Cluster Randomized Trial of the Efficacy of Early Childhood Science Education for Low-income Children
The research goal of this project is to evaluate whether an early childhood science education program, implemented in low-income preschool settings produces measurable impacts for children, teachers, and parents. The study is determining the efficacy of the program on Science curriculum in two models, one in which teachers participate in professional development activities (the intervention), and another in which teachers receive the curriculum and teachers' guide but no professional development (the control).
The research goal of this project is to evaluate whether an early childhood science education program, Head Start on Science, implemented in low-income preschool settings (Head Start) produces measurable impacts for children, teachers, and parents. The study is being conducted in eight Head Start programs in Michigan, involving 72 classrooms, 144 teachers, and 576 students and their parents. Partners include Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, and the 8 Head Start programs. Southwest Counseling Solutions is the external evaluator.
The study is determining the efficacy of the Head Start on Science curriculum in two models, one in which 72 teachers participate in professional development activities (the intervention), and another in which 72 teachers receive the curriculum and teachers' guide but no professional development (the control). The teacher study is a multi-site cluster randomized trial (MSCRT) with the classroom being the unit of randomization. Four time points over two years permit analysis through multilevel latent growth curve models. For teachers, measurement instruments include Attitudes Toward Science (ATS survey), the Head Start on Science Observation Protocol, the Preschool Classroom Science Materials/Equipment Checklist, the Preschool Science Classroom Activities Checklist, and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). For students, measures include the "mouse house problem," Knowledge of Biological Properties, the physics of falling objects, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Fourth Edition, the Expressive Vocabulary Test-2, the Test of Early Mathematics Ability-3, Social Skills Improvement System-Rating Scales, and the Emotion Regulation Checklist. Measures for parents include the Attitudes Toward Science survey, and the Community and Home Activities Related to Science and Technology for Preschool Children (CHARTS/PS). There are Spanish versions of many of these instruments which can be used as needed. The external evaluation is monitoring the project progress toward its objectives and the processes of the research study.
This project meets a critical need for early childhood science education. Research has shown that very young children can achieve significant learning in science. The curriculum Head Start on Science has been carefully designed for 3-5 year old children and is one of only a few science programs for this audience with a national reach. This study intends to provide a sound basis for early childhood science education by demonstrating the efficacy of this important curriculum in the context of a professional development model for teachers.
Beyond Bridging: Co-education of Preservice and Inservice Elementary Teachers In Science and Mathematics
This project will implement and study a professional community designed to alleviate the mismatch between the expectations of student teachers in mathematics and science and their mentor in-service teachers. The project is creating a neutral forum for the exchange of perspectives on issues of pedagogy with the expectation that student teachers would implement inquiry-based science and problem-solving mathematics pedagogies with the knowledgeable support of their mentor teachers.
The University of Arizona is partnering with the Tucson Unified School District to implement and study a professional community designed to alleviate the mismatch between the expectations of student teachers in mathematics and science and their mentor in-service teachers. This vexing problem often arises when student teachers expect to implement reform-based pedagogies while their mentor teachers insist on traditional approaches. The project is creating a "third space," a professional community that includes 40 pre-service and 50 in-service teachers, university scientists and mathematicians, science and mathematics education faculty, and school district administrators. The third space is providing a neutral forum for the exchange of perspectives on issues of pedagogy with the expectation that student teachers would implement inquiry-based science and problem-solving mathematics pedagogies with the knowledgeable support of their mentor teachers. The project is being implemented in two low-income, culturally and linguistically diverse elementary schools with a comparison school used as a control.
The evaluation/research component is a qualitative study led by Horizon Research, Inc. The fundamental research question is whether the third space model establishes interpretive systems that foster enactment of inquiry-based and problem-solving teaching practices. Data collection will include all participants in the third space forum, but focuses on the pre-service and in-service teachers through written products and discussions of lesson design activities, videotapes of teaching by pre-service and in-service teachers, and analysis of comments made in a web-based forum. Instruments to be used are the Reform Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP), the Experiences Patterns Explanations (EPE) framework, and the Inquiry-Application Instructional Model (I-AIM).
The main product of this project is the third space model and the research that supports its success. The model will be disseminated broadly and if replicated widely, it would represent a major improvement in the professional development of teachers in the areas of inquiry-based science and problem-solving mathematics.
Studying Topography, Orographic Rainfall, and Ecosystems (STORE) with Geospatial Information Technology
This project is using innovative Geospatial Information Technology-based learning in high school environmental science studies with a focus on the meteorological and ecological impacts of climate change. The resources developed are using ArcGIS Explorer Desktop and Google Earth software applications to increase students' learning and interest in science and careers and will be adaptable for teachers to improve classroom implementation.
STORE is developing and piloting classroom uses of GIS-based interactive data files displaying climatological, topographical, and biological data about an especially ecologically and topographically diverse section of mid-California and a section of western New York State, plus projected climate change outcomes in 2050 and 2099 from an IPCC climate change model. Both areas contain weather stations. The participating students and teachers live in those areas, hence the place-based focus of the project.
