IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Celebrating National STEM Day on November 8 and Every Day

IES widely supports and disseminates high-quality research focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through NCER and NCSER. To celebrate National STEM Day on November 8 and every day, we highlight some of the work that NCER and NCSER have supported over the years in the various STEM areas, as well as opportunities for funding future work. Additional information about IES’s investment in STEM education can also be found on our STEM topic page.

Science

  • Researchers developed ChemVLab+ an online chemistry intervention that allows high school students to perform experiments and analyze data in a flexible, multimedia virtual chemistry lab environment. The online modules promote conceptual understanding and science inquiry skills aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. The chemistry activities are freely available on the project website.
  • Researchers are developing Words as Tools, an intervention for emergent bilingual adolescents that is designed for use in English as a second language classes to promote development of metalinguistic awareness with science vocabulary. The lessons, being developed with a lens of culturally sustaining pedagogy, are intended to help build knowledge of essential science words as well as how words work in science.
  • Researchers are evaluating the efficacy of an integrated science and literacy curriculum (ISLC) designed to engage first grade students in scientific investigations at a level appropriate for young learners. ISLC addresses the challenges of language and literacy development by ensuring that the language of science is brought forward and explicitly addressed in an integrated approach.
  • Through Project MELVA-S, researchers are developing an online formative assessment that measures the science vocabulary knowledge of Latinx bilingual students with different levels of English and Spanish language proficiencies. Results from the assessment can be used to monitor the progress of individual students, help teachers differentiate language and vocabulary instruction, and provide additional science vocabulary supports.

Technology

  • Using The Foos by codeSpark, researchers are exploring computational thinking processes in grades 1 and 3 through a series of classroom-based studies.
  • Researchers are evaluating the efficacy of the CAL-KIBO curriculum, an educational robotics program designed for use with early elementary school-aged students to examine its impact on computational thinking, fluid reasoning, and math achievement.
  • Researchers are systematically investigating how specific features of immersive virtual reality (IVR) can be used to improve student outcomes in science learning. In particular, the researchers are exploring how visual and auditory IVR design features can enhance affective state and cognitive processing in general and for specific subgroups of learners.
  • Researchers are developing and testing TaylorAI, an artificial intelligence formative feedback and assessment system for hands-on science investigations to help build student competence as they engage in laboratory activities.
  • In partnership with the National Science Foundation, IES is co-funding two National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Institutes. Under NCER, the Institute for Inclusive and Intelligent Technologies for Education (INVITE) is developing artificial intelligence (AI) tools and approaches to support behavioral and affective skills (for example, persistence, academic resilience, and collaboration) to improve learning in STEM education. Under NCSER, the AI Institute for Exceptional Education (AI4ExceptionalEd) is using multiple cutting-edge AI methodologies to create the technology to assist speech-language pathologists with identifying students in need of speech and language services and delivering individualized interventions.

Engineering

  • Researchers are developing an innovative teacher professional learning intervention called Elevating Engineering with Multilingual Learners that is intended to help grade 3-5 teachers develop the knowledge and skills they need to effectively teach engineering to English learners and all students through culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogies and engineering instruction.
  • Product developers and researchers are developing and testing NEWTON-AR, an augmented reality (AR) application-based engineering, computer science, and STEM puzzle game for children in kindergarten to grade 3. Intended for use in classrooms, after-school programs, and at home, NEWTON-AR will combine AR, engineering, simulation, making, and programming into a sandbox game where students create, modify, simulate, prototype, and test contraptions to solve puzzle challenges.

Mathematics

  • Researchers have developed and tested for efficacy of Fusion, a first-grade intervention aimed at developing understanding of whole numbers for students at risk for mathematics learning disabilities. It is designed as a program for schools using a multi-tiered approach to instruction that provides increasingly intense levels of instruction based on the results of frequent progress monitoring of students.
  • Researchers tested for efficacy of Pirate Math Equation Quest, a word problem-solving intervention for third grade students with mathematics difficulties, including students with or at risk for mathematics learning disabilities.
  • Researchers assessed the efficacy of Interleaved mathematics practice, an intervention that rearranges math practice problems so that 1) different kinds of math problems are mixed together, which improves learning, and 2) problems of the same kind are distributed across multiple assignments, which improves retention. A new systematic replication study is also now underway to further examine the efficacy of interleaved mathematics practice.
  • Researchers have conducted several impact studies (one conducted with grade 7 students in Maine and replication study conducted in North Carolina) of ASSISTments, a free web-based program that provides immediate feedback to students and teachers on homework. ASSISTments can be used with any commercial or locally developed math curriculum, and teachers can assign "mastery" problem sets that organize practice to facilitate the achievement of proficiency.  

