IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

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.

ED/IES SBIR Awardee Leads Event Featuring Live Conversation with a NASA Astronaut in Space

On Wednesday June 27, 2018, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum held Space Innovation Day, an event to celebrate space exploration, STEM education, and students as makers. The event was co-developed by the museum and Future Engineers, a technology firm that is a current awardee of the U.S. Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research Program (ED/IES SBIR). 

In the morning, the event featured a live conversation (called a “downlink”) between NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor on the International Space Station and Washington, D.C.-area students at the museum. After a brief introduction of Auñón-Chancellor as she floated around in the space station, students asked her a series of questions such as “What it is like to experience space?” and “What does it take to be an astronaut?”

The morning also included on-stage interviews with three students who won the Future Engineers Two For the Crew ChallengeThrough this national competition, sponsored by the ASME Foundation with technical assistance from NASA, K-12 students submitted a digital design of an astronaut tool intended to be manufactured on the International Space Station using a 3-D Printer. This tool allows innovative solutions to be provided to the astronauts immediately and means that NASA does not need to ship tools into space. One of the student winners designed “2 Pliers + 1 Handle,” a set of tool parts including needle-nose and lineman’s pliers with attachable handles. The 3-D printed multi-purpose tool can be customized into many different configurations when in space.

The challenge competition was run through a web-based platform that Future Engineers is developing with the support of a 2017 award from ED/IES SBIR.  The platform provides an online hub for students to create and submit solutions to innovation design challenges. Future Engineers is planning to launch the school version of their platform in the 2018-19 school year, with the goal of bringing many different kinds of maker design challenges to classrooms around the country across many areas of STEM for grades K to 12.

The afternoon of the event featured hands-on exhibits with educational opportunities for hundreds of students and museum attendees, including a 3-D design makerspace by Future Engineers, an augmented reality solar system experience by the Space Foundation, and a virtual reality space station experience by NASA.

We look forward to more maker design challenge events in the future!

Edward Metz is a program officer at the Institute of Education Sciences.

 

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 in thousands of schools around the country.

 

 

 

Announcing ED/IES SBIR’s 2018 Awards: Funding the Next Generation of Education Technology

In recent years, thousands of schools around the country have used technologies developed through the Small Business Innovation Research program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (ED/IES SBIR). The program emphasizes a rapid research and development (R&D) process, with rigorous research informing iterative development and evaluating the promise of products for improving the intended outcomes. ED/IES SBIR also focuses on the commercialization after development is complete so that products can reach schools and be sustained over time.


This month, IES announced 21 new awards for 2018. Of these, 15 are Phase I projects to develop and test a prototype, and six are Phase II projects to fully develop and evaluate an education technology product for students, teachers, or administrators to use in classrooms and schools. A playlist of videos from the Phase II projects is available below. 

Many of the new projects continue trends that have emerged across the portfolio in recent years, including creating learning games and dashboards that present data to inform learning and instruction in core subjects like reading and math. Several other awards are for projects that promote learning in new areas, such as computer science and Career and Technical Education.

Trend #1: Learning Games

Games are increasingly being used to engage students in learning by presenting content in new ways. For the eighth straight year, many new ED/IES SBIR awardees will be developing game-based learning products.

  • Phase II awardee Electric Funstuff and Phase I awardee Schell Games are developing virtual reality (VR) games to immerse students in history in 360-degree environments, and Phase I awardee Gigantic Mechanic is developing a role-playing game on civic discourse facilitated by tablet-based computers.
  • With Phase I funding, Fablevision and Sirius Thinking are creating interventions that employ game mechanics to improve reading.
  • Several project teams are embedding storylines within learning games, including Phase II awardee MidSchoolMath for algebra, and Phase I awardees Codespark for computer science and Immersed Games for ecosystems science.
  • The 3C Institute is creating a game-based assessment of early grade science learning.

Trend #2: Dashboards for Students, Teachers and Administrators

Modern technologies provide the opportunity to organize and present data in real-time to students, teachers, and administrators to inform learning and decision-making. Several new awards are developing data dashboards.

  • Phase II awardees are fully developing dashboards across several areas. LiveSchool will generate reports on students’ behavior across classes with a recommendation engine for administrators and teachers to address challenges, StoryWorld will provide teachers of English Learners insights into students’ language acquisition, and Simbulus and Myriad Sensors will present real-time information to enrich classroom discussions on math and science topics.
  • Phase I projects by Appendis and Graspable are creating adaptive learning technologies which include teacher dashboards to present results on student performance to guide instruction. VidCode is creating a dashboard for teachers to monitor student progress in learning coding. Education Modified is developing a dashboard to provide special education teachers guidance on student IEPs, or individual educational plans.

New Areas of Focus

Along with continuing to support projects in the areas above, a series of Phase I 2018 awards are focusing on areas new to ED/IES SBIR.  VidCode, CodeSpark, and Zyante are focusing on computer science learning and Core Learning is seeking to build capacity in Career and Technical Education (CTE). Language Learning Partners is developing an automated avatar tutor to support English Learners through conversation. And in special education, Attainment Company is developing an app for supporting student writing.

