Case Study

Youth Participatory Science to Address Urban Heavy Metal Contamination

This project is focused on the work and learning of teachers as they engage youth from underrepresented groups in studying chemistry as a subject relevant to heavy metal contamination in their neighborhoods. The project will position Chicago teachers and students as Change Makers who are capable of addressing the crises of inequity in science education and environmental contamination that matter deeply to them, while simultaneously advancing their own understanding and expertise.

Award Number: 
1720856
Funding Period: 
Mon, 05/15/2017 to Sat, 04/30/2022
Full Description: 

This project is focused on the work and learning of teachers as they engage youth from underrepresented groups in studying chemistry as a subject relevant to heavy metal contamination in their neighborhoods. The project is a collaboration of teachers in the Chicago Public Schools, science educators, chemists, and environmental scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University, and members of the Chicago Environmental Justice Network. The project is significant because it leverages existing partnerships and builds on pilot projects which will be informed by a corresponding cycle of research on teachers' learning and practice. The project will position Chicago teachers and students as Change Makers who are capable of addressing the crises of inequity in science education and environmental contamination that matter deeply to them, while simultaneously advancing their own understanding and expertise. The project will examine the malleable factors affecting the ability of teachers to engage underrepresented students in innovative urban citizen science projects with a focus on the synergistic learning that occurs as teachers, students, scientists, and community members work together on addressing complex socio-scientific issues.

The goal is to provide a network of intellectual and analytical support to high school chemistry teachers engaged in customizing curricula in response to urban environmental concerns. The project will use an annual summer institute where collaborators will develop curriculum and procedures for collecting soil and water samples. In the project, the teachers and students will work with university scientists to analyze these samples for heavy metals, and students will share their results in community settings. The study design will be multiple case and be used to study the content knowledge learned and mobilized by participating teachers as they develop these authentic projects. The project includes explicit focus on the professional development of high school science teachers while it also aims to create rich learning opportunities for underrepresented high school students in STEM fields. The contextualized science concepts within students' everyday experiences or socio-scientific issues will likely have a positive impact on student motivation and learning outcomes, but the experiences of urban students are less likely to be reflected by the curriculum, and the practices of effective secondary science teachers in these contexts are under-examined.

The following article is in press and will be available soon:

Morales-Doyle, D., Childress-Price, T., & Chappell, M. (in press). Chemicals are contaminants too: Teaching appreciation and critique of science in the era of NGSS. Science Education. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21546

Perceptual and Implementation Strategies for Knowledge Acquisition of Digital Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired Students (Collaborative Research: Gorlewicz)

This project lays the foundation and framework for enabling digital, multimodal tactile graphics on touchscreens for individuals with visual impairments (VI). Given the low-cost, portability, and wide availability of touchscreens, this work promotes the use of vibrations and sounds on these readily available platforms for addressing the graphical access challenge for individuals with VI.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1644538
Funding Period: 
Sun, 01/15/2017 to Tue, 12/31/2019
Full Description: 

Students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities for experiential learning, an important component of quality STEM education. With continued shifts toward the use of digital media to supplement instruction in STEM classrooms, much of the content remains inaccessible, particular for students with visual impairments. The promise of technology and use of tactile graphics is an effective, emerging innovation for providing more complete access to important information and materials. Tactile graphics are images that use raised surfaces to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams. Touchscreen-based smart devices allow visual information to be digitally and dynamically represented via tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic feedback. Tactile graphic technology embedded in touchscreen devices can be leveraged to make STEM content more accessible to blind and visually impaired students.

This project will develop a learner-centered, perceptually-motivated framework addressing the requirements for students with blindness and visual impairments to access graphical content in STEM. Using TouchSense technology, the investigators will create instructional materials using tactile graphics and test them in a pilot classroom of both sighted and BVI students. The investigators will work with approximately 150 students with visual impairments to understand the kind of feedback that is most appropriate for specific content in algebra (coordinate plane), cell biology, and geography. Qualitative research methods will be used to analyze the video-based data set.

