Low Socio-economic Status Students

Collaborative Math: Creating Sustainable Excellence in Mathematics for Head Start Programs

This project will adapt and study a promising and replicable teacher professional development (PD) intervention, called Collaborative Math (CM), for use in early childhood programs. Prepared as generalists, preschool teachers typically acquire less math knowledge in pre-service training than their colleagues in upper grades, which reduces their effectiveness in teaching math. To address teacher PD needs, the project will simultaneously develop teacher content knowledge, confidence, and classroom practice by using a whole teacher approach.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503486
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2015 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

This project was submitted to the Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) program that 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. The project will adapt and study a promising and replicable teacher professional development (PD) intervention, called Collaborative Math (CM), for use in early childhood programs. CM content will focus on nine topics emphasized in preschool mathematics, including sets, number sense, counting, number operations, pattern, measurement, data analysis, spatial relationships, and shape. These concepts are organized around Big Ideas familiar in early math, are developmentally appropriate and foundational to a young child's understanding of mathematics. The project addresses the urgent need for improving early math instruction for low-income children. Prepared as generalists, preschool teachers typically acquire less math knowledge in pre-service training than their colleagues in upper grades, which reduces their effectiveness in teaching math. To address teacher PD needs, the project will simultaneously develop teacher content knowledge, confidence, and classroom practice by using a whole teacher approach. Likewise, the project will involve teachers, teacher aides, and administrators through a whole school approach in PD, which research has shown is more effective than involving only lead teachers. Through several phases of development and research, the project will investigate the contributions of project components on increases in teacher knowledge and classroom practices, student math knowledge, and overall implementation. The project will impact approximately 200 Head Start (HS) teaching staff, better preparing them to provide quality early math experiences to more than 3,000 HS children during the project period. Upon the completion of the project, a range of well-tested CM materials such as resource books and teaching videos will be widely available for early math PD use. Assessment tools that look at math knowledge, attitudes, and teacher practice will also be available. 

The project builds on Erikson Institute research and development work in fields of early math PD and curriculum. Over a 4-year span, project development and research will be implemented in 4 phases: (1) adapting the existing CM and research measures for HS context; (2) conducting a limited field study of revised CM in terms of fidelity and director, teacher/aide, and student outcomes, and study of business as usual (BAU) comparison groups; (3) a study of the promise of the intervention promise with the phase 3 BAU group (who offered baseline in phase 2) and (4) a test of the 2nd year sustainability intervention with phase 3 treatment group. The teacher and student measures are all published, frequently used measures in early childhood education and will be piloted and refined prior to full implementation. The project is a partnership between Erikson, SRI, and Chicago Head Start programs. Project research and resources will be widely disseminated to policy makers, researchers, and practitioners.

TRUmath and Lesson Study: Supporting Fundamental and Sustainable Improvement in High School Mathematics Teaching (Collaborative Research: Schoenfeld)

Given the changes in instructional practices needed to support high quality mathematics teaching and learning based on college and career readiness standards, school districts need to provide professional learning opportunities for teachers that support those changes. The project is based on the TRUmath framework and will build a coherent and scalable plan for providing these opportunities in high school mathematics departments, a traditionally difficult unit of organizational change.

Award Number: 
1503454
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sun, 06/30/2019
Full Description: 

Given the changes in instructional practices needed to support high quality mathematics teaching and learning based on college and career readiness standards, school districts need to provide professional learning opportunities for teachers that support those changes. The project will build a coherent and scalable plan for providing these opportunities in high school mathematics departments, a traditionally difficult unit of organizational change. Based on the TRUmath framework, characterizing the five essential dimensions of powerful mathematics classrooms, the project brings together a focus on curricular materials that support teaching, Lesson Study protocols and materials, and a professional learning community-based professional development model. The project will design and revise professional development and coaching guides and lesson study mathematical resources built around the curricular materials. The project will study changes in instructional practice and impact on student learning. By documenting the supports used in the Oakland Unified School District where the research and development will be conducted, the resources can be used by other districts and in similar work by other research-practice partnerships.

