Professional Development

A Digital Resource for Developing Mathematics Teachers' TPCK

This project aims to advance the preparation of preservice teachers in middle school mathematics, specifically on the topic of proportionality, a centrally important and difficult topic in middle school mathematics that is essential to students’ later success in algebra. To address the need for a workforce of high-quality teachers to teach this mathematics, the project is developing a digital text that could be widely used to communicate the unique transitional nature of middle school mathematics.

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Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Mark St. John, Inverness

Chemistry Facets: Formative Assessment to Improve Student Understanding in Chemistry

This project implemented a facets-of-thinking perspective to design tools and practices to improve high school chemistry teachers' formative assessment practices. Goals are to identify and develop clusters of facets related to key chemistry concepts; develop assessment items; enhance the assessment system for administering items, reporting results, and providing teacher resource materials; develop teacher professional development and resource materials; and examine whether student learning in chemistry improves in classes that incorporate a facet-based assessment system.

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Sat, 09/15/2007 to Wed, 08/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Heller Research Associates
Full Description: 

Supported by research on students' preconceptions, particularly in chemistry, and the need to build on the knowledge and skills that students bring to the classroom, this project implements a facets-of-thinking perspective for the improvement of formative assessment, learning, and instruction in high school chemistry. Its goals are: to identify and develop clusters of facets (students' ideas and understandings) related to key high school chemistry concepts; to develop assessment items that diagnose facets within each cluster; to enhance the existing web-based Diagnoser assessment system for administering items, reporting results, and providing teacher resource materials for interpreting and using the assessment data; to develop teacher professional development and resource materials to support their use of facet-based approaches in chemistry; and to examine whether student learning in chemistry improves in classes that incorporate a facet-based assessment system.

The proposed work builds on two previously NSF-funded projects focused on designing Diagnoser (ESI-0435727) in the area of physics and on assessment development to support the transition to complex science learning (REC-0129406). The work plan is organized in three strands: (1) Assessment Development, consisting of the development and validation of facet clusters related to the Atomic Structure of Matter and Changes in Matter and the development and validation of question sets related to each facet cluster, including their administration to chemistry classes; (2) Professional Development, through which materials will be produced for a teacher workshop focused on the assessment-for-learning cycle; and (3) Technology Development, to upgrade the Diagnoser authoring system and to include chemistry facets and assessments.

Anticipated products include: (1) 8-10 validated facet clusters related to the Atomic Structure of Matter and Changes in Matter; (2) 12-20 items per facet cluster that provide diagnostic information about student understanding in relation to the facet clusters; (3) additional instructional materials related to each facet cluster, including 1-3 questions to elicit inital student ideas, a developmental lesson to encourage students' exploration of new concepts, and 3-5 prescriptive lessons to address persistent problematic ideas; and (4) a publically-available web-based Diagnoser for chemistry (, including student assessments and instructional materials.

Connected Chemistry as Formative Assessment

This project is developing, validating, and evaluating computer modeling-based formative assessments to improve student learning in chemistry. Activities include developing a series of computer models related to key topics in high school chemistry, developing questions to probe student understanding of matter and energy, identifying teaching and learning resources appropriate for different levels of student conceptual understanding, and developing professional development resources on integrating formative assessments into high school chemistry courses.

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Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
William Boone

SAVE Science: Situated Assessment Using Virtual Environments for Science Content and Inquiry

The SAVE Science project is creating an innovative system using immersive virtual environments for evaluating learning in science, consistent with research- and policy-based recommendations for science learning focused around the big ideas of science content and inquiry for middle school years. Motivation for this comes not only from best practices as outlined in the National Science Education Standards and AAAS' Project 2061, but also from the declining interest and confidence of today's student in science.

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Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2008 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Project Evaluator: 
Anthony Lutkus

The Inquiry Project

This project is developing a learning progression in scientific inquiry about the nature of matter. The effort will result in a research-guided system of curriculum, assessment and professional development focusing on the transition from a macroscopic to a microscopic understanding of matter that occurs in upper elementary and middle school. The project has a close collaboration with scientists and urban schools.