STEM Education Research Funding Opportunities

Research grant funding opportunities focusing on STEM education can be found across several programs and competitions. Currently, there are several active funding opportunities where training or research with a STEM education focus would fit:  

More information on these fundings opportunities can also be found at: https://ies.ed.gov/funding/


This blog was written by Sarah Brasiel (sarah.brasiel@ed.gov), program officer at NCSER and Christina Chhin (christina.chhin@ed.gov), program officer at NCER.

The Importance of Collaboration and Support to Improve Working Conditions for Special Education Teachers

Two teachers, one on a tablet and one with a notepad, smile while working together

In February 2023, NCSER hosted a technical working group (TWG) on the Special Education Teacher Workforce to help identify ways research can be used to better prepare, support, and retain an effective K-12 special education teacher workforce. During this meeting, a group of experts on the K-12 special education teacher workforce identified critical problems facing the special education teacher workforce, discussed areas where more research is needed, and highlighted existing data that could be leveraged to better understand the dynamics of and potential solutions to these problems.

TWG members highlighted the lack of collegial and leadership support as one contributing factor to burnout and attrition. Special education teachers often report feeling like they are the only ones in the school taking responsibility and advocating for students with disabilities. This is compounded by the fact that general education teachers and administrators often receive very little training on how to support these students. As such, TWG members highlighted the importance of supportive and collaborative relationships with paraprofessionals, other teachers, and leaders. Several NCSER-funded studies have explored these types of collaborative relationships or developed programs to foster them through mentoring or co-teaching. We summarize some examples of this type of NCSER-funded research below.

To better understand how working conditions, including support from colleagues, affect special education teacher instruction and student reading outcomes, Elizabeth Bettini from Boston University led a research project comprised of several mixed-methods studies. A key finding was that special education teachers who had teaching partners were better able to provide effective instruction because partners can manage significant behavior, which allows teachers to focus on instruction. This type of support was also found to be essential for inclusion, as special educators without sufficient paraprofessional staff struggle to move students who need behavioral supports into general education classes. The PI is currently building upon this research in a new project that is developing a measure, ReSpECT (Revealing Special Educators' Conditions for Teaching), of special education teacher working conditions.

To promote positive outcomes and retention among new special education teachers, Kristi Morin at Lehigh University is leading Project STAY. The purpose of this project is to develop an induction program for teachers of students with autism who are in the first 3 years of their career. In addition to ongoing training, the program includes mentorship from experienced teachers and participation in a network of novice teachers as ways to provide new teachers with instructional and social/emotional support. While this is an ongoing project, IES looks forward to the impact this research will have on new special educators.

To improve collaboration between special education teachers and content-area teachers in addressing literacy needs, Jade Wexler from the University of Maryland, College Park developed CALI (Content-Area Literacy Instruction) professional development. The program is designed to improve literacy instruction in co-taught content area classes by providing teachers with an instructional framework, a planning process to clarify teacher roles, and technical assistance for applying the framework and planning process to their practice. Results of the pilot study revealed that the program led to beneficial outcomes for teachers and students. The project also resulted in resources for teachers, including downloadable CALI materials and a special issue of Intervention in School and Clinic with guidance on how to implement evidence-based literacy practices in content-area classes.

While IES-funded researchers have been hard at work investigating ways to foster productive collaboration and studying its outcomes, there are still many issues affecting the special education teacher workforce that need further study. To address this, the Special Education Research and Development Center Program is accepting grant applications to establish a new K-12 Special Education Teacher Workforce Center, with a deadline of January 11, 2024. The new R&D Center will (1) conduct research on the special education teacher pipeline and the role of specific programs and policies in shaping the special education teacher workforce; (2) provide national leadership to build researcher capacity, improve data collection on the special education teacher workforce, and disseminate findings; and (3) engage in supplemental, just-in-time research and/or national leadership activities based on emerging needs in the field.

