Instructional Practice

Connecting Science and Literacy Program: Professional Development Resources for Elementary Teachers

This project is developing multi-media professional development resources that will enhance PreK-8 teachers' understanding of how to employ instructional strategies from the field of literacy in developing students' scientific understanding. Four modules are resources on specific uses of science literacy; four are case studies offering examples of best practices, including video components. The 9th module provides an introduction to the theoretical underpinnings and research studies that support linking science and literacy.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Thu, 07/01/2004 to Wed, 06/30/2010

Formative Assessment in the Mathematics Classroom: Engaging Teachers and Students

This project is developing a two-year, intensive professional development model to build middle-grades mathematics teachers’ knowledge and implementation of formative assessment. Using a combination of institutes, classroom practice, and ongoing support through professional learning communities and web-based resources, this model helps teachers internalize and integrate a comprehensive understanding of formative assessment into daily practice.

Project Email: 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/15/2009 to Tue, 08/31/2010
Project Evaluator: 
Cynthia Char
Full Description: 

Formative Assessment in the Mathematics Classroom: Engaging Teachers and Students (FACETS) 

This project is submitted as a full research and development project that addresses challenge #3, how can the ability of teachers to provide STEM education be enhanced?

The FACETS project will develop a 2-year, intensive professional development model to build middle grades mathematics teachers’ knowledge and implementation of formative assessment. Using a combination of institutes, classroom practice, and ongoing support through professional learning communities and web-based resources, this model will help teachers internalize and integrate a comprehensive understanding of formative assessment into daily practice. As part of the professional development model, we will create a variety of products:

  • a facilitator’s guide describing the components of the professional development model and suggestions for using the model to provide a professional development program,
  • cyberlearning products such as interactive forums and a vetted resource library, and
  • video and other materials for the professional development activities and resource library.

FACETS includes a formative research component centered on the following questions:

1. How do mathematics teachers’ knowledge and practice of formative assessment change as a result of participation in the proposed professional development?

2. What learning trajectory describes teachers’ learning about formative assessment, and what are common barriers to successful implementation?

Reports of research findings will include journal articles on teachers’ learning trajectory for formative assessment and common barriers to successful implementation faced by teachers.

Intellectual merit: Our field work, supported by existing research, has shown that math teachers have difficulty fully implementing formative assessment in their classroom. Existing professional development programs either present a comprehensive understanding without a focus on mathematics, or focus on mathematics but only emphasize some of the critical aspects needed to bring out the full potential of formative assessment. This project will develop a professional development model that a) presents a comprehensive understanding of formative assessment and b) focuses specifically on mathematics. Furthermore, this project proposes to contribute to the field of mathematics teacher education through a deeper insight into mathematics teachers’ learning and practice of formative assessment. This insight can be used by professional developers and teacher educators in mathematics to make decisions that help teachers progress more effectively in their learning. This project brings together a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in formative assessment, professional development, mathematics, mathematics education, and teacher education research.

Broader impacts: We anticipate that the professional development will have an immediate impact on participating teachers, and on their students, as they learn about and implement formative assessment in their classrooms. Individual districts and schools have expressed an interest in the FACETS professional development program. The New Hampshire State Department of Education also indicates support for statewide implementation. In addition, research results regarding teachers’ learning trajectories for formative assessment will be crucial to inform future professional development and teacher education programs, and to help teachers reflect on, and guide, their own learning. Data regarding the major barriers to teachers’ learning of formative assessment will also impact future professional development by identifying issues needing additional focus, as will data regarding the effect on those barriers of factors such as teaching experience and mathematical knowledge for teaching. Finally, as there is a paucity of video and other examples of formative assessment in mathematics classrooms, the resource library will make widely available a sorely needed resource to teachers grappling with understanding and implementing formative assessment in mathematics classrooms in a practical way.

