Case Study

GRIDS: Graphing Research on Inquiry with Data in Science

The Graphing Research on Inquiry with Data in Science (GRIDS) project will investigate strategies to improve middle school students' science learning by focusing on student ability to interpret and use graphs. GRIDS will undertake a comprehensive program to address the need for improved graph comprehension. The project will create, study, and disseminate technology-based assessments, technologies that aid graph interpretation, instructional designs, professional development, and learning materials.

Award Number: 
1418423
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Graphing Research on Inquiry with Data in Science (GRIDS) project is a four-year full design and development proposal, addressing the learning strand, submitted to the DR K-12 program at the NSF. GRIDS will investigate strategies to improve middle school students' science learning by focusing on student ability to interpret and use graphs. In middle school math, students typically graph only linear functions and rarely encounter features used in science, such as units, scientific notation, non-integer values, noise, cycles, and exponentials. Science teachers rarely teach about the graph features needed in science, so students are left to learn science without recourse to what is inarguably a key tool in learning and doing science. GRIDS will undertake a comprehensive program to address the need for improved graph comprehension. The project will create, study, and disseminate technology-based assessments, technologies that aid graph interpretation, instructional designs, professional development, and learning materials.

GRIDS will start by developing the GRIDS Graphing Inventory (GGI), an online, research-based measure of graphing skills that are relevant to middle school science. The project will address gaps revealed by the GGI by designing instructional activities that feature powerful digital technologies including automated guidance based on analysis of student generated graphs and student writing about graphs. These materials will be tested in classroom comparison studies using the GGI to assess both annual and longitudinal progress. Approximately 30 teachers selected from 10 public middle schools will participate in the project, along with approximately 4,000 students in their classrooms. A series of design studies will be conducted to create and test ten units of study and associated assessments, and a minimum of 30 comparison studies will be conducted to optimize instructional strategies. The comparison studies will include a minimum of 5 experiments per term, each with 6 teachers and their 600-800 students. The project will develop supports for teachers to guide students to use graphs and science knowledge to deepen understanding, and to develop agency and identity as science learners.

From Elementary Generalist to Mathematics Specialist: Examining Teacher Practice and Student Outcomes in Departmental and Self-Contained Models

This research investigates student mathematics learning outcomes at the elementary level in relation to teacher expertise (elementary teachers with math specialist certification versus generally prepared elementary teachers) and school organization (departmentalized versus self-contained mathematics classrooms). Findings will provide evidence of the impact of content-specific teacher expertise and a departmentalized school organizational model that offers students access to well-qualified teachers of mathematics with no additional staffing costs.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1414438
Funding Period: 
Fri, 08/01/2014 to Tue, 07/31/2018
Full Description: 

This research investigates student mathematics learning outcomes at the elementary level in relation to teacher expertise (elementary teachers with math specialist certification versus generally prepared elementary teachers) and school organization (departmentalized versus self-contained mathematics classrooms). University of Missouri researchers will organize and facilitate the research in multiple Missouri public and private school sites. Findings will provide evidence of the impact of content-specific teacher expertise and a departmentalized school organizational model that offers students access to well-qualified teachers of mathematics with no additional staffing costs. To investigate the impact of teacher expertise and school organization on student learning experimental, quasi-experimental, and qualitative designs are employed. Specifically, 80 teachers who have earned state certification as Elementary Mathematics Specialists (hereafter, "EMS teachers") will be selected to participate in the study. Employing a randomized experimental design, half of the EMS teachers will be assigned to teach in a departmental model (Condition 1) in their school, teaching two or more sections of grade 4 mathematics. The other half will remain in generalist (hereafter, self-contained) positions (Condition 2) in their school, teaching all regular subjects to a single class of students. A comparison group of 40 non-EMS teachers with self-contained teaching assignments (Condition 3) will be selected from the same schools in Condition 2. The Smarter Balanced assessment will provide a baseline measure of students' prior achievement in grade 3 and also a measure of the mathematics achievement of grade 4 students taught by the 120 teachers in the study. The project team will analyze student-level mathematics scores linked with specific teachers.

