IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Calling All Students to the Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” Contest

On August 27, 2019, NASA launched a national contest for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students to name the Mars 2020 rover, the newest robotic scientist to be sent to Mars.  Scheduled to launch aboard a rocket in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and touch down on Mars in February 2021, the to-be-named rover weighs more than 2,300 pounds (1,000 kilograms) and will search for astrobiological signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

By focusing the Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” contest on K to 12 students, NASA seeks to engage U.S. students in the engineering and scientific work that makes Mars exploration possible. The contest also supports national goals to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and help create the next generation of STEM leaders.

Students can sign up and submit their entries for the competition at https://www.futureengineers.org/nametherover. Entries must include a proposed name for the rover and a short essay of 150 words or less explaining the reasons for the name. NASA will select 156 state winners (one from each state and age group), before narrowing down to the top 9 entries that will be part of a public poll. The grand prize winner who will name the rover will be selected and announced in spring of 2020.

Even if you are not a student you can still participate. US residents over the age of 18 can apply to be judges for the contest to help NASA make their selection.

The Mars 2020 Project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages rover development for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

NASA Partners with an ED/IES SBIR Awardee to Run the Contest

The education technology firm that NASA selected to help run the competition is Burbank, California-based, Future Engineers.  The “Name the Rover” contest leverages Future Engineers’ online challenge platform, which was developed with the support of a 2017 award from the US Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR).  The platform will receive, manage, display, and judge what is anticipated to be tens of thousands or more student submissions from around the country.

Future Engineers has a history of collaborating on space-themed student challenges. The company previously ran a national competition series in 2018 for the ASME Foundation with technical assistance from NASA, where K-12 students submitted digital designs of useful objects that could be 3D printed on the International Space Station, resulting in the first student-designed 3D print in space.

Future Engineers developed its platform to be an online hub for classrooms and educators to access free, project-based STEM activities, and to provide a portal where students submit and compete in different kinds of maker and innovation challenges across the country. The Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” contest will be the first naming challenge issued on its platform.

We look forward to the results of the competition!

Originally posted on the U.S. Department of Education’s Homeroom blog.


Edward Metz is a research scientist at the Institute of Education Sciences in the US Department of Education.

Bob Collom is an integration lead in the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.


About ED/IES SBIR

The U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research program, administered by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), funds projects to develop education technology products designed to support students, teachers, or administrators in general or special education. The program emphasizes rigorous and relevant research to inform iterative development and to evaluate whether fully-developed products show promise for leading to the intended outcomes. The program also focuses on commercialization once the award period ends so that products can reach students and teachers and be sustained over time. ED/IES SBIR-supported products are currently used by millions of students in thousands of schools around the country.

About NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP)

NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP) in the Planetary Science Division is a science-driven program that seeks to understand whether Mars was, is, or can be, a habitable world. To find out, we need to understand how geologic, climatic, and other processes have worked to shape Mars and its environment over time, as well as how they interact today. To that end, all of our future missions will be driven by rigorous scientific questions that will continuously evolve as we make new discoveries. MEP continues to explore Mars and to provide a continuous flow of scientific information and discovery through a carefully selected series of robotic orbiters, landers and mobile laboratories interconnected by a high-bandwidth Mars/Earth communications network.

IES Makes Two New Awards for the Development of Web-based Tools to Inform Decision Making by Postsecondary Students

In June, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) announced two new awards to technology firms to develop web-based tools that inform student decision making in postsecondary education. The projects will focus on generating a measure of the return of investment (ROI) for different educational training programs and careers so that high school and college students have access to data-driven information to guide their decisions.

The awards were made through a special topic offered by the IES Small Business Innovation Research (known as ED/IES SBIR) program, which funds the research and development of commercially viable education technology. (For information on the 21 awards made through the IES 2019 standard solicitation, read here.)

Background and Awards

While websites like College Scorecard and CareerOneStop provide information to explore training programs in colleges and occupations of interest, there is no tool that helps students understand the costs and benefits of individual postsecondary programs in an integrated, customizable, and user-friendly manner.  

The special topic SBIR solicitation requested proposals from small businesses to develop new ROI tools that would combine information on fees, time to complete, and projected earnings so that students can easily compare college and career pathways. The IES-funded ROI tools aim to improve student program completion rates, with higher employment and earnings, less education-related debt, and more satisfaction with their selected paths. The special topic SBIR solicitation offered up to $200,000 for firms to develop and evaluate a prototype of their ROI tool. 

