Social-Emotional Learning

photo of diverse students by Norma Mortenson

The role of social-emotional learning in education is receiving attention in schools, news, and research, including how it can help students and teachers cope post-pandemic and lead to improved academic outcomes. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social-emotional learning as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

In this Spotlight, read how four DRK-12 projects are incorporating social-emotional learning (SEL) skills into their STEM education research and development and find related resources about SEL.

In this Spotlight:

Select Resources on Social Emotional Learning

Fundamentals of SEL | CASEL
Delve into research, a framework, and implementation information at this CASEL website.

Equity & Social and Emotional Learning: A Cultural Analysis | CASEL
This brief is part of a CASEL effort to analyze, revise, and supplement what is known about SEL to foster the development of citizens who contribute to an increasingly interconnected, diverse global community.

An Introduction to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Navigating Definitions, Frameworks, and Best Practices | REL Pacific at McREL International
This webinar examined what social and emotional learning is, how it can be used to inform best practice in schools, and its potential impact on academic outcomes, including college and career readiness. The webinar provided participants with a deeper understanding of the role that social and emotional competencies (SECs) and other “non-cognitive” skills play in student outcomes. In addition, participants were able to learn about ways in which educators can promote SEL across various levels of the school system and gain insight into future directions for SEL research and practice.

Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices for Social & Emotional Learning | Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratories (REL)
This series of briefs highlight SEL programs and policies. The purpose of the report series is to summarize the benefits of social and emotional learning (SEL) in early childhood, and identify the characteristics of SEL interventions that are effective in school contexts

SEL State Standards | Positive Action
Twenty-nine states have SEL state standards. This blog offers a list and links to the SEL state standards.

Featured Projects

Building Students' Data Literacy through the Co-design of Curriculum by Mathematics and Art Teachers (Collaborative Research)

PIs: Camillia Matuk, Megan Silander, Ralph Vacca
Grade Level(s): 7-8
STEM Discipline(s): Math, Art

Description: Researchers co-designed a data comic unit about adolescent friendships with two middle school teachers: one math, one art. Teachers implemented the 7th grade unit in Spring 2021 over 6 weeks. The goal was to create an interdisciplinary data literacy unit that provided learners with opportunities to develop life skills through reflecting on relationships. In the unit students analyzed graphs about adolescent friendships and crafted comic narratives based on data patterns in both student-collected and national data. Findings from our analysis of 33 student comics, and interviews with two teachers and four students, demonstrated that comics narratives have the potential to grow learners’ data literacy knowledge and practices through bringing personal context to the center of their reasoning about data. Further, comic-making, which is a sequential art composed of visual and textual components, facilitated learners’ engagement in social-emotional learning by allowing them to communicate verbal and non-verbal affective aspects of their stories. These findings contribute to an understanding of how students make sense of data about personal, everyday experiences; and how an arts-integrated curriculum can be designed to support their mutual engagement in both data, visual arts and social-emotional reasoning.

How Is Your Project Addressing Social-Emotional Learning for Teachers and/or Students?:

What social-emotional learning frameworks, theories, instruments, or resources are you using in your research? As a core part of our analysis, we used the CASEL framework that posits five key SEL competencies for children and adolescents: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. According to this framework, self-awareness is the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how these influence behaviors in various contexts. Self-management includes the ability to not only understand but manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively to achieve goals in different situations. Moreover, social awareness describes the ability to understand the perspectives of others and emphathize with people of diverse backgrounds. Another key component of the SEL framework is developing relationship skills, which involves establishing and maintaining healthy, supportive relationships as well as navigating settings with diverse groups of people. Finally, this framework highlights responsible decision-making as an ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse contexts.

We implemented this CASEL framework to address the research question, “what kinds of social-emotional reasoning do students engage in through their creation of data comics?” through the analysis of three data sources: (1) data comic artifacts, (2) four student interviews, and (3) two individual teacher interviews. Students created digital comics using data about their own friendships and data from a national survey on teens’ views on friendships and technology.

