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Sensing Science through Modeling: Developing Kindergarten Students' Understanding of Matter and Its Changes

This project will develop a technology-supported, physical science curriculum that will facilitate kindergarten students' conceptual understanding of matter and how matter changes. The results of this investigation will contribute important data on the evolving structure and content of children's physical science models as well as demonstrate children's understanding of matter and its changes.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621299
Funding Period: 
Sat, 10/01/2016 to Wed, 09/30/2020
Full Description: 

Despite recent research demonstrating the capacity of young children to engage deeply with science concepts and practices, challenging science curriculum is often lacking in the early grades. This project addresses this gap by developing a technology-supported, physical science curriculum that will facilitate kindergarten students' conceptual understanding of matter and how matter changes. To accomplish these goals, the curriculum will include opportunities for students to participate in model-based inquiry in conjunction with the use of digital probeware and simulations that enable students to observe dynamic visualizations and make sense of the phenomena. To support the capacity of kindergarten teachers, a continuous model of teacher development will be implemented.

Throughout development, the project team will collaborate with kindergarten teachers and more than 300 demographically diverse students across eight classrooms in Massachusetts and Indiana. A design based research approach will be used to iteratively design and revise learning activities, technological tools, and assessments that meet the needs and abilities of kindergarten students and teachers. The project team will: 1) work with kindergarten teachers to modify an existing Grade 2 curricular unit for use with their students; 2) design a parallel curricular unit incorporating technology; 3) evaluate both units for feasibility and maturation effects; and 4) iteratively revise and pilot an integrated unit and assess kindergarten student conceptual understanding of matter and its changes. The results of this investigation will contribute important data on the evolving structure and content of children's physical science models as well as demonstrate children's understanding of matter and its changes.

Strengthening Mathematics Intervention: Identifying and Addressing Challenges to Improve Instruction for Struggling Learners

This project's first goal is to study the national landscape of mathematics intervention classes, which are additional classes provided to struggling students, including learners with and without identified disabilities. We administered a survey to a nationally representative sample of 2,024 urban and suburban public schools with grades 6-8 to find out how these classes are being implemented and the types of challenges faced.

Award Number: 
1621294
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/15/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

Across the nation, schools face a pressing need to improve instruction for middle grades students who are not reaching proficiency on standardized assessments. One approach is to schedule additional mathematics classes to provide struggling learners with more time for instruction and support. For our study, we defined mathematics interventional classes as classes taken by struggling students during the regular school day in addition to their general education mathematics classes. These classes are for students who have difficulties learning mathematics, including learners who do not have identified disabilities and those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). 

While recommendations for intervention practices are present in the research literature, little is known about how schools are actually implementing intervention classes, including how often the classes meet, the number of students enrolled, who teaches them and the content focus. To address this gap in the knowledge base, we conducted an observational study and a national survey of current practices and challenges in mathematics intervention classes. The survey was administered to a nationally representative sample of 2,024 urban or suburban public schools with grades 6-8.  Approximately, 43% of schools (876 schools) responded; the findings revealed widespread implementation of mathematics intervention classes and variations in class structures and practices. 

The final aspect of the project involves the design of professional development for mathematics intervention teachers based on the needs identified in the earlier phases of the project. We are developing and testing a blended professional development course to help teachers build the knowledge and practices needed to provide high-quality, targeted instruction to struggling learners in mathematics intervention classes.

Related Resource:

Proportions Playground: A Dynamic World to Support Teachers' Proportional Reasoning

This project focuses on the creation of the initial functionality for a dynamic microworld, Proportions Playground, designed to support teachers in developing a coherent understanding of proportional reasoning. The Proportions Playground project seeks to both develop a unique pilot software application for the iPad and explore how it supports teachers in developing a coherent, robust definition of proportions.

