STEM Practices

Developing Contingent Pedagogies: Integrating Technology-enhanced Feedback into a Middle School Science Curriculum to Improve Conceptual Teaching and Learning

SRI International developed a formative assessment intervention that integrates classroom network technologies and contingent curriculum activities to help middle school teachers adjust instruction to improve student learning of Earth science concepts. The intervention was tested as part of a quasi-experimental study within an urban school district in Colorado that includes ethnically and economically diverse student populations. Findings indicate significant student learning gains for students in implementation classes as compared to students in comparison classes.

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Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2008 to Tue, 08/31/2010
Project Evaluator: 
Christy Kim Boscardin
Full Description: 

SRI is developing a formative assessment intervention that integrates existing classroom network technologies (GroupScribbles and Classroom Performance Systems), interactive formative assessments, and contingent curriculum activities to help teachers adjust instruction to improve middle school student learning of selected Earth science concepts (the rock cycle, forces that shape Earth's surface, and plate tectonics). To test the hypothesis that integrating response system technology, assessment, and curriculum can improve K-12 science teaching and learning, the project is developing and testing (1) pedagogical routines for teachers to follow when using classroom network technologies, (2) diagnostic questions for teachers to elicit student preconceptions, (3) decision rules for teachers to use alternative learning activities that supplement an existing geoscience curriculum, (4) training materials that prepare teachers to enact the intervention, and (5) research- and classroom-based instruments that measure changes in teacher instructional practice, student thinking, and student achievement. The intervention is being tested in two urban school districts located in two western states (Colorado and California) that have ethnically and economically diverse student populations.

Talk Science: Scalable, Web-Based Professional Learning to Improve Science Achievement

This project is designed to enhance and study the development of elementary science teachers’ skills in managing productive classroom talk in inquiry-based physical science studies of matter. The project hypothesizes that aligning professional learning with conceptually-driven curricula and emphasizing the development of scientific discourse changes classroom culture and increases student learning. The project is developing new Web-based resources, Talk Science PD, to help elementary teachers facilitate scientific discourse.

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Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Katherine Paget
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Scalable, Web-based Professional Learning to Improve Science Achievement


      In spite of its centrality in science, genuine scientific argumentation is rarely observed in classrooms. Instead, most of the talk comes from teachers, and it seems oriented primarily toward persuading students of the validity of the scientific worldview…if the educational goal is to help students understand not just the conclusions of science, but also how one knows and why one believes, then talk needs to focus on how evidence is used in science for the construction of explanations. (Duschl, Schweingruber et al. 2007)

Research from the learning sciences, classroom research, and the National Research Council’s consensus reports on teaching and learning science are clear: talk is central to doing and learning science well (Duschl and Osborne 2002; Duschl, Schweingruber et al. 2007; Michaels, Shouse et al. 2008). Discussion is essential to inquiry, enabling students to compare and evaluate observations and data, raise questions, develop hypotheses and explanations, debate and explore alternative interpretations, develop insight into reasoning they may not have considered, and “make meaning” of inquiry experiences. In fact, mastery of science is to a large extent mastery of its specialized uses of language (Lemke 1993).

            Yet effective scientific discourse is mostly absent in classrooms (Barnes 1992; Lemke 1993; Alexander 2001; Cazden 2001). Few teachers are sufficiently prepared to manage classroom talk or effectively improvise and facilitate dialogue in the unpredictable flow of classroom discussion. Thus, despite well-designed curricula and well-intentioned teachers, students are failing to obtain a deep understanding of science and to develop critical 21st century skills, such as negotiating shared meaning and co-construction of problem resolution (Dede 2007). This is the challenge we are addressing.

TERC, in close collaboration with the Mason School in Roxbury, MA, the Benjamin A. Banneker School in Cambridge, MA, Newton Massachusetts Schools, Lamoille North Schools in Vermont, and scientists and linguists from three Boston area universities, is:   

1.     developing and pilot-testing Talk Science!, a web-enabled collection of rich, multimedia professional learning resources for 4th and 5th grade teachers that supports the NSF-funded Inquiry Curriculum and that is focused on promoting scientific discourse in the classroom. These resources are being deployed on the Inquiry Project web site ( This effort is resulting in a model of web-based professional learning that is scalable, accessible and of consistent quality.