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Sun, 10/01/2006 to Thu, 03/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
John Zuman
Full Description: 

The Inquiry Project is a partnership between teachers, TERC and Tufts University. The project builds an understanding of science in grades 3–5 that lays a foundation for students’ later understanding of matter in terms of molecules and atoms. The Inquiry Project focuses on material, weight, volume, density and related ideas that we know are important and challenging for today’s students. Unique characteristics of this work are the integration of mathematics and science content, and the focus on inquiry through investigation.

The Inquiry Project brings research, curriculum, assessment, and professional development together in one coherent system with each components vital to preparing learners for this challenging learning progression.


The Inquiry Project is Asking:

  • What do young children think about matter, material kinds, and their properties?
  • What understandings at the macroscopic level are pivotal for helping children to move towards a microscopic understanding of matter?
  • What kinds of mathematical knowledge and representations are important to their understanding of matter?
  • What kinds of metaconceptual knowledge are needed to support inquiry and theory building about matter?

What understanding do students develop and why is this important?

Inquiry is central to science learning. As described in the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996), a classroom having the essential features of inquiry is one in which learners:

  • engage in scientifically oriented questions
  • give priority to evidence in responding to questions
  • formulate explanations from evidence
  • connect explanations to established scientific knowledge
  • justify and communicate explanations.

The Inquiry Project curriculum is designed with these features in mind, and with three content-specific dimensions of inquiry: measurement of matter, change and conservation, and scale.

Measurement of matter

Students with balance

Many middle school students can calculate density as the ratio of mass to volume, but lack a deeper intuitive sense that density is related to number of particles within a specific volume and the mass of those particles. In The Inquiry Project, students learn to measure weight and volume using a variety of methods and use their measurements as evidence to support explanations. They begin to understand that all matter (in solid, liquid, or gaseous form) has weight and volume. With a firm grasp of the measurement of weight and volume, students are able to build mental models of matter and density that will help them understand the particulate nature of matter later on.

Conservation and Transformation

The Inquiry Project helps students deepen their understanding of matter and materials through investigations of what changes and what stays the same when matter changes state, is reshaped, divided, heated, and mixed. In these investigations students need to isolate variables that are important to their investigations and control their experimentation to measure these variables. They use their measurements and their emerging models of matter to understand that some quantities, such as the total mass of a system, do not change.


Students build an intuitive sense of scale of space (volume), weight, and density that will later assist them in developing a particulate model of matter. Moving from macroscopic to microscopic thinking requires the ability to construct mental models about things and processes we cannot observe. Students who gain a strong understanding of quantities of volume, weight, and density through observation, measurement, and modeling are poised to understand quantities and phenomena at a scale that they cannot observe.

Foundations of Algebra in the Elementary and Middle Grades: Supporting Students to Make, Represent and Justify General Claims about Operations

This project develops images, extended examples, and principles that illustrate how the articulation, representation and justification of general claims about operations evolve in the elementary grades and how this work supports the transition from arithmetic to algebra in the middle grades. An online course uses the Sourcebook as a text to engage teachers in considering the underlying pedagogical and mathematical aspects of the work and implementing these ideas in their instruction.

Lead Organization(s): 
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Funding Period: 
Sat, 07/01/2006 to Thu, 06/30/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Megan Franke

Talk Science: Scalable, Web-Based Professional Learning to Improve Science Achievement

This project is designed to enhance and study the development of elementary science teachers’ skills in managing productive classroom talk in inquiry-based physical science studies of matter. The project hypothesizes that aligning professional learning with conceptually-driven curricula and emphasizing the development of scientific discourse changes classroom culture and increases student learning. The project is developing new Web-based resources, Talk Science PD, to help elementary teachers facilitate scientific discourse.