Improving student achievement in mathematics at the elementary level is particularly challenging due to the way elementary students are generally organized for instruction (e.g., one teacher responsible for teaching all subjects to 25-30 students). Because elementary teachers must be knowledgeable about many content areas, they rarely study mathematics in depth, even though there is a growing body of evidence showing the impact of specialized mathematical knowledge for teaching on student learning outcomes. This study carefully researches an alternative model, where elementary teachers with special training in mathematics teaching and learning are assigned more than one single class of students for mathematics instruction. Findings from the research will provide evidence about the impact of both certification as an elementary mathematics specialist and teaching in a departmental assignment on student learning. The results will help school and district leaders better plan for assignment of staff to provide all students with access to high quality mathematics instruction.

Focus on Energy: Preparing Elementary Teachers to Meet the NGSS Challenge (Collaborative Research: Vokos)

This project will develop and investigate the opportunities and limitations of Focus on Energy, a professional development (PD) system for elementary teachers (grades 3-5). The PD will contain: resources that will help teachers to interpret, evaluate and cultivate students' ideas about energy; classroom activities to help them to identify, track and represent energy forms and flows; and supports to help them in engaging students in these activities.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418211
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) identify an ambitious progression for learning energy, beginning in elementary school. To help the nation's teachers address this challenge, this project will develop and investigate the opportunities and limitations of Focus on Energy, a professional development (PD) system for elementary teachers (grades 3-5). The PD will contain: resources that will help teachers to interpret, evaluate and cultivate students' ideas about energy; classroom activities to help them to identify, track and represent energy forms and flows; and supports to help them in engaging students in these activities. Teachers will receive the science and pedagogical content knowledge they need to teach about energy in a crosscutting way across all their science curricula; students will be intellectually engaged in the practice of developing, testing, and revising a model of energy they can use to describe phenomena both in school and in their everyday lives; and formative assessment will guide the moment-by-moment advancement of students' ideas about energy.

This project will develop and test a scalable model of PD that will enhance the ability of in-service early elementary teachers to help students learn energy concepts by coordinating formative assessment, face-to-face and web-based PD activities. Researchers will develop and iteratively refine tools to assess both teacher and student energy reasoning strategies. The goals of the project include (1) teachers' increased facility with, and disciplined application of, representations and energy reasoning to make sense of everyday phenomena in terms of energy; (2) teachers' increased ability to interpret student representations and ideas about energy to make instructional decisions; and (3) students' improved use of representations and energy reasoning to develop and refine models that describe energy forms and flows associated with everyday phenomena. The web-based product will contain: a set of formative assessments to help teachers to interpret student ideas about energy based on the Facets model; a series of classroom tested activities to introduce the Energy Tracking Lens (method to explore energy concept using multiple representations); and videos of classroom exemplars as well as scientists thinking out loud while using the Energy Tracking Lens. The project will refine the existing PD and build a system that supports online implementation by constructing a facilitator's guide so that the online community can run with one facilitator.

Focus on Energy: Preparing Elementary Teachers to Meet the NGSS Challenge (Collaborative Research: Lacy)

This project will develop and investigate the opportunities and limitations of Focus on Energy, a professional development (PD) system for elementary teachers (grades 3-5). The PD will contain: resources that will help teachers to interpret, evaluate and cultivate students' ideas about energy; classroom activities to help them to identify, track and represent energy forms and flows; and supports to help them in engaging students in these activities.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418052
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Project Evaluator: 
Bill Nave
Full Description: 

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) identify an ambitious progression for learning energy, beginning in elementary school. To help the nation's teachers address this challenge, this project will develop and investigate the opportunities and limitations of Focus on Energy, a professional development (PD) system for elementary teachers (grades 3-5). The PD will contain: resources that will help teachers to interpret, evaluate and cultivate students' ideas about energy; classroom activities to help them to identify, track and represent energy forms and flows; and supports to help them in engaging students in these activities. Teachers will receive the science and pedagogical content knowledge they need to teach about energy in a crosscutting way across all their science curricula; students will be intellectually engaged in the practice of developing, testing, and revising a model of energy they can use to describe phenomena both in school and in their everyday lives; and formative assessment will guide the moment-by-moment advancement of students' ideas about energy.