What do the SEL aspects of your intervention look like? While the process of constructing evidence-based claims supported different kinds of data reasoning, the data’s topical focus on teen friendships meant a variety of social-emotional reasoning competencies such as self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship skills were enacted. In math classes, the students created data representations as part of analyzing datasets and making claims about the data. In art classes, the students used a comic-making tool called Pixton to formulate narratives that were: (i) grounded in claims from the graphs they selected, (ii) identified an argument about friendship that they felt was important to share, and (iii) used a comic narrative to communicate this claim. In the curricular unit, the data used consisted of data collected by the students directly, as well as use of existing data from Pew research on teens. While the Pew survey focused broadly on teens and technology, the 17-item survey used to collect data from the 7th graders, focused primarily on beliefs about friendships, their describing their own friendships, and certain friendship experiences (e.g., bullying experiences).

In our curricular intervention SEL was enacted as students engaged in reasoning with data that has a topical focus on teen friendships through their comics. In focusing on data about friendships and relationships, students used their comics and the ways they positioned their characters in the comics to engage in different kinds of social emotional reasoning skills such as: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The digital comic-making tool had the ability for learners to insert verbal forms of communication through speech bubbles, thought bubbles, and captions and non-verbal communication through choosing body positions and placement in the environment along with an assortment of complex facial expressions. Further, they could make and iterate on these changes without a lot of oversight. These easily accessible affective affordances of the tool created unique opportunities for narratives to be more holistically representative of social-emotional responses of their characters through how they reflected on themselves, their situations, and through the ways in which the characters interacted with one another.

SEL Findings: Students’ comics exhibited a number of SEL-related themes. Close to all of the comics included a character in the narrative demonstrating self-awareness. Approximately two-thirds of comics reflected relationship skills and social awareness. Students were least likely to illustrate behaviors within the comic narrative, with less than one-quarter of students exhibiting self-management and less than ten-percent, responsible decision-making. In addition, students leveraged the visual components of the comic media to integrate non-verbal indicators of social-emotional reasoning. This is distinctive in setting comics apart from other forms of narratives that do not have a visual component tightly integrated with the textual component. Across the 33 comics there were a total of 238 facial expressions and 155 body postures coded for supporting the social-emotional components of students' narratives.

In particular, students showed self-awareness about their own approaches to navigating friendships, and used these personal experiences to explain observations of their whole class data on friendships, and to understand and empathize with others’ experiences. For instance, students observed that already having friends made it easier for them to make new friends. They wondered if this was the same for their peers, and whether these feelings impacted the ways that their peers responded to questions in the friendship survey. Students also asked how friendship experiences might be impacted by an individual’s different racial, gender, and disability experiences, and remarked that such perspectives should be included in data collection efforts, and considerations of context when making claims. In constructing contexts and considering related data, students engaged in a form of perspective taking, commonly described as a form of social awareness. As students grappled with what the data might mean, their narratives exemplified ways in which the data could be acted upon through actively managing one’s emotions or thoughts, or being explicit about making caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions. In drawing an intersection between data reasoning and social-emotional reasoning, we draw connections between a rapidly growing area of interest in STEM (data literacy) and use of art-based approaches to connect to social-emotional learning.


  • Website:
  • Publications:
    • Vacca, R., DesPortes, K., Tes, M., Silander, M., Matuk, C., Amato, A., & Woods, P. J. (2022, April). ” I happen to be one of 47.8%”: Social-Emotional and Data Reasoning in Middle School Students’ Comics about Friendship. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-18).

Culturally Responsive, Affective-Focused Teaching of Science and Mathematics

PIs: Julie Brown
Grade Level(s): The CRAFT project serves Florida’s K-12 science and math teachers interested in improving their students’ affective and cognitive development through culturally responsive teaching.
STEM Discipline(s): SCIENCE: elementary science (grades 2 and 5); integrated science (grades 6-8); biology, environmental science, and biotechnology (grades 9-12) and MATH: elementary, middle, and high school mathematics (grades 4-10)

