Informal Educators

Leveraging the Power of Reflection and Visual Representation in Middle-Schoolers' Learning During and After an Informal Science Experience (Collaborative Research: Uttal)

This project addresses a longstanding problem in informal science education: how to increase the likelihood of consequential STEM learning from short duration experiences such as field trips.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2115905
Funding Period: 
Fri, 10/01/2021 to Tue, 09/30/2025
Full Description: 

This project addresses a longstanding problem in informal science education: how to increase the likelihood of consequential science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning from short duration experiences such as field trips. Although informal learning experiences can greatly contribute to interest in and knowledge of science, there is a shared concern among educators and researchers that students may have difficulty recalling and using scientific information and practices emphasized during these experiences, even though doing so would further their science learning. Nonetheless, science learning is rarely, if ever, a "one-shot deal." Children acquire knowledge about science cumulatively across different contexts and activities. Therefore, it is important that informal science learning institutions identify effective practices that support the consolidation of learning and memory from exhibit experiences to foster portable, usable knowledge across contexts, such as from informal science learning institutions, to classrooms, and homes. To this end, this Research in Service to Practice project seeks to harness the power and potential of visual representations (e.g., graphs, drawings, charts, maps, etc.) for enhancing learning and encouraging effective reflection during and after science learning experiences. The project promises to increase learning for the 9,000+ 5th and 6th grade students from across the rurality and growing diversity of the state of Maine who annually participate in LabVenture, a 2.5-hour exploration of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem at Gulf of Maine Research Institute. The research will provide new and actionable informal science learning practices that promote engagement with visual representations and reflection, and science understandings that can be applied broadly by informal science institutions.

The project is grounded in the idea that visual representations, including drawings, can both enhance science learning and encourage reflection on doing science that can support extension of that learning beyond a singular informal science experience. The project uses design-based research to address the following research questions: (1) Does reflection during an informal science learning experience promote students’ retention and subsequent use of science information and practices that are part of the experience? (2) Does interpreting and constructing visual representations, such as drawings, improve students’ understanding and retention of information, and if so, how and when?  and (3) Does combining visual representations and narrative reflections confer benefits on students’ science learning and engagement in science practices both during the informal learning experience, and later in their classrooms and at home? These questions will be pursued in collaboration with practitioners (both informal educators and classroom teachers) and a diverse team of graduate and undergraduate student researchers. Approximately 600 student groups (roughly 3000 individual students) will be observed during the LabVenture experience, with further data collection involving a portion of these students at school and at home. The project will yield resources and video demonstrations of field-tested, empirically based practices that promote engagement with visual representations and reflection, and science understandings that can travel within students' learning ecosystem. In support of broadening participation, the undergraduate/graduate student researchers will gain wide understanding and experience connecting research to practice and communicating science to academic and nonacademic audiences.

Leveraging the Power of Reflection and Visual Representation in Middle-Schoolers' Learning During and After an Informal Science Experience (Collaborative Research: Dickes)

This project addresses a longstanding problem in informal science education: how to increase the likelihood of consequential STEM learning from short duration experiences such as field trips.

Award Number: 
2115603
Funding Period: 
Fri, 10/01/2021 to Tue, 09/30/2025
Full Description: 

This project addresses a longstanding problem in informal science education: how to increase the likelihood of consequential science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning from short duration experiences such as field trips. Although informal learning experiences can greatly contribute to interest in and knowledge of science, there is a shared concern among educators and researchers that students may have difficulty recalling and using scientific information and practices emphasized during these experiences, even though doing so would further their science learning. Nonetheless, science learning is rarely, if ever, a "one-shot deal." Children acquire knowledge about science cumulatively across different contexts and activities. Therefore, it is important that informal science learning institutions identify effective practices that support the consolidation of learning and memory from exhibit experiences to foster portable, usable knowledge across contexts, such as from informal science learning institutions, to classrooms, and homes. To this end, this Research in Service to Practice project seeks to harness the power and potential of visual representations (e.g., graphs, drawings, charts, maps, etc.) for enhancing learning and encouraging effective reflection during and after science learning experiences. The project promises to increase learning for the 9,000+ 5th and 6th grade students from across the rurality and growing diversity of the state of Maine who annually participate in LabVenture, a 2.5-hour exploration of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem at Gulf of Maine Research Institute. The research will provide new and actionable informal science learning practices that promote engagement with visual representations and reflection, and science understandings that can be applied broadly by informal science institutions.