This project hypothesizes that the quality of classroom instruction can be defined by five dimensions - quality of the mathematics; cognitive demand of the tasks; access to mathematics content in the classroom; student agency, authority, and identity; and uses of assessment. The project will use an iterative design process to develop and refine a suite of tool, including a conversation guide to support productive dialogue between teachers and coaches, support materials for building site-based professional learning materials, and formative assessment lessons using Lesson Study as a mechanism to enact reforms of these dimensions. The study will use a pre-post design and natural variation to student the relationships between these dimensions, changes in teachers' instructional practice, and student learning using hierarchical linear modeling with random intercept models with covariates. Qualitative of the changes in teachers' instructional practices will be based on coding of observations based on the TRUmath framework. The study will also use qualitative analysis techniques to identify themes from surveys and interviews on factors that promote or hinder the effectiveness of the intervention.

TRUmath and Lesson Study: Supporting Fundamental and Sustainable Improvement in High School Mathematics Teaching (Collaborative Research: Donovan)

Given the changes in instructional practices needed to support high quality mathematics teaching and learning based on college and career readiness standards, school districts need to provide professional learning opportunities for teachers that support those changes. The project is based on the TRUmath framework and will build a coherent and scalable plan for providing these opportunities in high school mathematics departments, a traditionally difficult unit of organizational change.

Award Number: 
1503342
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sun, 06/30/2019
Full Description: 

Given the changes in instructional practices needed to support high quality mathematics teaching and learning based on college and career readiness standards, school districts need to provide professional learning opportunities for teachers that support those changes. The project will build a coherent and scalable plan for providing these opportunities in high school mathematics departments, a traditionally difficult unit of organizational change. Based on the TRUmath framework, characterizing the five essential dimensions of powerful mathematics classrooms, the project brings together a focus on curricular materials that support teaching, Lesson Study protocols and materials, and a professional learning community-based professional development model. The project will design and revise professional development and coaching guides and lesson study mathematical resources built around the curricular materials. The project will study changes in instructional practice and impact on student learning. By documenting the supports used in the Oakland Unified School District where the research and development will be conducted, the resources can be used by other districts and in similar work by other research-practice partnerships.

This project hypothesizes that the quality of classroom instruction can be defined by five dimensions - quality of the mathematics; cognitive demand of the tasks; access to mathematics content in the classroom; student agency, authority, and identity; and uses of assessment. The project will use an iterative design process to develop and refine a suite of tool, including a conversation guide to support productive dialogue between teachers and coaches, support materials for building site-based professional learning materials, and formative assessment lessons using Lesson Study as a mechanism to enact reforms of these dimensions. The study will use a pre-post design and natural variation to student the relationships between these dimensions, changes in teachers' instructional practice, and student learning using hierarchical linear modeling with random intercept models with covariates. Qualitative of the changes in teachers' instructional practices will be based on coding of observations based on the TRUmath framework. The study will also use qualitative analysis techniques to identify themes from surveys and interviews on factors that promote or hinder the effectiveness of the intervention.

PBS NewsHour STEM Student Reporting Labs: Broad Expansion of Youth Journalism to Support Increased STEM Literacy Among Underserved Student Populations and Their Communities

The production of news stories and student-oriented instruction in the classroom are designed to increase student learning of STEM content through student-centered inquiry and reflections on metacognition. This project scales up the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL), a model that trains teens to produce video reports on important STEM issues from a youth perspective.

Award Number: 
1503315
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2015 to Wed, 07/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DR-K12) 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. This project scales up the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL), a model that trains teens to produce video reports on important STEM issues from a youth perspective. Participating schools receive a SRL journalism and digital media literacy curriculum, a mentor for students from a local PBS affiliate, professional development for educators, and support from the PBS NewsHour team. The production of news stories and student-oriented instruction in the classroom are designed to increase student learning of STEM content through student-centered inquiry and reflections on metacognition. Students will develop a deep understanding of the material to choose the best strategy to teach or tell the STEM story to others through digital media. Over the 4 years of the project, the model will be expanded from the current 70 schools to 150 in 40 states targeting schools with high populations of underrepresented youth. New components will be added to the model including STEM professional mentors and a social media and media analytics component. Project partners include local PBS stations, Project Lead the Way, and Share My Lesson educators.

