STEM Research and Initiatives
Click on each title below for descriptions of each of the extensive research projects being conducted in the School of Education. For more information on any project, please contact the Principal Investigator(s) listed.
Principal Investigator: Erin Furtak
ELEvATE is funded by the REESE program at the NSF. This is a study that follows three teams of high school biology teachers for four years as they iteratively develop, enact, and revise formative assessments linked to a learning progression for natural selection. The effectiveness of the formative assessments is determined by tracing changes in teacher practice and student learning.
Principal Investigator: Kevin O'Connor
The objective of this NSF EArly-concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) project is to understand the design practices of contemporary engineering workplaces and to understand how the design process is organized. A related purpose is to understand how professional practices relate to similar practices in university engineering classes, and how any continuities and discontinuities between work and school might inform efforts to design engineering classes. These objectives are being accomplished through an exploratory, comparative, field-based ethnographic study of the design practices of professional engineers versus engineering students. Researchers are observing student and professional engineers as they work, observing what they do, who they communicate with, what they say, and how they are organized. The results of the research will be the documentation and analysis of these observations. The primary benefits of this research come in two areas: First, current theories of engineering design can be tested for validity against real data on what real engineers do every day. Second, education of engineers can be enhanced by preparing students more directly for what they will be doing in the workplace.
Principal Investigator: Joe Polman
CISL is a National Science Foundation Cyberlearning grant begun in 2012 to investigate the potential of learning environments that involve high school students in data journalism, both in school science classes and in internships. This collaborative project with University of Missouri-St. Louis and Saint Louis University examines the science and data literacy fostered when students use cyberlearning technologies to critique and create infographics related to science and technology topics.
Principal Investigator and Project Director: Alison Boardman
CSR-CO is an Investing in Innovation (i-3) project in collaboration with Denver Public Schools. We are working with science, social studies, and language arts middle school teachers and their students to teach them how to use CSR to support reading comprehension and content learning. Students apply comprehension strategies while reading expository text in small, collaborative, student-facilitated groups.
Computational Thinking for Teaching Computing (CT4TC) explores the influence of mediation as a pedagogical and scaffolding approach employed by teachers to implement Scalable Game Design curriculum, and assess subsequent impact on student motivation, performance and ownership. Expected outcomes include verification of a theory of broadening participation in computing and the development of assessment instruments for measuring learning outcomes in computer science education.
Principal Investigator: Ben Kirshner
CCI aims to foster sustained and systemic opportunities for marginalized students to ask critical questions about their schools and participate in efforts to improve them. We do this by partnering with secondary school teachers who participate in professional development focused on three practices: sharing power with students, facilitating conversations about educational equity, and facilitating a youth participatory research action project. CCI has been funded by the Spencer Foundation, CU Office of Outreach and Engagement, and Women Investing in School of Education (WISE).
Principal Investigator: Margaret Eisenhart
An outreach and research project combining delivery of an after-school program to spark high school girls' interest in engineering with a 7-year longitudinal study of the girls as they completed high school and moved on to college or work. Funded by NSF HRD 1036662.
El Pueblo Mágico After-School Program
This University/School/Community partnership involves providing undergraduate students who aspire to be elementary school teachers the opportunity to learn more about STEM practices that promote student learning as they participate with local elementary school children in a designed learning environment called El Pueblo Mágico (“The Magical Community”). In this program, second to fifth graders and CU undergraduate and graduate students together engage in meaningful and complex learning activity that utilizes play, imagination, technology, and rich problem-solving and language tools all oriented toward STEM-related learning. For example, on any given day a visitor to El Pueblo would see CU children and undergraduates collaborating in a technology-rich environment to develop computational thinking skills, STEM-oriented making and tinkering activities, new media literacy practices such as digital storytelling, as well as opportunities to participate in gaming activities such as chess and in social media practices designed for youth. With regular access to the mentorship of undergraduate and graduate student partners, children engage in long-term projects in which they have opportunities to develop problem-solving skills, investigate scientific and health-related topics, and gain expertise as designers in cyber environments. The program currently enrolls approximately 120-150 children in under-resourced schools and 50 undergraduate practicum students each semester, while working to expand across university sites and the state of Colorado.