The project is grounded in the idea that visual representations, including drawings, can both enhance science learning and encourage reflection on doing science that can support extension of that learning beyond a singular informal science experience. The project uses design-based research to address the following research questions: (1) Does reflection during an informal science learning experience promote students’ retention and subsequent use of science information and practices that are part of the experience? (2) Does interpreting and constructing visual representations, such as drawings, improve students’ understanding and retention of information, and if so, how and when?  and (3) Does combining visual representations and narrative reflections confer benefits on students’ science learning and engagement in science practices both during the informal learning experience, and later in their classrooms and at home? These questions will be pursued in collaboration with practitioners (both informal educators and classroom teachers) and a diverse team of graduate and undergraduate student researchers. Approximately 600 student groups (roughly 3000 individual students) will be observed during the LabVenture experience, with further data collection involving a portion of these students at school and at home. The project will yield resources and video demonstrations of field-tested, empirically based practices that promote engagement with visual representations and reflection, and science understandings that can travel within students' learning ecosystem. In support of broadening participation, the undergraduate/graduate student researchers will gain wide understanding and experience connecting research to practice and communicating science to academic and nonacademic audiences.

Leveraging the Power of Reflection and Visual Representation in Middle-Schoolers' Learning During and After an Informal Science Experience (Collaborative Research: Haden)

This project addresses a longstanding problem in informal science education: how to increase the likelihood of consequential STEM learning from short duration experiences such as field trips.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2115610
Funding Period: 
Fri, 10/01/2021 to Tue, 09/30/2025
Full Description: 

This project addresses a longstanding problem in informal science education: how to increase the likelihood of consequential science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning from short duration experiences such as field trips. Although informal learning experiences can greatly contribute to interest in and knowledge of science, there is a shared concern among educators and researchers that students may have difficulty recalling and using scientific information and practices emphasized during these experiences, even though doing so would further their science learning. Nonetheless, science learning is rarely, if ever, a "one-shot deal." Children acquire knowledge about science cumulatively across different contexts and activities. Therefore, it is important that informal science learning institutions identify effective practices that support the consolidation of learning and memory from exhibit experiences to foster portable, usable knowledge across contexts, such as from informal science learning institutions, to classrooms, and homes. To this end, this Research in Service to Practice project seeks to harness the power and potential of visual representations (e.g., graphs, drawings, charts, maps, etc.) for enhancing learning and encouraging effective reflection during and after science learning experiences. The project promises to increase learning for the 9,000+ 5th and 6th grade students from across the rurality and growing diversity of the state of Maine who annually participate in LabVenture, a 2.5-hour exploration of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem at Gulf of Maine Research Institute. The research will provide new and actionable informal science learning practices that promote engagement with visual representations and reflection, and science understandings that can be applied broadly by informal science institutions.

The project is grounded in the idea that visual representations, including drawings, can both enhance science learning and encourage reflection on doing science that can support extension of that learning beyond a singular informal science experience. The project uses design-based research to address the following research questions: (1) Does reflection during an informal science learning experience promote students’ retention and subsequent use of science information and practices that are part of the experience? (2) Does interpreting and constructing visual representations, such as drawings, improve students’ understanding and retention of information, and if so, how and when?  and (3) Does combining visual representations and narrative reflections confer benefits on students’ science learning and engagement in science practices both during the informal learning experience, and later in their classrooms and at home? These questions will be pursued in collaboration with practitioners (both informal educators and classroom teachers) and a diverse team of graduate and undergraduate student researchers. Approximately 600 student groups (roughly 3000 individual students) will be observed during the LabVenture experience, with further data collection involving a portion of these students at school and at home. The project will yield resources and video demonstrations of field-tested, empirically based practices that promote engagement with visual representations and reflection, and science understandings that can travel within students' learning ecosystem. In support of broadening participation, the undergraduate/graduate student researchers will gain wide understanding and experience connecting research to practice and communicating science to academic and nonacademic audiences.

