IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

A Night to Play and Learn

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

It was an event that had the feel of an arcade, but the heart of a schoolhouse.

The Ed Games Expo on Wednesday, December 9, 2015, hosted 45 developers who are building games for learning that are designed to engage students across a variety of topics and subject matters. One-third of the games on display at the Expo are supported by the Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research (ED/IES SBIR) program, which provides awards to companies to improve the use of technology in education.

Photo by Lauren Kleissas

(Photo by Lauren Kleissas)

"Games are inherently engaging," said Brooke Morrill, an educational researcher at Schell Games. "A student may or may not be interested in a topic matter, but it doesn't matter. They are engaged in the game."

Schell Games was demonstrating a prototype of "Happy Atoms," a game that combines hand-on resources with technology to create an interactive learning experience. Users can use create atom models with balls and sticks; similar to the way it’s been done in Chemistry classes for generations. But using an app equipped with vision recognition software, users can scan the model they've built to see what they've created or if they've made any mistakes. The app then connects to curriculum-aligned content about the molecule and how it is used in the real world.

Happy Atoms (pictured below) was a long-time pet project of the company's CEO, Jesse Schell, who is a vanguard in the educational gaming industry. However, the company didn't have funding to put a full-time team on the game's development. In 2014, Schell received a Phase I funding from ED/IES SBIR to develop a prototype and, earlier this year, received a Phase II award to further develop and evaluate Happy Atoms.

"We wouldn't be where we are without our IES funding," Morrill said.

A few tables away, the Attainment Company was demonstrating ED/IES SBIR-supported technology that is designed to build the reading, comprehension, and writing skills of special education students. For instance, Access: Language Arts is an app and software designed to allow middle school students with intellectual disabilities to read adapted versions of the books their peers are reading (like The Outsiders and the Diary of Anne Frank) while building their writing skills and even engaging in research.

 

"We know many students, especially those with autism, are motivated by technology because of the consistency it provides," said Pamela J. Mims, an assistant professor of special education at East Tennessee State University, who is working with Attainment on Access: Language Arts.  "We collected a lot of data on this and we see a lot of engagement."

Engagement is a big part of what drove John Krajewski, of Strange Loop Games, to develop ECO, another game that has received Phase I and II funding through ED/IES SBIR. Krajewski calls ECO a “global survival game,” in which students work together to build and maintain a virtual world for 30 days.

“You are trying to build up enough technology for your society, but in the process you can pollute and damage this world to the point it could die on its own,” Krajewski said. “You have to make decisions as a group about what has to be done in this world.”

In order to preserve the world, players have to pass laws that will protect resources while allowing society to continue to develop. For example, students might decide to limit the number of trees that can be cut down each day. Then, they can use graphs and data to see the impact of their laws and the health of their world. ECO not only builds an understanding about ecology and environmental science, but it builds real-world skills, like collaboration, communication, and scientific conversation and debate.

Krajewski said the funding from ED/IES SBIR not only allowed the project to be developed, but was a vote of confidence that allows ECO to be accepted in the field.

“IES has given us total runway to make this thing happen, which is awesome,” he said.

ED/IES SBIR is now soliciting Phase I proposals from firms and their partners for the research, development, and evaluation of commercially viable education technology products. You can learn more on the IES website

 

The Nexus Between Teaching and Research: What I Learned Working on an IES Grant

 

Samuel Choo is a doctoral student at the dissertation stage in the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Kentucky (UK). In this blog post, he describes how working on an IES grant gave him first-hand experiences in planning and carrying out research in schools. He also discusses how these research experiences helped him understand the important connections between research and teaching.

How did you get started working on this IES research project?

The first I heard of IES was six years ago as a resource room teacher at a middle school. Dr. Brian Bottge, who is now my doctoral adviser, was awarded a NCSER grant to test the effects of Enhanced Anchored Instruction (EAI) on the math performance of middle school students. My school was randomly assigned to the EAI group. The project staff did a good job of teaching us how to implement EAI in our resource rooms. Soon after teaching with the new curriculum, I noticed that my students were much more motivated and engaged than they had been. In fact, they looked like they were actually enjoying math! Posttest scores showed positive results in favor of the new curriculum.