Perceptual and Implementation Strategies for Knowledge Acquisition of Digital Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired Students (Collaborative Research: Stefik)

This project lays the foundation and framework for enabling digital, multimodal tactile graphics on touchscreens for individuals with visual impairments (VI). Given the low-cost, portability, and wide availability of touchscreens, this work promotes the use of vibrations and sounds on these readily available platforms for addressing the graphical access challenge for individuals with VI.

Award Number: 
1644491
Funding Period: 
Sun, 01/15/2017 to Tue, 12/31/2019
Full Description: 

Students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities for experiential learning, an important component of quality STEM education. With continued shifts toward the use of digital media to supplement instruction in STEM classrooms, much of the content remains inaccessible, particular for students with visual impairments. The promise of technology and use of tactile graphics is an effective, emerging innovation for providing more complete access to important information and materials. Tactile graphics are images that use raised surfaces to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams. Touchscreen-based smart devices allow visual information to be digitally and dynamically represented via tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic feedback. Tactile graphic technology embedded in touchscreen devices can be leveraged to make STEM content more accessible to blind and visually impaired students.

This project will develop a learner-centered, perceptually-motivated framework addressing the requirements for students with blindness and visual impairments to access graphical content in STEM. Using TouchSense technology, the investigators will create instructional materials using tactile graphics and test them in a pilot classroom of both sighted and BVI students. The investigators will work with approximately 150 students with visual impairments to understand the kind of feedback that is most appropriate for specific content in algebra (coordinate plane), cell biology, and geography. Qualitative research methods will be used to analyze the video-based data set.

Perceptual and Implementation Strategies for Knowledge Acquisition of Digital Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired Students (Collaborative Research: Smith)

This project lays the foundation and framework for enabling digital, multimodal tactile graphics on touchscreens for individuals with visual impairments (VI). Given the low-cost, portability, and wide availability of touchscreens, this work promotes the use of vibrations and sounds on these readily available platforms for addressing the graphical access challenge for individuals with VI.

Award Number: 
1644476
Funding Period: 
Sun, 01/15/2017 to Tue, 12/31/2019
Full Description: 

Students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities for experiential learning, an important component of quality STEM education. With continued shifts toward the use of digital media to supplement instruction in STEM classrooms, much of the content remains inaccessible, particular for students with visual impairments. The promise of technology and use of tactile graphics is an effective, emerging innovation for providing more complete access to important information and materials. Tactile graphics are images that use raised surfaces to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams. Touchscreen-based smart devices allow visual information to be digitally and dynamically represented via tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic feedback. Tactile graphic technology embedded in touchscreen devices can be leveraged to make STEM content more accessible to blind and visually impaired students.

This project will develop a learner-centered, perceptually-motivated framework addressing the requirements for students with blindness and visual impairments to access graphical content in STEM. Using TouchSense technology, the investigators will create instructional materials using tactile graphics and test them in a pilot classroom of both sighted and BVI students. The investigators will work with approximately 150 students with visual impairments to understand the kind of feedback that is most appropriate for specific content in algebra (coordinate plane), cell biology, and geography. Qualitative research methods will be used to analyze the video-based data set.

Perceptual and Implementation Strategies for Knowledge Acquisition of Digital Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired Students (Collaborative Research: Giudice)

This project lays the foundation and framework for enabling digital, multimodal tactile graphics on touchscreens for individuals with visual impairments (VI). Given the low-cost, portability, and wide availability of touchscreens, this work promotes the use of vibrations and sounds on these readily available platforms for addressing the graphical access challenge for individuals with VI.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1644471
Funding Period: 
Sun, 01/15/2017 to Tue, 12/31/2019
Full Description: 

Students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities for experiential learning, an important component of quality STEM education. With continued shifts toward the use of digital media to supplement instruction in STEM classrooms, much of the content remains inaccessible, particular for students with visual impairments. The promise of technology and use of tactile graphics is an effective, emerging innovation for providing more complete access to important information and materials. Tactile graphics are images that use raised surfaces to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams. Touchscreen-based smart devices allow visual information to be digitally and dynamically represented via tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic feedback. Tactile graphic technology embedded in touchscreen devices can be leveraged to make STEM content more accessible to blind and visually impaired students.