2.     investigating the development of teachers' skills with regard to facilitating productive discourse in the science classroom. We hypothesized that aligning professional learning with conceptually-driven curriculum and emphasizing development of scientific discourse would promote changes in classroom culture and increased student learning. We further hypothesized that as teachers implement strategies for scientific discourse, the nature of talk in classrooms and classroom culture will shift toward shared scientific meaning-making. This research is currently underway with results expected by December 2012.


Talk Science! PD is comprised of two nine-week professional development courses of study (i.e. professional pathways), aligned with the 4th and 5th grade web-based, Inquiry Curriculum. Thus, curriculum and professional learning “live” together side-by-side within the same web site so teachers can shift seamlessly between the curriculum and their own professional learning as they prepare to teach. The professional development is comprised of three main components: classroom cases, scientist cases, and talk strategies.


We are using a pedagogical approach in which teachers strengthen their understanding of science, develop specific pedagogical skills, and implement skills into their teaching through a cognitive apprenticeship model (Collins, Brown et al). This involves 1) modeling, coaching, and scaffolding that help teachers acquire professional skills and scientific understanding through observation (in our case video) and guided practice, 2) articulation and reflection in which teachers articulate their understanding and questions, and 3) exploration in which they incorporate new practices into their teaching.


Talk Science! is based on four major principles that effectively change teacher practice and student learning:

  1. Close alignment between professional learning and specific curriculum offers a relevant context for teacher learning and ensures transfer from professional learning to classroom application.
  2. Understanding science as a knowledge-generating enterprise helps teachers facilitate student learning that deepens understanding of core concepts and blends the development of conceptual understanding and disciplinary practice.
  3. Developing abilities to facilitate productive academic talk in the classroom helps teachers establish a classroom culture where norms of discourse are in place and students make claims based on evidence and advance toward deeper understanding of scientific ideas.
  4. Providing opportunity for teachers to work together and learn from each other while using the affordances of web-based technologies to exploit the power of professional learning communities.

Integrating Computing Across the Curriculum (ICAC): Incorporating Technology into STEM Education Using XO Laptops

This project builds and tests applications tied to the school curriculum that integrate the sciences with mathematics, computational thinking, reading and writing in elementary schools. The investigative core of the project is to determine how to best integrate computing across the curriculum in such a way as to support STEM learning and lead more urban children to STEM career paths.

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Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2009 to Sun, 07/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Leslie Cooksy - Univ. of Delaware
Full Description: 

Computer access has opened an exciting new dimension for STEM education; however, if computers in the classroom are to realize their full potential as a tool for advancing STEM education, methods must be developed to allow them to serve as a bridge across the STEM disciplines. The goal of this 60-month multi-method, multi-disciplinary ICAC project is to develop and test a program to increase the number of students in the STEM pipeline by providing teachers and students with curricular training and skills to enhance STEM education in elementary schools. ICAC will be implemented in an urban and predominantly African American school system, since these schools traditionally lag behind in filling the STEM pipeline. Specifically, ICAC will increase computer proficiency (e.g., general usage and programming), science, and mathematics skills of teachers and 4th and 5th grade students, and inform parents about the opportunities available in STEM-centered careers for their children.

The Specific Aims of ICAC are to:

SA1. Conduct a formative assessment with teachers to determine the optimal intervention to ensure productive school, principal, teacher, and student participation.

SA2. Implement a structured intervention aimed at (1) teachers, (2) students, and (3) families that will enhance the students’ understanding of STEM fundamentals by incorporating laptops into an inquiry-based educational process.

SA3. Assess the effects of ICAC on:

a. Student STEM  engagement and performance.

b. Teacher and student computing specific confidence and utilization.

c. Student interest in technology and STEM careers.

d. Parents’ attitudes toward STEM careers and use of computers.

