Case Study

Learning about Ecosystems Science and Complex Causality through Experimentation in a Virtual World

This project will develop a modified virtual world and accompanying curriculum for middle school students to help them learn to more deeply understand ecosystems patterns and the strengths and limitations of experimentation in ecosystems science. The project will build upon a computer world called EcoMUVE, a Multi-User Virtual Environment or MUVE, and will develop ways for students to conduct experiments within the virtual world and to see the results of those experiments.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1416781
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

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Comprehending how ecosystems function is important knowledge for citizens in making decisions and for students who aspire to become scientists. This understanding requires deep thinking about complex causality, unintended side-effects, and the strengths and limitations of experimental science. These are difficult concepts to learn due to the many interacting components and non-linear interrelationships involved. Ecosystems dynamics is particularly difficult to teach in classrooms because ecosystems involve complexities such as phenomena distributed widely across space that change over long time frames. Learning when and how experimental science can provide useful information in understanding ecosystems dynamics requires moving beyond the limited affordances of classrooms. The project will: 1) advance understanding of experimentation in ecosystems as it can be applied to education; 2) show how student learning is affected by having opportunities to experiment in the virtual world that simulate what scientists do in the real world and with models; and 3) produce results comparing this form of teaching to earlier instructional approaches. This project will result in a learning environment that will support learning about the complexities of the earth's ecosystem.

The project will build upon a computer world called EcoMUVE, a Multi-User Virtual Environment or MUVE, developed as part of an earlier NSF-funded project. A MUVE is a simulated world in which students can virtually walk around, make observations, talk to others, and collect data. EcoMUVE simulates a pond and a forest ecosystem. It offers an immersive context that makes it possible to teach about ecosystems in the classroom, allowing exploration of the complexities of large scale problems, extended time frames and and multiple causality. To more fully understand how ecosystems work, students need the opportunity to experiment and to observe what happens. This project will advance this earlier work by developing ways for students to conduct experiments within the virtual world and to see the results of those experiments. The project will work with ecosystem scientists to study the types of experiments that they conduct, informing knowledge in education about how ecosystem scientists think, and will build opportunities for students that mirror what scientists do. The project will develop a modified virtual world and accompanying curriculum for middle school students to help them learn to more deeply understand ecosystems patterns and the strengths and limitations of experimentation in ecosystems science. The resulting program will be tested against existing practice, the EcoMUVE program alone, and other programs that teach aspects of ecosystems dynamics to help teachers know how to best use these curricula in the classroom.

Teaching Environmental Sustainability - Model My Watershed (Collaborative Research: Kerlin)

This project will develop curricula for environmental/geoscience disciplines for high-school classrooms. The Model My Watershed (MMW) v2 app will bring new environmental datasets and geospatial capabilities into the classroom, to provide a cloud-based learning and analysis platform accessible from a web browser on any computer or mobile device, thus overcoming the cost and technical obstacles to integrating Geographic Information System technology in secondary education.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418133
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Project Evaluator: 
Education Design
Full Description: 

This project will develop curricula for environmental/geoscience disciplines for high-school classrooms. It will teach a systems approach to problem solving through hands-on activities based on local data and issues. This will provide an opportunity for students to act in their communities while engaging in solving problems they find interesting, and require synthesis of prior learning. The Model My Watershed (MMW) v2 app will bring new environmental datasets and geospatial capabilities into the classroom, to provide a cloud-based learning and analysis platform accessible from a web browser on any computer or mobile device, thus overcoming the cost and technical obstacles to integrating Geographic Information System technology in secondary education. It will also integrate new low-cost environmental sensors that allow students to collect and upload their own data and compare them to data visualized on the new MMW v2. This project will transform the ability of teachers throughout the nation to introduce hands-on geospatial analysis activities in the classroom, to explore a wide range of geographic, social, political and environmental concepts and problems beyond the project's specific curricular focus.