Award Number: 
1621290
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2016 to Thu, 02/28/2019
Full Description: 

Proportions are a critical topic in mathematics that is simultaneously complicated and over-simplified in typical instruction. Current research undertaken by the research team suggests that the over-simplification is related to limitations in teachers' understandings of proportional relationships. Presenting proportions in a dynamic environment offers teachers the opportunity to create key developmental understandings related to this area of mathematics. This project focuses on the creation of the initial functionality for a dynamic microworld, Proportions Playground, designed to support teachers in developing a coherent understanding of proportional reasoning. Proportions Playground is conceptualized as a tool for supporting the development of coherent understandings by allowing teachers to interact in concrete ways with otherwise abstract ideas and by allowing teachers easy access to dynamic objects and other representations. It is meant to address the significant limitations for reasoning about the relationships between measurable aspects of two objects as well as in manipulating those relationships. Building from work currently underway, Proportions Playground will explore key areas in which there are opportunities for engaging teachers in the development of a coherent and robust understanding of proportional reasoning that extends beyond the typical "3 given, 1 unknown" proportion problem. This approach attempts to engage teachers in an array of dynamic, visually-rich sets of tasks designed to challenge teachers' preconceptions of proportions and to strengthen their connections between proportions and related areas of mathematics. This project is funded by the Discovery Research PreK-12 (DRK-12) and EHR Core Research (ECR) Programs. the DRK-12 program supports research and development on STEM education innovations and approaches to teaching, learning, and assessment. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field.

The Proportions Playground project seeks to both develop a unique pilot software application for the iPad and explore how it supports teachers in developing a coherent, robust definition of proportions. The software will be designed to support either numeric manipulation (e.g., graphing software) or geometric constructions (e.g., dynamic geometry software). Specifically, for this project the mathematics of interest will include the relationships between similarity and proportion and the nature of covariation. The research will focus on how teachers are developing a robust and coherent understanding of proportions and how the dynamic environment promotes such understandings. Working with six teacher advisors, the project will develop three task sets. Using teaching experiments and individual interviews, results will be used to refine the task sets. The revised task sets will be piloted with 40 teachers. Data will be collected on participants' thinking and any changes seen in the knowledge resources they are using. The researchers will be looking for factors that seem to impact teachers' thinking as well as evidence to support or deny the assertion that the Proportions Playground activities engage teachers in (a) different ways of reasoning about proportions and (b) support them in drawing from a wide array of resources so that coherence may be developed were the teachers to have a prolonged engagement with the tools. The project will rely on Epistemic Network Analysis to identify the connections between knowledge resources.

Building a Next Generation Diagnostic Assessment and Reporting System within a Learning Trajectory-Based Mathematics Learning Map for Grades 6-8

This project will build on prior funding to design a next generation diagnostic assessment using learning progressions and other learning sciences research to support middle grades mathematics teaching and learning. The project will contribute to the nationally supported move to create, use, and apply research based open educational resources at scale.

Award Number: 
1621254
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/15/2016 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

This project seeks to design a next generation diagnostic assessment using learning progressions and other research (in the learning sciences) to support middle grades mathematics teaching and learning. It will focus on nine large content ideas, and associated Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. The PIs will track students over time, and work within school districts to ensure feasibility and use of the assessment system.

The research will build on prior funding by multiple funding agencies and address four major goals. The partnership seeks to address these goals: 1) revising and strengthening the diagnostic assessments in mathematics by adding new item types and dynamic tools for data gathering 2) studying alternative ways to use measurement models to assess student mathematical progress over time using the concept of learning trajectories, 3) investigating how to assist students and teachers to effectively interpret reports on math progress, both at the individual and the class level, and 4) engineering and studying instructional strategies based on student results and interpretations, as they are implemented within competency-based and personalized learning classrooms. The learning map, assessment system, and analytics are open source and can be used by other research and implementation teams. The project will exhibit broad impact due to the number of states, school districts and varied kinds of schools seeking this kind of resource as a means to improve instruction. Finally, the research project contributes to the nationally supported move to create, use, and apply research based open educational resources at scale.