Description: CRAFT: Culturally Responsive, Affective-Focused Teaching of Science and Mathematics is an Early-Stage Design and Development Study in the Teaching Strand of the National Science Foundation. CRAFT is developing a transformative two-year teacher education certificate program for 48 STEM teachers across a school district in the southeast US. The CRAFT professional learning curriculum provides a combination of strategies and practical experiences with ongoing mentoring and support, that help teachers integrate more culturally responsive practices, with an explicit focus on students’ affective development. These evidence-based practices and teacher mindsets specifically aim to improve STEM engagement, efficacy, and achievement for the district’s students who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Thus, CRAFT will contribute to a broader agenda to increase participation of populations historically underrepresented in STEM in three ways: transforming instructional practices, constructing open-access tools and resources for teachers, and developing a theory of change with respect to teacher development in culturally responsive, affective-focused instruction.

How Is Your Project Addressing Social-Emotional Learning for Teachers and/or Students?:

What social-emotional learning frameworks, theories, instruments, or resources are you using in your research? 

  • While SEL is not taught explicitly in CRAFT, we draw upon the tenets of a race-visible, culturally responsive pedagogy which supports academic goals alongside affective domains, funds of knowledge and asset-based, humanizing pedagogies, all of which are critical components of CRAFT. 
  • The aim of equity-focused frameworks seeks to develop positive teacher attitudes toward BIPOC learners who have been historically underserved in STEM in this district.
  • Targeting students’ affective development supports student engagement in mathematics and science by explicitly supporting integration of STEM learning into their existing value systems and helping them to find ways to make science and mathematics a way of life. 
  • The following frameworks, Learning for Justice, Social Justice Standards (Chiarello et al., 2016), Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995, 2021), Culturally Responsive Teaching (Gay, 2010, 2018), Funds of Knowledge (González et al., 2005) are utilized throughout CRAFT. Additionally, we are refining our own adapted framework for affective development, that draws on the original affective taxonomy (Krathwohl et al., 1964), while offering measurable, practice-oriented language to guide teachers’ instruction and assessment. 

What do the SEL aspects of your intervention look like?

  • In the fall semester, we invite participants to consider designing lessons and lesson segments that include the Learning for Justice standards (Chiarello et al., 2016). The standards include Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action domains to broaden students’ self-awareness and to value the perspectives of others, including under-served learners. We also explore two resources, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Skloot, 2009)  (science teachers) to not only make content connections for instructional purposes, but to build social awareness around concepts such as HeLa cells, which are widely studied in science, but limited knowledge exists around the individual for whom they are named and her story. The CRAFT team teachers also explore The New Jim Crow (Alexander, 2010) (mathematics teachers) to make content connections and increase awareness around mass incarceration, which is a social topic surrounded by many misconceptions with opportunities for integration in math education courses.
  • In our spring semester, we provide an opportunity for participants to engage in young adult literature (i.e., Copper Sun, (Draper, 2006) to provide additional knowledge about historical and lived experiences that can be utilized in STEM education contexts and to help teachers support students in developing accurate knowledge and when relevant, healthy identities, around the topic of the slave trade.
  • We use a Value System Integration tool to allow students to share the things they value and their perceptions of how well these connect with the science and mathematics they learn in school. We then share these results with teachers to help them better understand the breadth and diversity of what matters to students and the perceived disconnect with what they learn in school. This is followed by support for teachers as they shift aspects of their instructional practices (e.g., writing learning outcomes, designing learning activities, creating assessments) to target affective development more explicitly.
  • In our summer STEM Empowerment Program participants create lessons that draw upon Ford-Harris/Blooms-Banks Matrix levels of multicultural content that can be integrated into disciplinary instruction coupled with a combination of Blooms’ framework for categorizing learning objectives in the cognitive domain, our framework for categorizing learning objectives in the affective domain, and reflections on the development of skills, including interpersonal skills, to connect to all learners.