This project will develop a learner-centered, perceptually-motivated framework addressing the requirements for students with blindness and visual impairments to access graphical content in STEM. Using TouchSense technology, the investigators will create instructional materials using tactile graphics and test them in a pilot classroom of both sighted and BVI students. The investigators will work with approximately 150 students with visual impairments to understand the kind of feedback that is most appropriate for specific content in algebra (coordinate plane), cell biology, and geography. Qualitative research methods will be used to analyze the video-based data set.

INFEWS/T4: The INFEWS-ER: a Virtual Resource Center Enabling Graduate Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems

This project will provide a virtual environment for completing the Food, Energy, and Water (FEW) graduate student experience. The proposed work facilitates a transition from interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary training of existing faculty and current graduate students through a virtual resource center to help develop systematic processes for interdisciplinary thinking about large societal problems, especially those at the nexus of food, energy, and water.

Award Number: 
1639340
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

This project will provide a virtual environment for completing the Food, Energy, and Water (FEW) graduate student experience, thereby facilitating the generation of human capital who can address grand challenges at the nexus of food, energy, and water. The INFEWS-ER will provide educational resources (ER) targeting innovations at the nexus of FEW by combining the fundamental sciences of food, energy, and water with the skills and knowledge of interdisciplinary problem solving and the latest computational modeling and analysis tools and data. These individuals will be capable of analyzing scenarios at the scale of nations, continents, and the globe. The INFEWS-ER will offer certificate programs where FEW Graduate Scholars can demonstrate their capabilities in interdisciplinary thinking, Big Data, and computational modeling and analysis, thereby receiving a credential demonstrating their level of achievement. Further, The INFEWS-ER will offer a faculty fellowship program to incentivize a network of academics that will provide a scaffolded learning environment for graduates, effectively creating a hub for INFEWS research, education, and training.

The proposed work facilitates a transition from interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary training of existing faculty and current graduate students (who will become future faculty, practitioners, and policy makers) through a virtual resource center that will be accessible beyond the project team and project timeframe. Students will develop systematic processes for interdisciplinary thinking. They will be in the best possible position to target large societal problems, especially those at the nexus of food, energy, and water. New, interdisciplinary solutions will emerge, solutions that are sensitive to a wider array of constraints and ideals. Those solutions will reflect the best possible integration of technological, socio-economic, and socio-political constructs. Project impacts include educational and workforce development of the next generation of academics, multi-institution collaboration, and enhanced infrastructure for transdisciplinary research and education. The INFEWS-ER also has the potential to influence the way interdisciplinary research and education is implemented in the future through the archival dissemination of not only learning modules, but also the evaluations and lessons learned from the implementation of the center.

Developing a Model of STEM-Focused Elementary Schools (eSTEM)

This project will study five elementary STEM schools from across the U.S. that are inclusive of students from underrepresented groups in order to determine what defines these schools and will use an iterative case study replication design to study the design and implementation of five exemplary eSTEM schools with the goal of developing a logic model that highlights the commonalities in core components and target outcomes across the schools, despite the different school contexts.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621005
Funding Period: 
Mon, 08/15/2016 to Wed, 07/31/2019
Full Description: 

In the United States (U.S.) certain groups are persistently underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers, especially Blacks, Hispanics, and low-income students who disproportionately fall out of the high-achieving group in K-12 education. Policymakers argue that future STEM workforce needs will only be met if there is broader diversity participating in STEM education and careers. Recent reports have suggested that the nation would benefit from more STEM-focused schools, including at the elementary school level, to inspire interest and prepare students for future STEM endeavors. However, there is currently little information on the number and quality of elementary STEM (eSTEM) schools and the extent to which underrepresented groups have access to them. This project will study five elementary STEM schools from across the U.S. that are inclusive of students from underrepresented groups in order to determine what defines these schools. The project team, which includes investigators from SRI International and George Mason University, initially identified twenty candidate critical components that define inclusive STEM-focused elementary schools and will refine and further clarify the critical components through the research study. The resulting research products could support the development of future eSTEM schools and research on their effectiveness.