This blog was written by Shanna Bodenhamer, virtual student federal service intern at  NCSER and doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University, and Katherine Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed,gov), program officer for the projects featured in this article and the contact for the FY 2024 Special Education Research and Development Center Program.

Introducing the 2023-24 NCSER Interns from the Virtual Student Federal Service Program

NCSER is grateful for our student interns, who come to us through the U.S. Department of State’s Virtual Student Federal Service Program. These interns are volunteering their time to support NCSER in data science and open science. Data science interns mine data from IES grants and related publications and create visualizations to represent what IES has funded and learned. Open science interns use their talents to help us understand and communicate about research in special education. We are pleased to introduce each of the 2023-24 academic-year interns here.

Data Science Interns

Diamond Andress

Headshot of Diamond Andress

I am a PhD student at George Mason University, deeply committed to informing education policy and addressing gaps in the field, particularly concerning individuals with learning disabilities. My academic journey has been profoundly influenced by extensive research experiences at George Mason University and the International Leadership of Texas charter school, where I delved into critical aspects of education policy, including ethnicity, race, bilingual status, SPED/504 status, and student achievement.

My ultimate career aspiration is to become an educational researcher specializing in enhancing student achievement and advocating for policy reforms. I am particularly drawn to this internship opportunity with NSCER/IES due to my unyielding passion for data-driven solutions in education. This internship provides a unique platform for me to gain hands-on experience in analyzing data and collaborating with experts, which are instrumental in uncovering systematic educational gaps and contributing to policy enrichment.

Fun Fact: I find solace in the art of photography and the enrichment of travel experiences. My collection of SD cards holds cherished moments from my international teaching endeavors in Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and Guinea, underscoring my broader commitment to fostering inclusive and equitable education for all.

Kevin Navarrete-Parra

Headshot of Kevin Navarrete-Parra

I am a PhD student studying political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where I take part in rewarding research methods and data science education every semester. My exposure to quantitative research began long before graduate school. I started this journey by taking my first research methods class and working as a research assistant as an undergraduate student. Once I officially enrolled in graduate school, the data science bug bit me—I felt compelled to learn as much as possible about the fascinating world of data and research! This passion and my cumulative experience handling data prepared me for the NCSER data science internship.

My goal for the future is to refine my data science skills so I can work with data that make tangible impacts on the world around me—a plan I am one step closer to achieving thanks to this fantastic opportunity with NCSER. Indeed, this is precisely why I applied to this program: I know that by supporting NCSER's rigorous research program, I can make a difference in something that is pressing and important.

Fun Fact: I love watches. I recently began collecting watches, but my horological passion started years ago when I got my first Timex in high school.

Marissa Kuehn

Headshot of Marissa Kuehn

I am a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Toledo. I am pursuing bachelor’s degrees in disability studies and data science, with a minor in computer science. Previously I have conducted and presented research on understanding the neurodiversity paradigm and movement. I was the recipient of the Patricia Murphy Scholarship from the disability studies department, and I am the co-founder and president of the university’s Disability Student Union. My past work experience as a research assistant on the Plain Truth Project, coursework in data science, lived experience of disability, and long-time passion for disability justice led me to this internship.

I am excited to apply my developing data science skills and passion to learn more about disability research and improve my research skills throughout this internship. I am interested in improving the representation of the disability community in data science and making data more accessible. This internship will allow me to synthesize my data science and disability studies skills and enabling me to seek out more opportunities to do so in the future.

Fun Fact: I am a Trekkie! My favorite characters are Seven of Nine and Data.

Open Science/Communication Interns

Shanna Bodenhamer

Headshot of Shanna Bodenhamer

Howdy! I am finishing up my last year as a PhD student in educational psychology with an emphasis in special education at Texas A&M University (whoop!). Prior to starting my PhD program, I had various roles in the public school system, working as a special education teacher, a board-certified behavior analyst providing behavioral training and support to teachers, and a program facilitator overseeing the implementation of a state-funded autism grant for an early childhood intervention program. After graduation, I would like to be a faculty member in higher education. 

I’m returning as a second-year virtual intern with NCSER because I learned so much during my previous internship. It gave me the opportunity to speak with researchers across the nation about their research projects and how this work can improve the experiences of students with disabilities. I was able to share this research through social media and blog posts, ensuring that evidence-based practices are accessible to everyone, especially key stakeholders. I’m excited to be part of all the great things happening at NCSER and look forward to another year!