SEL Findings: While our project is still in the early stages of development, we have seen impacts related to SEL in two places. First, through data collected with a tool designed to better understand student value systems, teachers’ have been able to better understand students’ perceived disconnects between the science and mathematics they learn in school and the things that matter most to them. As a result, we have seen teachers design lessons and activities and consistently reflect on their teaching in ways that focus on students’ affective development. Second, during our two-week summer STEM Empowerment Program, our teachers designed, reflected on, and refined STEM activities for students in our local 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Again, these activities and teachers’ reflection on their instruction consistently reflected efforts to enhance cognitive development by also including an explicit focus on affective development. As a result, participating students and teachers formed stronger bonds, students visibly developed new levels of self-efficacy and engagement, and teachers gained confidence in their ability to teach STEM in ways that are relevant to all students, including those whose backgrounds, languages, cultures, and home life differ substantially from their own. 


  • Website: (promo video on the homepage)
  • Coming soon! A revised framework for affective development, focused on students’ integration of learning into their unique individual value systems and a refined tool for better understanding what students value and their perceived connections between the science and mathematics they learn in school and what matters most to them.

Managing Uncertainty for Productive Struggle: Exploring Teacher Development for Managing Students' Epistemic Uncertainty as a Pedagogical Resource in Project-based Learning

PIs: Ying-Chih Chen
Grade Level(s): 6-8
STEM Discipline(s): Science and engineering focus on solar panels and energy transfer

Description: While scientists consider uncertainty to be a primary driver of the progression and productive struggle of scientific knowledge and making sense of the world, managing uncertainty for productive struggle in the classroom is a challenge for teachers and students. Many are not familiar with how scientists and engineers manage uncertainty to make sense of the real world, and few studies explore learning science as an enterprise of uncertainty management nor how student uncertainty is identified by teachers and students, advances discussion, contributes to knowledge development, gets resolved, and appropriately raises new uncertainties, and what strategies are available to teachers to manage students’ desirable uncertainty for productive struggle. The study follows the same cohort of 24 middle school science teachers in Phoenix, Arizona, for three years beginning in Fall 2021. During the project, the team will explore the effects of sustained professional development on teachers’ capacity to recognize and utilize students’ epistemic uncertainty as a pedagogical resource to support student learning energy concepts during project-based learning (PBL) instruction in middle school science classrooms.

How Is Your Project Addressing Social-Emotional Learning for Teachers and/or Students?: In this project, scientific uncertainty refers to a subjective experience of being aware that one has incomplete knowledge, information, or ability to make choices of what and how to do and/or to make sense of problematized phenomena, concepts, processes, or solutions that are concerned with the process and/or product of scientific inquiry. To understand what scientific uncertainty students may experience and how they (teachers and students) manage the scientific uncertainty, we created a teaching/ learning approach called SUPeR (Student Uncertainty as Pedagogical Resources) to guide teachers in teaching science using student uncertainty as a pedagogical resource. This approach includes four phases: (a) problematize phenomena; (b) material practice; (c) argumentative practice; (d) reflection transformation and application. Contextualizing student scientific uncertainty across the four phases, we explore what student scientific uncertainties emerge in each phase, what strategies teachers and students utilized to manage the uncertainties for productive struggle, and how students emotionally respond to uncertainties.

To understand what scientific uncertainty students struggle with, we propose two different types of scientific uncertainties: content and epistemic uncertainty. In accordance with types of scientific knowledge, this project distinguishes different types of scientific uncertainty according to where it is rooted in: content and epistemic knowledge. In other words, content and epistemic uncertainty can be distinguished in terms of what is known and how it is known.

However, not all uncertainties are desirable to pursue at certain points. Some uncertainties are desirable while others are undesirable. To better understand the criteria of desirability of uncertainty, this project suggests three dimensions of desirability of uncertainty: Relevance, timing, and complexity. Relevance refers to the degree of the uncertainty being meaningfully related or unrelated to the current classroom discourse. Timing refers to the degree the uncertainty being addressed in a just-in-time manner and in proper sequence. Complexity refers to the degree the uncertainty being entangled to untangle

Based on the types (content vs. epistemic) and desirability (relevance, timing, and complexity) of uncertainties, we assume that students may engage in the process of productive struggle when desirability uncertainties are involved. Therefore, they may engage in positive emotional learning experience and struggle, such as curiosity, interest, enjoyment. In contrast, when students are involved in undesirable uncertainties, they may engage in negative emotional learning experiences and struggle, such as being overwhelmed, frustrated, bored.