The research study conducted by New Knowledge, LLC will add new knowledge about the growing field of youth science journalism and digital media. Front-end evaluation will assess students' understanding of contemporary STEM issues by deploying a web-based survey to crowd-source youth reactions, interest, questions, and thoughts about current science issues. A subset of questions will explore students' tendencies to pass newly-acquired information to members of the larger social networks. Formative evaluation will include qualitative and quantitative studies of multiple stakeholders at the Student Reporting Labs to refine the implementation of the program. Summative evaluation will track learning outcomes/changes such as: How does student reporting on STEM news increase their STEM literacy competencies? How does it affect their interest in STEM careers? Which strategies are most effective with underrepresented students? How do youth communicate with each other about science content, informing news media best practices? The research team will use data from pre/post and post-delayed surveys taken by 1700 students in the STEM Student Reporting Labs and 1700 from control groups. In addition, interviews with teachers will assess the curriculum and impressions of student engagement.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: How Video Storytelling Reengages Teenagers in STEM Learning

Presenter(s): Leah Clapman & William Swift

2018 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: PBS NewsHour's STEM SRL Transforms Classrooms into Newsrooms

Presenter(s): Leah Clapman & William Swift

2017 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: PBS is Building the Next Generation of STEM Communicators

Presenter(s): Leah Clapman, John Fraser, Su-Jen Roberts, & Bill Swift


Playing with the Data: Developing Digital Supports for Middle School Science Teachers using Game-based Formative Assessment

This project will use cycles of design-based research to build new knowledge about how to facilitate teachers' interpretation and use of digital game-based formative assessment data. The research will also inform the revision and expansion of Playfully, an existing, online data-reporting dashboard that can be used with multiple digital games.

Award Number: 
1503255
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

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.

This project will use cycles of design-based research to build new knowledge about how to facilitate teachers' interpretation and use of digital game-based formative assessment data. The research will also inform the revision and expansion of Playfully, an existing, online data-reporting dashboard that can be used with multiple digital games. The project is a collaboration between researchers at Education Development Center Inc.'s Center for Children and Technology (EDC|CCT) and the assessment and game development teams at GlassLab. The research and development teams will engage in a three-year partnership with 60 middle-grade science teachers working in diverse school settings in different parts of the country. The aim of the project is to refine an online formative assessment platform that utilizes data from a video game designed to teach argumentation at the middle school level. It provides rigorous research on the design features of data tools and associated materials available to teachers to inform their ongoing instruction (i.e., formative assessment tools) when using game-based platforms.

Dissemination of the results of this project will include practical, evidence-based suggestions for supporting middle school science teachers' use of digital games for assessment, and for the design and implementation of data dashboards. Key audiences include educational game designers, game-based assessment developers, formative assessment experts, and leaders in middle grade science teaching and learning.

Student-Adaptive Pedagogy for Elementary Teachers: Promoting Multiplicative and Fractional Reasoning to Improve Students' Preparedness for Middle School Mathematics

The project develops a teacher professional development intervention to support student-adaptive pedagogy for multiplicative and fractional reasoning. The idea is that classroom instruction should build on students' current conceptions and experiences. It focuses on students from urban, underserved and low-socioeconomic status populations who often fall behind in the elementary grades and are left underprepared for middle grades mathematics.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503206
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/15/2015 to Sun, 06/30/2019
Full Description: 

