Content Knowledge

Organizing to Learn Practice: Teacher Learning in Classroom-Focused Professional Development

This project addresses the fundamental challenge of how to support teachers to improve their practice. The approach uses a "live mathematics classroom" as a common text for working on practice, where participants are not only watching and discussing but are engaged in developing and learning practice. The project will generate new knowledge regarding ways in which elementary teachers of mathematics can be supported to learn effective teaching practice.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621104
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

Growing evidence about the powerful effects of skillful teaching on students' learning creates a need to for professional development that impacts teachers' actual practice. Just as other professions (e.g., nursing, social work, law) have centered practitioners' learning in "live" practice with structures that support learning in context, the project will investigate whether and how this can be accomplished in teaching. The approach uses a "live mathematics classroom" as a common text for working on practice, where participants are not only watching and discussing but are engaged in developing and learning practice. The project also explores the following variations in practice-based professional development: (1) on-site and remote participation of teachers; and (2) the addition of supplementary practice-focused professional development. The project will generate new knowledge regarding ways in which elementary teachers of mathematics can be supported to learn effective teaching practice.

This project addresses a fundamental challenge for professional development, that is, how to support teachers to improve their practice. Teachers profit from well-designed opportunities to develop new visions for practice, learn more about students' thinking, or work on specific mathematical topics or tasks. Still, such opportunities are often insufficient to support teachers with the complexity of classroom teaching. These kinds of professional opportunities focus on critical resources for instruction but not on the details of teaching practice itself. This practice-centered professional development is situated within a summer mathematics program for fifth graders. The proposed research will explore the impact on teachers' practice, as well as on their knowledge and dispositions, from participating in these structured ways. Three studies will resolve the following three sets of questions: (1) What do teachers learn from structured participation in the class? Does their participation impact their own teaching practice, and if so, in what ways? (2) Does the setting of the peripheral participation matter? Does this form of participation impact their own teaching practice, and if so, in what ways? (3) Does the addition of professional development focused on a particular teaching practice impact teachers' own practice, and if so, in what ways? How does the addition of professional development focused on a specific instructional practice compare across the in-person and online forms of participation in terms of impact on teachers' own practice? The project will collect and analyze several types of data pre- and post-intervention, including measures of mathematical knowledge for teaching, measures of language for talking about the work of teaching and students, and skill with leading a mathematics discussion, and the mathematical quality of instruction. The project will generate new knowledge related to to organizing professional learning around supports that teachers need to learn practice as well as ways to study their learning of teaching practice.

Enhancing Middle Grades Students' Capacity to Develop and Communicate Their Mathematical Understanding of Big Ideas Using Digital Inscriptional Resources (Collaborative Research: Phillips)

This project will develop and test a digital platform for middle school mathematics classrooms to help students deepen and communicate their understanding of mathematics. The digital platform will allow students to collaboratively create representations of their mathematics thinking, incorporate ideas from other students, and share their work with the class.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1620934
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

The primary goal of this project is to help middle school students deepen and communicate their understanding of mathematics. The project will develop and test a digital platform for middle school mathematics classrooms. The digital platform will allow students to collaboratively create representations of their mathematics thinking, incorporate ideas from other students, and share their work with the class. The digital learning environment makes use of a problem-centered mathematics curriculum that evolved from extensive development, field-testing and evaluation, and is widely used in middle schools. The research will also contribute to understanding about the design and innovative use of digital resources and collaboration in classrooms as an increasing number of schools are drawing on these kinds of 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 support students to collaboratively construct, manipulate, and interpret shared representations of mathematics using digital inscriptional resources. The research activities will significantly enhance our understanding of student learning in mathematics in three important ways. The project will report on how (1) evidence of student thinking is made visible through the use of digital inscriptional resources, (2) student inscriptions are documented, discussed, and manipulated in collaborative settings, and (3) students' conceptual growth of big mathematical ideas grows over time. An iterative design research process will incorporate four phases of development, testing and revision, and will be conducted to study student use of the digital learning space and related inscriptional resources. Data sources will include: classroom observations and artifacts, student and teacher interviews and surveys, student assessment data, and analytics from the digital platform. The process will include close collaboration with teachers to understand the implementation and create revisions to the resources.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Math Understanding in a Digital Collaborative Environment