Learning Evolution through Human and Non-Human Case Studies

This project will develop and test two curriculum units on the topic of evolution for high school general biology courses, with one unit focusing primarily on human case studies to teach evolution and one unit focusing primarily on case studies of evolution in other species. The two units will be compared to examine how different approaches to teaching evolution affect students and teachers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621194
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/15/2016 to Tue, 08/31/2021
Full Description: 

This project aligns with Alabama's College & Career-Ready Standards (CCRS) for biology in grades 9-12 relating to Unity and Diversity. These standards are based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and go into effect during the 2016-2017 school year. Building on prior work (DRL-119468), this project will develop and test two curriculum units on the topic of evolution for high school general biology courses, with one unit focusing primarily on human case studies to teach evolution and one unit focusing primarily on case studies of evolution in other species. The two units will be compared to examine how different approaches to teaching evolution affect students and teachers. The project will also develop and field test a Cultural and Religious Sensitivity (CRS) Resource to provide teachers with strategies for creating supportive learning environments where understanding of the scientific account of evolution is aided while also acknowledging the cultural controversy associated with learning about evolution. The impacts on student and teacher outcomes of using the curriculum units and the CRS Resource will be tested in classrooms by comparing the outcomes of the human versus non-human units, and by using or not using classroom strategies from the CRS Resource.

The project will examine student and teacher outcomes of four treatment groups: 1) Curriculum Unit 1, 2) Curriculum Unit 1 with the CRS Resource, 3) Curriculum Unit 2, and 4) Curriculum Unit 2 with the CRS Resource. The research questions are: 1) In what ways does using examples of human versus non-human evolution to teach core evolutionary concepts affect understanding of, acceptance of, and motivation to learn about evolution among high school introductory biology students? 2) In what ways do using teaching strategies that focus on acknowledging the cultural controversy about evolution using a procedural neutrality approach affect high school introductory biology teachers' comfort and confidence with teaching evolution? 3) In what ways does using examples of human versus non-human evolution to teach fundamental evolutionary concepts in conjunction with teaching strategies that focus on acknowledging the cultural controversy about evolution using a procedural neutrality approach affect understanding of, acceptance of, and motivation to learn about evolution among high school introductory biology students? And 4) In what ways does using examples of human versus non-human evolution to teach fundamental evolutionary concepts in conjunction with teaching strategies that focus on acknowledging the cultural controversy about evolution using a procedural neutrality approach affect high school introductory biology teachers' comfort and confidence with teaching evolution? The project will use a 2 X 2 X 2 mixed factorial quasi-experimental research design to answer these questions, and will include a total of 32 teachers, 8 in each treatment group, along with approximately 800 students. Each assessment will be administered as a pretest two weeks prior to starting the curriculum unit and as a posttest immediately after completing the unit. Test scores will be the within-subjects factors, and Curriculum Unit and CRS Resource will be the between-subjects factors.

Geological Models for Explorations of Dynamic Earth (GEODE): Integrating the Power of Geodynamic Models in Middle School Earth Science Curriculum

This project will develop and research the transformational potential of geodynamic models embedded in learning progression-informed online curricula modules for middle school teaching and learning of Earth science. The primary goal of the project is to conduct design-based research to study the development of model-based curriculum modules, assessment instruments, and professional development materials for supporting student learning of (1) plate tectonics and related Earth processes, (2) modeling practices, and (3) uncertainty-infused argumentation practices.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621176
Funding Period: 
Mon, 08/15/2016 to Fri, 07/31/2020
Full Description: 

This project will contribute to the Earth science education community's understanding of how engaging students with dynamic computer-based systems models supports their learning of complex Earth science concepts regarding Earth's surface phenomena and sub-surface processes. It will also extend the field's understandings of how students develop modeling practices and how models are used to support scientific endeavors. This research will shed light on the role uncertainty plays when students use models to develop scientific arguments with model-based evidence. The GEODE project will directly involve over 4,000 students and 22 teachers from diverse school systems serving students from families with a variety of socioeconomic, cultural, and racial backgrounds. These students will engage with important geoscience concepts that underlie some of the most critical socio-scientific challenges facing humanity at this time. The GEODE project research will also seek to understand how teachers' practices need to change in order to take advantage of these sophisticated geodynamic modeling tools. The materials generated through design and development will be made available for free to all future learners, teachers, and researchers beyond the participants outlined in the project.