The project develops a teacher professional development intervention to support student-adaptive pedagogy for multiplicative and fractional reasoning. The idea is that classroom instruction should build on students' current conceptions and experiences. The context for the study is grades 3-5 teachers in Aurora Public Schools. It focuses on students from urban, underserved and low-socioeconomic status populations who often fall behind in the elementary grades and are left underprepared for middle grades mathematics. It includes a summer workshop and academic year follow-up including teacher collaboration. The project provides tools for capitalizing on successful, school-based research for promoting teachers' buy-in, adoption, and sustaining of student-adaptive pedagogy. The project also includes measurement of student understanding of the concepts. An extensive plan to share tools and resources for teachers and instructional coaches (scalable to district/state levels) and of research instruments and findings, will promote sharing project outcomes with a wide community of stakeholders (teachers, administrators, researchers, parents, policy makers) responsible for students' growth. This is a Full Design & Development project within the DRK-12 Program's Learning Strand. 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 project aims to implement and study a professional development intervention designed to shift upper-elementary teachers' mathematics teaching toward a constructivist approach, called student-adaptive pedagogy (AdPed), which adapts teaching goals and activities based on students' conceptions and experiences. The project focuses on multiplicative and fractional reasoning--critical for students' success in key areas of middle school mathematics (e.g., ratio, proportion, and function). The project seeks to design an instrument for measuring teachers' implementation of AdPed, a clinical interview rubric for students' multiplicative reasoning and then an analysis of teachers' content knowledge and the implementation of AdPed following the professional development. The research design is rooted in an innovative, cohesive framework that integrates four research-based components: (i) a model of mathematics learning and knowing, (ii) models of progressions in students' multiplicative and fractional reasoning, (iii) a model of teaching (AdPed) to promote such learning, and (iv) a mathematics teacher development continuum. Capitalizing on successful preliminary efforts in the Denver Metro area to refine a PD intervention and student-adaptive tools that challenge and transform current practices, the project will first validate and test instruments to measure (a) teacher growth toward adaptive pedagogy and (b) students' growth in multiplicative reasoning. Using these new instruments, along with available measures, the project will then promote school-wide teacher professional development (grades 3-5) in multiple schools in an urban district with large underserved student populations and study the professional development benefits for teacher practices and student outcomes. The mixed methods study includes classroom-based data (e.g., video analysis, lesson observations, teacher interviews) and measures of students' multiplicative reasoning specifically and mathematical understanding generally.

SimScientists Games: Development of Simulation-Based Game Designs to Enhance Formative Assessment and Deep Science Learning in Middle School

This project will focus on understanding how educational games, designed according to research-based learning and assessment design principles, can better assess and promote students' science knowledge, application of science process skills, and motivation and engagement in learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503481
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2015 to Wed, 07/31/2019
Full Description: 

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 project is a four-year design and development study submitted to the assessment strand of the program. It will focus on understanding how educational games, designed according to research-based learning and assessment design principles, can better assess and promote students' science knowledge, application of science process skills, and motivation and engagement in learning. The project will develop a new genre of games to serve as formative assessment resources designed to collect evidence of science learning during gameplay, provide feedback and coaching in the form of hints, and reinforce middle grade (6th-8th) students' life science concepts and investigation practices about ecosystems described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (Achieve, 2013). The games will build on the designs of the simulation-based, curriculum-embedded assessments developed in previous NSF-funded efforts, which include student progress reports and reflection activities that allow teachers to provide feedback to students and adjust instruction. The design of the games will draw from multiple lines of research, such as cognition, particularly model-based learning; principled assessment design; and motivation. Intended to provide engaging activities for understanding and investigating the system components, roles, interactions, and population dynamics of ecosystems, the project will produce two sets of comprehensive games: (1) Organisms and Interactions, and (2) Emergent Population Levels: Managing an Ecosystem. Each game will consist of progressively advanced mini-games. Twenty-four California Bay Area middle school teachers will participate in the study. Teacher professional development (PD) will include face-to-face sessions and an online platform that permits a wide range of interactions among participants and the facilitators. The PD will emphasize the alignment of the ecosystem simulation-based curriculum modules with their state standards, instructional materials, and the new games. 