Presenter(s): Alden Edson, Kristen Bieda, Chad Dorsey, Nathan Kimball, & Elizabeth Phillips


An Online STEM Career Exploration and Readiness Environment for Opportunity Youth

This project aims to create a web-based STEM Career Exploration and Readiness Environment (CEE-STEM) that will support opportunities for youth ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor are working, in rebuilding engagement in STEM learning and developing STEM skills and capacities relevant to diverse postsecondary education/training and employment pathways.

Award Number: 
1620904
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/15/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

CAST, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and YouthBuild USA aim to create a web-based STEM Career Exploration and Readiness Environment (CEE-STEM). This will support opportunities for youth ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor are working, in rebuilding engagement in STEM learning and developing STEM skills and capacities relevant to diverse postsecondary education/training and employment pathways. The program will provide opportunity youth with a personalized and portable tool to explore STEM careers, demonstrate their STEM learning, reflect on STEM career interests, and take actions to move ahead with STEM career pathways of interest.

The proposed program addresses two critical and interrelated aspects of STEM learning for opportunity youth: the development of STEM foundational knowledge; and STEM engagement, readiness and career pathways. These aspects of STEM learning are addressed through an integrated program model that includes classroom STEM instruction; hands-on job training in career pathways including green construction, health care, and technology.


Project Videos

2020 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: STEMfolio: A Portfolio Builder & Career Exploration Tool

Presenter(s): Tracey Hall

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Building a Diverse STEM Talent Pipeline: Finding What Works

Presenter(s): Tracey Hall

2018 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Bridging the Gap Between Ability and Opportunity in STEM

Presenter(s): Sam Johnston


Connected Biology: Three-Dimensional Learning from Molecules to Populations (Collaborative Research: White)

This project will design, develop, and examine the learning outcomes of a new curriculum unit for biology that embodies the conceptual framework of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The curriculum materials to be developed by this project will focus on two areas of study that are central to the life sciences: genetics and the processes of evolution by natural selection.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1620746
Funding Period: 
Sat, 10/01/2016 to Thu, 09/30/2021
Full Description: 

This project will contribute to this mission by designing, developing, and examining the learning outcomes of a new curriculum unit for biology that embodies the conceptual framework of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The curriculum materials to be developed by this project will focus on two areas of study that are central to the life sciences: genetics and the processes of evolution by natural selection. These traditionally separate topics will be interlinked and will be designed to engage students in the disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and the science and engineering practices defined by the NGSS. Once developed, the curriculum materials will be available online for use in high school biology courses nationwide.

This project will be guided by two main research questions: 1) How does learning progress when students experience a set of coherent biology learning materials that employ the principles of three-dimensional learning?; and 2) How do students' abilities to transfer understanding about the relationships between molecules, cells, organisms, and evolution change over time and from one biological phenomenon to another? The project will follow an iterative development plan involving cycles of designing, developing, testing and refining elements of the new curricular model. The project team will work with master teachers to design learning sequences that use six case studies to provide examples of how genetic and evolutionary processes are interlinked. An online data exploration environment will extend learning by enabling students to simulate phenomena being studied and explore data from multiple experimental trials as they seek patterns and construct cause-and-effect explanations of phenomena. Student learning will be measured using a variety of assessment tools, including multiple-choice assessment of student understanding, surveys, classroom observations and interviews, and embedded assessments and log files from the online learning environment.