And so this experience as a teacher got you more interested in research?

Yes! The next year I applied to the UK doctoral program. I joined Dr. Bottge’s IES grant team as a research assistant where I learned how classroom-based research is planned and conducted. I had many opportunities to participate in the research experience. In my case, I helped train math and special education teachers, observed classrooms and assessed research fidelity, provided teachers with technical support, assisted in scoring tests, and worked on data entry and analysis. Project leaders also asked me to suggest revisions to the daily lesson plans based on my experiences teaching with EAI the year before.

Can you talk more about your developing research interests related to math education?

After the grant ended and after I finished my doctoral coursework, I went back to teaching in North Carolina, where I taught low performing middle school students in a Title I resource room. I ran my own pilot studies using what I had learned while teaching with EAI as both a research participant and research assistant. To help offset the cost of materials for my first study, I was awarded a $1500 Bright Ideas Grant from the North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. Thanks to the company’s generosity, I was able to fully implement all the lesson plans developed by Dr. Bottge’s grant team.

This experience was especially important to me because it was my first try at conducting my own research with a prescribed protocol, which I had learned from working on the IES project. Posttests showed statistically significant improvement of students in the EAI group in both computation and problem solving. Based on these results, the sponsor invited me to participate in a panel discussion in Raleigh, NC. The CEOs of the company attended the event along with policy makers and school administrators from across the state. This whole process, from applying for funding to carrying out the study to reporting the results, helped me make connections between university, classroom, and community.

What have been your big takeaways from these experiences?

From the training I received as a study participant, I have become a better teacher.  From working on an IES-funded grant team, I learned a lot about how to conduct classroom-based studies. I am looking forward to designing new instructional methods and testing their effectiveness. Similar to how my students learned math in a hands-on way, I learned research methods by having the opportunity to use them in practice, and for that I am very grateful. 

The IES Investment in Mathematics and Science Education Research

By Christina Chhin, NCER Program Officer and Rob Ochsendorf, NCSER Program Officer

Here is a common question we receive at IES: “What has IES funded in the areas of mathematics and science?” Given that both NCER and NCSER have dedicated “Mathematics and Science Education” research topics, you would think it would be an easy question to answer. That is until you see that both NCER and NCSER also support projects focusing on math and science through other research topic areas, including programs such as Cognition and Student Learning, Early Learning Programs and Policies, Educational Technology, and Effective Teachers and Effective Teaching. To help answer this question, IES has just released a compendium of research grants focusing on mathematics or science funded between 2002 to 2013. This compendium is part of a series of documents intended to summarize the research investments that NCER and NCSER are making to improve student education outcomes in specific topical areas.

As noted in the compendium, between 2002 to 2013, NCER and NCSER has funded over 300 projects focused on mathematics or science education, with 215 of them being instructional interventions (e.g., packaged curricula, intervention frameworks, and instructional approaches), 75 professional development programs, 165 educational technologies, and 65 assessments in math and science. The math and science compendium is a useful tool for a wide array of education stakeholders, as it not only provides brief descriptions of each project, it also is categorizes each project into sections based on content area, grade level, and intended outcome.

Picture of the cover of "A Compendium of Math and Science Research Funded by NCER and NCSER: 2002–2013"

So, how does the investment in mathematics and science that NCER and NCSER have made compare to other education research investments? Between 2002 and 2013, NCER and NCSER funded more than 1,110 education research grants, so research on mathematics and science makes up approximately a third of the research centers' total investment.  The compendium shows that NCER and NCSER have made significant contributions to STEM education by supporting rigorous, scientifically valid research that is relevant to education practice and policy focused on mathematics and science education; however, there is still room for growth. For instance, the compendium makes apparent that NCER and NCSER have funded few projects focusing specifically on geometry or earth and space science in grades K to 12. NCER and NCSER have come a long way in helping to support high-quality mathematics and science education research and will continue to do so to help address the gaps and needs in the field. 