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Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Katherine Paget
Full Description: 


Scalable, Web-based Professional Learning to Improve Science Achievement


      In spite of its centrality in science, genuine scientific argumentation is rarely observed in classrooms. Instead, most of the talk comes from teachers, and it seems oriented primarily toward persuading students of the validity of the scientific worldview…if the educational goal is to help students understand not just the conclusions of science, but also how one knows and why one believes, then talk needs to focus on how evidence is used in science for the construction of explanations. (Duschl, Schweingruber et al. 2007)

Research from the learning sciences, classroom research, and the National Research Council’s consensus reports on teaching and learning science are clear: talk is central to doing and learning science well (Duschl and Osborne 2002; Duschl, Schweingruber et al. 2007; Michaels, Shouse et al. 2008). Discussion is essential to inquiry, enabling students to compare and evaluate observations and data, raise questions, develop hypotheses and explanations, debate and explore alternative interpretations, develop insight into reasoning they may not have considered, and “make meaning” of inquiry experiences. In fact, mastery of science is to a large extent mastery of its specialized uses of language (Lemke 1993).

            Yet effective scientific discourse is mostly absent in classrooms (Barnes 1992; Lemke 1993; Alexander 2001; Cazden 2001). Few teachers are sufficiently prepared to manage classroom talk or effectively improvise and facilitate dialogue in the unpredictable flow of classroom discussion. Thus, despite well-designed curricula and well-intentioned teachers, students are failing to obtain a deep understanding of science and to develop critical 21st century skills, such as negotiating shared meaning and co-construction of problem resolution (Dede 2007). This is the challenge we are addressing.

TERC, in close collaboration with the Mason School in Roxbury, MA, the Benjamin A. Banneker School in Cambridge, MA, Newton Massachusetts Schools, Lamoille North Schools in Vermont, and scientists and linguists from three Boston area universities, is:   

1.     developing and pilot-testing Talk Science!, a web-enabled collection of rich, multimedia professional learning resources for 4th and 5th grade teachers that supports the NSF-funded Inquiry Curriculum and that is focused on promoting scientific discourse in the classroom. These resources are being deployed on the Inquiry Project web site ( This effort is resulting in a model of web-based professional learning that is scalable, accessible and of consistent quality.

2.     investigating the development of teachers' skills with regard to facilitating productive discourse in the science classroom. We hypothesized that aligning professional learning with conceptually-driven curriculum and emphasizing development of scientific discourse would promote changes in classroom culture and increased student learning. We further hypothesized that as teachers implement strategies for scientific discourse, the nature of talk in classrooms and classroom culture will shift toward shared scientific meaning-making. This research is currently underway with results expected by December 2012.


Talk Science! PD is comprised of two nine-week professional development courses of study (i.e. professional pathways), aligned with the 4th and 5th grade web-based, Inquiry Curriculum. Thus, curriculum and professional learning “live” together side-by-side within the same web site so teachers can shift seamlessly between the curriculum and their own professional learning as they prepare to teach. The professional development is comprised of three main components: classroom cases, scientist cases, and talk strategies.


We are using a pedagogical approach in which teachers strengthen their understanding of science, develop specific pedagogical skills, and implement skills into their teaching through a cognitive apprenticeship model (Collins, Brown et al). This involves 1) modeling, coaching, and scaffolding that help teachers acquire professional skills and scientific understanding through observation (in our case video) and guided practice, 2) articulation and reflection in which teachers articulate their understanding and questions, and 3) exploration in which they incorporate new practices into their teaching.


Talk Science! is based on four major principles that effectively change teacher practice and student learning:

  1. Close alignment between professional learning and specific curriculum offers a relevant context for teacher learning and ensures transfer from professional learning to classroom application.
  2. Understanding science as a knowledge-generating enterprise helps teachers facilitate student learning that deepens understanding of core concepts and blends the development of conceptual understanding and disciplinary practice.
  3. Developing abilities to facilitate productive academic talk in the classroom helps teachers establish a classroom culture where norms of discourse are in place and students make claims based on evidence and advance toward deeper understanding of scientific ideas.
  4. Providing opportunity for teachers to work together and learn from each other while using the affordances of web-based technologies to exploit the power of professional learning communities.