Project Videos

2020 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: ConnectedBio: Interactive Evolution Across Biological Scales

Presenter(s): Kiley McElroy-Brown, Rebecca Ellis, & Frieda Reichsman


Developing A Discourse Observation Tool and Online Professional Development to Promote Science, Oral Language and Literacy Development from the Start of School

The goal of this project is to develop a classroom observation tool and an online professional development model to help early-elementary teachers improve science instruction among young learners by cultivating scientific discourse.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1620580
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/15/2016 to Mon, 08/31/2020
Full Description: 

The goal of this project is to develop resources and a professional development model to help early-elementary teachers improve science instruction among young learners by cultivating scientific discourse. A central component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is engaging students in discourse with a focus on formulating and communicating scientific explanations. This project will develop a classroom observation tool that will help teachers examine changes in the quantity and quality of science discourse in K-2 classrooms over time. The project will also develop an online professional development (PD) model that uses the new observation tool to help teachers analyze their own classroom practices and the practice of others to improve classroom efforts to foster improved scientific discourse.

This early stage design and development study will employ a Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR) approach to develop the new classroom observation tool and online professional development model, and then seek answers to the following research questions: 1) How can a classroom observation measure be developed to effectively capture the range in quality of science discourse in early elementary classrooms?; 2) How can an online PD model be developed based on the new observation tool?; 3) How do teachers' knowledge and instructional practice change over the course of participation in the yearlong PD?; and 4) How does the quantity and quality of science discourse change in K-2 classrooms over the course of teachers' participation in a yearlong online PD experience that is built around the new observation tool? The project will engage 36 teachers and their 36 different classrooms in Michigan and use multiple data sources to understand whether and how teacher knowledge and instructional practices change during participation in the new PD model. Multiple iterations of design, data collection, and refinement will be used to understand how, when, and why features of the PD and observation tool might combine to transform science discourse in early elementary classrooms. In years 3 and 4, the project team will conduct two year-long implementation trials with cohorts of 15 teachers and 5 instructional coaches (experienced science teachers) who will use the PD and tool in order study their implementation and make iterative improvements. The project will also gather data to understand changes in teacher knowledge and practice as well as video data to document changes in classroom discourse.

CAREER: Multilevel Mediation Models to Study the Impact of Teacher Development on Student Achievement in Mathematics

This project will develop a comprehensive framework to inform and guide the analytic design of teacher professional development studies in mathematics. An essential goal of the research is to advance a science of teaching and learning in ways that traverse both research and education.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1552535
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2016 to Tue, 08/31/2021
Full Description: 

This is a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) project. The CAREER program is a National Science Foundation-wide activity that offers the most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research. The intellectual merit and broader impacts of this study lie in two complementary contributions of the project. First, the development of the statistical framework for the design of multilevel mediation studies has significant potential for broad impact because it develops a core platform that is transferable to other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education areas and STEM disciplines. Second, the development of software and curricular materials to implement this framework further capitalize on the promise of this work because it distributes the results in an accessible manner to diverse sets of research and practitioner groups across STEM education areas and STEM disciplines. Together, the components of this project will substantially expand the scope and quality of evidence generated through mathematics professional development and, more generally, multilevel mediation studies throughout STEM areas by increasing researchers' capacity to design valid and comprehensive studies of the theories of action and change that underlie research programs.

This project will develop a comprehensive framework to inform and guide the analytic design of teacher professional development studies in mathematics. The proposed framework incorporates four integrated research and education components: (1) develop statistical formulas and tools to guide the optimal design of experimental and non-experimental multilevel mediation studies in the presence of measurement error, (2) develop empirical estimates of the parameters needed to implement these formulas to design teacher development studies in mathematics, (3) develop free and accessible software to execute this framework, and (4) develop training materials and conduct workshops on the framework to improve the capacity of the field to design effective and efficient studies of teacher development. An essential goal of the research is to advance a science of teaching and learning in ways that traverse both research and education.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars Teacher Academy Resident System

This project will investigate the effectiveness of a teacher academy resident model to recruit, license, induct, employ, and retain middle school and secondary teachers for high-need schools in the South. It will prepare new, highly-qualified science and mathematics teachers from historically Black universities in high-needs urban and rural schools with the goal of increasing teacher retention and diversity rates.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621325
Funding Period: 
Fri, 07/15/2016 to Wed, 06/30/2021
Full Description: 

This project at Jackson State University will investigate the effectiveness of a teacher academy resident model to recruit, license, induct, employ, and retain middle school and secondary science and mathematics teachers for high-need schools in the South. It will prepare new, highly-qualified science and mathematics teachers from historically Black universities in high-needs urban and rural schools. The project involves a partnership among three historically Black universities (Jackson, State University, Xavier University of Louisiana, and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), and diverse urban and rural school districts in Jackson, Mississippi; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Pine Bluff Arkansas region that serve more than 175,000 students.

