This project uses neural and behavioral measures of learning as a basis for making improvements to an immersive high school course that trains students in flexible spatial cognition and data analysis. Tracking students into college, the project measures long-term effects of improved spatial cognition resulting from the modified geospatial course curriculum.
Developing Neural and Behavioral Measures to Predict Long-Term STEM Learning Outcomes from a High School Spatial Learning Course (Collaborative Research: Green)
This project uses neural and behavioral measures of learning as a basis for making improvements to an immersive high school course that trains students in flexible spatial cognition and data analysis. Tracking students into college, the project measures long-term effects of improved spatial cognition resulting from the modified geospatial course curriculum. Large-scale longitudinal studies have demonstrated the overwhelming benefit of advanced spatial cognitive abilities for success in STEM careers. Recent research has shown the effectiveness of spatial cognitive training for developing these skills in the context of secondary and higher education curricula. What is lacking are the data to connect these separate lines of research: does spatial cognitive education yield lasting effects on cognition that influence future success in STEM fields. This project leverages, and further develops, a successful high school spatial STEM curriculum to identify factors that support long-term learning that builds over time, demonstrated by tracking progress into college. Given the substantial evidence that spatial cognition is a determinant of success in STEM, broadening access to spatial learning is critical to broadening the gateway to STEM achievement. Currently, spatially-focused educational experiences (e.g., extracurricular science activities) often require access to resources associated with socioeconomic status. This project aims to establish an empirical basis for broad adoption of spatial curricula so that more students receive spatial instruction, as well as curriculum development tools to yield more effective STEM curricula and shorten development time. Further, this project can provide new insights for broadening participation in STEM and will point to neural targets for intervention, identifying possible effects of sex and STEM-related anxieties on conceptual learning in the brain, and testing the efficacy of spatial education for reducing disparities. Most broadly, the research has potential to bolster spatial ability in the next generation of the U.S. STEM workforce, with diverse backgrounds and diverse career paths.
The project uses neural data, in combination with behavioral tests, to measure and compare the effectiveness of different instructional approaches and to improve the curriculum itself. The research builds on a foundation of work by the multidisciplinary team, including years of curriculum development, neural data analysis, and examination of the cognitive and neural benefits of spatial cognitive education. The insights provided by this project allow the investigators to address several fundamental questions, including how to most effectively train and utilize spatial cognition in education, what long-term neural and cognitive changes are associated with spatial learning during adolescence, how can neural data be incorporated into the curriculum development cycle, and which instructional changes benefit student learning and motivation to pursue future STEM endeavors. Beyond testing the efficacy of spatial education, this project also generates new methods for decoding the neural signals that reflect learning and conceptual understanding. Further, the project puts these methods to use in comparing different versions of the spatial curriculum on the basis of short-term and long-term neural and cognitive changes. By comparing traditional learning outcomes, novel neural measures, and student motivation for pursuing STEM disciplines, the project provides a new, powerful evidentiary basis for decision-making when choosing among instructional approaches. This project builds new capacity for focus-group testing that includes neural data to improve educational curricula, in addition to providing specific and actionable recommendations for spatially-enriched science curricula. This project therefore advances curriculum development on two fronts: by demonstrating the long-term effectiveness of spatial cognitive learning in secondary education – tracking student progress into college – and by adding neural data to the toolbox of the curriculum developer.