Dynamic Geometry in Classrooms

This project is conducting repeated randomized control trials of an approach to high school geometry that utilizes Dynamic Geometry (DG) software and supporting instructional materials to supplement ordinary instructional practices. It compares effects of that intervention with standard instruction that does not make use of computer drawing tools.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Project Evaluator: 
Ed Dickey
Full Description: 

The project is conducting repeated randomized control trials of an approach to high school geometry that utilizes dynamic geometry (DG) software and supporting instructional materials to supplement ordinary instructional practices.  It compares effects of that intervention with standard instruction that does not make use of computer drawing/exploraction tools. The basic hypothesis of the study is that use of DG software to engage students in constructing mathematical ideas through experimentation, observation, data recording, conjecturing, conjecture testing, and proof results in better geometry learning for most students. The study tests that hypothesis by assessing student learning in 76 classrooms randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Student learning is assessed by a geometry standardized test, a conjecturing-proving test, and a measure of student beliefs about the nature of geometry and mathematics in general. Teachers in both treatment and control groups receive relevant professional development, and they are provided with supplementary resource materials for teaching geometry. Fidelity of implementation for the experimental treatment is monitored carefully. Data for answering the several research questions of the study are analyzed by appropriate HLM methods. Results will provide evidence about the effectiveness of DG approach in high school teaching, evidence that can inform school decisions about innovation in that core high school mathematics course. The main research question of the project is: Is the dynamic geometry approach better than the business-as-usual approach in facilitating the geometric learning of our students (and more specifically our economically disadvantaged students) over the course of a full school year?

The main resources/products include geometry teachers’ professional development training materials, suggested dynamic geometry instructional activities to supplement current high school geometry curriculum, instruments such as Conjecturing-Proving Test, Geometry Belief Instrument, Classroom Observation Protocols, DG Implementation Questionnaire and Student Interview Protocols. 

The general plan for the four-year project is as follows:

Year 1: Preparation (All research instruments, professional development training and resource materials, recruitment and training of participants, etc.); 

Year 2: The first implementation of the dynamic geometry treatment, and related data collection and initial data analysis; 

Year 3: The second implementation of the DG treatment, and related data collection and data analysis; 

Year 4: Careful and detailed data analysis and reporting.

We are now in project year 3. Data are collected for the second implementation of the DG treatment. For data collected during project year 2, some initial analysis (the analysis on the geometry pretest and posttest data and the psychometric analysis on the project developed instruments) has been conducted. More thorough analysis of the collected data is still on going. The analysis on the geometry test shows that the experimental group significantly outperformed the control group on geometry performance.

The evaluation will be implemented throughout the project’s four-year duration, with an evolving balance of formative and summative evaluation activities.  In the project’s first three years, the evaluation will emphasize formative functions, designed to inform the project research team of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the research design and execution, and target corrections and improvements of the research components. Summative evaluation activities will also take place in these years with the collection of data on student achievement and teacher change. Evaluation activities for year 4 will focus on the summative evaluation of the project’s accomplishment and especially its impact on participating teachers and students. Evaluation reports will be issued annually with a final summative report presented at the end of year 4.

The research results will be disseminated via the following efforts: 1) Creating and constantly updating the project web site; 2) Publishing the related research articles in research journals such as Journal for Research in Mathematics Education; 3) Presenting at state, regional, national, and international research and professional meetings; 4) Meeting with state and local education agencies, schools, and mathematics teacher educators at other universities for presenting the research findings and using the DG approach in more schools and more mathematics teacher education programs; and 5) Contacting more school districts, with a view to developing relationships and ties that would smooth the way to disseminate the research results.

Investigations in Cyber-enabled Education (ICE)

Investigations in Cyber-enabled Education (ICE) strives to provide a professional development design framework for enhancing teacher ability to provide science, technology, and math (STM) instruction for secondary students. Exploratory research will clarify ICE framework constructs and gather empirical evidence to form the basis of anticipated further research into the question: Under what circumstances can cyber-enabled collaboration between STM scientists and educators enhance teacher ability to provide STM education?

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2009 to Sat, 06/30/2012

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

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

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

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

The Specific Aims of ICAC are to:

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

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

SA3. Assess the effects of ICAC on:

a. Student STEM  engagement and performance.

b. Teacher and student computing specific confidence and utilization.

c. Student interest in technology and STEM careers.

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

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

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

The specific ICAC activities for Years 2-5 include:

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

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

(Previously listed under Award # 0918216)


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