Two awards were made through this special topic:

  • Illinois-based BrightHive, Inc. is developing a prototype of the Training, Education, and Apprenticeship Program Outcomes Toolkit (TEAPOT). Designed to inform student training and educational decision making over a variety of potential pathways, TEAPOT will improve the flow and accuracy of data resulting in improved estimates of the ROI for different postsecondary education pathways.  The team will develop a data interoperability system and simplified toolkit for states and local postsecondary and workforce development organizations. The toolkit will provide more high quality, consistent, and granular information on postsecondary outcomes. The prototype will calculate ROI using student information, programmatic information (with an emphasis on net program costs to allow for variations by program type at the same institution), and access to wage and employment data sets.
  • Virginia-based Vantage Point Consultants is developing a prototype of a user-contextualized ROI tool that prospective students will use to make meaning of lifetime costs and opportunity tradeoffs associated with different degree programs offered by postsecondary institutions. The ROI tool will incorporate information on student goals and academic, professional, and personal characteristics.  The prototype will include an interface to present information to guide decision making based on an ROI calculation that discounts earning cash-flows under current and future state career and education assumptions, while subtracting college cost. In the first phase of work, the project will use information from data partners including Burning Glass Technologies and from public sources at the Department of Labor and Department of Education.

After developing prototypes, researchers will analyze whether the tools function as intended and are feasible for students to use. Research will also test if the tool shows promise for producing a meaningful and accurate measure of ROI.  Both firms are eligible to apply for additional funding to complete the full-scale development of the ROI tool, including developing an interface to improve user experience and conducting additional validation research.

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter (@IESResearch) as IES projects drive innovative forms of technology.

Written by Edward Metz, program manager, ED/IES SBIR

Investing in the Next Generation of Education Technology

Millions of students in thousands of schools around the country have used technologies developed through the Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR) at the IES. The program emphasizes rapid research and development (R&D), with rigorous research informing iterative development and evaluating the promise of products for improving the intended outcomes. The program also focuses on the commercialization after development is complete so that products can reach schools and be sustainable over time.

At the end of June, ED/IES SBIR announced 21 new awards for technology products for students, teachers, or administrators in education and special education. (IES also announced two additional awards through a special topic solicitation in postsecondary education. Read about these awards here.) Of the 21 awards, 13 are for prototype development and 8 for full scale development (a YouTube playlist of the full scale development projects is available here). 

Many of the new 2019 projects continue education and technology trends that have emerged in recent years. These include the three trends below.

Trend 1: Bringing Next Generation Technologies for Classrooms
For educators, it can be challenging to integrate next generation technologies into classroom practice to improve teaching and learning. In the current group of awardees, many developers are seeking to make this happen. Schell Games is developing a content creation tool for students to create artistic performances in Virtual Reality (VR) and Gigantic Mechanic is designing a class-wide role-playing game facilitated by a tablet-based app. codeSpark is building a game for children to learn to code by creating story based narratives. Killer Snails, Lighthaus, and AP Ventures are all creating educational content for VR headsets and Parametric Studios, Innovation Design Labs, and LightUp are employing Augmented Reality (AR) to support learning STEM concepts. Aufero is bringing modern design principles to develop a traditional board game for students to gain foundational computer science and coding skills.

Trend 2: Personalized Learning

Several 2019 awards are building technologies to provide immediate feedback to personalize student learning. Graspable, Inc. and Apprendis are developing adaptive engines that formatively assess performance as students do activities in algebra and physical science, and Sirius Thinking is building a multimedia platform to guide and support pairs of students as they read passages. Charmtech is developing a prototype to support English learners in reading, Cognitive Toybox is creating a game-based school readiness assessment, Hats & Ladders is developing a social skills game, and IQ Sonics is refining a music-based app for children with or at risk for disabilities to practice speaking.

Trend 3: Platforms that Host and Present Data
School administrators and teachers are always seeking useful information and data to guide decision making and inform instruction. Education Modified is developing a platform for special education teachers to implement effective Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for students with or at risk for disabilities, and VidCode is developing a dashboard to offer teachers real-time performance metrics on coding activities to teachers. LearnPlatform is developing a prototype platform that generates reports to guide teachers in implementing new education technology interventions in classrooms, and Liminal eSports is developing a platform administrators and teachers can use to organize eSports activities where students participate in group game activities to learn.

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter and Facebook as IES continues to support innovative forms of technology.

Written by Edward Metz, Program Manager, ED/IES SBIR

IES Announces Forthcoming Funding Opportunity For the R&D of an “ROI Tool” to Inform Students’ Postsecondary Education and Career Decision Making

Students with electronic devices sitting against a wall.