The GEODE project will develop and research the transformational potential of geodynamic models embedded in learning progression-informed online curricula modules for middle school teaching and learning of Earth science. The primary goal of the project is to conduct design-based research to study the development of model-based curriculum modules, assessment instruments, and professional development materials for supporting student learning of (1) plate tectonics and related Earth processes, (2) modeling practices, and (3) uncertainty-infused argumentation practices. The GEODE software will permit students to "program" a series of geologic events into the model, gather evidence from the emergent phenomena that result from the model, revise the model, and use their models to explain the dynamic mechanisms related to plate motion and associated geologic phenomena such as sedimentation, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and deformation of strata. The project will also study the types of teacher practices necessary for supporting the use of dynamic computer models of complex phenomena and the use of curriculum that include an explicit focus on uncertainty-infused argumentation.

Doing the Math with Paraeducators: A Research and Development Project

This project will design and pilot professional development that focuses on developing the confidence, mathematical knowledge, and teaching strategies of paraeducators using classroom activities that they are expected to implement. The planned professional development will enable them to make a greater difference in the classroom, but it will also increase their access to continuing education and workplace opportunities.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621151
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/15/2016 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

Over one million paraeducators (teaching assistants and volunteers) currently assist in classrooms, and another 100,000 are likely to be added in the next ten years. Paraeducators (paras) are often required to teach content, such as mathematics, but there are few efforts to provide them with the knowledge or supervision they need to be effective when working with a range of students, including those with disabilities and for whom English is a second language. The project will focus on developing the confidence, mathematical knowledge, and teaching strategies of paras using classroom activities that they are expected to implement. The planned professional development will enable them to make a greater difference in the classroom, but it will also increase their access to continuing education and workplace opportunities. The work will be conducted in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) and will focus on grades K-3, where the largest numbers of paras are employed. Given the importance of early math learning in predicting mathematical achievement, supporting paras who work in the early grades is particularly important.

The project will design and pilot professional development that supports paraeducator knowledge development and addresses instructional challenges in teaching mathematics. The project will address the following goals: research the current roles of paras in mathematics instruction, the preparation of their collaborating teachers, and the opportunities for collaboration and planning between supervising teachers and paras in BPS; pilot, develop, implement, and research a model for professional development program for paras that targets specific activities they can implement that are key to student learning in number and operation in K-3; document how paras assume new roles that increase student engagement and empower them as mathematical learners; pilot, develop, implement, and research a supervisory component to help teachers set expectations, and structures for debriefing and reflecting along with their paras; and identify next steps for an early stage development study based on our findings. A needs assessment survey will investigate the context in which paras work. The iterative process of design-based research will develop, test, and implement the targeted professional development with paras, measuring how prepared they feel to implement new ideas and how they translate their learning into new pedagogical practices. Crosscase analyses, descriptive statistics, tallies and coded behaviors from observations, and themes from paras, and teacher and administrator interviews will be collected, coded, and analyzed. Furthermore, an efficacy survey will be administered periodically to document longitudinal changes in paras, which will be integrated in the crosscase analyses.

