Early State/Exploratory

Integrating Chemistry and Earth Science

This project will design, develop, and test a new curriculum unit for high school chemistry courses that is organized around the question, "How does chemistry shape where I live?" The new unit will integrate relevant Earth science data, scientific practices, and key urban environmental research findings with the chemistry curriculum to gain insights into factors that support the approach to teaching and learning advocated by current science curriculum standards.

Award Number: 
1721163
Funding Period: 
Tue, 08/15/2017 to Wed, 07/31/2019
Full Description: 

This Integrating Chemistry and Earth science (ICE) project will design, develop, and test a new curriculum unit for high school chemistry courses that is organized around the question, "How does chemistry shape where I live?" The new unit will integrate relevant Earth science data, scientific practices, and key urban environmental research findings with the chemistry curriculum to gain insights into factors that support the approach to teaching and learning advocated by current science curriculum standards. The overarching goal of the project is to develop teacher capacity to teach and evaluate student abilities to use the practices of scientists and concepts from Earth science and chemistry to understand important phenomena in their immediate, familiar environments. The project has the potential to serve as a model for how to make cutting edge science directly accessible to all students. The project is a collaborative effort that engages scientists, science education researchers, curriculum developers, school curriculum and instruction leaders, and science teachers in the longer term challenge of infusing Earth science concepts and practices across the core high school science courses.

Current guidelines and standards for science education promote learning that engages students in three interrelated dimensions: disciplinary core ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting ideas. This project is guided by the hypothesis that when provided sustained opportunities to engage in three-dimensional learning experiences, in an integrated Earth science and chemistry context, students will improve in their ability to demonstrate the coordination of disciplinary core ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting concepts when solving problems and developing explanations related to scientific phenomena. This project will employ a design based research approach, and during the two development-enactment-analysis-and-redesign cycles, the project team will collect student assessment data, teacher interview data, observational data from lessons, teacher surveys, and reflective teacher logbooks. These collected data will provide information about how teachers implement the lessons, what students do during the lessons, and what students learn from them that will lead to better design and a better understanding of student learning. This information will be used to inform the modification of lessons from cycle to cycle, and to inform the professional development materials for teachers. The research agenda for the project is guided by the following questions: 1. What are the design features of ICE lessons that support teachers in enacting three-dimensional instruction within the context of their classroom? 2. What are the design features of embedded three-dimensional assessments that yield useful classroom data for teachers and researchers regarding their students' abilities to integrate core ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting concepts? 3. What is the nature of student learning related to disciplinary core ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting concepts that results from students' engagement in ICE lesson sets? 4. What differences emerge in student engagement and learning outcomes for ICE lessons that incorporate local phenomena or data sets as compared to lessons that do not? 5. What contextual factors (i.e., school context, administrative support, time constraints, etc.) influence teachers' implementation of three-dimensional instruction embedded within ICE lessons?


Project Videos

2021 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Building and Sustaining a PLC in a Virtual World

Presenter(s): Bess Caplan, Alan Berkowitz, Kevin Fleming, Kevin Garner, & Jonathon Grooms

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Integrating Chemistry and Earth Science (ICE)

Presenter(s): Alan Berkowitz, Vonceil Anderson, Bess Caplan, Kevin Garner, & Jonathon Grooms


BioGraph 2.0: Online Professional Development for High School Biology Teachers for Teaching and Learning About Complex Systems

This proposal will develop and test an open-access, online system of professional development for high school biology teachers in order to build pedagogical competencies for teaching about complex systems and to support the application of those competencies in high school biology classrooms.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1721003
Funding Period: 
Fri, 09/01/2017 to Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

This project develops and tests an open-access, online asynchronous system of professional development for high school biology teachers in order to build pedagogical competencies for teaching about complex systems and to support the application of those competencies in high school biology classrooms. The online teacher professional development (PD) is delivered through the edX open access platform.

This research follows on nearly two decades of NSF-funded projects to build curriculum using agent-based modeling tools and instructional practices based on what we know best about how students and teachers learn. The modeling platform, StarLogo Nova, enables students and teachers to visualize hidden aspects of complex systems phenomena, such as natural selection in evolutionary systems, that typically create challenges in conceptual understanding. The curriculum, called BioGraph (short form for graphical programming simulations in biology), is NGSS-aligned using experimentation, argumentation, and modeling as essential scientific practices in investigating five core areas of biology and complex systems. The curricular units take 3 days to complete and are designed to be easily integrated into the standard high school biology course. Teacher-vetted student activity packets and teacher guides provide scaffolded support for classroom implementation.