In order to understand the relationships between student uncertainty management, social emotional learning, and achievement tests on energy concepts, we developed surveys, tests, and interview protocols to understand the trajectories of productive struggle. 


  • Chen, Y.-C. (2022). Epistemic uncertainty and the support of productive struggle during scientific modeling for knowledge co-development. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 59(3), 383-422.
  • Chen, Y.-C., Jordan, M. Park, J., & Starrett, E. (2022). Productive Struggle: Managing scientific uncertainty for sensemaking in argumentation. Paper presented at European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) SIG20 (Inquiry learning)-26 (Argumentation, Dialogue, and Reasoning) meeting, Utrecht, Netherlands.
  • Chen, Y.-C., Park, J., Starrett, E., & Jordan, M. (2022). Managing scientific uncertainty for conceptual change: a theoretical framework for productive struggle in sense making. Paper presented at European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) SIG3 (Conceptual Change)12th International Conference on Conceptual Change, Zwolle, Netherlands.
  • Ha, H., Chen, Y.-C., & Park, J. (2022). Instructional strategies to manage scientific uncertainties for productive sensemaking: Exploring Korean and American classrooms. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Vancouver, Canada.
  • Ha, H, Park, J., & Chen, Y.-C. (2022). Instructional strategies to manage scientific uncertainties for productive sensemaking: Case studies from Korea and American classrooms. Paper presented at15th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) 2022, Hiroshima, Japan.
  • Park, J., Starett, E., Chen, Y.-C., & Jordan, M. (2022). Facilitating productive struggle in science education: The possible benefits of managing scientific uncertainty during sensemaking. Paper presented at 15th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) 2022, Hiroshima, Japan.

LogoTools for Teaching and Learning Engineering Practices: Pathways Towards Productive Identity Work in Engineering

PI: Angela Calabrese Barton
Grade Level(s): 6-7
STEM Discipline(s): Energy, Environmental Sustainability, Engineering

Description: I-Engineering, grounded in participatory design-based approaches and a justice-oriented stance on learning, addresses two pressing challenges faced by middle school youth from underrepresented backgrounds: 1) opportunities to learn engineering meaningfully, and to apply it to understanding and solving real world problems (“learning”), and 2) the desire/ability to see oneself as an important contributor to engineering (“identity and agency”). The implications of these challenges matter for minoritized youth for whom equitable opportunities to learn and become in engineering have continually been unsanctioned by dominant cultural norms.

Collaborating with teachers and community educators in two cities, we developed and refined a framework and tools in support of student learning and identity and agency development in engineering. We also studied whether, how and when these approaches support identity and agency development in engineering among middle school students from underrepresented backgrounds, in the context of learning engineering practices.

Tools and materials were implemented in 37 classrooms in 4 schools to study learning sequentially over 4 years. The project has been carried out at Michigan State University, University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in collaboration with community organizations and public schools serving minoritized populations in Lansing, MI and Greensboro, NC.

How Is Your Project Addressing Social-Emotional Learning for Teachers and/or Students?: We define social-emotional learning in this project as opportunities for students to develop their identities and agency as part of learning engineering for sustainable communities to address current everyday injustices.  Our project, I-Engineering, supports learning, identity and agency development in engineering as a part of learning two core engineering practices: 1) defining problems and 2) designing solutions. The I-Engineering framework and epistemic tools help teachers/students to “localize” the engineering design process (e.g., “I can solve this problem collaboratively right here in my community, right now, using what I know”). These tools include: a) community engineering and ethnography toolset and b) integrating perspectives iterative engineering design toolset.  Both toolsets support students in leveraging their insider community, positioning towards engaging meaningfully in engineering design, in tandem with science and engineering knowledge and practices. We envision the process of localizing engineering design as one of refining the problem constraints and specifications, while exploring possible modes of solution optimization for particular people/contexts through iterative engagement with both the technological and social dimensions of these practices. Undergirding the iterative process is a commitment to students’ whole lives in middle school STEM teaching and learning.

