English Language Learners

Supporting Grade 5-8 Students in Writing Scientific Explanations

This project is writing and researching a book supporting grade 5-8 students in scientific explanations and arguments. The book provides written and video examples from a variety of contexts in terms of content and diversity of students. The book and accompanying facilitator materials also provide different teacher instructional strategies for supporting students. The research focuses on how the book and accompanying professional development impact teachers' beliefs, pedagogical content knowledge and classroom practice.

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Funding Period: 
Fri, 08/15/2008 to Sun, 07/31/2011
Full Description: 

 This SGER grant proposes the development of a book and a research study to investigate the impact of that book and accompanying professional development on teachers’ beliefs and classroom practices to support grade 5-8 students in writing scientific explanations.  The project will expand the current body of research around teachers’ beliefs and professional development for scientific explanation and argumentation as well as provide a valuable resource that includes examples of student writing and video cases from diverse learners that can be used by science educators and teachers across the country.


Intellectual Merit

The recent National Research Council publication Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades k-8 (Duschl, Schweingruber & Shouse, 2006) offers a new vision for proficiency in science, which includes a focus that students be able to “Generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanation” (p.2).  Although this focus on evidence based scientific explanations is prevalent in the current research literature, there are few concrete examples of what this scientific inquiry practice looks like when it is successfully supported in classrooms. We propose to develop a teacher book and accompanying professional development facilitator materials that will help transform how science is being taught in this country.  The book will provide concrete examples in both student written work and video of the current theoretical ideas being advocated in the science education field. By providing this image, the knowledge in the field will be advanced by transforming a theoretical idea and illustrating what it looks like in actual classroom practice that can be used by teachers as well as in teacher preparation and professional development.  The examples will include a variety of different contexts in terms of different content areas, grades 5-8, and students with a variety of backgrounds including diverse students from urban schools.  Furthermore, we propose to research the impact of the book and accompanying professional development on teachers’ beliefs and classroom practice around scientific explanation.  The majority of recent work in the field of scientific explanation and argumentation has focused on curriculum materials, technology tools, and classroom practice. There is currently little research around teacher education and professional development to support teachers in incorporating scientific explanation and argumentation in their classrooms (Zohar, 2008). Consequently, the results from this study will be essential to inform the field about teachers’ beliefs around scientific explanation, how professional development can change those beliefs, and the subsequent impact on teachers’ classroom practices.


Broader Impacts

The use of the book by teachers, professional development leaders and teacher educators will have a significant impact on middle school students’ learning throughout the country.  Through the distribution and use of the book, teachers will have access to resources that will help them incorporate scientific explanations in their own classroom practice.  As our previous research has shown (McNeill & Krajcik, 2007; McNeill & Krajcik, 2008a; McNeill, Lizotte, Krajcik & Marx, 2006), using our framework and instructional strategies for scientific explanation can improve diverse students’ ability to write scientific explanations as well as learn key science concepts.  A large percentage of our research has been conducted with urban students including minority students and students from low income families who have not traditionally succeeded in science. Focusing on science as a discourse with distinct language forms and ways of knowing, such as analyzing data and communicating scientific explanations can help language-minority students learn to think and talk scientifically (Rosebery, et al., 1992).  This book will allow the strategies we have found to be successful with diverse students to reach a much larger audience allowing more middle school students to succeed in science. Providing teachers with strategies and examples of how those strategies have been successfully used in real classrooms will help them implement similar practices in their own classrooms and will help more students successfully write evidence based scientific explanations.  The research study around the impact of the book and accompanying professional development will reach twenty-five teachers and their students in the Boston Public School schools which serve primarily low-income (71% eligible to receive free or reduced lunch) inner city students from minority backgrounds.  The publication of the book with Pearson Allyn & Bacon will have the potential of reaching numerous more teachers and their students across the country.

National Forum for Action on the Report of the National Math Panel

The Conference Board for the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Education to host a forum in Washington, DC designed to launch action for change in mathematics education based on the recommendations of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. This forum will focus specifically on the following four areas: teachers and teacher education, learning processes, instructional material, and standards of evidence—research policies and mechanisms.