Our previous face-to-face PD model for learning how to teach with BioGraph materials revealed a number of important best practice characteristics that included working on teacher beliefs, providing just-in-time facilitation, and building a collaborative professional community. In the current project, we aim to construct opportunities for a wide range of teachers to participate in the PD (that was previously limited only to local teachers). Moving to an online asynchronous platform would enable anywhere, anytime access to high quality curriculum (widely understood to be barriers to engaging in impactful PD). However, research on online teacher PD is still in its relative infancy especially pertaining to computer-supported teaching and learning. Of particular interest in the literature is how to build an ongoing collaborative teacher learning community that shares knowledge and advances in their instruction together. Thus, our project aims to investigate this goal in addition to the curricular goals through a social capital online delivery structure that includes activities and scaffolds for building social ties, depth of interactions, access to expertise, and trust. This research will produce insights and guidelines that can be immediately incorporated into the emerging field of online PD, and online education in general.

Exploring the Potential of Tablets as Early Math Resources for Urban Kindergarteners in Schools and Homes

This project will examine the impact on mathematics learning of an initiative to provide kindergartners in an urban school district with personal tablet devices that include free, widely available digital mathematics resources. The research questions examine how teachers use table-based mathematics resources during instruction, how caregivers and children engage with table-based mathematics resources, and how the resources then relate to kindergartners mathematics learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1744202
Funding Period: 
Tue, 08/01/2017 to Tue, 07/31/2018
Full Description: 

This project will examine the impact on mathematics learning of an initiative to provide kindergartners in an urban school district with personal tablet devices that include free, widely available digital mathematics resources. An important question for schools as tablet devices become more accessible is how to effectively use them in primary grades, especially kindergarten. In addition, since the devices are portable, how children use the resources such as games for mathematics learning at home is also important to understand. This project is set in a high-needs school district with a large number of low-income children. The project provides an opportunity to learn about the potential role of tables and digital resources in early grades through the analysis of assessment data, user analytic data documenting how the resources were used, and survey data from teachers and families.

Most studies of digital learning resources have been small-scale or focused on engagement. This study offers the opportunity to investigate the relationship between the use of these resources and learning outcomes using a quasi-experimental design. The research questions examine how teachers use table-based mathematics resources during instruction, how caregivers and children engage with table-based mathematics resources and how the resources then relate to kindergartners mathematics learning. Assessments of students' learning will focus on number, geometry and measurement concepts. The learner analytic data from the tablets will document the use of the resources on the tablets. Surveys and demographic data will also be collected to document how the tablets were used. Results of the study should inform implementation of tablet use by schools with particular attention to how they are used across in-class and at-home settings.

Examining Relationships Between Flipped Instruction and Students' Learning of Mathematics

This study can provide a basis for design research focused on developing effective materials and programs for flipped instruction in secondary mathematics, which is already occurring at an increasing rate, but it is not yet informed by empirical evidence. This project will result in a framework for flipped instruction robust enough to be useful at a variety of grade levels and contexts. The framework will provide a better understanding of the relationships among various implementations of flipped instruction and student learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1721025
Funding Period: 
Tue, 08/01/2017 to Fri, 07/31/2020
Full Description: 

Instead of presenting new material in class and then assigning problems to be completed outside of class, flipped instruction involves students watching videos or reading new material outside of class and then completing their "homework" in class. Teachers' implementation of flipped instruction has increased dramatically in recent years, with more than two-thirds of teachers now reporting flipping a lesson, if not an entire course. Although popular media and philanthropic organizations have given a great deal of attention and financial support to flipped instruction, little is known about how teachers implement it and what benefits and drawbacks flipped instruction has in contrast with non-flipped instruction. This study can provide a basis for design research focused on developing effective materials and programs for flipped instruction in secondary mathematics. This design and development is already occurring at an increasing rate, but it is not yet informed by empirical evidence. This project will result in a framework for flipped instruction robust enough to be useful at a variety of grade levels and contexts. The framework will provide a better understanding of the relationships among various implementations of flipped instruction and student learning. These findings can inform teacher educators in better aligning their instruction to instructional formats that correlate with increased student learning outcomes.