To enable us to complete the specific aims noted above, we have conducted a variety of project activities in Years 1-3. These include:

  1. Classroom observations at the two Year 1 pilot schools
  2. Project scaling to 6 schools in Year 2 and 10 schools in Year 3
  3. Semi-structured school administrator interviews in schools
  4. Professional development sessions for teachers
  5. Drafting of curriculum modules to be used in summer teacher institutes and for dissemination
  6. In-class demonstration of curriculum modules
  7. Scratch festivals each May
  8. Summer teacher institutes
  9. Student summer camps
  10. Surveying of teachers in summer institutes
  11. Surveying of teachers and students at the beginning and end of the school year
  12. Showcase event at end of student workshops

The specific ICAC activities for Years 2-5 include:

  • Professional development sessions (twice monthly for teachers), to integrate the ‘best practices’ from the program.
  • Working groups led by a grade-specific lead teacher. The lead teacher for each grade in each school will identify areas where assistance is needed and will gather the grade-specific cohort of teachers at their school once every two weeks for a meeting to discuss the progress made in addition to challenges to or successes in curricula development.  
  • ICAC staff and prior trained teachers will visit each class monthly during the year to assist the teachers and to evaluate specific challenges and opportunities for the use of XOs in that classroom.  
  • In class sessions at least once per month (most likely more often given feedback from Teacher Summer Institutes) to demonstrate lesson plans and assist teachers as they implement lesson plans.
  • ICAC staff will also hold a joint meeting of administrators of all target schools each year to assess program progress and challenges. 
  • Teacher Summer Institutes – scaled-up to teachers from the new schools each summer to provide training in how to incorporate computing into their curriculum.
  • Administrator sessions during the Teacher Summer Institutes; designed to provide insight into how the laptops can facilitate the education and comprehension of their students in all areas of the curriculum, discuss flexible models for physical classroom organization to facilitate student learning, and discussions related to how to optimize the use of computing to enhance STEM curricula in their schools.  Student Summer Computing Camps – designed to teach students computing concepts, make computing fun, and enhance their interest in STEM careers.  
  • ICAC will sponsor a yearly showcase event in Years 2-5 that provides opportunities for parents to learn more about technology skills their children are learning (e.g., career options in STEM areas, overview of ICAC, and summary of student projects). At this event, a yearly citywide competition among students also will be held that is an expanded version of the weeklong showcase event during the student summer camps.
  • Surveying of students twice a year in intervention schools.
  • Surveying of teachers at Summer Institutes and then at the end of the academic year.
  • Coding and entry of survey data; coding of interview and observational data.
  • Data analysis to examine the specific aims (SA) noted above:
    • The impact of ICAC on teacher computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b).
    • Assess the effects of (1) teacher XO training on student computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b), (2) training on changes in interest in STEM careers (SA 3.c), and (3) XO training on student engagement (SA 3.a).
    • A quasi-experimental comparison of intervention and non-intervention schools to assess intervention effects on student achievement (SA 3.a).
    • Survey of parents attending the yearly ICAC showcase to assess effects on parental attitudes toward STEM careers and computing (SA 3.d).

The proposed research has the potential for broad impact by leveraging technology in BCS to influence over 8,000 students in the Birmingham area. By targeting 4th and 5th grade students, we expect to impact STEM engagement and preparedness of students before they move into a critical educational and career decision-making process. Further, by bolstering student computer and STEM knowledge, ICAC will impart highly marketable skills that prepare them for the 81% of new jobs that are projected to be in computing and engineering in coming years (as predicted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics).3 Through its formative and summative assessment, ICAC will offer intellectual merit by providing teachers throughout the US with insights into how computers can be used to integrate the elementary STEM curriculum. ICAC will develop a model for using computers to enhance STEM education across the curriculum while instilling a culture among BCS schools where computing is viewed as a tool for learning.

(Previously listed under Award # 0918216)

Project M2: Maturing Mathematicians -- Advanced Curriculum for Primary Level Students

Project M2 is producing and disseminating curriculum materials in geometry and measurement for students in grades K-2. This builds on success of the M3 U.S. Department of Education curriculum grant for students in Grades 3-5. ( Project M2 units are advanced units for all students designed using research-based practices in mathematics, early childhood, and gifted education. Curricular materials focus on promising discourse and hands-on inquiry of rich problem-situations.  