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Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/15/2008 to Tue, 08/31/2010

Fossil Finders: Using Fossils to Teach About Evolution, Inquiry and Nature of Science

This project engages children in classrooms across the country in an authentic investigation of Devonian fossils. Goals include supporting children in the use of evidence in constructing explanations of natural phenomena, and motivating culturally and linguistically diverse groups of children to engage in learning science. Deliverables include development and testing of an interactive website where children learn how to identify the fossils they find and add their own data to an emerging database.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 01/01/2008 to Mon, 12/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Ohio Research and Evaluation Center

Transition to Algebra: A Habits of Mind Approach

This research and development project provides resources for ninth-grade mathematics students and teachers by developing, piloting, and field-testing intervention modules designed as supplementary materials for Algebra 1 classes (e.g., double-period algebra). Rather than developing isolated skills and reviewing particular topics, these materials aim to foster the development of mathematical habits of mind—in particular, the algebraic habit of abstracting from calculations, a key unifying idea in the transition from arithmetic to algebra.

Project Email: 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Project Evaluator: 
Jim Hammerman, TERC
Full Description: 

Transition to Algebra, A Habits of Mind Approach, is aimed at very quickly giving students the mathematical knowledge, skill, and confidence to succeed in algebra, and showing them that they can be good at things they believed they couldn't do. The students were all smart and intrepid when they were six. Even now, they are better and more persevering than we are about figuring out their smartphones and video games. Transition to Algebra aims to tap that smart, intrepid, persevering spirit of puzzling things out and making sense of them by presenting mathematics based in common sense, not arbitrary rules.

This project is developing a collection of modules introducing key ideas of algebra in ways that complement the core curriculum when a school is offering double period algebra. The key habit of mind being developed is abstracting from calculation. Modules deal with the transition from arithmetic to algebra, rational numbers, expressions/equations/word problems, graphs and equations, geometry of algebra, and proportional reasoning. The target population is students in urban high poverty schools with a significant ELL sector.

Our hypothesis is that instructional materials focused on developing conceptual understanding and mathematical habits of mind can complement traditional skill-focused algebra instruction in ways that are engaging to students. Furthermore, they argue that using materials with such meta-cognitive aims will actually strengthen the learning of core algebraic concepts and skills.

The supplementary algebra modules are being developed by a form of design research. Concurrent with development and field test of the student and teacher materials, the investigators are addressing four research questions. The first two questions are focused on the effects of the intervention in developing student habits of mind and in improving their competence and confidence in algebra. The other two address the feasibility of implementing the new approach to double-period algebra in a variety of school settings. A small-scale quasi-experimental field test is being used to give preliminary estimates of the effectiveness of the instructional materials and the implementation guidelines. The core purpose of these research activities is to inform development and refinement of the student and teacher instructional materials.

Products of this development effort will be a valuable resource to schools as they devise strategies for helping all students master the essentials of elementary algebra.

Fostering Mathematics Success in English Language Learners

This project is an efficacy study of the Fostering Geometrical Thinking Toolkit (FGTT) previously developed with NSF support. FGTT is a 40-hour professional development intervention focusing on properties of geometric figures, geometric transformations, and measurement of length, area, and volume. The study addresses four research questions, three examining participating teachers and one examining the impact of teachers' professional development on ELL students.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Fri, 08/15/2008 to Sun, 07/31/2011
Full Description: 

Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), and Horizon Research, Inc., are conducting the DR-K12 research project, Fostering Mathematics Success of English Language Learners (ELLs): An Efficacy Study of Teacher Professional Development (FMSELL), a study of the effects of the Fostering Geometric Thinking

Toolkit professional development materials (FGTT) for teachers of ELLs. It will address four research questions:

1.     Does participation in FGTT increase teachers’ geometric content knowledge?

2.     How does teachers’ participation affect attention to students’ thinking and mathematical communication?

3.     How does participation affect instructional practices?

4.     What impact on ELLs’ problem-solving strategies is evident when teachers participate in FGTT?

FGTT is a 40-hour professional development intervention focusing on properties of geometric figures, geometric transformations, and measurement of length, area, and volume. The project tests the hypothesis that geometric problem solving invites diagramming, drawing, use of colloquial language, and gesturing to complement mathematical communication and affords teachers opportunities to support ELL learning. The research design uses a randomized block design with 25 pairs of professional development facilitators matched according to their districts’ demographic information.


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