The project will address six research questions: (1) How well do the games align with the ecosystem crosscutting concepts, core ideas, and inquiry practices in the NGSS?; (2) How well do game components meet quality standards?; (3) How well do the games integrate with the existing simulation-based curriculum modules and the teachers' existing instructional sequence?; (4) What effect does the use of the games have on students' understanding of the science concepts, scientific practices, and collaboration skills?; (5) How does success in gameplay relate to improved performance on the external outcome measures comprised of the simulation-based benchmark and the pre/posttest?; and (6) How does the use of the games affect students' engagement in science learning? In a Year 1 usability study, the project will test, analyze, and revise alpha versions of the games. In Year 2, a classroom feasibility study of beta versions will inform further revisions. In Year 3, six teachers will pilot-test the games. A second pilot test in Year 4 will examine the effectiveness of the games by comparing student performance in classes using the existing simulation-based curriculum-embedded assessments and reflection activities with classes using the curriculum-embedded assessments plus the new games. Data collection and analysis strategies include: (a) alignment reviews; (b) focus groups and usability testing; (c) cognitive labs for construct validity and usability; (d) game reports (badges); (e) pre/posttest of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) items; (f) benchmark assessment data; (g) student interest in the games and science; (h) teacher surveys; (i) case studies; (j) game quality analysis; (k) differential item functioning; (l) analysis of covariance; and (m) analysis of variance on posttest scores (outcome variable) to compare the means across student groups (by intervention mode) and their prior science achievement levels.

Developing Teachers' Capacity to Promote Argumentation in Secondary Science

This project will produce insights into the challenges teachers face in modifying their teaching in the substantial and complex ways demanded by the Next Generation Science Standards. This project will develop and study a program of professional development to help middle and high school science teachers support their students to learn to argue scientifically. 

Award Number: 
1503511
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sun, 06/30/2019
Full Description: 

This project will produce insights into the challenges teachers face in modifying their teaching in the substantial and complex ways demanded by the Next Generation Science Standards. This project will develop and study a program of professional development to help middle and high school science teachers support their students to learn to argue scientifically. The program includes strategies for organizing science activities to create contexts where students have something to argue about and teaching practices that promote sustained, productive argumentation among students. Results will document what aspects of these new practices teachers find easier and more difficult to implement, and how challenges are influenced by the urban schooling contexts in which project teachers work. The project will also further our understanding of how site-based professional development can be structured to support teacher learning and improvement.

The project is a longitudinal study of a cohort of 30 secondary science teachers from an urban school district in California. The professional development (PD) program will be organized around intensive summer institutes followed by 2 school-based lesson study cycles each year, facilitated by trained coaches. The PD work will be carried out over three years. All PD sessions will be recorded for interaction analysis to identify variations in coaching and teacher participation and the influences of such variation on teacher learning. Repeated measures of teachers' conceptions of argumentation will be given over 3 years as a measure of teacher learning. An observation protocol will be developed and used to measure teacher talk and its change over time. A sub-sample of teachers' classrooms will be video recorded to produce a longitudinal record for interaction analyses to link teacher talk to patterns of student argumentation. The third year of the project will add measures of student learning and link them to variations in teacher practice. The final year of the project will produce retrospective analyses that link pathways in teacher learning to features of the PD program and teachers' participation. 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.

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

Identifying with engineering is critical to help students pursue engineering careers. This project responds to this persistent large-scale problem. The I-Engineering framework and tools address both the learning problem (supporting students in learning engineering design) and the identity problem (supporting students in recognizing that they belong in engineering). 

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1502755
Funding Period: 
Fri, 05/01/2015 to Tue, 04/30/2019
Full Description: 

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. Identifying with engineering is critical to help students pursue engineering careers. This project responds to this persistent large-scale problem. The I-Engineering framework and tools address both the learning problem (supporting students in learning engineering design) and the identity problem (supporting students in recognizing that they belong in engineering). I-Engineering will support identity development as a part of learning two core practices in engineering: 1) defining problems and 2) designing solutions. In particular, the I-Engineering framework and tools will help middle grades teachers and students engage in the engineering design process using meaningful, authentic and often youth-driven contexts. The project will ground this work in two engineering design challenges: 1) safe and green commutes and 2) portable energy, both of which exemplify engineering for sustainable communities. The objectives are to: 1) To develop research-based understandings of how to support identity development among middle school students from underrepresented backgrounds in the context of learning engineering. 2) To develop and refine a framework and tools (I-Engineering) in support of student learning and identity development in engineering with a focus on sustainability. 3) To collaborate with grades 6 and 7 teachers to implement and refine I-Engineering for classroom use. 4) To study whether the I-Engineering framework/tools support identity development in engineering among middle school students from underrepresented backgrounds. 