Building a Flexible and Comprehensive Approach to Supporting Student Development of Whole Number Understanding

The purpose of this project is to develop and conduct initial studies of a multi-grade program targeting critical early math concepts. The project is designed to address equitable access to mathematics and STEM learning for all students, including those with or at-risk for learning disabilities and underrepresented groups.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2101308
Funding Period: 
Thu, 07/01/2021 to Mon, 06/30/2025
Full Description: 

A critical goal for the nation is ensuring all students have a successful start in learning mathematics. While strides have been made in supporting at-risk students in mathematics, significant challenges still exist. These challenges include enabling access to and learning of advanced mathematics content, ensuring that learning gains don’t fade over time, and providing greater support to students with the most severe learning needs. One way to address these challenges is through the use of mathematics programs designed to span multiple grades. The purpose of this project is to develop and conduct initial studies of a multi-grade program targeting critical early math concepts. The project is designed to address equitable access to mathematics and STEM learning for all students, including those with or at-risk for learning disabilities and underrepresented groups.

The three aims of the project are to: (1) develop a set of 10 Bridging Lessons designed to link existing kindergarten and first grade intervention programs (2) develop a second grade intervention program that in combination with the kindergarten and first grade programs will promote a coherent sequence of whole number concepts, skills, and operations across kindergarten to second grade; and (3) conduct a pilot study of the second grade program examining initial promise to improve student mathematics achievement. To accomplish these goals multiple methods will be used including iterative design and development process and the use of a randomized control trial to study potential impact on student math learning. Study participants include approximately 220 kindergarten through second grade students from 8 schools across three districts. Study measures include teacher surveys, direct observations, and student math outcome measures. The project addresses the need for research developed intervention programs focused on advanced whole number content. The work is intended to support schools in designing and deploying math interventions to provide support to students both within and across the early elementary grades as they encounter and engage with critical mathematics content.

International Mind, Brain and Education Society (IMBES): 2020 Biennial Conference

This award will support teacher practitioners from the U.S. to attend the 2020 International Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES) conference. The IMBES conference is an opportunity for scholars and educators to come together to engage in reciprocal dialogue about research and practice in biology, education, and the cognitive and developmental sciences.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2016241
Funding Period: 
Sun, 03/15/2020 to Thu, 12/31/2020
Full Description: 

The International Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES) conference has taken place every 2-3 years since 2007. IMBES aims to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration in biology, education, and the cognitive and developmental sciences. The IMBES meeting is an opportunity for scholars and educators to come together to engage in reciprocal dialogue about research and practice. Researchers investigating learning processes have the opportunity to share results with educators and receive feedback on the translational opportunities for the research. Educators can update their understanding of the cognitive and neural bases of learning and impart their knowledge of efficacious techniques, tools, and classroom practices with researchers. This type of interaction between researchers and practitioners is crucial for generating research that contributes to usable knowledge for education. This conference aims to assess the degree to which scientific ideas are ready for the classroom, consider the extent to which further educational research is still required, evaluate the potential of current research in meaningfully shaping pedagogy, and recognize opportunities to use the classroom to challenge the robustness of research.

This award to Temple University will provide partial support for the International, Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES) conference to be held in Montreal in June 2020. This award will specifically support teacher practitioners from the U.S. to attend the conference and learn more about educational neuroscience and its potential implications for practice. The teacher practitioners will also have opportunities to share with researchers the nature of effective educational practice.