Using mixed-methods techniques, the study will look at the nature of the activities and interactions occurring in mathematics classrooms and assess their quality so that the researchers may distinguish high-quality from low-quality univocal discourse, high-quality from low-quality dialogic discourse, and high cognitive demand from low cognitive demand tasks. Working in 40 algebra classrooms -- 20 implementing some form of flipped instruction and 20 serving as a non-flipped basis for comparison -- the project will address the following research questions using a correlational design and multilevel modeling techniques: RQ1. What are salient factors entailed in flipped instruction in secondary algebra? RQ2. What associations, if any, exist among factors entailed in teachers' implementation of flipped algebra instruction and students' learning of algebra as measured on a state-mandated end-of-course assessment and on a concept-of-variable inventory?

Research on the Utility of Abstraction as a Guiding Principle for Learning about the Nature of Models in Science Education

This project will develop a short instructional sequence and new student learning assessments that are implemented in earth science classes. The findings will help the field to understand whether the process of abstracting from multiple phenomena during model construction supports students' understanding of scientific models in relation to earth science ideas and the cross-cutting concept of scale.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1720996
Funding Period: 
Mon, 05/15/2017 to Thu, 04/30/2020
Full Description: 

Contemporary science education reforms consider modeling as a means to understanding science ideas and as an essential scientific practice to be learned. Modeling is the practice of developing and refining representations (or "models") as analogs of scientific phenomena. Important to the practice of modeling is the idea that, as an analog, a model draws out (or "abstracts") some as opposed to all aspects of a phenomenon. However, a well-known problem in modeling instruction is that leaners have difficulty understanding this essential point. Learners often think of models as literal interpretations, or replicas, of what they represent. The investigators hypothesize that engaging students in a process of abstraction -- that is, drawing out common structures from multiple scientific phenomena -- during the creation (or "synthesis") of their own model will help students better understand the nature of scientific models. Importantly, this approach will help students discover that a scientific model is not simply a literal interpretation, or replica, of any single phenomenon. Sixteen teachers and their estimated 960 students from economically challenged communities in Georgia and Maine will participate in and benefit from the research study in the context of high school earth and environmental science classes. The project will develop a short instructional sequence and new student learning assessments that are implemented in earth science classes. The findings will help the field to understand whether the process of abstracting from multiple phenomena during model construction supports students' understanding of scientific models in relation to earth science ideas and the cross-cutting concept of scale. The project will provide professional development workshops to up to forty-six teachers over three years as means of recruiting research participants and to cultivate teacher leadership around the new approach to modeling. The developed products and the research findings will be shared with researchers, teacher educators, and teachers through science education journals and conferences.

This Exploratory Learning Strand research study builds upon prior work of investigators at University of Georgia and University of Maine by rigorously testing their hypothesis that that engaging students in the process of abstracting from multiple source phenomena during model synthesis supports more scientifically accurate understandings of the nature of models. The research has the potential to (1) generate new knowledge about the potential value of abstraction as a guiding principle of learning about models and modeling practice; (2) identify ways in which specific classroom conditions, including teacher talk and actions, enable or hinder student learning about abstraction in models and modeling practice; and (3) demonstrate how teachers translate the modeling approach to other science disciplines they teach. Teachers will be recruited through existing partnerships with schools and through professional development workshops offered to teachers nearby the two universities. To address the first two goals, the investigators will develop and test a two-part instructional sequence that addresses core ideas in earth science and the cross-cutting concept of scale. The first component of the instructional sequence is a typical model-based inquiry, and the second component requires that students abstract structures from multiple phenomena during the synthesis of their own models. Twelve teachers and their students will be randomly assigned to either the treatment or the control group. The treatment group will experience the two-part instructional sequence. The control group will initially not experience the second component, but will have an opportunity to do so at the conclusion of the study. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of classroom observations, interviews with teachers, student knowledge tests, student work, and teacher logs will be used to determine the effectiveness of abstracting during model synthesis and classroom conditions that enable or hinder students' learning when the approach is used. To address the third goal, investigators will document the experience of four teachers as they develop and implement a similar instructional sequence in other science disciplines, providing preliminary evidence on the broader utility of the synthesis-through-abstraction approach to modeling. A new research assessment for measuring students' understanding of the nature of models, core ideas of earth science, and the cross-cutting concept of scale may be broadly useful for future research on learning at the intersection of the three knowledge dimensions. Findings will be shared by traditional means, such as papers in peer-reviewed research and practitioner journals and conference presentations. Investigators will conduct professional development workshops for teachers in the third year to disseminate the products and findings of the research to practitioner audiences and to further cultivate participating teachers' leadership around this novel approach to modeling practice in science education.