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 Exploratory Learning Strand project will use an iterative case study replication design to study the design and implementation of five exemplary eSTEM schools with the goal of developing a logic model that highlights the commonalities in core components and target outcomes across the schools, despite the different school contexts. A framework of twenty design components, taken from research on inclusive STEM high schools and research on successful elementary schools, will inform the data collection, analysis, and logic model development. Schools as critical cases will be selected through a nomination process by experts, followed by screening and categorization according to key design components. School documents and public database information, a school survey, and telephone interviews with school administrators will inform screening and selection of candidate schools. Researchers will then conduct multi-day, on-site visitations to each selected school, collecting data from classroom observations, interviews with students, focus groups with teachers and administrators, and discussions with critical members of the school community. The project is also gathering data on school-level student outcome indicators. Using axial and open coding, the analysis aims to develop rich descriptions that showcase characteristics of the schools to iteratively determine a theory of action that illustrates interconnections among context, design, implementation, and outcomes. Research findings will be communicated through a logic model and blueprint, school case study reports, and conference proceedings and publications that will be provided on a project website, providing an immediate and ongoing resource for education leaders, researchers and policymakers to learn about research on these schools and particular models. Findings will also be disseminated by more traditional means, such as papers in peer-reviewed journals and conference presentations, and webinars.

Modest Supports for Sustaining Professional Development Outcomes over the Long-Term

This study will investigate factors influencing the persistence of teacher change after professional development (PD) experiences, and will examine the extent to which modest supports for science teaching in grades K-5 sustain PD outcomes over the long term.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1620979
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/15/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

This study will investigate factors influencing the persistence of teacher change after professional development (PD) experiences, and will examine the extent to which modest supports for science teaching in grades K-5 sustain PD outcomes over the long term. Fifty K-12 teachers who completed one of four PD programs situated in small, rural school districts will be recruited for the study, and they will participate in summer refresher sessions for two days, cluster meetings at local schools twice during the academic year, and optional Webinar sessions two times per year. Electronic supports for participants will include a dedicated email address, a project Facebook page, a biweekly newsletter, and access to archived Webinars on a range of topics related to teaching elementary school science. Modest support for replacement of consumable supplies needed for hands-on classroom activities will also be provided. The project will examine the extent to which these modest supports individually and collectively foster the sustainability of PD outcomes in terms of the instructional time devoted to science, teacher self-efficacy in science, and teacher use of inquiry-based instructional strategies. The effects of contextual factors on sustainability of PD outcomes will also be examined.

This longitudinal study will seek answers to three research questions: 1) To what extent do modest supports foster the sustainability of professional development outcomes in: a) instructional time in science; b) teachers' self-efficacy in science; and c) teachers' use of inquiry-based instructional strategies? 2) Which supports are: a) the most critical for sustainability of outcomes; and b) the most cost-effective; and 3) What contextual factors support or impede the sustainability of professional development outcomes? The project will employ a mixed-methods research design to examine the effects of PD in science among elementary schoolteachers over a 10 to 12 year period that includes a 3-year PD program, a 4-6 year span after the initial PD program, and a 3-year intervention of modest supports. Quantitative and qualitative data will be collected from multiple sources, including: a general survey of participating teachers regarding their beliefs about science, their instructional practices, and their instructional time in science; a teacher self-efficacy measure; intervention feedback surveys; electronic data sources associated with Webinars; teacher interviews; school administrator interviews; and receipts for purchases of classroom supplies. Quantitative data from the teacher survey and self-efficacy measure will be analyzed using hierarchical modeling to examine growth rates after the original PD and the change in growth after the provision of modest supports. Data gathered from other sources will be tracked, coded, and analyzed for each teacher, and linked to the survey and self-efficacy data for analysis by individual teacher, by grade level, by school, by district, and by original PD experience. Together, these data will enable the project team to address the project's research questions, with particular emphasis on determining the extent to which teachers make use of the various supports offered, and identifying the most cost-effective and critical supports.