Teaching Science Outdoors: A Next Generation Approach for Advancing Elementary Science Teaching in Urban Communities

This project project is designed to enhance the capacity of elementary teachers in high-poverty urban communities for enacting Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-aligned science approaches using the outdoors as part of their classroom. The goal of the project is to advance elementary teachers' pedagogical practices and determine how this affects cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes of their students, particularly those who are traditionally marginalized in science classrooms.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1907506
Funding Period: 
Mon, 07/01/2019 to Fri, 06/30/2023
Full Description: 

This project addresses a long-standing challenge in science education centered on providing meaningful science education opportunities to students living in communities of high poverty and attending under-resourced elementary schools. These students are significantly less likely to receive high-quality science learning opportunities and to be encouraged to engage in (rather than simply learn about) science. This Michigan State University research project is designed to enhance the capacity of elementary teachers in high-poverty urban communities for enacting Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-aligned science approaches using the outdoors as part of their classroom. It builds on and advances prior outdoor education work for the current context of science education that requires elementary teachers to engage students in making sense of phenomena using next generation science and engineering practices. The goal of this project is to advance elementary teachers' pedagogical practices and determine how this affects cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes of their students, particularly those who are traditionally marginalized in science classrooms. It also will advance knowledge on ways to bridge informal and formal learning environments. To achieve these goals, the project will develop, enact and study a program that involves a scaffolded series of summer professional development sessions focused on outdoor learning and school year follow-up meetings and classroom-based coaching for elementary teachers and informal educators from two high-need districts.

Design-based research will be utilized to: 1) foster teacher practices and study how these develop over time, 2) work with teachers to measure student outcomes, and 3) determine what aspects of this formal/informal approach are productive, measures of student engagement and student learning artifacts--will be analyzed. The project will serve as a model for developing partnerships between informal science organizations, educators, and K-12 programs. Revised measures and outcomes of teacher practices and student learning; outdoor-focused lesson plans; cases illustrating how elementary teachers develop and enact NGSS-aligned outdoor lessons; a revised informal-formal theoretical model; and information about dissemination of products including facilitation guidelines and coaching approaches will be developed and disseminated.

Spanning Boundaries: A Statewide Network to Support Science Teacher Leaders to Implement Science Standards

This project will develop and test a two-year professional development model for secondary school science teacher leaders that will help them support their colleagues in implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1907460
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2019 to Mon, 07/31/2023
Full Description: 

Current priorities in school science education include building strong professional learning communities that foster ongoing professional growth among teachers, teacher leaders, and school administrators. This project responds to these priorities by developing and testing a two-year professional development model for secondary school science teacher leaders that will help them support their colleagues in implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The new model for professional learning combines three key elements: 1) Focusing on teacher leaders who can interpret, translate, and incorporate new approaches and resources into local contexts, 2) Engaging the expertise of informal science education specialists who are well versed in teacher professional learning and experiential approaches to learning, and 3) Establishing a statewide network of peers who can share experiences beyond individual school and district contexts. By developing a geographically-distributed network of support for science teacher leaders, the project is poised to create more equitable access to high quality professional learning opportunities for teachers as well as provide much needed support to the disproportionate number of novice teachers in schools with high populations of historically underrepresented students in science.

This early stage design and development project is guided by two research questions: 1) How do teacher leaders utilize structures, practices, and tools within an informal science institution-based network to interpret, filter, and translate available resources into professional learning supports for localized implementation of phenomena-based instruction? And 2) How do the professional learning supports developed by teacher leaders become more aligned with best practices for professional development (e.g., active learning, sustained, coherent, collaborative, and content-based) and incorporate aspects of informal learning (e.g., choice and experiential learning) throughout their participation in an ISI-based network? The project will engage two cohorts of 25 middle and high school science teacher leaders in overlapping two-year, one-week summer institutes, and a minimum of 12 online meetings during the academic years. The 30-hour summer institutes will be designed to address the multiple roles of teacher leaders as learners, classroom teachers, and teacher professional development providers. To sustain professional development across the academic year, monthly two-hour online meetings will be used to nurture the community of practice. Some sessions will focus on leadership and topics related to the NGSS, and other sessions will focus on deepening science content knowledge. The sources of data to be used in addressing the research questions include: 1) Video recordings, field notes of observations, and artifacts of professional development meetings, 2) Interviews with teacher leaders, and 3) Journal entries and artifacts from professional development sessions implemented by teacher leaders.  