This project will develop and test a scalable model of PD that will enhance the ability of in-service early elementary teachers to help students learn energy concepts by coordinating formative assessment, face-to-face and web-based PD activities. Researchers will develop and iteratively refine tools to assess both teacher and student energy reasoning strategies. The goals of the project include (1) teachers' increased facility with, and disciplined application of, representations and energy reasoning to make sense of everyday phenomena in terms of energy; (2) teachers' increased ability to interpret student  ideas about energy to make instructional decisions; and (3) students' improved use of representations and energy reasoning to develop and refine models that describe energy forms and flows associated with everyday phenomena. The web-based product will contain: a set of formative assessments to help teachers to interpret student ideas about energy based on the Facets model; a series of classroom tested activities to introduce the Energy Tracking Lens (method to explore energy concept using multiple representations); and videos of classroom exemplars as well as scientists thinking out loud while using the Energy Tracking Lens. The project will refine the existing PD and build a system that supports online implementation by constructing a facilitator's guide so that the online community can run with one facilitator.

Driven to Discover: Citizen Science Inspires Classroom Investigation

This project utilizes existing citizen science programs as springboards for professional development for teachers during an intensive summer workshop. The project curriculum helps teachers use student participation in citizen science to engage them in the full complement of science practices; from asking questions, to conducting independent research, to sharing findings.

Award Number: 
1417777
Funding Period: 
Wed, 10/01/2014 to Sun, 09/30/2018
Full Description: 

Citizen science refers to partnerships between volunteers and scientists that answer real world questions. The target audiences in this project are middle and high school teachers and their students in a broad range of settings: two urban districts, an inner-ring suburb, and three rural districts. The project utilizes existing citizen science programs as springboards for professional development for teachers during an intensive summer workshop. The project curriculum helps teachers use student participation in citizen science to engage them in the full complement of science practices; from asking questions, to conducting independent research, to sharing findings. Through district professional learning communities (PLCs), teachers work with district and project staff to support and demonstrate project implementation. As students and their teachers engage in project activities, the project team is addressing two key research questions: 1) What is the nature of instructional practices that promote student engagement in the process of science?, and 2) How does this engagement influence student learning, with special attention to the benefits of engaging in research presentations in public, high profile venues? Key contributions of the project are stronger connections between a) ecology-based citizen science programs, STEM curriculum, and students' lives and b) science learning and disciplinary literacy in reading, writing and math.

Research design and analysis are focused on understanding how professional development that involves citizen science and independent investigations influences teachers' classroom practices and student learning. The research utilizes existing instruments to investigate teachers' classroom practices, and student engagement and cognitive activity: the Collaboratives for Excellence in Teacher Preparation and Classroom Observation Protocol, and Inquiring into Science Instruction Observation Protocol. These instruments are used in classroom observations of a stratified sample of classes whose students represent the diversity of the participating districts. Curriculum resources for each citizen science topic, cross-referenced to disciplinary content and practices of the NGSS, include 1) a bibliography (books, web links, relevant research articles); 2) lesson plans and student science journals addressing relevant science content and background on the project; and 3) short videos that help teachers introduce the projects and anchor a digital library to facilitate dissemination. Impacts beyond both the timeframe of the project and the approximately 160 teachers who will participate are supported by curriculum units that address NGSS life science topics, and wide dissemination of these materials in a variety of venues. The evaluation focuses on outcomes of and satisfaction with the summer workshop, classroom incorporation, PLCs, and student learning. It provides formative and summative findings based on qualitative and quantitative instruments, which, like those used for the research, have well-documented reliability and validity. These include the Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument to assess teacher beliefs; the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol to assess teacher practices; the Standards Assessment Inventory to assess PLC quality; and the Scientific Attitude Inventory to assess student attitudes towards science. Project deliverables include 1) curriculum resources that will support engagement in five existing citizen science projects that incorporate standards-based science content; 2) venues for student research presentations that can be duplicated in other settings; and 3) a compilation of teacher-adapted primary scientific research articles that will provide a model for promoting disciplinary literacy. The project engages 40 teachers per year and their students.

Computer Science in Secondary Schools (CS3): Studying Context, Enactment, and Impact

This project will examine the relationships among the factors that influence the implementation of the Exploring Computer Science (ECS), a pre-Advanced Placement curriculum that prepares students for further study in computer science. This study elucidates how variation in curricular implementation influences student learning and determines not only what works, but also for whom and under what circumstances.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418149
Funding Period: 
Fri, 08/01/2014 to Tue, 07/31/2018
Full Description: 

Computational thinking is an important set of 21st century knowledge and skills that has implications for the heavily technological world in which we live. Multiple industries indicate the under supply of those trained to be effective in the computer science workforce. In addition, there are increasing demands for broadening the participation in the computer science workforce by women and members of minority populations. SRI International will examine the relationships among the factors that influence the implementation of the Exploring Computer Science (ECS), a pre-Advanced Placement curriculum that prepares students for further study in computer science. SRI will work in partnership with the ECS curriculum developers, teachers, and the nonprofit Code.org who are involved in the scaling of ECS. This study elucidates how variation in curricular implementation influences student learning and determines not only what works, but also for whom and under what circumstances.