Do you have a research project that will address some of these identified gaps? If so, be sure to sign up for IES Newsflash or follow us on Twitter, so that you will receive notice when our new Requests for Applications are released. 

Questions? Comments? Send us an email at IESResearch@ed.gov.

 

The Month(s) in Review: September and October 2015

By Liz Albro, NCER Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning

New Evaluation of State Education Programs and Policies Awards Announced

Congratulations to the recipients of our Evaluation of State Education Programs and Policies awards. These projects examine a range of topics: low-performing schools, college- and career-readiness standards, and teacher effectiveness and evaluation.

Building Strength in Numbers: Friends of IES Briefings

The Friends of IES, a coalition of research organizations working to raise the visibility of IES-funded studies, asked three IES funded researchers to participate in briefings for Department of Education leadership and for the public on Capitol Hill. Sharing findings from their IES-funded studies, the researchers highlighted how providing high quality mathematics instruction to children as young as three-years-old, and providing systematic and sustained opportunities for those children to learn more mathematics in subsequent instructional years, can substantially narrow achievement gaps at the end of preschool and how those gains can persist over time. What to know more? Read our earlier blog post or the AERA news story for additional details.

Congratulations to Patricia Snyder on receiving the 2015 DEC Award for Mentoring

Congratulations to Patricia Snyder, recipient of the 2015 Division for Early Childhood (DEC) Award for Mentoring. DEC, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children, awards this honor to a member who has provided significant training and guidance to students and new practitioners in the field of early childhood special education. Snyder is a professor of special education and early childhood studies and the David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida. She is also the Principal Investigator (PI) and Training Program Director for a NCSER-funded postdoctoral training grant, Postdoctoral Research Training Fellowships in Early Intervention and Early Learning in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has also served as the PI and co-PI on several other NCSER-funded awards.

Thanks to all of our IES Postdoctoral Fellows: Past, Present and Future!

Did you know that the third week of September was National Postdoc Appreciation Week? While we tweeted our appreciation for the postdocs we support through our NCER and NCSER Postdoctoral Training Programs, we thought you might like to learn a bit more about what some of our postdocs are doing.

Publishing: Postdocs are busy publishing findings from their research. For example, David Braithwaite, a fellow in this Carnegie Mellon postdoctoral training program recently published Effects of Variation and Prior Knowledge on Abstract Concept Learning. Two postdoc fellows, Kimberly Nesbitt and Mary Fuhs, who were trained in this Vanderbilt postdoctoral training program, are co-authors on a recent publication exploring executive function skills and academic achievement in kindergarten.  Josh Polanin, another Vanderbilt postdoc, recently published two methodological papers: one on effect sizes, the other on using a meta-analytic technique to assess the relationship between treatment intensity and program effects.

Receiving Research Funding:  Previous postdoc fellows who trained at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have recently been awarded research funding. Erin Reid and her colleagues were recently awarded an NSF DRK-12 grant to adapt and study a teacher professional development (PD) intervention, called Collaborative Math (CM), for use in early childhood programs. Former fellow David Purpura was recently awarded a grant from the Kinley Trust to delineate the role of language in early mathematics performance. Dr.  Purpura is also co-PI on a 2015 IES grant, Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics.

Congratulations and good luck to all of our recently complete postdocs! Sixteen fellows have completed this year with 10 completing in the past two months. These fellows bringing their expertise to the community as full-time faculty, directors of research programs, and research associates at universities, non-profits, government agencies, and other organizations.

What have the Research Centers Funded? Check Out Our New Summary Documents

NCSER has funded research in a variety of topics relevant to special education and early intervention since 2006. Recently, NCSER staff summarized the work on several topics, with more to come in the future.

Research supported by both Centers is also described in our Compendium of Mathematics and Science Research, which was released in October.