The Next Generation Science Standards state that authentic research experiences are necessary to enhance STEM learning. A combination of computational modeling and data collection and analysis will be integrated into this project to address this need. Placing STEM content within a place- and problem-based framework enhances STEM learning. Students, working in groups, will not only design solutions, they will be required to defend them within the application portal through the creation of multimedia products such as videos, articles and web 2.0 presentations. The research plan tests the overall hypothesis that students are much more likely to develop an interest in careers that require systems thinking and/or spatial thinking, such as environmental sciences, if they are provided with problem-based, place-based, hands-on learning experiences using real data, authentic geospatial analysis tools and models, and opportunities to collect their own supporting data. The MMW v2 web app will include a data visualization tool that streams data related to the modeling application. This database will be modified to integrate student data so teachers and students can easily compare their data to data collected by other students and the government and research data. All data will be easily downloadable so that students can increase the use of real data to support the educational exercises. As a complement to the model-based activities, the project partners will design, manufacture, and distribute a low-cost environmental monitoring device, called the Watershed Tracker. This device will allow students to collect real-world data to enhance their understanding of watershed dynamics. Featuring temperature, light, humidity, and soil moisture sensors, the Watershed Tracker will be designed to connect to tablets and smartphones through the audio jack common to all of these devices.

Supporting Secondary Students in Building External Models (Collaborative Research: Damelin)

This project will (1) develop and test a modeling tool and accompanying instructional materials, (2) explore how to support students in building and using models to explain and predict phenomena across a range of disciplines, and (3) document the sophistication of understanding of disciplinary core ideas that students develop when building and using models in grades 6-12. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1417809
Funding Period: 
Fri, 08/01/2014 to Tue, 07/31/2018
Full Description: 

The Concord Consortium and Michigan State University will collaborate to: (1) develop and test a modeling tool and accompanying instructional materials, (2) explore how to support students in building and using models to explain and predict phenomena across a range of disciplines, and (3) document the sophistication of understanding of disciplinary core ideas that students develop when building and using models in grades 6-12. By iteratively designing, developing and testing a modeling tool and instructional materials that facilitate the building of dynamic models, the project will result in exemplary middle and high school materials that use a model-based approach as well as an understanding of the potential of this approach in supporting student development of explanatory frameworks and modeling capabilities. A key goal of the project is to increase students' learning of science through modeling and to study student engagement with modeling as a scientific practice. 

The project provides the nation with middle and high school resources that support students in developing and using models to explain and predict phenomena, a central scientific and engineering practice. Because the research and development work will be carried out in schools in which students typically do not succeed in science, the products will also help produce a population of citizens capable of continuing further STEM learning and who can participate knowledgeably in public decision making. The goals of the project are to (1) develop and test a modeling tool and accompanying instructional materials, (2) explore how to support students in building, using, and revising models to explain and predict phenomena across a range of disciplines, and (3) document the sophistication of understanding of disciplinary core ideas that students develop when building and using models in grades 6-12. Using a design-based research methodology, the research and development efforts will involve multiple cycles of designing, developing, testing, and refining the systems modeling tool and the instructional materials to help students meet important learning goals related to constructing dynamic models that align with the Next Generation Science Standards. The learning research will study the effect of working with external models on student construction of robust explanatory conceptual understanding. Additionally, it will develop a set of professional development resources and teacher scaffolds to help the expanding community of teachers not directly involved in the project take advantage of the materials and strategies for maximizing the impact of the curricular materials.

Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG): Factors that Support Racial and Ethnic Minority Students’ Success in Low-Income Middle Schools

Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG) designs and implements curriculum aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and uses school gardens as learning contexts in grade 6 (2014-2015), grade 7 (2015-2016) and grade 8 (2016-2017) in two low-income urban schools. The project investigates the extent to which SciLG activities predict students’ STEM identity, motivation, learning, and grades in science using a theoretical model of motivational development.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418270
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG) will use school gardens as the context for learning at two low-income middle schools with predominantly racial and ethnic minority students in Portland, Oregon. There are thousands of gardens flourishing across the country that are underutilized as contexts for active engagement in the middle grades. School gardens provide important cultural contexts while addressing environmental and food issues. SciLG will bring underrepresented youth into gardens at a critical time in their intellectual development to broaden the factors that support motivation to pursue STEM careers and educational pathways. The project will adapt, organize, and align two disparate sets of existing resources into the project curriculum: 6th grade science curriculum resources, and garden-based lessons and units. The curriculum will be directly aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 

The project will use a design-based research approach to refine instruction and formative assessment, and to investigate factors for student success in science proficiency and their motivational engagement in relation to the garden curriculum. The curriculum will be pilot-tested during the first year of the project in five sixth-grade classes with 240 students in Portland Public Schools. Students will be followed longitudinally in grades 7 and 8 in years 2 and 3 respectively, as curricular integration continues. The research team will support participating teachers each year in using their schools' gardens, and study how this context can serve as an effective pedagogical strategy for NGSS-aligned science curriculum. Academic learning will be measured by assessments of student progress towards the end of middle-school goals defined by NGSS. Motivation will be measured by a validated motivational engagement instrument. SciLG results along with the motivational engagement instrument will be disseminated widely through a variety of professional networks to stimulate implementation nationwide.