Supporting Staff Developers in the Implementation of Professional Development Programs to Improve Mathematics Education for Students with Disabilities

This project is (1) conducting a qualitative study on the way facilitators use Math for All (MFA), an NSF-supported set of professional development materials for teachers who teach elementary school students with disabilities; (2) developing resources based on that study for teacher leaders and other facilitators of professional development; and (3) conducting fieldtests of the resources to examine their usefulness and impact.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2008 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Teresa Duncan
Full Description: 


An Examination of the Impact of Teachers' Domain as a Professional Development Tool on Teacher Knowledge and Student Achievement in Biology

Using an experimental design, this project examines the effects of online professional development courses on high school biology teachers' content and pedagogical knowledge, and on their students' knowledge. The project is testing the impact of using digital resouces and is using hierarchal linear modeling techniques to analyze data. It will contribute to the knowledge base of what impacts student achievement by testing the efficacy of online professional development for science teachers.

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Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2007 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Full Description: 

The goal of this project is to investigate what teachers learn from an online professional development course, and whether teacher learning impacts student learning. High school biology teachers were randomly assigned to take an online course designed to enhance the teaching of genetics and evolution. in the course, participants explore the “big ideas” of the hard-to-teach topics of genetics and evolution through an exploration of online media resources and reflection on a range of teaching strategies. The course was created by WGBH Teachers’ Domain, an online library of free media resources from public television with funding from NSF and is administered by PBS TeacherLine.

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.

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

Fostering Mathematics Success in English Language Learners

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.     How does participation affect instructional practices?

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

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

Science Learning: Integrating Design, Engineering and Robotics (SLIDER)

This project is developing and implementing a rigorous eighth grade physical science program that utilizes engineering design, LEGO™ robotics and mechanics, and a problem-based learning approach to teach mechanics, waves, and energy.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Thu, 10/01/2009 to Tue, 09/30/2014
Project Evaluator: 
Dr. Gordon Kingsley
Full Description: 

SLIDER is a 5 year $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Discovery Research K-12 (DR-K12) program. During the grant period (10/1/09 -9/30/14), the SLIDER program will seek to answer the question: "What effects do robotics, engineering design, and problem-based inquiry science have on student learning and academic engagement in 8th grade physical science classes?"

The Team:

Georgia Tech faculty and staff from a number of academic units (CEISMC, CETL, Math, Psychology, Biomedical Engineering & Computing) and a national-level advisory board.  

Teachers, principals and school system administrators representing Fulton County Schools, Cobb County Schools  and Emanuel County Schools and the Georgia Department of Education.

Richard Millman  PI
Marion Usselman  Co - PI
Donna Llewellyn Co-PI for Research

Program Goals:

  1. Design and implement a problem-based robotics curriculum as a context for 8th graders to learn physics and reasoning skills, and as a way to increase student engagement, motivation, aptitude, creativity and STEM interest.
  2. Conduct research to determine the effectiveness of the program across all curriculum development parameters.
  3. Determine how students engage the material across ethnic, socio- cultural, gender and geographic (rural, urban, and suburban) lines.
  4. Measure the “staying power” of the experience as students move from middle to high school.

The Method:

Using “backwards design” strategies, the SLIDER curriculum development team at CEISMC will create inquiry-based engineering design instructional materials for 8th grade Physical Science that use robotics as the learning tool and that are aligned with the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS). The materials will employ problem-based challenges that require students to design, program, investigate, and reflect, and then revise their product or solution. They will consist of three 4-6 week modules that cover the physics concepts of Mechanics (force, motion, simple machines), Waves (light, sound, magnetism, electricity, heat), and Energy.   CEISMC will also design the teacher professional development necessary for effective implementation of the curriculum.

Target Inquiry: Investigating the Teacher and Student Effects of a New Model in Chemistry Teacher Professional Development

This five-year research project has as its central aim the testing of the Target Inquiry (TI) model of teacher professional development with secondary school chemistry teachers. This model emphasizes the importance of the inquiry process in teaching and learning science by combining a research experience for teachers (RET) with curriculum adaptation and action research.

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Funding Period: 
Mon, 05/01/2006 to Sat, 04/30/2011
Full Description: 

Inquiry is the foundation of teaching and learning and is therefore at the center of the TI model.  The features of the TI model are designed to encourage and improve inquiry instruction by impacting teachers’ beliefs and attitudes, and content and pedagogical knowledge, as well as providing adequate resources and materials.  The model integrates the core experiences (research experience for teachers (RET), materials adaptation, action research) with the central characteristics of high-quality PD programs (duration, cohort participation, active learning, coherence, and content-focus (Garet, et al., 2001)) in alignment with the National Science Education Professional Development Standards (NRC, 1996) (see TI model on website).