Updated IES Research in the News

Curious to know what other IES-funded research projects have gotten media attention? We recently updated our IES Research in the News page, so that’s your quickest way to find out!

Developing School-Wide Approaches for Bullying Prevention: The Value of Partnerships

By Katherine Taylor (NCSER Program Officer) and Emily Doolittle (NCER Program Officer)

About 22% of 12 to 18 year olds report being bullied at school. Bullying behavior can be obvious (pushing, name calling, destroying property) or more subtle (rumor spreading, purposeful excluding). In whatever form it takes, bullying involves acts of physical, verbal, or relational aggression that are repeated over time and involve a power imbalance. Bullying has a variety of harmful effects, including the potential for a negative impact on student academic achievement. This leads to the question, what can schools do to prevent bullying? In support of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, we want to highlight two IES projects that have tackled this issue by developing programs that support social and problem-solving skills for students and a positive school climate.

In one project, Drs. Terri Sullivan and Kevin Sutherland at Virginia Commonwealth University developed and tested a school-wide violence prevention model for middle school students, with a special focus on youth with disabilities. The resulting model incorporates elements of a social-emotional skill-building program, Second Step, and a comprehensive bullying prevention program, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

In a second project, Dr. Stephen Leff at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia developed and is currently testing the Partner for Prevention (P4P) program to address aggression and bullying in elementary schools. P4P includes a classroom program, consultation for teachers and playground and lunchroom staff, and community outreach to engage parents in efforts to address bullying.

In both projects, the initial development work was accomplished using a community-based participatory research framework. Both projects used community stakeholder input to develop programs that support social and problem solving skill development for students as well as a positive school climate. Drs. Sullivan, Sutherland, and Leff shared their insights from doing this type of work and collectively emphasized the importance of creating partnerships with schools and attending to the unique strengths and needs of each school.

What are some key elements of developing school-wide bullying prevention programs?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: One key element is to work with administrators, teachers, and other school staff to understand school dynamics that foster prosocial behavior and those that may place students at risk for exposure to bullying behaviors (e.g., places in the school such as stairwells or bathrooms). Another is to have a strong school committee to assist with developing the program in order to maximize the relevance and meaningfulness of the interventions for students and school staff.

Dr. Leff: It is important to understand how the school has tried to address problems such as bullying in the past, as this provides important information about how to work best with formal and informal school leaders, and how your program can complement successful efforts already in place or support in areas that have been challenging. 

What are some keys to successful implementation?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: One key to successful implementation is to monitor implementation progress via the collection of fidelity data, including data on student engagement (which schools are very interested in) and share these data with teachers and other staff, both to reinforce strong aspects of implementation as well as to highlight areas that need improvement. Another is to successfully engage with administrators; the more involved and supportive they are, the more successful implementation will be.

Dr. Leff:

  1. Establishing buy in from the principal, teachers, lunch-recess supervisors, and students.
  2. Developing internal champions within schools to help promote the program and speak to other teachers about the importance of the work.
  3. Discussing how to make programs sustainable is a conversation that needs to occur from day one.

What are the challenges to doing these types of school-wide interventions?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: School-wide interventions are complex and ensuring that each component (individual, classroom, and school) is working well takes considerable effort.

Dr. Leff: These programs can be difficult to implement due to competing demands such as scores on state-wide and national testing. One of the main strategies is to help teachers understand how programs such as ours are able to improve the classroom teaching climate and thereby support academic and social-emotional functioning of the students. 

What have you learned from doing this type of work?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: It’s a two-way street - we as researchers need to work hard to develop trust with the teachers, administrators and school staff, supporting them at every turn which can result in the long-term in a win-win for all parties.

Dr. Leff: One of the biggest lessons learned during the P4P has been how much the partnership between a school and team impacts the success of the program.

These two research studies are ongoing. As study results become available, we will learn whether these innovative interventions show promise for reducing incidents of bullying and improving students' achievement in school. Stay tuned!

Comments? Questions? Please send to IESResearch@ed.gov.