Fun Fact: I like to spend time at the lake with my family. Sometimes we wakesurf, but mostly, we just relax and float around. Luke, our Labrador, loves to swim in the water, but our puggle, Leia, prefers to sunbathe on the boat!

Skyler Fesagaiga

Headshot of Skyler Fesagaiga

I am pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at the University of California, San Diego, where I plan to develop my quantitative research skills to participate in special education policy analysis. Before attending graduate school, I worked as a licensed behavioral therapist and as a research assistant at Southern Utah University on a project that evaluated parental empowerment with children with disabilities before and after the introduction of elementary school.

With my research interests, IES was a perfect fit for me. Through this internship I hope to develop refined verbal and written communication skills that support my future goals and learn as much as possible about special education research through exposure to IES-funded projects. I plan to further my education as a doctoral student to reach my long-term goal of becoming an expert in inequality and social policy in education. 

Fun Fact: I enjoy collecting rings with different types of gemstones from antique stores! 

Sarah Brasiel, NCSER program officer and primary mentor for the data science interns, and Amy Sussman, NCSER program officer and primary mentor for the open science interns, produced this blog.

Daily Report Cards to Enhance Individual Education Plans for Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

In honor of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month, we would like to share an interview with Dr. Gregory Fabiano, who has been investigating the enhancement of Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for children with ADHD using daily report cards (DRC). The DRC provides a way to provide feedback to students, parents, and teachers on behavioral and social IEP goals on a daily basis. In the interview below, Dr. Fabiano shares how ADHD impacts student outcomes and how linking the DRC to IEP goals can improve social and academic outcomes above and beyond what an IEP alone can do.

What do we already know about how ADHD impacts academic and social outcomes in children in elementary school? How does this motivate your own research?

Like all people, individuals with ADHD have areas of strengths and weaknesses. If you wanted to create a situation where a person with ADHD is more likely to demonstrate weaknesses, you would likely construct a situation like an academic classroom—long periods of time where individuals are asked to complete rote tasks, attend to lectures, and follow strict rules about where they should be, what they can say, and when they can say it. The situation is highly likely to exacerbate challenges with staying on task and being productive. Through our team’s work with so many children with ADHD, we have seen first-hand how hard their caregivers and teachers work to support them and the good they can do when they are successful. That is why we are motivated to develop approaches to help every child with ADHD who may struggle in school.

The DRC has been used with students with ADHD for a while now. What can you tell us of the history of this intervention?

The DRC has been around since the 1960s when it was used by scholars such as Jon Bailey and colleagues at the University at Kansas and then by Dan and Sue O’Leary and their graduate student Bill Pelham at Stony Brook University. Since that time, the DRC has been disseminated to schools. It has the advantage of being practical and easy to understand across caregivers, educators, and the child. Throughout its use over the past 50 years, it has always included the same active ingredients: (1) clearly specified behavioral goals with objective criteria for meeting goals (for example, completes assigned work within time given, has no more than three instances of interruptions during the science lesson); (2) provision of progress feedback throughout the day; (3) daily communication between the teacher, caregiver, and child by sending the report home; and (4) contingent rewards provided at home for goals achieved.

What does a DRC introduce to a child’s IEP that can improve academic and social outcomes relative to an IEP without a DRC? 

Research, including our own work, has suggested that IEPs for children with ADHD may under-represent social/behavioral goals and objectives. They are even less effective at providing specific, ongoing evidence-based interventions for a student with ADHD. When the DRC is linked to IEP goals and objectives on a daily basis, educators and others are better able to focus their own attention on the most important areas of need. Further, it is flexible enough to quickly add worthy goals that may not have been on the IEP.

We think that the DRC is especially important at the elementary school level, where school is a particularly formative educational experience. We emphasize positive daily goals and contingent rewards for meeting goals. And because the DRC is implemented just for the one day, students start with a clean slate at the onset of each school day.

What impact do you hope that your study of the DRC intervention will have on the field, and for students with ADHD and their IEPs in particular?