We take a pedagogies of community ethnography approach in support of students identity and agency work in humanizing ways. Specifically, the I-Engineering approach supported student engineers in working alongside community members to improve the daily lives of people they know in their lives. Teachers decide whether they want to focus on the local classroom and/or school community or expand to the neighborhood community. Throughout the engineering design process, student engineers elicited multiple communities’ perspectives about the problem they defined, their proposed solutions, and multiple design iterations/prototypes.

By helping the community solve their problem, students learned and experienced how all community members have the right and the responsibility to contribute to defining problems and designing solutions. Data show a range of in-community expertise that can be helpful to students working on engineering for sustainable community designs, including school staff members with different forms of technical expertise, community and family members with expertise related to engineering, science, and the environment, and peers and family members with experience on the sustainability issues students identify, such as a “need to celebrate accomplishments more” or to “have more fun”.

I-Engineering involves designing solutions that minimize the impact to the environment, or even help to improve the environment.  We define sustainable environments as centered on students’ well-being, beyond epistemic gains.  Minimizing impact on the environment meant maximizing materials already available in classrooms and communities, using renewable resources, such as cardboard from delivered boxes or old school projects, supporting renewable energy sources for projects requiring power, and building projects that last. Students are encouraged to look at how their designs work, what their designs are made of, and how durable their designs are as some ways to think about how their design may minimize impact on their environment.

Students also learn how to design solutions for now and for the future. This involves learning to balance trade-offs equitably among environmental, social, and technical effects of designs is an important  challenge for engineers.  However, learning to make trade-offs in the process of refining and optimizing solutions is an important part of engineering design.

I-Engineering has produced 3 sustained, authentic and iterative  engineering design challenges, grounded in our Engineering for Sustainable Communities framework: Electric Art,  Sustainable Classrooms, and Invasive Species, along with an I-Engineering Toolkit workbook for practitioners. This workbook shares both the motivation for and framework of an engineering for sustainable communities approach in science classrooms. It covers why we teach engineering, the engineering for sustainable communities framework, reasons for a sustainable communities framework and the justice-oriented goals of engineering for sustainable communities. We share framework tools for designing an engineering for sustainable communities design challenge and two actionable toolkits: 1) community ethnography tools and 2) STEM Identity and agency tools. We provide a guide  for using these tools in conjunction with adapting pre-existing engineering design challenge units.

SEL Findings:

Identity Work:  Engineering for Sustainable Communities created opportunities for productive identity work because it created space for youth to authentically engage in engineering design in ways that allowed them to care about each other, their classroom and community, and to use both their everyday ingenuity and technical expertise to make a difference. Students’ identity work took shape through the emergence of new local contentious practices of engineering for sustainable communities that both amplified youths’ ingenuity and challenged local, historical/sociocultural norms of engineering and schooling. These contentious local practice related to disrupting the authority to name what counts as engineering problems worth solving and disrupting narratives around what it means to persist through iterations in design. An EfSC approach supports the production of local and productive contentious practice because it centers community co-ownership in the design, and supports students in leveraging their everyday ingenuity as critical know-how in engineering design.

Calabrese Barton, A., Tan, E. & Schenkel, K. (2021). The Ingenuity of Everyday Practice: A Framework for Justice-Centered Identity Work in Engineering in the Middle Grades. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research.

Agency – Engineering for Change: We investigated the social-spatial relationalities that minoritized youth bring to engineering design, and how relationalities may support youth in transforming oppressive knowledge and power structures towards equitably consequential learning. Findings reveal that organizing learning engineering design around young people’s rich experiences of everyday lives and community wisdom through community ethnography and towards addressing local sociopolitical community challenges shifts the social-spatial terrain upon which subject-object relations are enacted, such as through the discourses, practices and outcomes legitimized. This power-mediated terrain makes visible the often hidden, but ever present, unjust school-based relationalities, enabling them to be re-mediated in justice-oriented ways. Paying attention to social-spatial relationalities reveal 1) the multiple scales of activity, 2) inter-scalar mobilities and interactions, and 3) possible resultant impacts of such interactions that further affect activity at each scale. 

Tan, E. Calabrese Barton, A. & Nazar, C. (2022). Negotiating New Social-Spatial Relationalities in Middle School Engineering: Seeing Consequential Learning as a Justice-Oriented Project. Cognition & Instruction.