Aligning the Science Teacher Education Pathway: A Networked Improvement Community

This project will study the activities of a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) as a vehicle to bridge gaps across four identified steps along the science teacher training and development pathways within local contexts of 8 participating universities. The overarching goal of the project is to strengthen the capacity of universities and school districts to reliably produce teachers of science who are knowledgeable about and can effectively enact the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), although prepared in varied organizational contexts.

Award Number: 
1908900
Funding Period: 
Mon, 07/01/2019 to Fri, 06/30/2023
Full Description: 

California State University will study the activities of a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) as a vehicle to bridge gaps across four identified steps along the science teacher training and development pathways within local contexts of 8 participating universities (NIC sites). Networked Improvement Community (NIC) will co-create a shared vision and co-defined research agenda between university researchers, science educators and school district practitioners working together to reform teacher education across a variety of local contexts. By studying outcomes of shared supports and teacher tools for use in multiple steps along the science teacher education pathway, researchers will map variation existing in the system and align efforts across the science teacher education pathway. This process will integrate an iterative nature of educational change in local contexts impacting enactment of the NGSS in both university teacher preparation programs and in school district professional training activities and classrooms.

The overarching goal of the project is to strengthen the capacity of universities and school districts to reliably produce teachers of science who are knowledgeable about and can effectively enact the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), although prepared in varied organizational contexts. The project will accomplish this goal 1) leveraging the use of an established Networked Improvement Community, composed of science education faculty from eight university campuses and by 2) improving and studying coherence in the steps along the science teacher education pathway within and across these universities and school districts. The project will use a mixed methods approach to data collection and analysis. Consistent with Improvement Science Theory, research questions will be co-defined by all stakeholders.

LabVenture - Revealing Systemic Impacts of a 12-Year Statewide Science Field Trip Program

This project will examine the impact of a 12-year statewide science field trip program called LabVenture, a hands-on program in discovery and inquiry that brings middle school students and teachers across the state of Maine to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) to become fully immersed in explorations into the complexities of local marine science ecosystems.

Award Number: 
1811452
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Thu, 08/31/2023
Full Description: 

This research in service to practice project will examine the impact of a 12-year statewide science field trip program called LabVenture. This hands-on program in discovery and inquiry brings middle school students and teachers across the state of Maine to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in Portland, Maine to become fully immersed in explorations into the complexities of local marine science ecosystems. These intensive field trip experiences are led by informal educators and facilitated entirely within informal contexts at GMRI. Approximately 70% of all fifth and sixth grade students in Maine participate in the program each year and more than 120,000 students have attended since the program's inception in 2005. Unfortunately, little is known to date on how the program has influenced practice and learning ecosystems within formal, informal, and community contexts. As such, this research in service to practice project will employ an innovative research approach to understand and advance knowledge on the short and long-term impacts of the program within different contexts. If proven effective, the LabVenture program will elucidate the potential benefits of a large-scale field trip program implemented systemically across a community over time and serve as a reputable model for statewide adoption of similar programs seeking innovative strategies to connect formal and informal science learning to achieve notable positive shifts in their local, statewide, or regional STEM learning ecosystems.

