Physics

SimScientists Assessments: Physical Science Links

The goal of this project is to develop and validate a middle school physical science assessment strand composed of four suites of simulation-based assessments for integrating into balanced (use of multiple measures), large-scale accountability science testing systems. It builds on the design templates, technical infrastructure, and evidence of the technical quality, feasibility, and instructional utility of the NSF-funded Calipers II project. The evaluation plan addresses both formative and summative aspects.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1221614
Funding Period: 
Mon, 10/01/2012 to Fri, 09/30/2016
Full Description: 

The goal of this project is to develop and validate a middle school physical science assessment strand composed of four suites of simulation-based assessments for integrating into balanced (use of multiple measures), large-scale accountability science testing systems. It builds on the design templates, technical infrastructure, and evidence of the technical quality, feasibility, and instructional utility of the NSF-funded Calipers II project. The assessment strand consists of multilevel (increased thinking levels) assessment designs grounded on evidence-centered principles that target practices and key disciplinary conceptual schemes, such as matter, motion, energy, and waves identified in the National Research Council report "A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Knowledge, and Core Ideas". The assessment model vertically links simulations (interactive with feedback to students, coaching, and reflection); curriculum-embedded assessments for formative use; unit benchmark assessment for interim summative purposes; and a set of "signature tasks" (short-term simulations on recurring problem types). Members of the Advisory Board and an Assessment Review Panel actively participate in the development and implementation of this effort. Heller Research Associates is the external evaluator. The evaluation plan addresses both formative and summative aspects.

The project's theory of action is based on model-based learning and evidence-centered design reflective of the notion that the construct of science is multidimensional, requiring (a) understanding how the components of a science conceptual system interact to produce behaviors of the system; and (b) the use of inquiry practices to investigate the dynamic behaviors and underlying components' interactions of the system. A total of eight research and development questions guide the scope of work. The questions focus on: (a) validity (substantive and technical quality) of the individual simulation assessments; and (b) classroom implementation (feasibility, fidelity, utility). The methodology for test construction and revision follows the testing standards of major professional organizations (i.e., American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council of Measurement in Education) through three development phases. Phase I (Assessment Development) focuses on the alignment, quality, and prototype testing, including leverage and modification of prior work, and design of new assessment suites and signature tasks. Phase II (Pilot and Validation Studies) deals with the testing of all assessments, research instruments, and study methods. Phase III (Cross-Validation Studies) substantiates the multilevel integration assessment model, cross-validates the assessments piloted in Phase II, and establishes a reliable argument that the assessments measure the intended content and inquiry practices suitable for use in district and state-level assessment systems.

Expected outcomes are: (1) a research-informed and field-tested physical science simulations-based assessment model with high potential for extended use in middle school grades; and (2) a policy brief that provides recommendations for integrating assessments into districts and state large-scale, multi-level, balanced science assessments.

Morehouse College DR K-12 Pre-service STEM Teacher Initiative

This project recruited high school African American males to begin preparation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics teaching careers. The goal of the program was to recruit and prepare students for careers in secondary mathematics and science teaching thus increasing the number of African Americans students in STEM. The research will explore possible reasons why the program is or is not successful for recruiting and retaining students in STEM Teacher Education programs  

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1119512
Funding Period: 
Fri, 07/15/2011 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Project Evaluator: 
Melissa K. Demetrikopoulos
Full Description: 

Morehouse College proposed a research and development project to recruit high school African American males to begin preparation for secondary school science, technology, engineering and mathematics(STEM) teaching as a career. The major goal of the program is to recruit and prepare students for careers in secondary mathematics and science teaching thus increasing the number of African Americans students in STEM. The research will explore possible reasons why the program is or is not successful for recruiting and retaining students in STEM Teacher Education programs including: (a) How do students who remain in STEM education differ from those who leave and how do these individual factors (e.g. student preparation, self-efficacy, course work outcomes, attitudes toward STEM/STEM education, connectivity to STEM/STEM education communities, learning styles, etc) enhance or inhibit interest in STEM teaching among African American males? (b) What organizational and programmatic factors (e.g. high school summer program, Saturday Academy, pre-freshman program, summer research experience, courses, enhanced mentoring, cyber-infrastructure, college admissions guidance, leadership training, instructional laboratory, program management, faculty/staff engagement and availability, Atlanta Public Schools and Morehouse College articulation and partnership) affect (enhance or inhibit) interest in STEM teaching among African American males?