One of the sobering findings of our IES-funded study was that the comparison group, which included special education as usual, did not improve in the main outcomes assessed at the end of the year. This leads our team to believe that we need to do much more to support students with ADHD on a daily and ongoing basis, beyond simply drafting an IEP. Because most students with ADHD spend the majority of their day in general education settings, even if they have an IEP, the DRC serves as a bridge to promote continuity and consistency of behavioral support across school personnel and across school days.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your project? 

It is important to note that some children with ADHD progress through school and find their footing successfully in college and/or career. Yet, we know from long-term follow-up studies that the educational outcomes for many with ADHD are poor. These outcomes do not occur suddenly, but instead are caused by the accumulation of negative school experiences. It is important to acknowledge that establishing an IEP alone is unlikely to influence these negative outcomes. It is the everyday support and intervention received by the child with ADHD in the classroom that makes the difference. Caregivers, educators, and the child must work together daily to make progress, celebrate successes, and problem solve to address any continued areas of need. The DRC is one way to do this and we are hopeful the field will continue to develop innovative ways to support individuals with ADHD using a competency-building approach.

This blog was authored by Skyler Fesagaiga, a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for NCSER and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. Jackie Buckley, NCSER program officer, manages this grant.

Spotlight on FY 2023 Early Career Grant Awardees: Self-Regulation for High School Students with Disabilities

This final post in our series of NCSER blogs highlighting the recently funded Early Career Development and Mentoring Grants Program principal investigators features an interview with Sara Estrapala, assistant research professor in special education at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Dr. Estrapala is conducting research aimed at improving self-regulation of high school students with disabilities and challenging behavior.

How did you become interested in research on self-regulation among high school students with disabilities? 

Headshot of Dr. Sara Estrapala

I worked in a high school as a special education paraeducator prior to my doctoral program and really enjoyed working with that student population. I was responsible for helping students manage themselves in their general education classes. This experience led me to wonder whether there were ways to teach students—particularly those with challenging behaviors— to be more self-sufficient. When I started my doctoral program, I worked on an IES-funded project to develop a self-monitoring app and witnessed the incredible impact that self-monitoring can have on student classroom behaviors. My classroom and research experiences merged into a line of research on self-regulation development for high school students with disabilities.

What is the broader challenge in education that you hope your study will address?

High schools are notoriously difficult settings in which to conduct behavior intervention research, due to increased demands on student and teacher time for academics, organizational complexity (for example, multiple teachers, classrooms, academic departments), and misconceptions about behavior supports for high school aged students. As such, there is a relatively limited literature base for researchers and practitioners related to behavior interventions or supports for high school students. I hope to develop an effective intervention specifically for this context and developmental level while also learning how to effectively conduct rigorous research in this complex and challenging environment. Ultimately, I aim to contribute to our collective knowledge about how to help support high school students with disabilities and challenging behavior. 

What sets apart your self-regulation intervention from other interventions that have been studied?

The most unique aspect of the self-regulation intervention that I am developing is that students have ownership over their self-regulation plan. Typically, students are provided with a self-regulation or self-management plan that is developed by an adult—such as their teacher, counselor, or behavior specialist—with very little opportunity for input. Because self-regulation interventions involve a lot of decisions (such as identifying target behaviors, goals, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation plans), there are numerous opportunities to ask students what they think will improve their classroom behavior. My goal is to develop a framework for teaching students how to identify and define their own behaviors that might be reducing their learning or classroom performance as well as replacement behaviors that will enable them to achieve greater academic success. I believe that including students in the decision-making process will help them better learn why self-regulation is important and how it can help them reach meaningful goals.

What advice do you have for other early career researchers?

Network. Network. Network. Find a variety of colleagues to work with, including those with similar and advanced years of research and practice. I find working with other researchers helps prevent feeling isolated and increases my motivation to keep pushing forward. Joining professional organizations and attending their social events has helped me meet peers with similar research experience and create a network for collaboration. This process also created opportunities for me to meet the faculty mentors of my peers, which, in turn, has helped me establish a larger network of mid- and late-career researchers.

Sara Estrapala demonstrates passion and insight in her research promoting self-regulation among high school students with disabilities. NCSER looks forward to following her career trajectory and the development of this exciting project.

This blog was produced by Emilia Wenzel, NCSER intern and graduate student at University of Chicago. Katherine Taylor is the program officer for NCSER’s Early Career Development and Mentoring program.