Youth Participatory Science to Address Urban Heavy Metal Contamination

This project is focused on the work and learning of teachers as they engage youth from underrepresented groups in studying chemistry as a subject relevant to heavy metal contamination in their neighborhoods. The project will position Chicago teachers and students as Change Makers who are capable of addressing the crises of inequity in science education and environmental contamination that matter deeply to them, while simultaneously advancing their own understanding and expertise.

Award Number: 
1720856
Funding Period: 
Mon, 05/15/2017 to Sat, 04/30/2022
Full Description: 

This project is focused on the work and learning of teachers as they engage youth from underrepresented groups in studying chemistry as a subject relevant to heavy metal contamination in their neighborhoods. The project is a collaboration of teachers in the Chicago Public Schools, science educators, chemists, and environmental scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University, and members of the Chicago Environmental Justice Network. The project is significant because it leverages existing partnerships and builds on pilot projects which will be informed by a corresponding cycle of research on teachers' learning and practice. The project will position Chicago teachers and students as Change Makers who are capable of addressing the crises of inequity in science education and environmental contamination that matter deeply to them, while simultaneously advancing their own understanding and expertise. The project will examine the malleable factors affecting the ability of teachers to engage underrepresented students in innovative urban citizen science projects with a focus on the synergistic learning that occurs as teachers, students, scientists, and community members work together on addressing complex socio-scientific issues.

The goal is to provide a network of intellectual and analytical support to high school chemistry teachers engaged in customizing curricula in response to urban environmental concerns. The project will use an annual summer institute where collaborators will develop curriculum and procedures for collecting soil and water samples. In the project, the teachers and students will work with university scientists to analyze these samples for heavy metals, and students will share their results in community settings. The study design will be multiple case and be used to study the content knowledge learned and mobilized by participating teachers as they develop these authentic projects. The project includes explicit focus on the professional development of high school science teachers while it also aims to create rich learning opportunities for underrepresented high school students in STEM fields. The contextualized science concepts within students' everyday experiences or socio-scientific issues will likely have a positive impact on student motivation and learning outcomes, but the experiences of urban students are less likely to be reflected by the curriculum, and the practices of effective secondary science teachers in these contexts are under-examined.

The following article is in press and will be available soon:

Morales-Doyle, D., Childress-Price, T., & Chappell, M. (in press). Chemicals are contaminants too: Teaching appreciation and critique of science in the era of NGSS. Science Education. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21546

Investigating Productive Use of High-Leverage Student Mathematical Thinking (Collaborative Research: Peterson)

This project focuses on the teaching practice of building on student thinking, a practice in which teachers engage students in making sense of their peers' mathematical ideas in ways that help the whole class move forward in their mathematical understanding. The study examines how teachers incorporate this practice into mathematics discussions in secondary classrooms by designing tasks that generate opportunities for teachers to build on students' thinking and by studying teachers' orchestration of whole class discussions around student responses to these tasks.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1720410
Funding Period: 
Sat, 07/01/2017 to Mon, 05/31/2021
Full Description: 

The project will examine how secondary mathematics teachers respond to and use students' thinking during whole class discussion. An ongoing challenge for teachers is making the best use of students' emerging mathematical ideas during whole class discussion. Teachers need to draw on the ideas students have developed in order to create opportunities for learning about significant mathematical concepts. This study will create tasks specifically designed to generate opportunities for teachers to build on students' thinking and then use classroom observation and analysis of classroom video to develop tools to support teachers in leading whole class discussion.

The project focuses on the teaching practice of building on student thinking, a practice in which teachers engage students in making sense of their peers' mathematical ideas in ways that help the whole class move forward in their mathematical understanding. This study examines how teachers incorporate this practice into mathematics discussions in secondary classrooms by designing tasks that generate opportunities for teachers to build on students' thinking and by studying teachers' orchestration of whole class discussions around student responses to these tasks. The project engages teacher-researchers in exploring the building practice. The teacher-researchers will use the project-designed tasks in their classrooms and then engage in a cycle of analysis of their own teaching with the research team. Data collection and analysis will rely on video analysis of classrooms, teachers' reflections on task enactment, and data collected during research team meetings convened with teacher-researchers to analyze practice.