This pre-service program for future secondary STEM teachers recruits promising African American male students in eleventh grade and prepares them for entry into college.  The program provides academic guidance and curriculum-specific activities for college readiness, and creates preparation for secondary science and math teaching careers.   This project is housed within the Division of Science and Mathematics at Morehouse College and engages in ongoing collaboration with the Atlanta Public School (APS) system and Fulton County School District (FCS). The APS-FCS-MC collaboration fosters access and success of underrepresented students through (a) early educational intervention practices; (b) enhanced academic preparation; and (c) explicit student recruitment. 

The program consists of six major program components: High School Summer Program; Saturday Academy I, II, and III; Pre-Freshman Summer Program; and Summer Research Experience, which begins in the summer between the student’s junior and senior years of high school and supports the student through his sophomore year of college.  To date, collaborations between education and STEM faculty as well as between Morehouse, APS, and FCS faculty have resulted in development and implementation of all six program components.   Students spent six weeks in an intensive summer program with a follow-up Saturday Academy during their senior year before formally beginning their academic careers at Morehouse College. The program integrates STEM education with teacher preparation and mentoring in order to develop secondary teachers who have mastery in both a STEM discipline as well as educational theory. 

This pre-service program for future teachers recruited promising eleventh grade African American male students from the Atlanta Public School District to participate in a four-year program that will track them into the Teacher Preparation program at Morehouse College. The research focuses on the utility and efficacy of early recruitment of African American male students to STEM teaching careers as a mechanism to increase the number of African American males in STEM teaching careers.

InterLACE: Interactive Learning and Collaboration Environment

This project designs, constructs, and field-tests a web-based, online collaborative environment for supporting the teaching and learning of inquiry-based high school physics. Based on an interactive digital workbook environment, the team is customizing the platform to include scaffolds and other supports for learning physics, fostering interaction and collaboration within the classroom, and facilitating a design-based approach to scientific experiments.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1119321
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Full Description: 

This project, under the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) designs, constructs, and field-tests a web-based, online collaborative environment for supporting the teaching and learning of inquiry-based high school physics. Based on prior NSF-funded work on RoboBooks, an interactive digital workbook environment, the team is customizing the platform to include scaffolds and other supports for learning physics, fostering interaction and collaboration within the classroom, and facilitating a design-based approach to scientific experiments. The InterLACE team hypothesizes that technology seamlessly integrating physics content and process skills within a classroom learning activity will provide a wide variety of student benefits, ranging from improved learning outcomes and increased content knowledge to gains in attitudinal and social displays as well.

The hypothesis for this work is based on research that indicates teachers believe proper implementation of design-based, inquiry projects are time consuming and can be difficult to manage and facilitate in classrooms without great scaffolding or other supports. Using design-based research with a small number of teachers and students, the PIs iteratively develop the system and supporting materials and generate a web-based implementation that supports students through the various stages of design inquiry. A quasi-experimental trial in the final years of the project is used to determine the usability of the technology and efficacy of the system in enhancing teaching and learning. Through the tools and activities developed, the researchers anticipate showing increases in effective inquiry learning and enhanced accessibility to meet the needs of diverse learners and teachers, leading to changes in classroom practice.

Through this project the PIs (1) gain insights that will enable them to refine the InterLACE platform so it can be implemented and brought to scale in the near terms as a support for design-based inquiry science projects, and (2) advance theory, design and practice to support the design of technology-based learning environments, and (3) understand how connecting students? hypotheses, ideas, and data impacts their learning of physics content and scientific inquiry skills.