Over the four-year project duration, the project will reach all 16 counties in the State of Maine. The research design includes a multi-step, multi-method approach to gain insight on the primary research questions. The initial research will focus on extant data and retrospective data sources codified over the 12-year history of the program. The research will then be expanded to garner prospective data on current participating students, teachers, and informal educators. Finally, a community study will be conducted to understand the potential broader impacts of the program. Each phase of the research will consider the following overarching research questions are: (1) How do formal and informal practitioners perceive the value and purposes of the field trip program and field trip experiences more broadly (field trip ontology)? (2) To what degree do short-term field trip experiences in informal contexts effect cognitive and affective outcomes for students? (3) How are community characteristics (e.g., population, distance from GMRI, proximity to the coast) related to ongoing engagement with the field trip program? (4) What are aspects of the ongoing field trip program that might embed it as an integral element of community culture (e.g., community awareness of a shared social experience)? (5) To what degree does a field trip experience that is shared by schools across a state lead to a traceable change that can be measured for those who participated and across the broader community? and (6) In what ways, if at all, can a field trip experience that occurs in informal contexts have an influence on the larger learning ecosystem (e.g., the Maine education system)? Each phase of the research will be led by a team of researchers with the requisite expertise in the methodologies and contexts required to carry out that particular aspect of the research (i.e., retrospective study, prospective study, community study). In addition, evaluation and practitioner panels of experts will provide expertise and guidance on the research, evaluation, and project implementation. The project will culminate with a practitioner convening, to share project findings more broadly with formal and informal practitioners, and promote transfer from research to practice. Additional dissemination strategies include conferences, network meetings, and peer-reviewed publications.

Understanding the Role of Simulations in K-12 Science and Mathematics Teacher Education

This project will develop and implement a working conference for scholars and practitioners to articulate current use cases and theories of action regarding the use of simulations in PreK-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The conference will be structured to provide opportunities for attendees to share their current research, theoretical models, conceptual views, and use cases focused on the design and use of digital and non-digital simulations for building and assessing K-12 science and mathematics teacher competencies.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1813476
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2018 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

The recent emergence of updated learning standards in science and mathematics, coupled with increasingly diverse school students across the nation, has highlighted the importance of updating professional learning opportunities for science and mathematics teachers. One promising approach that has emerged is the use of simulations to engage teachers in approximations of practice where the focus is on helping them learn how to engage in ambitious content teaching. In particular, recent technological advances have supported the emergence of new kinds of digital simulations and have brought increased attention to simulations as a tool to enhance teacher learning. This project will develop and implement a working conference for scholars and practitioners to articulate current use cases and theories of action regarding the use of simulations in PreK-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The conference will be structured to provide opportunities for attendees to share their current research, theoretical models, conceptual views, and use cases focused on the design and use of digital and non-digital simulations for building and assessing K-12 science and mathematics teacher competencies.

While the use of simulations in teacher education is neither new nor limited to digital simulation, emerging technological capabilities have enabled digital simulations to become practical in ways not formerly available. The current literature base, however, is dated and the field lacks clear theoretic models or articulated theories of action regarding what teachers could or should learn via simulations, and the essential components of effective learning trajectories. This working conference will be structured to provide opportunities for attending, teacher educators, researchers, professional development facilitators, policy makers, preservice and inservice teachers, and school district leaders to share their current research, theoretical models, conceptual views, and use cases regarding the role of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The conference will be organized around four major goals, including: (1) Define how simulations (digital and non-digital) are conceptualized, operationalized, and utilized in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education; (2) Document and determine the challenges and affordances of the varied contexts, audiences, and purposes for which simulations are used in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education and the variety of investigation methods and research questions employed to investigate the use of simulations in these settings; (3) Make explicit the theories of action and conceptual views undergirding the various simulation models being used in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education; and (4) Determine implications of the current research and development work in this space and establish an agenda for studying the use of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education. The project will produce a white paper that presents the research and development agenda developed by the working conference, describes a series of use cases describing current and emergent practice, and identifies promising directions for future research and development in this area. Conference outcomes are expected to advance understanding of the varied ways in which digital and non-digital simulations can be used to foster and assess K-12 science and mathematics teacher competencies and initiate a research and development agenda for examining the role of simulations in K-12 science and mathematics teacher education.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Understanding the Role of Simulations in Teacher Preparation

Presenter(s): Lisa Dieker, Angelica Fulchini Scruggs, Heather Howell, Michael Hynes, & Jamie Mikeska


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