High School Opportunity Structures, Figured Worlds of STEM, and Choice of Major and College Destination
Principal Investigator: Margaret Eisenhart
Longitudinal study of (1) the opportunities for high school students to pursue STEM interests in 4 Denver-are high schools; (2) the meanings that these students and their parents give to STEM interests and pursuits; and (3) the students' choice of college and major post-high school graduation; data from the Denver study will be compared to similar data collected in Buffalo, NY. Funded by NSF DRL 1007964.
Co-Principal Investigator: Bill Penuel
The "Inquiry Hub" project brings together a partnership of educational researchers, computer scientists, school district leaders, curriculum developers, interactive resource providers, and multiple publishers of STEM curricula to undertake a systemic approach to learner-centered teaching that promotes adaptability and responsiveness to the differing needs of diverse learners. The partnership integrates several prominent technology and curriculum innovations resulting from prior NSF support, which are being deployed in iterative cycles of user-driven, design-based implementation research.
Co-Principal Investigator: Erin Furtak
Principal Investigator: Jennifer Knight (MCDB)
Co-Principal Investigator: Sarah Wise (EBIO)
This study explores the relationship between instructor practices around clicker questions and the quality of argumentation within small groups of students in introductory-level EBIO and MCDB lecture courses.
This international study surveys STEM departments throughout the world to develop an international census of Learning Assistant programs and their characteristics. In addition to characteristics of Learning Assistants (LAs) that have been studied through the LATEST research project, this project studies the impact of the LA program on faculty development and institutional change. Collaborative qualitative and quantitative studies are taking place among various universities throughout the nation to examine contextual and overarching themes that exist in various implementations of the LA model. An annual, international workshop takes place at CU Boulder for universities to adopt the program. Regional workshops are just beginning to emerge with the 2013 launching of the regional workshop forum. National and international statistics are displayed on the Learning Assistant Alliance website, which will ultimately be populated with materials and data sharing portals.
This research project tests the effectiveness of the LA model in terms of Learning Assistants’ (LAs’) development of content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and their practice in K-12 schools. Three interacting research teams investigate three questions about content knowledge: the Discipline-Based Educational Research (DBER) team, pedagogical knowledge: the Conceptions of Teaching and Learning (CTL) team, and teaching practices in K-12 classroom once LAs become teachers, the K-12 team.
Principal Investigator: Kevin O'Connor
Co-Principal Investigator: Margaret Eisenhart
This NSF-funded project, conducted in collaboration with Northwestern University, seeks to develop a detailed, empirically grounded understanding of new engineers' transitions from schools to workplaces, and thereby to identify continuities and discontinuities between undergraduate education and professional practice in engineering. The engineers studied in this project are recent graduates in positions that are typical of students from their institutions, and in economically important or expanding engineering sectors. The central methodology will be learning ethnographies, an innovative approach using ethnographic fieldwork to discover what these new engineers need to learn, how they learn it, what they appear to adapt or use readily from their prior educational experience, and the consequences of these for their workplace participation and developing identities as engineers. The learning ethnographies ground two further aspects of the study: a comparison of workplace practices with those of these engineers' undergraduate programs, and a survey generalizing ethnographic findings to a broader population. A major aim of the study is to understand distinctive experiences and challenges that members of underrepresented groups may face as they move into the workplace.
This project builds on the collective induction philosophy that undergirds the successful NSF-funded Noyce programs at the University of Colorado Boulder. The project is integrating, expanding, and aligning teacher preparation, induction, and leadership by bringing together Noyce Teacher Teams of teachers and prospective teachers with different levels of experience. The focus of each team of veteran, novice, and prospective teachers is on conducting classroom research and the goal of this centralizing activity is the critical examination of assumptions about teaching and learning. The mechanism by which such reflection occurs is scientific inquiry into one’s own practice, the practices of others, and the practices of students. This design is like that of any scientific laboratory-knowledge generation with all participants playing critical, productive roles as knowledge producers as well as expert learners. The project is a collaboration of the University of Colorado Boulder, Adams 12 5-Star Schools, Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek, Denver Public Schools, Englewood, Jefferson County, Mapleton, and St. Vrain Valley school districts and includes Colorado Legacy Foundation as a partner. The design of this project reaches beyond the buzzwords of "inquiry-based" and "student-centered" and into the realm of fundamental reorganization of learning contexts for teachers. The Streamline to Mastery Phase II research team activities serve as mechanisms both for the professional growth of participants and as a model for how scientific inquiry into personally and professionally meaningful problems leads to collective knowledge generation.