Perceptual and Implementation Strategies for Knowledge Acquisition of Digital Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired Students (Collaborative Research: Gorlewicz)

This project lays the foundation and framework for enabling digital, multimodal tactile graphics on touchscreens for individuals with visual impairments (VI). Given the low-cost, portability, and wide availability of touchscreens, this work promotes the use of vibrations and sounds on these readily available platforms for addressing the graphical access challenge for individuals with VI.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1644538
Funding Period: 
Sun, 01/15/2017 to Tue, 12/31/2019
Full Description: 

Students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities for experiential learning, an important component of quality STEM education. With continued shifts toward the use of digital media to supplement instruction in STEM classrooms, much of the content remains inaccessible, particular for students with visual impairments. The promise of technology and use of tactile graphics is an effective, emerging innovation for providing more complete access to important information and materials. Tactile graphics are images that use raised surfaces to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams. Touchscreen-based smart devices allow visual information to be digitally and dynamically represented via tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic feedback. Tactile graphic technology embedded in touchscreen devices can be leveraged to make STEM content more accessible to blind and visually impaired students.

This project will develop a learner-centered, perceptually-motivated framework addressing the requirements for students with blindness and visual impairments to access graphical content in STEM. Using TouchSense technology, the investigators will create instructional materials using tactile graphics and test them in a pilot classroom of both sighted and BVI students. The investigators will work with approximately 150 students with visual impairments to understand the kind of feedback that is most appropriate for specific content in algebra (coordinate plane), cell biology, and geography. Qualitative research methods will be used to analyze the video-based data set.

Perceptual and Implementation Strategies for Knowledge Acquisition of Digital Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired Students (Collaborative Research: Stefik)

This project lays the foundation and framework for enabling digital, multimodal tactile graphics on touchscreens for individuals with visual impairments (VI). Given the low-cost, portability, and wide availability of touchscreens, this work promotes the use of vibrations and sounds on these readily available platforms for addressing the graphical access challenge for individuals with VI.

Award Number: 
1644491
Funding Period: 
Sun, 01/15/2017 to Tue, 12/31/2019
Full Description: 

Students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities for experiential learning, an important component of quality STEM education. With continued shifts toward the use of digital media to supplement instruction in STEM classrooms, much of the content remains inaccessible, particular for students with visual impairments. The promise of technology and use of tactile graphics is an effective, emerging innovation for providing more complete access to important information and materials. Tactile graphics are images that use raised surfaces to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams. Touchscreen-based smart devices allow visual information to be digitally and dynamically represented via tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic feedback. Tactile graphic technology embedded in touchscreen devices can be leveraged to make STEM content more accessible to blind and visually impaired students.

This project will develop a learner-centered, perceptually-motivated framework addressing the requirements for students with blindness and visual impairments to access graphical content in STEM. Using TouchSense technology, the investigators will create instructional materials using tactile graphics and test them in a pilot classroom of both sighted and BVI students. The investigators will work with approximately 150 students with visual impairments to understand the kind of feedback that is most appropriate for specific content in algebra (coordinate plane), cell biology, and geography. Qualitative research methods will be used to analyze the video-based data set.

Perceptual and Implementation Strategies for Knowledge Acquisition of Digital Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired Students (Collaborative Research: Smith)

This project lays the foundation and framework for enabling digital, multimodal tactile graphics on touchscreens for individuals with visual impairments (VI). Given the low-cost, portability, and wide availability of touchscreens, this work promotes the use of vibrations and sounds on these readily available platforms for addressing the graphical access challenge for individuals with VI.

Award Number: 
1644476
Funding Period: 
Sun, 01/15/2017 to Tue, 12/31/2019
Full Description: 

Students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities for experiential learning, an important component of quality STEM education. With continued shifts toward the use of digital media to supplement instruction in STEM classrooms, much of the content remains inaccessible, particular for students with visual impairments. The promise of technology and use of tactile graphics is an effective, emerging innovation for providing more complete access to important information and materials. Tactile graphics are images that use raised surfaces to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams. Touchscreen-based smart devices allow visual information to be digitally and dynamically represented via tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic feedback. Tactile graphic technology embedded in touchscreen devices can be leveraged to make STEM content more accessible to blind and visually impaired students.

This project will develop a learner-centered, perceptually-motivated framework addressing the requirements for students with blindness and visual impairments to access graphical content in STEM. Using TouchSense technology, the investigators will create instructional materials using tactile graphics and test them in a pilot classroom of both sighted and BVI students. The investigators will work with approximately 150 students with visual impairments to understand the kind of feedback that is most appropriate for specific content in algebra (coordinate plane), cell biology, and geography. Qualitative research methods will be used to analyze the video-based data set.

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