Middle School

Determining Teachers' Baseline Practice and Alignment Prior to a Systemic Curriculum Change

In this study, researchers will collaborate with Baltimore City Public Schools to collect and document teacher classroom practices prior to the implementation of an extended professional development model that targets pedagogical skills associated with the NGSS. The broad objective of the project is to characterize the benefits and limitations of utilizing controlled practice-teaching as a key component of teacher professional development for integrating NGSS aligned practices in middle school science classrooms.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1822029
Funding Period: 
Sun, 04/01/2018 to Sun, 03/31/2019
Full Description: 

The goal of this research is to document current teaching practices prior to the systemic integration of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in Baltimore City Public schools. In this study, UMBC will collaborate with Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) to collect and document teacher classroom practices prior to the implementation of an extended professional development model that targets pedagogical skills associated with the Next Generation Science Standards. The broad objective of the project is to characterize the benefits and limitations of utilizing controlled practice-teaching as a key component of teacher professional development for integrating NGSS aligned practices in middle school science classrooms. Success will be measured by changes in teacher attitudes, enhancement of teacher pedagogical skills and student learning gains. Sixty teachers, and over 4,500 students in Baltimore City will be directly impacted through the professional development and curriculum enactment efforts proposed. As a full partner in the project, the City Schools' leadership will also learn what works, for whom, and under what conditions in schools that are representative of their diverse district. Lessons learned have the potential to inform the implementation of other new reform initiatives within City Schools and beyond. Findings from the proposed research have the potential to advance our understanding of innovative professional development strategies and their impact on classroom practices and student learning.

This project focuses on a national need of models for high quality professional development that directly tie specific strategies to classroom-based instructional changes and student learning outcomes. One particular shift in classroom practice that is fundamental for the classroom implementation of NGSS is scientific discourse and argumentation. One particular strategy that has shown promise for supporting teachers' use of strategies supporting argumentation is the use of controlled practice teaching. The proposed study explicitly attempts to determine the impact of the controlled practice-teaching using a quasi-experimental design. The research plan involves middle science teachers being assigned to one of two experimental conditions (PD including or excluding a controlled practice-teaching component) and then to investigate potential differences among the two treatments and control conditions related to changes in attitudes toward NGSS, classroom practices and impact on student learning. The researcher hypothesizes that the inclusion of control-practice teaching that is imbedded in a sustained professional development program will promote the development of teacher pedagogical skills aligned with NGSS more effectively than sustained professional development that does not include a control-practice component.

Highly Adaptive Science Simulations for Accessible STEM Education

This project will research, design, and develop adaptive accessibility features for interactive science simulations. The proposed research will lay the foundation that advances the accessibility of complex interactives for learning and contribute to solutions to address the significant disparity in science achievement between students with and without disabilities.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1814220
Funding Period: 
Sun, 04/15/2018 to Wed, 03/31/2021
Full Description: 

This project will research, design, and develop adaptive accessibility features for interactive science simulations. The proposed research will lay the foundation that advances the accessibility of complex interactives for learning and contribute to solutions to address the significant disparity in science achievement between students with and without disabilities. The PhET Interactive Simulations project at the University of Colorado Boulder and collaborators at Georgia Tech, with expertise in accessible technology and design, will form the project team. The project team will conduct design-based implementation research, where adaptive accessibility features for interactive science simulations are developed through co-design with students with disabilities and their teachers. Students will include those with dyslexia, visual impairments or blindness, and students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ranging from 5th grade through high school, and recent high school graduates. The adaptive accessibility features will be implemented within a set of PhET interactive science simulations, and allow students with disabilities to access the science simulations with alternative input devices (such as keyboards, switches, and sip-and-puff devices), alter the visual display of the simulations (changing color contrast, zoom and enlarge, and simplify), hear different auditory representations of the visual display (descriptions, sonification, and text-to-speech), and control the rate of simulated events. All features will be capable of being turned on or off and modified on-the-fly by teachers or students through a global control panel that includes curated feature sets, resulting in highly flexible, highly accessible, interactive learning resources.