Overview

On or about February 15, 2019, the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (ED/IES SBIR) anticipates releasing a Special Topic Solicitation #91990019R0016 in Postsecondary Education. The solicitation will be announced through an IES Newsflash and will be posted here. It will request Phase I proposals for awards of up to $200,000 for 8 months to develop a prototype of a "ROI tool.” The tool will be designed to measure the costs versus benefits (the return on investment) of different postsecondary education and training programs to help students make well-informed choices about options to pursue after they complete high school.

Applicants must be a for-profit business 500 employees or less, and U.S. owned and operated. Applicants may partner with entities or organizations working on related initiatives in the field of postsecondary education, or may subcontract to non-profit researchers or individuals with specialized expertise as needed. The due date for submission for proposals will likely be on or about April 15, 2019, with awards in mid-June, and projects beginning shortly thereafter. All Phase I awardees will be eligible to apply for a Phase II award in 2020, for $900,000 for full scale development and research to test and validate the ROI tool.

Background

While many websites provide ways for students to explore colleges or careers and occupations of interest (e.g., such as College Scorecard and CareerOneStop), there is currently no tool that helps students understand the costs and benefits of individual postsecondary programs in an integrated, customizable, and user-friendly manner.  An ROI tool would likely combine information on individual program’s tuition and fees, time needed to complete, and expected earnings. Because these characteristics can vary significantly across programs and institutions, creating a single estimated measure of ROI would allow students to more easily compare postsecondary program options. If it helps students make better choices, it could lead to improved program completion rates, higher levels of employment and earnings, less education-related debt, and more satisfaction with their selected education and career paths. 

The ED/IES SBIR Special Topic intends to fund up to five (5) Phase I projects to (a) develop and research a prototype of an ROI tool, and (b) conduct planning and concept testing for a fully developed ROI tool that provides a user-friendly experience for students. The prototype of the ROI tool developed in Phase I shall integrate with one or more existing technology systems, data sets, data standards, or resources (such as CareerOneStop or College Scorecard), and add new data elements provided by an end-user.  After a successful Phase I project, it is anticipated that small businesses that win Phase II awards will complete the full-scale development of the ROI tool that was started in Phase I, including developing an interface to improve the experience of students using the ROI tool.

Because data for ROI at the program level may only be available from some states, regions, or sets of institutions at this time, it is expected that the scope of the ROI tool developed in Phase I & II would be limited and would not be an attempt to calculate ROI for every program and institution in the country. Applicants must propose a project scope that appropriately reflects the datasets that are to be integrated within the new ROI tool, and the amount of funding and time allotted for development and research of the SBIR awards in Phase I and II.  Small businesses that are interested in this solicitation must have expertise with related efforts in the field to enhance student choices by linking education and workforce information.

Potential applicants may submit questions to ED’s Contracting Specialist Kevin.Wade@ed.gov. All questions and responses will be posted publically on the same website where the solicitation is posted as Amendments to the Solicitation.

 

IES Celebrates National STEM Day

November 8th, 2018 is National STEM Day! Today is a great day to talk to learners of all ages and abilities about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has some great resources for exploring STEM learning - visit our new STEM Topic page to learn more. Through research grants from the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), and innovations developed as part of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, IES has supported the development and testing of many programs, practices, and policies to improve student outcomes in STEM. 

Below, we provide links to a few projects and activities for instructors and learners to explore on National STEM Day, but remember, STEM Day can be every day!

  • NumberShire is a mobile and desktop game-based mathematics intervention funded with several grants from NCSER and SBIR that  builds understanding of whole number concepts among early elementary students with or at risk for learning disabilities (video demonstration).
  • Improving Children's Understanding of Equivalence (ICUE) supplements teachers’ existing mathematics instruction and helps students develop understanding of mathematical equivalence. Developed with support from NCER, ICUE is currently being evaluated in second grade classrooms. ICUE includes teacher manuals, student workbooks, manipulatives, assessment items, and a 2-hour professional development workshop to provide teachers with information about how to implement the intervention (video demonstration).
  • Two innovative education technology products developed with funding from the SBIR program are intended to transform chemistry instruction and learning. Happy Atoms is a physical hand-held magnetic molecular modeling set with a companion digital app that can recognize student created models and provide feedback and information to enrich learning.  HoloLab Champions uses an immersive virtual reality (VR) game environment within which high school students perform chemistry experiments.
  • Combined Cognitive and Motivational Supports for STEM Learning is a supplemental Blackboard module for postsecondary introductory biology courses developed with support from NCER. This module leverages short cognitive and motivational interventions that show promise for engaging students and improving outcomes, and is available from IDEALS.

Christina Chhin is the program officer for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education research topic within the National Center for Education Research, Sarah Braisel is the program officer for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education research topic within the National Center for Special Education Research, and Ed Metz is the program officer for both our Small Business Innovation Research program as well as our Education Technology research topic within the National Center for Education Research.