Instructional Practice

Fostering Mathematics Success in English Language Learners

This project is an efficacy study of the Fostering Geometrical Thinking Toolkit (FGTT) previously developed with NSF support. FGTT is a 40-hour professional development intervention focusing on properties of geometric figures, geometric transformations, and measurement of length, area, and volume. The study addresses four research questions, three examining participating teachers and one examining the impact of teachers' professional development on ELL students.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Fri, 08/15/2008 to Sun, 07/31/2011
Full Description: 

Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), and Horizon Research, Inc., are conducting the DR-K12 research project, Fostering Mathematics Success of English Language Learners (ELLs): An Efficacy Study of Teacher Professional Development (FMSELL), a study of the effects of the Fostering Geometric Thinking

Toolkit professional development materials (FGTT) for teachers of ELLs. It will address four research questions:

1.     Does participation in FGTT increase teachers’ geometric content knowledge?

2.     How does teachers’ participation affect attention to students’ thinking and mathematical communication?

3.     How does participation affect instructional practices?

4.     What impact on ELLs’ problem-solving strategies is evident when teachers participate in FGTT?

FGTT is a 40-hour professional development intervention focusing on properties of geometric figures, geometric transformations, and measurement of length, area, and volume. The project tests the hypothesis that geometric problem solving invites diagramming, drawing, use of colloquial language, and gesturing to complement mathematical communication and affords teachers opportunities to support ELL learning. The research design uses a randomized block design with 25 pairs of professional development facilitators matched according to their districts’ demographic information.

Science Learning: Integrating Design, Engineering and Robotics (SLIDER)

This project is developing and implementing a rigorous eighth grade physical science program that utilizes engineering design, LEGO™ robotics and mechanics, and a problem-based learning approach to teach mechanics, waves, and energy.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Thu, 10/01/2009 to Tue, 09/30/2014
Project Evaluator: 
Dr. Gordon Kingsley
Full Description: 

SLIDER is a 5 year $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Discovery Research K-12 (DR-K12) program. During the grant period (10/1/09 -9/30/14), the SLIDER program will seek to answer the question: "What effects do robotics, engineering design, and problem-based inquiry science have on student learning and academic engagement in 8th grade physical science classes?"

The Team:

Georgia Tech faculty and staff from a number of academic units (CEISMC, CETL, Math, Psychology, Biomedical Engineering & Computing) and a national-level advisory board.  

Teachers, principals and school system administrators representing Fulton County Schools, Cobb County Schools  and Emanuel County Schools and the Georgia Department of Education.

Richard Millman  PI
Marion Usselman  Co - PI
Donna Llewellyn Co-PI for Research

Program Goals:

  1. Design and implement a problem-based robotics curriculum as a context for 8th graders to learn physics and reasoning skills, and as a way to increase student engagement, motivation, aptitude, creativity and STEM interest.
  2. Conduct research to determine the effectiveness of the program across all curriculum development parameters.
  3. Determine how students engage the material across ethnic, socio- cultural, gender and geographic (rural, urban, and suburban) lines.
  4. Measure the “staying power” of the experience as students move from middle to high school.

The Method:

Using “backwards design” strategies, the SLIDER curriculum development team at CEISMC will create inquiry-based engineering design instructional materials for 8th grade Physical Science that use robotics as the learning tool and that are aligned with the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS). The materials will employ problem-based challenges that require students to design, program, investigate, and reflect, and then revise their product or solution. They will consist of three 4-6 week modules that cover the physics concepts of Mechanics (force, motion, simple machines), Waves (light, sound, magnetism, electricity, heat), and Energy.   CEISMC will also design the teacher professional development necessary for effective implementation of the curriculum.

Target Inquiry: Investigating the Teacher and Student Effects of a New Model in Chemistry Teacher Professional Development

This five-year research project has as its central aim the testing of the Target Inquiry (TI) model of teacher professional development with secondary school chemistry teachers. This model emphasizes the importance of the inquiry process in teaching and learning science by combining a research experience for teachers (RET) with curriculum adaptation and action research.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Mon, 05/01/2006 to Sat, 04/30/2011
Full Description: 

Inquiry is the foundation of teaching and learning and is therefore at the center of the TI model.  The features of the TI model are designed to encourage and improve inquiry instruction by impacting teachers’ beliefs and attitudes, and content and pedagogical knowledge, as well as providing adequate resources and materials.  The model integrates the core experiences (research experience for teachers (RET), materials adaptation, action research) with the central characteristics of high-quality PD programs (duration, cohort participation, active learning, coherence, and content-focus (Garet, et al., 2001)) in alignment with the National Science Education Professional Development Standards (NRC, 1996) (see TI model on website).

Although many teachers associate inquiry with research scientists, the underlying habits of mind by which one actively acquires new knowledge are the same for a scientist in a research laboratory, a student in a science classroom, or a teacher assessing student understanding (Llewellyn, 2005; AAAS, 1993).  The RET will allow teachers to further develop habits of mind central to inquiry such as curiosity, persistence, reflection, skepticism, and creativity while gaining firsthand experience in how chemistry research is conducted.  However, research has shown that affecting instructional change requires clear connections to classroom practices (Gess-Newsome, 2001), and many teachers have difficulty translating the laboratory research experience to classroom instruction that promotes inquiry habits of mind.  Thus, the other core experiences and supporting features of TI are designed to build upon the RET, facilitating connections between the research laboratory and classroom practices, so that teachers can effectively engage their students in authentic inquiry activities. 