SRI will conduct a pilot study in which they develop, pilot, and refine measures as they recruit school districts for the implementation study. The subsequent implementation study will be a 2 year examination of curriculum enactment, teacher practice, and evidence of student learning. Because no comparable curriculum currently exists, the study will examine the conditions needed to implement the ECS curriculum in ways that improve student computational thinking outcomes rather than determine whether the ECS curriculum is more effective than other CS-related curricula. The study will conduct two kinds of analyses: 1) an analysis of the influence of ECS on student learning gains, and 2) an analysis of the relationship between classroom-level implementation and student learning gains. Because of the clustered nature of the data (students nested within classrooms nested within schools), the project will use hierarchical linear modeling to examine the influence of the curriculum.

Bio-Sphere: Fostering Deep Learning of Complex Biology for Building our Next Generation's Scientists

The goal of this project is to help middle school students, particularly in rural and underserved areas, develop deep scientific knowledge and knowledge of the practices and routines of science. Research teams will develop an innovative learning environment called Bio-Sphere, which will foster learning of complex science issues through hands-on design and engineering.

Award Number: 
1418044
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

Today's citizens face profound questions in science. Preparing future generations of scientists is crucial if the United States is to remain competitive in a technology-focused economy. The biological sciences are of particular importance for addressing some of today's complex problems, such as sustainability and food production, biofuels, and carbon dioxide and its effect on our environment. Although knowledge in the life sciences is of critical importance, this is an area in which there are significantly fewer studies examining students' conceptions than in physics and chemistry. The goal of this project is to help middle school students, particularly in rural and underserved areas, develop deep scientific knowledge and knowledge of the practices and routines of science. A major strength of Bio-Sphere is the inclusion of hands-on design and engineering in biology, a field in which there are fewer instances of curricula that integrate engineering design at the middle school level. The units will enable an in-depth, cohesive understanding of science content, and Bio-Sphere will be disseminated nationally and internationally through proactive outreach to teachers as well as scholarly publications.

This project addresses the need to inculcate deep learning of complex science by bringing complex socio-scientific issues into middle school classrooms, and providing students with instructional materials that allow them to practice science as scientists do. Research teams will develop, iteratively refine and evaluate an innovative learning environment called Bio-Sphere. Bio-Sphere combines the strengths of hands-on design and engineering, engages students in the practices of science, and fosters learning of complex science issues, especially among underserved populations. Each Bio-Sphere unit presents a complex science issue in the form of a design challenge that students solve by conducting experiments, using visualizations in an electronic textbook, and connecting with the community. The units, aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, provide greater coherence, continuity, and sustained instruction focused on uncovering and integrating key ideas over long periods of time. The project will follow a design-based research methodology. In Phase 1, the Bio-Sphere materials will be developed. Phase 2 will consist of studies in Wisconsin schools to generate existence proofs, i.e., examining enactments with respect to the designed objectives to understand how a design works. Phase 3 studies will focus on practical implementation: how to bring this innovative design to life in very different classroom contexts and without the everyday support of the design team, and will be conducted in rural schools in Alabama and North Carolina.

QuEST: Quality Elementary Science Teaching

This project is examining an innovative model of situated Professional Development (PD) and the contribution of controlled teaching experiences to teacher learning and, as a result, to student learning. The project is carrying out intensive research about an existing special PD summer institute (QuEST) that has been in existence for more than five years through a state Improving Teacher Quality Grants program.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1316683
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/15/2013 to Mon, 07/31/2017
Full Description: 