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Partner Organization(s): 
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Funding Period: 
Wed, 08/15/2007 to Sun, 07/31/2011
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Project Publications and Presentations:

Gavin, M. K.; Casa, Tuita, M.; Chapin, S. & Sheffield, L. (2010). Designing a Shape Gallery: Geometry with Meerkats.

Gavin, M. K.; Casa, Tuita, M.; Chapin, S. & Sheffield, L. (2010). Designing a Shape Gallery: Geometry with the Meerkats Student Mathematician's Journal. Student Mathematician's Journal.

Casa, T.; Firmender, J. & Gavin, M. K. (2010, April). Designing a Shape Gallery: Making Geometry Connections for Primary Students. Presented at National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA.

Casa, T. & Gavin, M. K. (2010, March). Exploring Shapes in Space: Geometry with the Frogonauts. Presented at Keefe Bruyette Symposium, Saint Joseph College, West Hartford, CT.

Gavin, M. K. (2009, November). Mentoring Young Mathematicians: New Advanced Curriculum for Primary-level Students. Presented at the National Association for Gifted Children Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MO.

Gavin, K. M. (2010, April). Nurturing Mathematically Promising and Creative Students, Project M2: Mentoring Young Mathematicians. Presented at National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics Annual Conference, San Diego, CA.

Gavin, M. K.; Firmender, J. M. & Casa, Tuita, M. (2010, April). Project M2's Approach: Connecting Math and Language Arts through Communication. Presented at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA.

Gavin, M. K.; Casa, T. M., Chapin, S. & Sheffield, L. (2011). Using Everyday Measures: Measuring with the Meerkats.

Math Pathways and Pitfalls: Capturing What Works for Anytime Anyplace Professional Development

Math Pathways & Pitfalls lessons for students boost mathematics achievement for diverse students, including English Learners, English Proficient students, and Latino students. This project develops modules that increase teachers’ capacity to employ the effective and equitable principles of practice embodied by Math Pathways & Pitfalls and apply these practices to any mathematics lesson. This four-year project develops, field tests, and evaluates 10 online professional development modules.

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Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/15/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
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Researchers and developers at WestEd are developing, field-testing, and evaluating ten online professional development modules anchored in research-based teaching principles and achievement-boosting mathematics materials. The modules provide interactive learning opportunities featuring real classroom video demonstrations, simulations, and scaffolded implementation. The professional development module development builds on the Math Pathways and Pitfalls instructional modules for elementary and middle school students developed with NSF support. The professional development provided through the use of these modules is web-based (rather than face-to-face), is provided in chunks during the school year and immediately applied in the classroom (rather than summer professional development and school year application), and explicitly models ways to apply key teaching principles to regular mathematics lessons (rather than expecting teachers to extract and apply principles spontaneously).

The project studies the impact of the modules on teaching practice with an experimental design that involves 20 treatment teachers and 20 control teachers. Data are gathered from teacher questionnaires, classroom observations, and post-observation interviews.

Science Literacy through Science Journalism (SciJourn)

This project aims to develop, pilot, and evaluate a model of instruction that advances the scientific literacy of high school students by involving them in science journalism, and to develop research tools for assessing scientific literacy and engagement. We view scientific literacy as public understanding of and engagement with science and technology, better enabling people to make informed science-related decisions in their personal lives, and participate in science-related democratic debates in public life.


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Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2008 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Brian Hand, University of Iowa
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For a more in-depth look at Scijourn, visit the project spotlight.

Supports for Learning to Manage Classroom Discussions: Exploring the Role of Practical Rationality and Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching

This project focuses on practicing and preservice secondary mathematics teachers and mathematics teacher educators. The project is researching, designing, and developing materials for preservice secondary mathematics teachers that enable them to acquire the mathematical knowledge and situated rationality central to teaching, in particular as it regards the leading of mathematical discussions in classrooms.

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Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Project Evaluator: 
Miriam Gamoran Sherin
Full Description: 

Researchers at the Universities of Michigan and Maryland are developing materials to survey the rationality behind secondary mathematics teaching practice and to support the development by secondary mathematics preservice teachers of specialized knowledge and skills for teaching. The project focuses on the leading of classroom discussions for the learning of algebra and geometry.