PhET simulations are widely used in US classrooms, evidence-based, aligned with standards, and highly engaging and effective learning resources. With the proposed highly adaptive features and supporting resources, teachers will be able to quickly adapt the PhET simulations to meet the needs of many students with disabilities, simplifying the task of creating differentiated learning opportunities for students and supporting students with disabilities to engage in collaborative learning - a foundational component of a high-quality STEM education - alongside their non-disabled peers. To research, design, and develop the adaptive features and investigate their use by students, project team members will co-teach in classrooms with students with disabilities and conduct co-design activities with students, where students engage in design thinking to help design and refine the adaptive features to meet identified accessibility needs (their own and those of their peers). In addition, interviews with individual students with and without disabilities will also be conducted, to test early prototypes of individual features, to later refine the layering of the many different features, and to ensure the presence of adaptive features does not negatively impact traditional use of the simulations. The proposed work also includes surveys of teachers and students and analysis of teacher use, to refine global control features, develop curated feature sets, and develop supporting teacher resources. The project will address key questions at the heart of educational design for students with diverse needs, including how to make adaptive features that support student achievement of specific learning goals. The project will use design-based implementation research, with significant co-designing with students with disabilities (including visual impairments, cognitive disabilities, or dyslexia), interviews, case studies, and classroom implementation to design and evaluate the accessibility features. This will inform new models and theories of learning with technology. The project will investigate: 1) How students engage with, use, and learn from adaptive accessibility features, 2) how adaptive accessibility features can be designed to layer harmoniously together in a learning resource, and 3) how to effectively support access to rich, dynamic feature controls and curated feature sets for intuitive classroom use by students and teachers. The project will produce 8 PhET simulations with adaptive accessibility features and supporting teacher resources. The foundational research knowledge will result in effective design and implementation of adaptive accessibility features through the analysis of student engagement, usability, and learning from accessible simulations. Additionally, the project will provide technical infrastructure, exemplars, and software for use by other STEM education technology developers. The project team will work together to create a deep understanding of how to design adaptive science simulations with practical, usable, effective accessibility, so that learners with diverse needs can advance their science content knowledge and participate in science practices alongside their peers. The work has great potential to transform STEM learning for students with disabilities and to make simulations more effective for all learners. Results will provide insight into the effectiveness of accessible simulation-based activities and their corresponding teacher materials in engaging students in science practices and learning in the classroom.

Investigating Impact of Different Types of Professional Development on What Aspects Mathematics Teachers Take Up and Use in Their Classroom

This project will study the design and development of PD that supports teacher development and student learning, and provide accumulation of evidence to inform teacher educators, administrators, teachers, and policymakers of factors associated with successful PD experiences and variation across teachers and types of PDs.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1813439
Funding Period: 
Sun, 07/01/2018 to Wed, 06/30/2021
Full Description: 

Professional development is a critical way in which teachers who are currently in classrooms learn about changes in mathematics teaching and learning and improve their practice. Little is known about what types of professional development (PD) support teachers' improved practice and student learning. However, federal, state, and local governments spend resources on helping teachers improve their teaching practice and students' learning. PD programs vary in their intent and can fall on a continuum from highly adaptive, with great latitude in the implementation, to highly specified, with little ability to adapt the program during implementation. The project will study the design and development of PD that supports teacher development and student learning, and provide accumulation of evidence to inform teacher educators, administrators, teachers, and policymakers of factors associated with successful PD experiences and variation across teachers and types of PDs. The impact study will expand on the evidence of promise from four 2015 National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded projects - two adaptive, two specified - to provide evidence of the impact of the projects on teachers' instructional practice over time. Although the four projects are different in terms of structure and design elements, they all share the goal to support challenging mathematics content, practice standards, and differentiation techniques to support culturally and linguistically diverse, underrepresented populations. Understanding the nature of the professional development including structure and design elements, and unpacking what teachers take up and use in their instructional practice potentially has widespread use to support student learning in diverse contexts, especially those serving disadvantaged and underrepresented student populations.