Energy: A Multidisciplinary Approach for Teachers (EMAT) Designing and Studying a Multidisciplinary, Online Course for High School Teachers

This project will iteratively design, develop, field test, refine, and rigorously study a six-unit, facilitated, online professional development (PD) course focusing on energy-related concepts in the context of alternative energy. The primary audience is high school science teachers teaching out of their field of endorsement and serving students underrepresented in the sciences. The project will investigate whether the PD will precipitate changes in teacher knowledge and practice that result in higher student achievement.

Award Number: 
1118643
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Project Evaluator: 
RMC Research Corporation
Full Description: 

The Energy: A Multidisciplinary Approach for Teachers (EMAT) project will iteratively design, develop, field test, refine, and rigorously study a seven-unit, facilitated, online professional development (PD) course focusing on energy-related concepts in the context of alternative energy. The primary audience is high school science teachers teaching out of their field of endorsement and serving students underrepresented in the sciences. The project will investigate whether the PD will precipitate changes in teacher knowledge and practice that result in higher student achievement. As a result, EMAT will improve the science achievement of underrepresented students and enhance their future participation in science. Biological Sciences Curriculum Study and partners Oregon Public Broadcasting, the National Teacher Enhancement Network, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, and RMC Research Corporation bring significant resources and are highly qualified to develop and research EMAT.

The EMAT project advances knowledge in the field of teacher professional development by merging two facets of PD that have hitherto been studied separately and testing hypotheses about the degree to which this pairing enhances learning and practice. These facets are structured constructivist experiences and experiences grounded in situated cognition learning theory. Teachers reflect on research-based teaching practices in the lesson analysis process through Science Content Storyline and Student Thinking lenses. EMAT tests longitudinal impacts on teachers' content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and teaching practices and students' content knowledge, contributing much needed data for future PD projects. EMAT also studies which aspects of online environments are most effective for teachers. Data collected will inform full revisions of the course and will help address significant gaps in our understanding of online PD.

EMAT advances the field's understanding of which elements of online PD are effective and the extent to which high-quality online PD translates to improved student learning. Simultaneously, the project develops and tests a scalable, flexible resource to enhance teacher learning and practice. As a result, EMAT will have a broad impact by promoting research-based teaching and learning while advancing discovery and understanding. Furthermore, by targeting the recruitment of teacher participants from large urban districts with high numbers of teachers teaching out of field, EMAT impacts students traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. EMAT will not only contribute to the research on PD, but also will be available for use in diverse settings. A facilitation guide allows the course to be freely used by school districts and teacher education and certification programs across the country. In addition, the facilitated course will be offered for graduate credit through the National Teacher Enhancement Network and will be freely available to individuals for independent study. Results of all research and evaluation will be published in science education journals and practitioner journals for teachers, and presented to PD groups at conferences. EMAT will benefit society by impacting teacher and student understanding of energy-related concepts, thereby increasing the capacity of U.S. citizens to creatively address energy challenges from a foundation of scientifically sound knowledge.

Multiple Instrumental Case Studies of Inclusive STEM-Focused High Schools: Opportunity Structures for Preparation and Inspiration (OSPrl)

The aim of this project is to examine opportunity structures provided to students by inclusive STEM-focused high schools, with an emphasis on studying schools that serve students from underrepresented groups. The project is studying inclusive STEM-focused high schools across the United States to determine what defines them. The research team initially identified ten candidate critical components that define STEM-focused high schools and is refining and further clarifying the critical components through the research study.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1118851
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Mon, 08/31/2015
Full Description: 

The aim of this project is to examine opportunity structures provided to students by inclusive STEM-focused high schools, with an emphasis on studying schools that serve students from underrepresented groups. In contrast to highly selective STEM-focused schools that target students who are already identified as gifted and talented in STEM, inclusive STEM-focused high schools aim to develop new sources of STEM talent, particularly among underrepresented minority students, to improve workforce development and prepare STEM professionals. A new NRC report, Successful K-12 STEM Education (2011), identifies areas in which research on STEM-focused schools is most needed. The NRC report points out the importance of providing opportunities for groups that are underrepresented in the sciences, especially Blacks, Hispanics, and low-income students who disproportionately fall out of the high-achieving group in K-12 education. This project responds specifically to the call for research in the NRC report and provides systematic data to define and clarify the nature of such schools. 