Using animations of instructional scenarios, the project is developing online, multimedia questionnaires and using them to assess practicing teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching and their evaluations of teacher decision making. Reports and forum entries from the questionnaires are integrated into a learning environment for prospective teachers and their instructors built around these animated scenarios. This environment allows pre-service teachers to navigate, annotate, and communicate about the scenarios; and it allows their instructors to plan using those scenarios and share experiences with their counterparts.

The research on teachers' rationality uses an experimental design with embedded one-way ANOVA, while the development of the learning environment uses a process of iterative design, implementation, and evaluation. The project evaluation by researchers at Northwestern University uses qualitative methods to examine the content provided in the environment as well as the usefulness perceived by teacher educators of a state network and their students.

The Development of Student Cohorts for the Enhancement of Mathematical Literacy in Under Served Populations

This project is developing and conducting research on the Cohort Model for addressing the mathematics education of students that perform in the bottom quartile on state and district tests. The predicted outcome is that most students will remain in the cohort for all four years and that almost all of those who do will perform well enough on college entrance exams to be admitted and will test out of remedial mathematics courses.

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Mon, 09/01/2008 to Wed, 08/31/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Inverness Research, Inc.
Full Description: 

Project Summary

This is a Full Research and Development proposal which addresses the Contextual Challenge: How can the learning of significant STEM content be achieved to ensure public literacy and workforce readiness?  Our nation is failing to prepare millions of youth for meaningful and productive participation in an information-based society. The target population are those students performing in the bottom quartile on state and national tests, many of these are children of color living in under resourced communities, and most of these young people do not finish high school and end up diverted into an underground economy, gangs, and prisons.   

This project addresses this failure by further developing and testing an approach that the Algebra Project is developing for high school mathematics, in which students form a cohort that stays together for all four years of high school, study mathematics every day using project-designed curricular materials with teachers who participate in project professional development, and are supported by local community groups. 

The Algebra Project seeks to stimulate a demand for math literacy in those most affected by its absence -- the young people themselves.  It stresses the importance of peer culture, using lessons learned from experiences in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, as well as in the emergence of project graduates into a group with their own perspectives and initiatives. 

In the 60s, project founders learned how to use the meeting place as a tool to engage and empower the people that the meeting was intended to serve.  In the proposed project, there are two meeting places: the students’ high school mathematics classroom and supplementary education activities; and the network of sites around the country that are communicating and learning how to develop and implement cohorts. Young peoples’ roles in each of these settings are key to creating the motivation and commitment needed for student success as well as developing local interest.  The combination of classroom and professional development work, innovative curriculum materials, and community involvement creates an intervention that can significantly transform the peer culture, even in the face of negative forces.

The Algebra Project has developed a cohort model that we predict will stimulate and enable students to pass the state and district mandated tests in mathematics, to pass the mathematics portions of any graduation test, and to score well enough on the SAT or ACT to enter college, and to place into mathematics courses for college credit (not remedial courses).  Building on previous awards, the project will continue to research and develop the cohort model, and will create a small network of cohorts to establish that our model can be widely successful.

Intellectual merit:  This project will demonstrate how students entering high school performing in the bottom quartile nationally and state-wide can be prepared for college-level mathematics, using lessons learned from many years of past experience working in such communities and in their middle schools, and more recently in their high schools and in collaboration with university mathematicians.  The research results are critical to the nation’s learning how to improve mathematics achievement for all children – to gaining a sense of what such a program “looks and feels like”, and what resources and commitments are required, from which institutions. 

Broader impact:  The results of this discovery research project will advance understanding of how to improve mathematics learning and achievement in low performing districts, so students are prepared to take college mathematics without repeating high school mathematics in early college.  It will also demonstrate the resources and commitments needed to reach this result.

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.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
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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.

The Coaching Cycle: An Interactive Online Course for Mathematics Coaches

The Coaching Cycle project is creating an online course for K–8 mathematics instructional coaches. The project targets coaches in rural areas and small schools who do not have access to regular district-wide professional development. It provides training in the skills needed for effective instructional coaching in mathematics by using artifacts collected by practicing coaches to engage course participants in the practice of coaching skills.

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Funding Period: 
Mon, 10/01/2007 to Fri, 09/30/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Eduation Alliance at Brown University


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