Promoting Active Learning Strategies in Biology (PALS)

This project examines the potential of two research-based and college-tested active learning strategies in high school classrooms: Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) and Peer Instruction by adapting the strategies for implementation in biology classes, with the goal of determining which strategy shows the most promise for increasing student achievement and attitudes toward science.

Award Number: 
1417735
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

The use of active learning strategies has long been advocated in the sciences, but high school science instruction remains highly didactic across the country. This project addresses this longstanding concern by examining the potential of two research-based and college-tested learning strategies in high school classrooms: Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) and Peer Instruction. The POGIL strategy was developed initially for chemistry classes, and Peer Instruction was developed within physics classes. These two learning strategies will be adapted for implementation in biology classes, with the goal of determining which strategy shows the most promise for increasing student achievement and attitudes toward science. The project will also study the influence of these instructional strategies on teacher beliefs about active learning and the contributions of these beliefs on student success in biology. Creation of the professional development model and materials for this project bring together high school biology teachers, university biology faculty, and science education specialists.

The project will conduct design and development research to iteratively develop the instructional materials through a collaboration of high school teachers and college faculty members experienced in using the instructional approaches being compared. Adaptation of the learning strategies for use in biology was chosen because biology is the science course most often taught across schools in the country, and it is required for graduation in the state where this project is being conducted. To compare the outcomes of the two instructional approaches, 42 teacher pairs will be randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: POGIL, Peer Instruction, or traditional instruction. Outcomes of the instructional approaches will be measured in terms of conceptual gains among teachers and students, attitudes toward science, personal agency beliefs, and instructional implementation fidelity.

Preparing Urban Middle Grades Mathematics Teachers to Teach Argumentation Throughout the School Year

The objective of this project is to develop a toolkit of resources and practices that will help inservice middle grades mathematics teachers support mathematical argumentation throughout the school year. A coherent, portable, two-year-long professional development program on mathematical argumentation has the potential to increase access to mathematical argumentation for students nationwide and, in particular, to address the needs of teachers and students in urban areas.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1417895
Funding Period: 
Sun, 06/15/2014 to Thu, 05/31/2018
Full Description: 

The project is an important study that builds on prior research to bring a comprehensive professional development program to another urban school district, The District of Columbia Public Schools. The objective of this full research and development project is to develop a toolkit  that provides resources and practices for inservice middle grades mathematics teachers to support mathematical argumentation throughout the school year. Mathematical argumentation, the construction and critique of mathematical conjectures and justifications, is a fundamental disciplinary practice in mathematics that students often never master. Building on a proof of concept of the project's approach ifrom two prior NSF-funded studies, this project expands the model to help teachers support mathematical argumentation all year. A coherent, portable, two-year-long professional development program on mathematical argumentation has the potential to increase access to mathematical argumentation for students nationwide and, in particular, to address the needs of teachers and students in urban areas. Demonstrating this program in the nation's capital will likely attract broad interest and produces important knowledge about how to implement mathematical practices in urban settings. Increasing mathematical argumentation in schools has the potential for dramatic contributions to students' achievement and participation in 21st century workplaces.

Mathematical argumentation is rich discussion in which students take on mathematical authority and co-construct conjectures and justifications. For many teachers, supporting such discourse is challenging; many are most comfortable with Initiate-Respond-Evaluate types of practices and/or have insufficient content understanding. The professional development trains teachers to be disciplined improvisers -- professionals with a toolkit of tools, knowledge, and practices to be deployed creatively and responsively as mathematical argumentation unfolds. This discipline includes establishing classroom norms and planning lessons for argumentation. The model's theory of action has four design principles: provide the toolkit, use simulations of the classroom to practice improvising, support learning of key content, and provide job-embedded, technology-enabled supports for using new practices all year. Three yearlong studies will address design, feasibility, and promise. In Study 1 the team co-designs tools with District of Columbia Public Schools staff. Study 2 is a feasibility study to examine program implementation, identify barriers and facilitators, and inform improvements. Study 3 is a quasi-experimental pilot to test the promise for achieving intended outcomes: expanding teachers' content knowledge and support of mathematical argumentation, and increasing students' mathematical argumentation in the classroom and spoken argumentation proficiency. The studies will result in a yearlong professional development program with documentation of the theory of action, design decisions, pilot data, and instrument technical qualities.

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: Seeley)

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.

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.

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