At GVSU, the TI model has been translated into seven graduate chemistry education courses to be taken over three years, with a majority of work to be carried out over three summers.  A five year study of the program, consisting of data from two cohorts shows that teachers beliefs about science inquiry become more aligned with those of practicing scientists following the RET experience; both the RET and materials adaptation experiences are required for significant gains in reformed teaching practices as measured by the RTOP instrument; teachers feel they have developed the skills to help them continue to reform their teaching practices; teachers believe that the use of inquiry instruction engages more of their students and results in better student confidence and retention; and student outcome measures show overall improvement in student content gains as teachers progress through the program.

Investigating the Effect of Professional Development, Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching, and Instruction on Student Outcomes

To meet College and Career-Ready standards in mathematics, classroom instruction must change dramatically.  As in past reform efforts, many look to professional development as a major force to propel this transformation, yet not enough is known about mathematics professional development programs that operate at scale in the United States. In this project, we evaluated one such program.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Full Description: 

To meet College and Career-Ready standards in mathematics, classroom instruction must change dramatically.  As in past reform efforts, many look to professional development as a major force to propel this transformation, yet not enough is known about mathematics professional development programs that operate at scale in the United States. In this project, we evaluated one such program by randomly assigning 105 teachers to either an “as is” control group or to receive professional development designed to a) improve mathematical knowledge for teaching and b) help teachers revise their instruction to be more cognitively demanding and student-centered. We found positive impacts on teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching, but no effects on teaching or student outcomes, suggesting that a modest increment in mathematical knowledge may not by itself be sufficient to improve instruction or student outcomes.

Learning to RECAST Students' Causal Assumptions in Science Through Interactive Multimedia Professional Development Tools

This project produced and is testing a website with tools to help teachers identify when students’ science learning may be limited by how they construe the underlying causal structure of the concepts. It demonstrates students’ difficulties and a pedagogical approach to help them recast their explanations to align them with the causal structure in the scientifically accepted explanations. The site focuses on middle school with in-depth examples in density and ecosystems.

Lead Organization(s): 
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Funding Period: 
Fri, 07/01/2005 to Sat, 04/30/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Full Description: 

Understanding the nature of causality is critical to learning a range of science concepts from “everyday science” to the science of complexity. The Understandings of Consequence (UC) Project, funded by NSF, established that students hold default assumptions about the nature of causality that hinder their science learning and that curriculum designed to restructure students’ causal assumptions while learning the science leads to deeper understanding. In this project, the UC team and the Science Media Group (SMG) of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics collaborated in a five-year iterative design process to create interactive, multimedia professional development website. It has tools to guide middle school physics and biology teachers in assessing the structure of their students’ scientific explanations and in using existing curricula and developing their own curriculum to restructure or RECAST students’ understandings to fit with scientifically accepted explanations. It includes a range of formats including: documentary footage of real-life classrooms; interviews with teachers describing challenges and obstacles they faced introducing the curricula, how these were overcome, and, the benefits they obtained from using the materials; comments by students, which demonstrate the wide range of student prior thinking about specific causal forms as embedded in the science concepts; discussion questions, suggested hands-on activities, and short videotaped “content explorations,” examples of student written work and journals; design guides and questions to help teachers understand the features of and how to design RECAST activities, assessments, and assessment rubrics related to causal understanding in science. We are evaluating the site with 60 teachers and are iteratively improving it.

Creation and Dissemination of Upper-elementary Mathematics Assessment Modules

This project has constructed, pilot tested, validated, and is now disseminating assessments of student achievement for use in upper elementary grades.
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Fri, 05/01/2009 to Mon, 04/30/2012
Full Description: 
This project has constructed, pilot tested, validated, and is now disseminating assessments of student achievement for use in upper elementary grades. There are four equivalent forms for each of the fourth and fifth grades, with each form covering (1) number and operations, (2) pre-algebra and algebra, and (3) geometry and measurement. Items are based in the literature on student's cognitive growth and are meant to:
  • Represent central ideas in the subject matter;
  • Focus on the meaning of facts and procedures; and
  • Require more complex responses than traditional multiple-choice problems. 
These forms and associated technical materials can be accessed at:

Helping Teachers to Use and Students To Learn From Contrasting Examples: A Scale-up Study in Algebra I

Several small-scale experimental classroom studies Star and Rittle-Johnson demonstrate the value of comparison in mathematics learning: Students who learned by comparing and contrasting alternative solution methods made greater gains in conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and flexibility than those who studied the same solution methods one at a time. This study will extend that prior work by developing, piloting, and then evaluating the impact of comparison on students' learning of mathematics in a full-year algebra course.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/15/2008 to Tue, 08/31/2010


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