This study will examine teachers' uptake of mathematics content, pedagogy and materials from different types of professional development in order to understand and unpack the factors that are associated with what teachers take up and use two-three years beyond their original PD experience: Two specified 1) An Efficacy Study of the Learning and Teaching Geometry PD Materials: Examining Impact and Context-Based Adaptations (Jennifer Jacobs, Karen Koellner & Nanette Seago), 2) Visual Access to Mathematics: Professional Development for Teachers of English Learners (Mark Driscoll, Johanna Nikula, & Pamela Buffington), two adaptive: 3) Refining a Model with Tools to Develop Math PD Leaders: An Implementation Study (Hilda Borko & Janet Carlson), 4), TRUmath and Lesson Study: Supporting Fundamental and Sustainable Improvement in High School Mathematics Teaching (Suzanne Donovan, Phil Tucher, & Catherine Lewis). The project will utilize a multi-case method which centers on a common focus of what content, pedagogy and materials teachers take up from PD experiences. Using a specified sampling procedure, the project will select 8 teachers from each of the four PD projects to serve as case study teachers. Subsequently, the project will conduct a cross case analysis focusing on variation among and between teachers and different types of PD. The research questions that guide the project's impact study are: RQ1: What is the nature of what teachers take up and use after participating in professional development workshops? RQ2: What factors influence what teachers take up and use and in what ways? RQ3: How does a professional development's position on the specified-adaptive continuum affect what teachers take up and use?

A Practice-based Online Learning Environment for Scientific Inquiry with Digitized Museum Collections in Middle School Classrooms

This project will develop and study a prototype online learning environment that supports student learning via Engaging Practices for Inquiry with Collections in Bioscience (EPIC Bioscience), which uses authentic research investigations with digitized collections from natural history museums. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1812844
Funding Period: 
Fri, 06/15/2018 to Mon, 05/31/2021
Full Description: 

There are an estimated 2-4 billion specimens in the world's natural history collections that contain the data necessary to address complex global issues, including biodiversity and climate. Digitized natural history collections present an untapped opportunity to engage learners in crucial questions of science with far-reaching potential consequences via object-based research investigations. This project will develop and study a prototype online learning environment that supports student learning via Engaging Practices for Inquiry with Collections in Bioscience (EPIC Bioscience). EPIC Bioscience uses authentic research investigations with digitized collections from natural history museums. The project team will create a curriculum aligned with the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) for middle school students, emphasizing a major disciplinary core idea in grades 6-8 life science, Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics. The project has three major goals: 1) Develop an online learning environment that guides students through research investigations using digitized natural history collections to teach NGSS life science standards. 2) Investigate how interactive features and conversational scaffolds in the EPIC Bioscience learning environment can promote deeper processing of science content and effective knowledge building. 3) Demonstrate effective approaches to using digitized collections objects for contextualized, research-based science learning that aligns to NGSS standards for middle school classrooms.

The project will examine how and when interactive features of a digital learning environment can be combined with deep questions and effective online scaffolds to promote student engagement, meaningful collaborative discourse, and robust learning outcomes during research with digitized museum collections. Research activities will address: How can interactive features of EPIC Bioscience help students learn disciplinary core ideas and cross cutting concepts via science practices through collections-based research? How can effective patterns of collaborative scientific discourse be supported and enhanced during online, collections-based research? How does the use of digitized scientific collections influence students' levels of engagement and depth of processing during classroom investigations? A significant impact of the proposed work is expanded opportunities for research with authentic museum objects for populations who are traditionally underserved in STEM and are underrepresented in museum visitor demographics (Title I schools, racial/ethnic minorities, and rural school populations). Research activities will engage over 1,500 Title I and rural students (50 classes across three years) in meaningful research investigations with collections objects that address pressing global issues.

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