The project draws upon design-based implementation research to develop and test the I-Engineering framework and tools among students and teachers in grades 6 and 7. Using social practice theory, how aspects of the learning environment shape identity development will be identified, yielding information on the impact of the instructional tools generated. The research questions are grounded in two areas: supporting identity development in engineering, understanding how students progress in their engineering development and patterns across implementation of the I-Engineering resources. Studies will shed light on mechanisms that support identity development in engineering, how that might be scaffolded, and how such scaffolds can transport across context. The mixed-method student- and classroom-level studies will allow for empirical claims regarding how and under what conditions youth from underrepresented backgrounds may progress in their identity development in engineering. The research plan includes student case studies drawing on task-based interviews, observations and student work and classroom studies using observations, student and teacher interviews, an engineering identity survey, student work and formative assessments of engineering practices. I-Engineering will reach over 500 students and their teachers in schools that serve predominantly underrepresented populations. The project team will disseminate the findings, framework and tools in support of teaching engineering practices, and promoting understanding of the importance of identity development in broadening participation.

Thinking Spatially about the Universe: A Physical and Virtual Laboratory for Middle School Science (Collaborative Research: Goodman)

This project will develop and study three week-long middle school lab units designed to teach spatial abilities using a blend of physical and virtual (computer-based) models. "ThinkSpace" labs will help students explore 3-dimensional astronomical phenomena in ways that will support both understanding of these topics and a more general spatial ability. Students will learn both through direct work with the lab unit interface and through succeeding discussions with their peers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503395
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

Critical breakthroughs in science (e.g., Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, and Watson & Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA), originated with those scientists' ability to think spatially, and research has shown that spatial ability correlates strongly with likelihood of entering a career in STEM. This project will develop and study three week-long middle school lab units designed to teach spatial abilities using a blend of physical and virtual (computer-based) models. "ThinkSpace" labs will help students explore 3-dimensional astronomical phenomena (moon phases and eclipses; planetary systems around stars other than the Sun; and celestial motions within the broader universe) in ways that will support both understanding of these topics and a more general spatial ability. Students will learn both through direct work with the lab unit interface and through succeeding discussions with their peers. The research program will determine which elements in the labs best promote both spatial skills and understanding of core ideas in astronomy; and how then to optimize interactive dynamic visualizations toward these ends. Virtual models of the sky and universe will be created using WorldWide Telescope, a free visualization tool that runs on desktop computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The ThinkSpace lab materials will be available at no cost on popular curriculum-sharing sites, including PBS Learning Media and BetterLesson.

The ThinkSpace team will address two main research questions: 1) How can spatial tasks that blend physical and virtual models be embedded into a STEM curriculum in ways that lead to significant improvements in spatial thinking? and 2) How can practitioners optimize design of interactive, dynamic visualizations for teaching spatially complex concepts? The first year of the study will examine two of the lab units with four teachers and about 320 students. The second year of the study will be similar. The third year of the study will test all three lab units in 10 classrooms. Over this study, each week-long ThinkSpace Lab will be formatively tested, using pre/post written assessments of astronomy content and spatial thinking; pre/post interviews with students; and in-class video of students using the lab activities. Scaffolded learning designs will support students in making connections between different spatial views of the phenomena, and will guide them to construct explanations and argue from evidence about how various phenomena (e.g. moon phases) arise in the real Universe, as Next Generation Science Standards demand. The impact of the ThinkSpace labs will be felt far beyond astronomy because the learning models being tested can transfer to other fields where spatial models are critical, and findings on optimization of dynamic visualizations can help to inform instructional design in the age of online learning. 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.

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