This project adapts, further develops, and tests a physics curriculum that addresses needs for: (1) a research-based, high school physics curriculum to address core process called for by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), (2) a hybrid curriculum that holds closely to the canon of physics, but allows for innovative, explorative approaches that value students’ cultural experiences and linguistic resources, developed especially for English language learners, (3) professional development for teachers of physics who are not prepared to teach in ways that facilitate the model-based reasoning called for by the NGSS, (4) interdisciplinary topics to be incorporated into college preparatory disciplinary courses, because students live in a world in which interdisciplinary topics such as renewable energy and the design of efficient energy environments are increasingly relevant to their lives and future contributions to society.
Co-Principal Investigator: Bill Penuel
Funded by the National Science Foundation, this study is examining the efficacy of the benefits of PBIS for supporting science teaching and students' science learning. A unique feature of the study’s design is an analytic focus on the conditions needed to implement the curriculum in ways that improve student learning in light of the new Framework for K-12 Science Education and Next Generation Science Standards. The study is led by SRI International and is being performed in collaboration with Michigan State University and the University of Colorado Boulder.
The study launched in August 2012 and involves approximately 100 sixth grade science teachers and more than 3,000 students from 42 middle schools. The goal is to understand the impact of the curriculum on student achievement, classroom implementation, and teacher practice.
Principal Investigator: Bill Penuel
The Exploratorium comes together with the Education Development Center, Inverness Research, TERC, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of Washington to form a Research+Practice (R+P) Collaboratory. The Collaboratory seeks to address and reframe the gap between research and practice in K-12 STEM education. This gap persists despite decades of work by many leading organizations, associations, and individuals. Attempts to close the gap have generally focused on creating resources and mechanisms that first explain or illustrate "what research says" and then invite educators to access and integrate findings into practice.
Principal Investigator: Joe Polman
SciJourn is a National Science Foundation Discovery Research K-12 grant based at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (where Dr. Polman was a faculty member until 2012). The project, begun in 2008, developed and researched an innovative and flexible curriculum that involves high school students in science news reporting in order to increase their engagement with STEM and their science literacy.
Principal Investigator: Valerie Otero
The Streamline to Mastery program is an experiential professional development program with a design that is based on the structure of the Colorado Learning Assistant program. The idea is that teachers build expertise, mastery, and agency by participating in building a professional development program for themselves and for other teachers. The goal is critical examination of our own assumptions about teaching and learning. In addition, teachers gain leadership and agency by participating in the national dialogue regarding teaching and teacher quality while presenting their research at national research conferences. This research is conducted in their classrooms with the help of doctoral students and Noyce Fellows. The long-term goal is to establish a community of scholars that consists of K-12 teachers, university faculty, university-based doctoral students, and prospective teachers (particularly Noyce Fellows), all responsible for the education of K-12 students and the education of future teachers.
With funding from the California-based Noyce Foundation, Oregon State University researchers John Falk, Lynn Dierking and Nancy Staus (with William Penuel and colleagues at University of Colorado Boulder) have launched the four-year longitudinal SYNERGIES--Understanding and Connecting STEM Learning in the Community project to understand how, when, where, why and with whom children access and use STEM resources in their daily lives.
Principal Investigator: Vicki Hand
This research examines the noticing practices of secondary mathematics teachers who are exceptional at creating equitable mathematics classrooms. Studies show that what teachers attend to about students' mathematical thinking in moment-to-moment instruction has important implications for student learning. We hypothesize that teachers who are successful at engaging a broad range of students in mathematics learning also "notice" particular aspects of classroom mathematical activity. This study is currently being funded by a small grant from the Spencer Foundation.