The University of Missouri-Columbia is examining an innovative model of situated Professional Development (PD) and the contribution of controlled teaching experiences to teacher learning and, as a result, to student learning. The project is carrying out intensive research about an existing special PD summer institute (QuEST) that has been in existence for more than five years through a state Improving Teacher Quality Grants program. The project will do the following: (1) undertake more in-depth and targeted research to better understand the efficacy of the PD model and impacts on student learning; (2) develop and field test resources from the project that can produce broader impacts; and (3) explore potential scale-up of the model for diverse audiences. The overarching goals of the project are: (a) Implement a high-quality situated PD model for K-6 teachers in science; (b) Conduct a comprehensive and rigorous program of research to study the impacts of this model on teacher and student learning; and (c) Disseminate project outcomes to a variety of stakeholders to produce broader impacts. A comparison of two groups of teachers will be done. Both groups will experience a content (physics) and pedagogy learning experience during one week in the summer. During a second week, one group will experience "controlled teaching" of elementary students, while the other group will not. Teacher and student gains will be measured using a quantitative and qualitative, mixed-methods design.

Improving Formative Assessment Practices: Using Learning Trajectories to Develop Resources That Support Teacher Instructional Practice and Student Learning in CMP2

The overarching goal of this project is to develop innovative instructional resources and professional development to support middle grades teachers in meeting the challenges set by college- and career-ready standards for students' learning of algebra.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1316736
Funding Period: 
Tue, 10/01/2013 to Sat, 09/30/2017
Full Description: 

The overarching goal of this project is to develop innovative instructional resources and professional development to support middle grades teachers in meeting the challenges set by college- and career-ready standards for students' learning of algebra. This 4-year project includes three major components: (1) development and empirical testing of learning trajectories for linear functions and linear equations, (2) collaborations with teachers of Connected Mathematics Project 2 (CMP2) to create and test a set of instructional resources focused on formative assessment processes, and (3) iterative refinement of a professional development model for engaging teachers with the instructional resources in ways that optimize students' learning of algebra. The professional development activities provide opportunities for teachers to develop specialized content knowledge of learning trajectories for linear functions and equations in algebra, processes for interpreting students' performances with respect to those trajectories and providing feedback and additional instructional activities based on "where" the student is with respect to the overall learning trajectory. Such changes in teacher knowledge and practice are anticipated to produce improved student learning outcomes for key concepts and procedures in algebra. One of the major stumbling blocks to teachers' implementation of effective formative assessment practice is the sheer volume and management of the information needed to monitor and interpret student performance. The project addresses this impediment by employing the ASSISTments platform, a web-based online system for delivering mathematics problem sets and capable of adapting problem presentation to student performance in real time.

Research on learning trajectories in mathematics has mostly centered on concepts at the primary school level. While research at this level has been prolific and informative in multiple aspects of mathematics education, there are major knowledge gaps in our understanding of learning trajectories in several domains of mathematics, specifically in algebra. Indeed, there is a growing need for new research and development projects to fill these critical knowledge gaps.

This project focuses on two critical areas in mathematics: students' understanding of linear functions and linear equations, and students' ability to use them to solve problems. Empirically validated learning trajectories will support curriculum development in these areas. In addition, this project contributes to the research base to improve the curriculum standards by providing empirical evidence for hypothesized trajectories for selected content standards for middle school students. Finally, the use of CMP2 augmented by the online management system increases the probability of widespread impact of the professional development model targeted at teachers' formative assessment practices. Although we are using a specific curriculum program, the treatment of linear functions and equations topics in CMP is consistent with other functions-based curricula in the U.S. Thus, the work done in the context of this project will be useful in examining learning trajectories and formative assessment in other instructional programs.

Cross-Sector Insights Toward Aligning Education Research and Real-World Impact

The goal of the project is to inform the development of an impact-based research methodology (IBR) to enable a more direct and overt connections between academic research on games and the development of educational products and services that are sustainable and scalable.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1349309
Funding Period: 
Sun, 09/01/2013 to Sun, 08/31/2014
Full Description: 

This EAGER proposal is a partnership among the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an independent R&D organization associated with the Sesame Workshop, E-Line media, a publisher of game-based learning products, and the Center for Games and Impact at Arizona State University. The goal of the project is to inform the development of an impact-based research methodology (IBR) to enable a more direct and overt connections between academic research on games and the development of educational products and services that are sustainable and scalable. Through consultation with other researchers and developers, the team is conducting series case studies to identify promising practices from three communities: 1) the tech-enabled services sector, particularly the idea of lean start up, 2) the social impact sector; and 3) the learning sciences and educational research sector.

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