The project is studying inclusive STEM-focused high schools across the United States to determine what defines them. The research team initially identified ten candidate critical components that define STEM-focused high schools and is refining and further clarifying the critical components through the research study. The first phase of the study is focusing on 12 well-established and carefully planned schools with good reputations and strong community and business support, in order to capture the critical components as intended and implemented. Case studies of these high-functioning schools and a cross-case analysis using a set of instruments for gauging STEM design and implementation are contributing toward building a theory of action for such schools that can be applied more generally to STEM education. The second phase of the study involves selecting four school models for further study, focusing on student-level experiences and comparing student outcomes against comprehensive schools in the same district. Research questions being studied include: 1) Is there a core set of likely critical components shared by well-established, promising inclusive STEM-focused high schools? Do other components emerge from the study? 2) How are the critical components implemented in each school? 3) What are the contextual affordances and constraints that influence schools' designs, their implementation, and student outcomes? 4) How do student STEM outcomes in these schools compare with school district and state averages? 5) How do four promising such schools compare with matched comprehensive high schools within their respective school districts, and how are the critical components displayed? 6) From the points of view of students underrepresented in STEM fields, how do education experiences at the schools and their matched counterparts compare? And 7) How do student outcomes compare?

The research uses a multiple instrumental case study design in order to describe and compare similar phenomena. Schools as critical cases are being selected through a nomination process by experts, followed by screening and categorization according to key design dimensions. Data sources include school documents and public database information; a survey, followed by telephone interviews that probe for elaborated information, to provide a systematic overview of the candidate components; on-site visitations to each school provide data on classroom observations at the schools; interviews with students, teachers and administrators in focus groups; and discussions with critical members of the school community that provide unique opportunities to learn such as mentors, business leaders, and members of higher education community that provide outside of school learning experiences. The project is also gathering data on a variety of school-level student outcome indicators, and is tracking the likely STEM course trajectories for students, graduation rates, and college admission rates for students in the inclusive STEM-focused schools, as compared to other schools in the same jurisdiction. Analysis of the first phase of the study aims to develop rich descriptions that showcase characteristics of the schools, using axial and open coding, to determine a theory of action that illustrates interconnections among context, design, implementation, and outcome elements. Analysis of the second phase of the study involves similar processes on four levels: school, student, databases, and a synthesis of the three. Evaluation of the project consists of an internal advisory board and an external advisory board, both of which provide primarily formative feedback on research procedures.

Research findings, as well as case studies, records of instrument and rubric development and use, annual reports, and conference proposals and papers are being provided on a website, in order to provide an immediate and ongoing resource for education leaders, researchers and policymakers to learn about research on these schools and particular models. An effort is also being made to give voice to the experiences of high school students from the four pairs of high schools studied in the second phase of the study. Findings are also being disseminated by more traditional means, such as papers in peer-reviewed journals and conference presentations.