Agency – Critical Consciousness: We  show an EfSC approach to teaching engineering in the middle grades can support strong connections between classrooms and communities by fostering critical consciousness. We show how critical consciousness should not be viewed as separate from learning the content and practices of STEM, but rather as a way to orient how and why learning STEM matters in everyday life and hoped-for futures.

Xu, Geling, Benavides, A., Calabrese Barton, A., Tan, E., Bleisner, S., DeFrancesco, D., & Barton, S. (2022). Critical Consciousness in EfSC: A Justice-oriented Approach Connecting Schools and Communities in Middle School Engineering. NSTA’s Connected Learning.

I-Engineering Tools in support of onto-epistemic development (bridging identity and learning): Two I-Engineering epistemic toolsets: a) community engineering and ethnography tools for defining problems, & b) integrating perspectives in design specification and optimization through iterative design sketch‐up and prototyping—work to support the following: a) Students' recruitment of multiple epistemologies; b) Navigation of multiple epistemologies; and c) students' onto‐epistemological developments in engineering. The tools worked when they were taken up in particular ways by teacher and students, and how the nature of their iterative engagement with the tools led to outcomes in ways that were equitable and consequential, both to students' engineering experiences and their engineering onto‐epistemological developments, and also in responding to the community injustices prototypes were designed to address. Tensions in enactments emerged suggesting the affordances of a productive epistemic space and the concomitant risks related to larger institutional norms, can constrain the extent of students' justice‐oriented engineering goals.

Tan, E., Calabrese Barton, A., & Benavides, A. (2019). EfSC: Epistemic Tools in Support of Equitable and Consequential Middle School Engineering. Science Education.




  • Tan, E., Calabrese Barton, A., & Restrepo Nazar, C. (2022). Negotiating new Social-Spatial Relationalities in Middle School Engineering: Seeing Consequential Learning as a Justice-Oriented Project. Cognition and Instruction,
  • Xu, G., Benavides, A., Calabrese-Barton, A., Tan, E., Bliesener, S., DiFrancesco, G., & Barton, S. C. (2022). Critical consciousness in engineering for sustainable communities: A justice-oriented approach connecting schools and communities. Connected Science Learning, 4(1).
  • Calabrese Barton, A., Schenkel, K., & Tan, E. (2021). The ingenuity of everyday practice: A framework for justice-centered identity work in middle grades. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, 11(1), 89-112.
  • Calabrese Barton, A., Schenkel, K., & Tan, E. (2021). Collaboratively engineering for justice in sixth-grade STEM. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 58(7),1010-1040.
  • Tan, E., Calabrese Barton, A., & Benavides, A. (2021). Supporting teacher visioning of justice-oriented engineering in middle school. Peabody Journal of Education, 96(4), 376-392.
  • Schenkel, K., Calabrese Barton, A, & Tan, E. (2021). An engineering funds of knowledge framework.  Science and Children, 58(6), 46-53
  • Schenkel, K., Blisener, S., Calabrese Barton, A., & Tan, E. (2020). Teacher Toolkit: Community ethnography as pedagogy. Science Scope, 43(7), 56-64.
  • Tan, E., Calabrese Barton, A., & Benavides, A. (2019). Engineering for sustainable communities: Epistemic tools in support of equitable and consequential middle school engineering. Science Education, 103(4), 1011-1046.
  • Calabrese Barton, A., & Tan, E. (2019)*. Designing for rightful presence in STEM: Community ethnography as pedagogy as an equity-oriented design approach. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 28(4-5), 616-658. *2019 Best Paper of the Year Award, Journal of the Learning Sciences
  • Schenkel, K., Calabrese Barton, A, & Tan, E., Respetro Nazar, C., & Gonzaléz, M. (2019). Framing equity through a closer examination of critical science agency. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 14, 309-325. 

We also produced a series of briefs, with an R+P focus that introduce readers to core conceptual ideas, which undergird our work. Each concept piece has associated practice-based tools and an associated set of teacher learning experiences we use in our professional development with teachers.