Supporting Instructional Growth in Mathematics: Enhancing Urban Secondary Teachers' Professional Learning through Formative Feedback

This project will explore the potential of video-based formative feedback to enhance professional development around ambitious instruction for secondary teachers in urban schools.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1620920
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/15/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

Research continues to show the benefits of ambitious instruction for student learning of mathematics, yet ambitious instruction continues to be rare in U.S. schools, particularly in schools that serve historically marginalized students. Secondary teachers' learning and enactment of ambitious instruction in mathematics requires conceptual change, and their development could benefit from adequate and timely feedback close to classroom instruction. For this reason, the project will explore the potential of video-based formative feedback to enhance professional development. The focus of the partnership between university researchers and a well-regarded professional development organization, Math for America Los Angeles (MfA LA) will be on career-long learning of secondary mathematics teachers in urban schools. Results from this project will provide a theory of mathematics teachers' learning that can inform other instructional improvement efforts, with ecological validity in the critical site of urban schools. The framework and theory will be detailed at the level of specific tools and concrete practices that are learnable by teachers, school leaders, or instructional coaches. This project is funded by the Discovery Research Pre-K-12 Program, which funds research and development of STEM innovations and approaches in assessment, teaching and learning.

The question the project will address is: How can the project use formative feedback to enhance mathematics teachers' professional learning environments that support their development of ambitious instruction in urban schools? Formative feedback refers to tools and processes that ascertain teachers' current understandings and responsively adapt learning activities to better guide them toward their learning goals. Professional learning environments refer to the multiple sites of teachers' learning, from formal professional development activities to their school workplace. Ambitious instruction is defined as teaching approaches that aim to provide all students with ample opportunities to develop conceptual understanding of key mathematical ideas, participate in mathematical argumentation, connect multiple mathematical representations, as well as become fluent with mathematical procedures and processes. The persistence of typical mathematics instruction is framed as, in large part, an issue of teacher learning. Using design-based implementation research and interpretive methods, the project team will co-develop video-based formative assessment processes to guide teachers' evolving classroom practice.

Connected Biology: Three-Dimensional Learning from Molecules to Populations (Collaborative Research: White)

This project will design, develop, and examine the learning outcomes of a new curriculum unit for biology that embodies the conceptual framework of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The curriculum materials to be developed by this project will focus on two areas of study that are central to the life sciences: genetics and the processes of evolution by natural selection.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1620746
Funding Period: 
Sat, 10/01/2016 to Thu, 09/30/2021
Full Description: 

This project will contribute to this mission by designing, developing, and examining the learning outcomes of a new curriculum unit for biology that embodies the conceptual framework of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The curriculum materials to be developed by this project will focus on two areas of study that are central to the life sciences: genetics and the processes of evolution by natural selection. These traditionally separate topics will be interlinked and will be designed to engage students in the disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and the science and engineering practices defined by the NGSS. Once developed, the curriculum materials will be available online for use in high school biology courses nationwide.

This project will be guided by two main research questions: 1) How does learning progress when students experience a set of coherent biology learning materials that employ the principles of three-dimensional learning?; and 2) How do students' abilities to transfer understanding about the relationships between molecules, cells, organisms, and evolution change over time and from one biological phenomenon to another? The project will follow an iterative development plan involving cycles of designing, developing, testing and refining elements of the new curricular model. The project team will work with master teachers to design learning sequences that use six case studies to provide examples of how genetic and evolutionary processes are interlinked. An online data exploration environment will extend learning by enabling students to simulate phenomena being studied and explore data from multiple experimental trials as they seek patterns and construct cause-and-effect explanations of phenomena. Student learning will be measured using a variety of assessment tools, including multiple-choice assessment of student understanding, surveys, classroom observations and interviews, and embedded assessments and log files from the online learning environment.


Project Videos

2020 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: ConnectedBio: Interactive Evolution Across Biological Scales

Presenter(s): Kiley McElroy-Brown, Rebecca Ellis, & Frieda Reichsman


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