSU Learning Games Lab, testing in classrooms, and back to design. The project will then study the effect of the developed materials on student understanding and on classroom learning environments. Qualitative and quantitative measures will be used. Researchers will use a custom measure aligned with NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) and other standard tests, interviews and observations with teachers and students, and embedded data collection and self-reports on frequency and extent of game usage. After two earlier pilot studies, in the final year a delayed intervention study will be conducted with 50 teachers and their students. The Math Snacks team has existing partnerships for distribution of games and materials with PBS, GlassLabs, BrainPOP, and others. Academic findings of the project will be shared through conferences and research publications.

Thinking Spatially about the Universe: A Physical and Virtual Laboratory for Middle School Science (Collaborative Research: Sadler)

This project will develop and study three week-long middle school lab units designed to teach spatial abilities using a blend of physical and virtual (computer-based) models. "ThinkSpace" labs will help students explore 3-dimensional astronomical phenomena in ways that will support both understanding of these topics and a more general spatial ability. Students will learn both through direct work with the lab unit interface and through succeeding discussions with their peers.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1502798
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

Critical breakthroughs in science (e.g., Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, and Watson & Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA), originated with those scientists' ability to think spatially, and research has shown that spatial ability correlates strongly with likelihood of entering a career in STEM. This project will develop and study three week-long middle school lab units designed to teach spatial abilities using a blend of physical and virtual (computer-based) models. "ThinkSpace" labs will help students explore 3-dimensional astronomical phenomena (moon phases and eclipses; planetary systems around stars other than the Sun; and celestial motions within the broader universe) in ways that will support both understanding of these topics and a more general spatial ability. Students will learn both through direct work with the lab unit interface and through succeeding discussions with their peers. The research program will determine which elements in the labs best promote both spatial skills and understanding of core ideas in astronomy; and how then to optimize interactive dynamic visualizations toward these ends. Virtual models of the sky and universe will be created using WorldWide Telescope, a free visualization tool that runs on desktop computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The ThinkSpace lab materials will be available at no cost on popular curriculum-sharing sites, including PBS Learning Media and BetterLesson.

The ThinkSpace team will address two main research questions: 1) How can spatial tasks that blend physical and virtual models be embedded into a STEM curriculum in ways that lead to significant improvements in spatial thinking? and 2) How can practitioners optimize design of interactive, dynamic visualizations for teaching spatially complex concepts? The first year of the study will examine two of the lab units with four teachers and about 320 students. The second year of the study will be similar. The third year of the study will test all three lab units in 10 classrooms. Over this study, each week-long ThinkSpace Lab will be formatively tested, using pre/post written assessments of astronomy content and spatial thinking; pre/post interviews with students; and in-class video of students using the lab activities. Scaffolded learning designs will support students in making connections between different spatial views of the phenomena, and will guide them to construct explanations and argue from evidence about how various phenomena (e.g. moon phases) arise in the real Universe, as Next Generation Science Standards demand. The impact of the ThinkSpace labs will be felt far beyond astronomy because the learning models being tested can transfer to other fields where spatial models are critical, and findings on optimization of dynamic visualizations can help to inform instructional design in the age of online learning. The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

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