Leveling Up: Supporting and Measuring High School STEM Knowledge Building in Social Digital Games

This project designs, develops and tests a digital gaming environment for high school students that fosters and measures science learning within alternate reality games about saving Earth's ecosystems. Players work together to solve scientific challenges using a broad range of tools including a centralized web-based gaming site and social networking tools, along with handheld smart-phones, and an avatar-based massively multiplayer online environment. The game requires players to contribute to a scientific knowledge building community.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1119144
Funding Period: 
Fri, 07/01/2011 to Mon, 06/30/2014
Project Evaluator: 
New Knowledge Organization
Full Description: 

This project designs, develops and tests a digital gaming environment for high school students that fosters and measures science learning within alternate reality games about saving Earth's ecosystems. Players work together to solve scientific challenges using a broad range of tools including a centralized web-based gaming site and social networking tools, along with handheld smart-phones, and an avatar-based massively multiplayer online environment (MMO). EdGE at TERC joins with GameGurus, high school teachers and assessment specialists to develop Leveling Up. The game requires players to contribute to a scientific knowledge building community; and players rate each other's contributions for their value to the communities' learning and decision-making in solving the challenge. Designers also work with high-school teachers to develop bridge activities that leverage science learning in games for use in formal education. Overall, the project goal is to understand the potential of the gaming environment as a direct intervention and as a catalyst to transform and measure high school STEM learning.

The research on Leveling Up compares the science learning measured within social digital games to class-based assessments of similar content and skills and explains the results using data from design documents, participant observations, surveys, interviews and student work. Formative research and iterative design with a cohort of with 15 testbed classes (grades 10-12) result in a set of assessments that have been validated in terms of scientific constructs and a set of common equivalent curriculum and assessments for implementation studies. In the third year of the project, researchers study 12 treatment classes and 3 control classes to compare students' advancement in the game to their gains on classroom assessments. In addition, half of the testbed classes use the classroom bridge activities and half do not, yielding samples of 180 students for each treatment and 90 students for the control sample. Researchers use multilevel models to examine the impact of the Leveling Up game play and bridge activities on high-school students' science knowledge. Independent evaluators (ILI) validate the interpretation of findings from the formative and implementation research.

Leveling Up is a fundamental first step for the STEM education field to understand how the pervasive social media emerging in today's society, including the phenomena of social digital gaming, can be leveraged to create exciting and productive STEM learning environments for the future. These technologies and knowledge building processes are critical for building a workforce of tomorrow that is scientifically, technologically, and data literate and also embody the inquiry and collaboration skills to contribute to productive and informed decisions about Earth's ecosystems and other important scientific and societal issues of our times. The project, Leveling Up, results in an ongoing STEM gaming environment for the public as well as a model for high school STEM assessment that may be used in other social digital games. Finally, Leveling Up also contributes a model for activities that bridge scientific inquiry occurring in social digital games with skills and content taught in high school STEM classes.

Continuous Learning and Automated Scoring in Science (CLASS)

This five-year project investigates how to provide continuous assessment and feedback to guide students' understanding during science inquiry-learning experiences, as well as detailed guidance to teachers and administrators through a technology-enhanced system. The assessment system integrates validated automated scorings for students' written responses to open-ended assessment items into the "Web-based Inquiry Science Environment" (WISE) program.

Award Number: 
1119670
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Mon, 08/31/2015
Full Description: 

This five-year project investigates how to provide continuous assessment and feedback to guide students' understanding during science inquiry-learning experiences, as well as detailed guidance to teachers and administrators through a technology-enhanced system. The assessment system integrates validated automated scorings for students' written responses to open-ended assessment items (i.e., short essays, science narratives, concept mapping, graphing problems, and virtual experiments) into the "Web-based Inquiry Science Environment" (WISE) program. WISE is an online science-inquiry curricula that supports deep understanding through visualization of processes not directly observable, virtual experiments, graphing results, collaboration, and response to prompts for explanations. In partnership with Educational Testing Services (ETS), project goals are: (1) to develop five automated inquiry assessment activities that capture students' abilities to integrate their ideas and form coherent scientific arguments; (2) to customize WISE by incorporating automated scores; (3) to investigate how students' systematic feedback based on these scores improve their learning outcomes; and (4) to design professional development resources to help teachers use scores to improve classroom instruction, and administrators to make better informed decisions about teacher professional development and inquiry instruction. The project targets general science (life, physical, and earth) in three northern California school districts, five middle schools serving over 4,000 6th-8th grade students with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and 29 science teachers. It contributes to increase opportunities for students to improve their science achievement, and for teachers and administrators to make efficient, evidence-based decisions about high-quality teaching and learning.