To help teachers make curricular decisions about how to use these data with their students, the project has, with input from six design partner teachers, produced a curriculum module exemplar consisting of six lessons. The lessons start with basic meteorological concepts about the relationship between weather systems and topography, then focus on recent climatological and land cover data. The last two lessons focus on IPCC-sanctioned climate change projections in relation to possible fates of different regional species. Technology light versions of these lessons send students directly to map layers displaying the data for scientific analysis. Technology-heavy versions address the additional goal of building students' capacities to manipulate features of geographic information systems (GIS). Hence, the technology-heavy versions require use of the ARC GIS Explorer Desktop software, whereas the technology light versions are available in both the ARC software and in Google Earth. Google Earth makes possible some student interactivity such as drawing transects and studying elevation profiles, but does not support more advanced use of geographic information system technology such as queries of data-containing shape files or customization of basemaps and data representational symbology.
Answer keys are provided for each lesson. Teachers have in addition access to geospatial data files that display some storm systems that moved over California in the winter of 2010-2001 so that students can study relationships between actual data about storm behavior and relationship to topography and the climatological data which displays those relationships in a summary manner. This provides the student the opportunity to explore differences between weather and climate.
To increase the likelihood of successful classroom implementation and impact on student learning, the professional development process provides the conditions for teachers to make good adaptability decisions for successful follow-through. Teachers can implement the six lessons or adapt them or design their own from scratch. The project requires that they choose from these options, explain on content representation forms their rationales for those decisions, and provide assessment information about student learning outcomes from their implementations. The project provides the teachers with assessment items that are aligned to each of the six lessons, plus some items that test how well the students can interpret the STORE GIS data layers.
All of this work is driven by the hypothesis that science teachers are more likely to use geospatial information technology in their classrooms when provided with the types of resources that they are provided in this project. In summary, these resources include:
1. tutorials about how to use the two GIS applications
2. sufficiently adaptive geospatial data available in free easily transportable software applications
3. lessons that they can implement as is, adapt, or discard if they want to make up their own (as long as they use the data)
4. supportive resources to build their content knowledge (such as overview documents about their states' climates and information about the characteristics of each data layer and each data set available to them).
The growth and evolution of the teachers' technological pedagogical content knowledge is being tracked through interviews, face-to-face group meetings, and classroom observations. Also being tracked is the extent to which the teachers and students can master the technology applications quickly and on their own without workshops, and how well teachers provide feedback to the students and assess their learning outcomes when implementing STORE lessons. As the project moves into its third and final year, we will be studying outcomes from the first classroom implementation year (i.e. year two of the project) and determining to what extent the professional development strategies need to be revised in relation to how the teachers are responding to the project resources and forms of professional support. In the end, the project will contribute to the knowledge base about what professional development strategies are appropriate for getting teachers to use these types of resources, what decisions teachers make about how to use the resources for different courses and student groups they teach, and what are the outcomes of those uses in terms of curricular material, instructional strategies, and student learning.
This project is developing and testing a set of 12 curriculum modules designed to engage high school students and their teachers in the process of applying computational concepts and methods to problem solving in a variety of scientific contexts. The project perspective is that computational thinking can be usefully thought of as a specialized form of mathematical modeling.
The Value of Computational Thinking (VCT) project combines the talents and resources of STEM professionals at the Rutgers University DIMACS Center, the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP), Colorado State University, Hobart and William Smith College, the Computer Science Teachers Association, and five partner school districts to develop and test a set of 12 curriculum modules designed to engage high school students and their teachers in the process of applying computational concepts and methods to problem solving in a variety of scientific contexts. The project perspective is that computational thinking can be usefully thought of as a specialized form of mathematical modeling. The product of computational thinking in a particular domain is a model of a situation, a structuring and representation of the situation, that enables computations to be performed to answer questions, solve problems, control processes, predict consequences, or enhance understanding.
Since computational thinking is a relatively new construct in STEM and STEM education, there are few available curriculum materials to support instruction intended to develop the understanding, habits of mind, and specific techniques that are involved. The fundamental goal of the VCT project is to answer an engineering research question: "What kinds of instructional materials and learning experiences will develop effective computational thinking skills and attitudes?" The VCT project is applying a design research process involving iterative phases of development, pilot testing, and revision to produce prototype instructional materials that will be useful as stand-alone curriculum modules or when collected into different packages to support full high school courses. Project field test evaluation will provide preliminary evidence about the efficacy of the materials in developing desired student learning.
Proponents of computational thinking in STEM and STEM education have argued that it offers a powerful general approach to problem solving in discipline-specific and inter-disciplinary settings. They also argue that, when properly taught, it can provide an effective introduction and attraction to careers in computer science and other computing-intensive fields. Thus the VCT project has a long-term goal of broadening participation in computer science and related technology fields. Materials are being designed with special features to enhance their effectiveness in reaching this objective.
Beginning in spring 2010, CADRE has facilitated a work group focused on how project partnerships with districts and schools can contribute to the use of project knowledge and products. With CADRE staff, the group produced Fostering Knowledge Use in STEM Education: A Brief on R&D Partnerships with Districts and Schools, which explicates and illustrates strategies, benefits, and challenges of partnerships with districts and schools that could lead toward better sustainability and scaling. The brief is grounded in the practical project expriences of work group members and is written primarily for other DR K-12 grantees, as well as the broader education R&D field. The group will release and present on the brief at the December 2010 DR K-12 PI Meeting, and then consider spin-off efforts on related topics or geared toward other audiences.