Although many teachers associate inquiry with research scientists, the underlying habits of mind by which one actively acquires new knowledge are the same for a scientist in a research laboratory, a student in a science classroom, or a teacher assessing student understanding (Llewellyn, 2005; AAAS, 1993).  The RET will allow teachers to further develop habits of mind central to inquiry such as curiosity, persistence, reflection, skepticism, and creativity while gaining firsthand experience in how chemistry research is conducted.  However, research has shown that affecting instructional change requires clear connections to classroom practices (Gess-Newsome, 2001), and many teachers have difficulty translating the laboratory research experience to classroom instruction that promotes inquiry habits of mind.  Thus, the other core experiences and supporting features of TI are designed to build upon the RET, facilitating connections between the research laboratory and classroom practices, so that teachers can effectively engage their students in authentic inquiry activities. 

At GVSU, the TI model has been translated into seven graduate chemistry education courses to be taken over three years, with a majority of work to be carried out over three summers.  A five year study of the program, consisting of data from two cohorts shows that teachers beliefs about science inquiry become more aligned with those of practicing scientists following the RET experience; both the RET and materials adaptation experiences are required for significant gains in reformed teaching practices as measured by the RTOP instrument; teachers feel they have developed the skills to help them continue to reform their teaching practices; teachers believe that the use of inquiry instruction engages more of their students and results in better student confidence and retention; and student outcome measures show overall improvement in student content gains as teachers progress through the program.

Investigating the Effect of Professional Development, Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching, and Instruction on Student Outcomes

To meet College and Career-Ready standards in mathematics, classroom instruction must change dramatically.  As in past reform efforts, many look to professional development as a major force to propel this transformation, yet not enough is known about mathematics professional development programs that operate at scale in the United States. In this project, we evaluated one such program.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2009 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Full Description: 

To meet College and Career-Ready standards in mathematics, classroom instruction must change dramatically.  As in past reform efforts, many look to professional development as a major force to propel this transformation, yet not enough is known about mathematics professional development programs that operate at scale in the United States. In this project, we evaluated one such program by randomly assigning 105 teachers to either an “as is” control group or to receive professional development designed to a) improve mathematical knowledge for teaching and b) help teachers revise their instruction to be more cognitively demanding and student-centered. We found positive impacts on teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching, but no effects on teaching or student outcomes, suggesting that a modest increment in mathematical knowledge may not by itself be sufficient to improve instruction or student outcomes.

Learning to RECAST Students' Causal Assumptions in Science Through Interactive Multimedia Professional Development Tools

This project produced and is testing a website with tools to help teachers identify when students’ science learning may be limited by how they construe the underlying causal structure of the concepts. It demonstrates students’ difficulties and a pedagogical approach to help them recast their explanations to align them with the causal structure in the scientifically accepted explanations. The site focuses on middle school with in-depth examples in density and ecosystems.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Fri, 07/01/2005 to Sat, 04/30/2011
Project Evaluator: 
Full Description: 

Understanding the nature of causality is critical to learning a range of science concepts from “everyday science” to the science of complexity. The Understandings of Consequence (UC) Project, funded by NSF, established that students hold default assumptions about the nature of causality that hinder their science learning and that curriculum designed to restructure students’ causal assumptions while learning the science leads to deeper understanding. In this project, the UC team and the Science Media Group (SMG) of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics collaborated in a five-year iterative design process to create interactive, multimedia professional development website. It has tools to guide middle school physics and biology teachers in assessing the structure of their students’ scientific explanations and in using existing curricula and developing their own curriculum to restructure or RECAST students’ understandings to fit with scientifically accepted explanations. It includes a range of formats including: documentary footage of real-life classrooms; interviews with teachers describing challenges and obstacles they faced introducing the curricula, how these were overcome, and, the benefits they obtained from using the materials; comments by students, which demonstrate the wide range of student prior thinking about specific causal forms as embedded in the science concepts; discussion questions, suggested hands-on activities, and short videotaped “content explorations,” examples of student written work and journals; design guides and questions to help teachers understand the features of and how to design RECAST activities, assessments, and assessment rubrics related to causal understanding in science. We are evaluating the site with 60 teachers and are iteratively improving it.


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