Development and Empirical Recovery for a Learning Progression-Based Assessment of the Function Concept

The project will design an assessment based on learning progressions for the concept of function - a critical concept for algebra learning and understanding. The goal of the assessment and learning progression design is to specifically incorporate findings about the learning of students traditionally under-served and under-performing in algebra courses.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621117
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/15/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

The project will design an assessment based on learning progressions for the concept of function. A learning progression describes how students develop understanding of a topic over time. Function is a critical concept for algebra learning and understanding. The goal of the assessment and learning progression design in this project is to specifically incorporate findings about the learning of students traditionally under-served and under-performing in algebra courses. The project will include accounting for the social and cultural experiences of the middle and high school students when creating assessment tasks. The resources developed should impact mathematics instruction (especially for algebra courses) by creating a learning progression which captures the range of student performance and appropriately places them at distinct levels of performance. The important contribution of the work is the development of a learning progression and related assessment tasks that account for the experiences of students often under-served in mathematics. The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) 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 (RMTs). 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.

The learning progression development will begin by comparing and integrating existing learning progressions and current research on function learning. This project will develop an assessment of student knowledge of function based on learning progressions via empirical recovery (looking for the reconstruction of theoretical levels of the learning theory). Empirical recovery is the process through which data will be collected that reconstruct the various levels, stages, or sequences of said learning progression. The development of tasks and task models will include testing computer-delivered, interactive tasks and rubrics that can be used for human and automated scoring (depending on the task). Item response theory methods will be used to evaluate the assessment tasks' incorporation of the learning progression.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Concept of Function Learning Progression

Presenter(s): Edith Graf, Frank Davis, Chad Milner, Maisha Moses, & Sarah Ohls


Organizing to Learn Practice: Teacher Learning in Classroom-Focused Professional Development

This project addresses the fundamental challenge of how to support teachers to improve their practice. The approach uses a "live mathematics classroom" as a common text for working on practice, where participants are not only watching and discussing but are engaged in developing and learning practice. The project will generate new knowledge regarding ways in which elementary teachers of mathematics can be supported to learn effective teaching practice.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621104
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

Growing evidence about the powerful effects of skillful teaching on students' learning creates a need to for professional development that impacts teachers' actual practice. Just as other professions (e.g., nursing, social work, law) have centered practitioners' learning in "live" practice with structures that support learning in context, the project will investigate whether and how this can be accomplished in teaching. The approach uses a "live mathematics classroom" as a common text for working on practice, where participants are not only watching and discussing but are engaged in developing and learning practice. The project also explores the following variations in practice-based professional development: (1) on-site and remote participation of teachers; and (2) the addition of supplementary practice-focused professional development. The project will generate new knowledge regarding ways in which elementary teachers of mathematics can be supported to learn effective teaching practice.

This project addresses a fundamental challenge for professional development, that is, how to support teachers to improve their practice. Teachers profit from well-designed opportunities to develop new visions for practice, learn more about students' thinking, or work on specific mathematical topics or tasks. Still, such opportunities are often insufficient to support teachers with the complexity of classroom teaching. These kinds of professional opportunities focus on critical resources for instruction but not on the details of teaching practice itself. This practice-centered professional development is situated within a summer mathematics program for fifth graders. The proposed research will explore the impact on teachers' practice, as well as on their knowledge and dispositions, from participating in these structured ways. Three studies will resolve the following three sets of questions: (1) What do teachers learn from structured participation in the class? Does their participation impact their own teaching practice, and if so, in what ways? (2) Does the setting of the peripheral participation matter? Does this form of participation impact their own teaching practice, and if so, in what ways? (3) Does the addition of professional development focused on a particular teaching practice impact teachers' own practice, and if so, in what ways? How does the addition of professional development focused on a specific instructional practice compare across the in-person and online forms of participation in terms of impact on teachers' own practice? The project will collect and analyze several types of data pre- and post-intervention, including measures of mathematical knowledge for teaching, measures of language for talking about the work of teaching and students, and skill with leading a mathematics discussion, and the mathematical quality of instruction. The project will generate new knowledge related to to organizing professional learning around supports that teachers need to learn practice as well as ways to study their learning of teaching practice.

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.

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