A key research question guides this effort: How automated scoring of inquiry assessments can increase success for diverse students, improve teachers' instructional practices, and inform administrators' decisions about professional development, inquiry instruction, and assessment? To develop science inquiry assessment activities, scoring written responses include semantic, syntax, and structure of meaning analyses, as well as calibration of human-scored items with a computer-scoring system through the c-rater--an ETS-developed cyber learning technology. Validity studies are conducted to compare automated scores with human-scored items, teacher, district, and state scores, including sensitivity to the diverse student population. To customize the WISE curriculum, the project modifies 12 existing units and develops nine new modules. To design adaptive feedback to students, comparative studies explore options for adaptive guidance and test alternatives based on automated scores employing linear models to compare student performance across randomly assigned guidance conditions; controlling for covariates, such as prior science scores, gender, and language; and grouping comparison studies. To design teacher professional development, synthesis reports on auto-scored data are created to enable them to use evidence to guide curricular decisions, and comments' analysis to improve feedback quality. Workshops, classroom observations, and interviews are conducted to measure longitudinal teachers' change over time. To empower administrators' decision making, special data reports, using-evidence activities, individual interviews, and observation of administrators' meetings are conducted. An advisory board charged with project evaluation addresses both formative and summative aspects.

A research-informed model to improve science teaching and learning at the middle school level through cyber-enabled assessment is the main outcome of this effort. A total of 21 new, one- to three-week duration standards-based science units, each with four or more automatically scored items, serve as prototypes to improve students' performance, teachers' instructional approaches, and administrators' school policies and practices.

Supporting Scientific Practices in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms

This project will develop a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020316
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Full Description: 

Research on student learning has developed separate progressions for scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling. Engaging Learners in Scientific Practices develops a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus. The learning progression is constructed through improvements in students' performance and understanding of scientific practice as measured by their attention to generality of explanation, attention to clarity of communication and audience understanding, attention to evidentiary support, and attention to mechanistic versus descriptive accounts. The project is led by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Texas, Wright State University, Michigan State University, and the BEAR assessment group. Two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 4th to 5th grade in Illinois and two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 5th to 6th grade in Michigan The elementary school students will work with FOSS curriculum units modified to embed supports for scientific practices. Two cohorts of 500 middle school students are followed for three years from 6th to 8th grade as they work with coordinated IQWST units over three years. The outcome measures include analyses of classroom discourse, pre- and pos-test assessments of student learning, and reflective interviews grounded in students' own experiences with practices in the classroom to assess their growth across the dimensions. The BEAR team is responsible for validation and calibration of the frameworks and instruments, and design of the scheme for analysis of the data. Horizon Research performs the formative and summative evaluation. The project will produce an empirically-tested learning progression for scientific practices for grades 4-8 along with tested curriculum materials and validated assessment items that support and measure students' ability in the scientific practices of explanation, argumentation and modeling. In the process of development, an understanding is gained about how to design and test this learning progression. The framework is articulated on a website for use by other researchers and developers. The project also builds capacity by educating several graduate students.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Science Storylines

Presenter(s): Brian Reiser, Kelsey Edwards, Barbara Hug, Tara McGill, Jamie Noll, Michael Novak, Bill Penuel, Trey Smith, & Aliza Zivic


Integrating Engineering and Literacy

This project is developing and testing curriculum materials and a professional development model designed to explore the potential for introducing engineering concepts in grades 3 - 5 through design challenges based on stories in popular children's literature. The research team hypothesizes that professional development for elementary teachers using an interdisciplinary method for combining literature with engineering design challenges will increase the implementation of engineering in 3-5 classrooms and have positive impacts on students.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020243
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Wed, 05/31/2017
Full Description: 