Participants will include 150 middle and secondary school teacher residents who will gain clinical mentored experience and develop familiarity with local schools. The 150 teacher residents supported by the program to National Board certification will obtain: state licensure/certification in science teaching, a master's degree, and initiation. The goal is to increase teacher retention and diversity rates. The research question guiding this focus is: Will training STEM graduates have a significant effect on the quality of K-12 instruction, teacher efficacy and satisfaction, STEM teacher retention, and students? Science and mathematics achievement? A quasi-experimental design will be used to evaluate project's effectiveness.

CAREER: Making Science Visible: Using Visualization Technology to Support Linguistically Diverse Middle School Students' Learning in Physical and Life Sciences

Award Number: 
1552114
Funding Period: 
Wed, 06/01/2016 to Mon, 05/31/2021
Full Description: 

The growing diversity in public schools requires science educators to address the specific needs of English language learners (ELLs), students who speak a language other than English at home. Although ELLs are the fastest-growing demographic group in classrooms, many are historically underserved in mainstream science classrooms, particularly those from underrepresented minority groups. The significant increase of ELLs at public schools poses a challenge to science teachers in linguistically diverse classrooms as they try to support and engage all students in learning science. The proposed project will respond to this urgent need by investigating the potential benefits of interactive, dynamic visualization technologies, including simulations, animations, and visual models, in supporting science learning for all middle school students, including ELLs. This project will also identify design principles for developing such technology, develop additional ways to support student learning, and provide new guidelines for effective science teachers' professional development that can assist them to better serve students from diverse language backgrounds. The project has the potential to transform traditional science instruction for all students, including underserved ELLs, and to broaden their participation in science.

In collaboration with eighth grade science teachers from two low-income middle schools in North Carolina, the project will focus on three objectives: (1) develop, test, and refine four open-source, web-based inquiry units featuring dynamic visualizations on energy and matter concepts in physical and life sciences, aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS); (2) investigate how dynamic visualizations can engage eighth-grade ELLs and native-English-speaking students in science practices and improve their understanding of energy and matter concepts; and (3) investigate which scaffolding approaches can help maximize ELLs' learning with visualizations. Research questions include: (1) Which kinds of dynamic visualizations (simulations, animations, visual models) lead to the best learning outcomes for all students within the four instructional science units?; (2) Do ELLs benefit more from visualizations (or particular kinds of visualizations) than do native-English-speaking students?; and (3) What kinds of additional scaffolding activities (e.g., critiquing arguments vs. generating arguments) are needed by ELLs in order to achieve the greatest benefit? The project will use design-based research and mixed-methods approaches to accomplish its research objectives and address these questions. Furthermore, it will help science teachers develop effective strategies to support students' learning with visualizations. Products from this project, including four NGSS-aligned web-based inquiry units, the visualizations created for the project, professional development materials, and scaffolding approaches for teachers to use with ELLs, will be freely available through a project website and multiple professional development networks. The PI will collaborate with an advisory board of experts to develop the four instructional units, visualizations, and scaffolds, as well as with the participating teachers to refine these materials in an iterative fashion. Evaluation of the materials and workshops will be provided each year by the advisory board members, and their feedback will be used to improve design and implementation for the next year. The advisory board will also provide summative evaluation of student learning outcomes and will assess the success of the teachers' professional development workshops.

Three-Dimensional Teaching and Learning: Rebuilding and Researching an Online Middle School Curriculum

This project will develop an online curriculum-based supported by a teacher professional development (PD) program by rebuilding an existing life science unit of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) Middle School Science. The project is designed to be an exemplar of fully digital Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) aligned resources for teachers and students, creating an NGSS-aligned learning environment combining disciplinary core ideas with science and engineering practices and cross-cutting concepts.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1502571
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2015 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

This project was funded by 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, in collaboration with Oregon Public Broadcasting, will develop an online curriculum-based supported by a teacher professional development (PD) program by rebuilding an existing life science unit of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) Middle School Science. The materials will include strategically integrated multimedia elements including animations, interactive learning experiences, and enhanced readings for students, as well as classroom videos for teachers that will help all users gain a deeper understanding of three-dimensional learning. The project is designed to be an exemplar of fully digital Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) aligned resources for teachers and students, creating an NGSS-aligned learning environment combining disciplinary core ideas with science and engineering practices and cross-cutting concepts. Using the powerful affordances of a digital environment, the project will invigorate and inspire learners and support teachers as only a media-rich environment can do.

The project will develop and research the project innovation, the combination of digital instructional materials for students and online teacher PD using a proven lesson-analysis framework. Although prior research has demonstrated the efficacy of the lesson analysis PD and curriculum elements independently, there has been little investigation of their joint ability to transform teaching and learning. The project will merge research and development in this project by incorporating a complex array of multi-component assessment activities, including classroom-based assessments, in a quasi-experimental study. Assessment activities will be designed using an evidence-centered design process that will involve the careful selection and development of assessment tasks, scoring rubrics, and criteria for scoring based on the performance expectations (PEs) and the best ways to elicit evidence about student proficiency with those PEs. The research, carried out by SRI International, will use multi-component tasks that will support inferences about student learning and advance understanding of how to assess NGSS learning. Project research and resources, which will include a digital, middle school life sciences unit, teacher PD and online digital resources, and related assessment tools, which will be widely disseminated to policy makers, researchers, and practitioners.


Project Videos

2020 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: A Medical Mystery: Middle School Body Systems for the NGSS

Presenter(s): Susan Kowalski, Lindsey Mohan, Betty Stennett, Catherine Stimac, & Heather Young


PlantingScience: Digging Deeper Together - A Model for Collaborative Teacher/Scientist Professional Development

This project will design, develop, and test a new professional development (PD) model for high school biology teachers that focuses on plant biology, an area of biology that teachers feel less prepared to teach. The new PD model will bring teachers and scientists together, in-person and online, to guide students in conducting authentic science investigations and to reflect on instructional practices and student learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1502892
Funding Period: 
Thu, 10/01/2015 to Mon, 09/30/2019
Full Description: 

This project will design, develop, and test a new professional development (PD) model for high school biology teachers that focuses on plant biology, an area of biology that teachers feel less prepared to teach. The new PD model will bring teachers and scientists together, in-person and online, to guide students in conducting authentic science investigations and to reflect on instructional practices and student learning. The project will also develop and test the outcomes of a summer institute for teachers and a website that will support the online mentoring of students and the professional development of teachers. Outcomes of the project will include the development of a facilitation guide for the teacher professional development model, a website to support student mentoring and teacher professional development, a series of resources for teachers and scientists to use in working with students, and empirical evidence of the success of the new professional development model.

This full research and development project will employ a pre-test/post-test control group design to test the efficacy of a professional development model for high school biology teachers. The professional development model is grounded in a theory of action based on the premise that when teachers are engaged with scientists and students in a technology-enabled learning community, students will demonstrate higher levels of achievement than those using more traditional instructional materials and methodologies. The means of post-intervention outcome measures will be compared across treatment and comparison groups in a cluster-randomized trial where teachers will be randomly assigned to treatment groups. The study will recruit a nation-wide sample to ensure that participants represent a wide array of geographic and demographic contexts, with preference given to Title 1 schools. The research questions are: a) To what extent does participation in the Digging Deeper community of teachers and scientists affect teacher knowledge and practices? b) To what extent does participation in the Digging Deeper community of teachers and scientists affect scientists? quality of mentorship and teaching? And c) To what extent does student use of the online program and participation in the learning community with scientist mentors affect student learning? Instruments will be developed or adapted to measure relevant student and teacher knowledge, student motivation, and teacher practices. Computer-mediated discourse analysis will be used over the course of the study to track online interactions among students, teachers, and science mentors.

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