The Integrating Engineering and Literacy (IEL) project is developing and testing curriculum materials and a professional development model designed to explore the potential for introducing engineering concepts in grades 3 - 5 through design challenges based on stories in popular children's literature. The project research and development team at Tufts University is working with pre-service teachers to design and test the curriculum modules for students and the teacher professional development model. Then the program is tested and refined in work with 100 in-service teachers and their students in a diverse set of Massachusetts schools. The research team hypothesizes that professional development for elementary teachers using an interdisciplinary method for combining literature with engineering design challenges will increase the implementation of engineering in 3-5 classrooms and have positive impacts on students. The driving questions behind this proposed research are: (1) How do teachers' engineering (and STEM) content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and perceptions or attitudes toward engineering influence their classroom teaching of engineering through literacy? (2) Do teachers create their own personal conceptions of the engineering design process, and what do these conceptions look like? (3) What engineering/reading thinking skills are students developing by participating in engineering activities integrated into their reading and writing work? The curriculum materials and teacher professional development model are being produced by a design research strategy that uses cycles of develop/test/refine work. The effects of the program are being evaluated by a variety of measures of student and teacher learning and practice. The project will contribute materials and research findings to the ultimate goal of understanding how to provide elementary school students with meaningful opportunities to learn engineering and develop valuable problem solving and thinking skills.

Expanding PhET Interactive Science Simulations to Grades 4-8: A Research-Based Approach

Colorado’s PhET project and Stanford’s AAALab will develop and study learning from interactive simulations designed for middle school science classrooms. Products will include 35 interactive sims with related support materials freely available from the PhET website; new technologies to collect real-time data on student use of sims; and guidelines for the development and use of sims for this age population. The team will also publish research on how students learn from sims.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020362
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Project Evaluator: 
Stephanie Chasteen
Full Description: 

In this DRK12 project, the PhET Interactive Simulations group at the University of Colorado and the AAALab at Stanford University are working together to produce and study learning from interactive simulations designed for middle school science classrooms. We are developing a suite of 35 high-quality, interactive simulations covering physical science topics. These simulations include innovative technologies that provide teachers with real-time, formative feedback on how their students are using the simulations.  The research investigates how various characteristics of the simulation design influence student engagement and learning, and how this response varies across grade-level and diverse populations. The research also includes an investigation of different ways of using simulations in class, and how these approaches affect student preparation for future learning when they are no longer using a given simulation.

      The original PhET simulations were designed for college use, but overtime, they have migrated to lower grades.  The current suite of free research-based, interactive PhET science simulations are used over 10 million times per year.  To optimize their utility for middle school science, we are conducting interviews with diverse 4-8th graders using 25 existing PhET simulations to help identify successful design alternatives where needed, and to formulate generalized design guidelines. In parallel, pull-out and classroom-based studies are investigating a variety of lesson plans to identify the most promising approach. These studies include controlled comparisons that collect both qualitative and quantitative data.

      On the basis of our emerging design principles, we are developing 10 new simulations in consultation with teachers, who are helping to identify high need areas for simulations. These new simulations also include a back-end data collection capability that can collect, aggregate, and display student patterns of simulation use for teachers and researchers. The design of the data collection and presentation formats depends on an iterative process done in collaboration with teachers to identify the most useful information and display formats. A final evaluation compares student learning with and without this back-end formative assessment technology.   

This project is working to transform the way science is taught and learned in Grades 4-8 so that it is more effective at promoting scientific thinking and content learning, while also being engaging to diverse populations. The project is expected to impact many, many thousands of teachers and students through its production of a suite of 35 free, interactive science simulations optimized for Grades 4-8 along with “activity templates”, guidance, and real time feedback to teachers to support pedagogically effective integration into classrooms. Finally, the intellectual merit of the project is its significant contributions to understanding when, how, and why interactive simulations can be effective learning and research tools.

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