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-supported Technology to be Used in Hundreds of Schools

A technology-based instructional tool—developed and evaluated through IES funding—will now be put it to use in hundreds of schools across the country with the goal of improving students’ literacy outcomes. The United2Read Project was recently awarded a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) expansion grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The EIR grants provide funding to develop, expand, and evaluate innovative, evidence-based programs designed to improve student achievement.

A2i (pictured right) includes a series of assessments to measure component literacy skills of students and provide information that teachers can use to individualize literacy instruction in Kindergarten through Grade 3.  The assessments cover a wide range of literacy skills, including vocabulary, decoding, word reading, spelling, sentence and paragraph writing, comprehension, and inferencing.

A2i assessments are given throughout the school year to monitor student progress, and A2i’s algorithms are updated in real-time to provide teachers with recommendations for instruction for each student and changes to grouping.

This project demonstrates the critical role IES plays in supporting research to develop innovative teaching and learning products and test those products for efficacy.  Over the past 13 years, A2i was developed, evaluated, and scaled with a progression of awards from IES, as well as the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH/NICHD).

  • With a 2004 IES research grant, researchers at the University of Michigan and Florida State University conducted basic research to understand how the effects of different types of literacy instruction (e.g., phonics vs. meaning focused) depend on children’s constellation of language, phonological awareness, decoding and encoding, and comprehension skills. The team then used the findings from this initial work to build and test an initial version of A2i with first-grade students. The research demonstrated that instruction tailored to students’ skills and learning needs, and adjusted over time, is more effective than one-size-fits-all approaches.
  • With a 2007 IES research grant, the researchers expanded A2i into second- and third-grade classrooms. They also tested the effects of implementing the system with second-grade students who had received A2i-informed instruction in Grade 1, as well as those who had not.
  • With a 2013 IES research grant and grant support from NIH/NICHD, researchers at Florida State and Arizona State conducted seven randomized controlled studies examining the impact of A2i on student reading. The results suggest that individualizing literacy instruction with A2i recommendations led to stronger literacy gains for K-3 students. On average, students who used A2i across multiple years ended third grade reading at a grade 5 level. The research included students who qualified for the National School Lunch Program and who received special education services.
  • With a 2013 IES research grant to Arizona State University (which was later transferred in 2016 to University of California, Irvine) and a 2014 award from the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program to Learning Ovations, an education technology development firm, the researchers upgraded the underlying data architecture of A2i to enable scale and implementation in classrooms across the nation. Research results demonstrated that the more teachers viewed student test scores, the greater the students’ literacy skill gains.
     

(Findings from all publications on the A2i software and related professional development are posted on Learning Ovations website.) 

The new EIR expansion grant was awarded to a consortium of researchers and developers, including researchers at UC Irvine, Learning Ovations, Digital Promise (a non-profit), and MDRC, a national evaluation firm. At least 300 schools and 100,000 students will be served through the grant, which will also support a large-scale effectiveness trial to measure the impact of the project on student reading achievement.

Ed Metz is a Research Scientist at IES, where he leads the SBIR and the Education Technology Research Grants programs.

Erin Higgins is an Education Research Analyst at IES, where she leads the Cognition and Student Learning Research Grants program.

Using Game-Based Technologies for Civic Education

It is clear that civic education is a priority in the United States. All U.S. states require students to take a civics or government course and many provide opportunities for students to perform community service or service learning to practice active citizenship.

Screenshot of ECO

However, reports illustrate that many young people are not being adequately prepared as citizens. For example, in the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in Civics only one-quarter of students reached “proficient” in knowledge of key facts on the U.S. Constitution or the functions of government.

Amid calls to strengthen civic education, IES has funded several interventions that are leveraging technological innovation and game design to engage students. These projects are mainly funded through two IES programs—the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program and Education Research Grants in Education Technology.

Among the projects IES has funded:

  • ECO (pictured above) is a game-based virtual environment where students collaboratively build a shared civilization and, in the process, apply democratic skills such as making rules and laws, analyzing data, and deliberation (watch video);
  • Discussion Maker is a role-playing game where students debate a civic issue, such as freedom of speech. The technology assigns each student a role, facilitates analysis and using evidence to make an argument, and organizes face-to-face debates and deliberation (watch video);
  • GlobalED2 is a role-playing game addressing a simulated global crisis (e.g., major oil spill or water scarcity) where students act as representatives of different countries governments. Students analyze the issue from the perspective of their country and negotiate with other countries to create a solution (watch video);
  • EcoMUVE is a 3D multi-user virtual pond or forest environment where students apply inquiry-based practices to understand causal patterns in ecological science (watch video); andScreenshot of Up from the Dust
  • Mission US’s Up from the Dust (pictured right) is a historical fiction adventure style game where students take on the role wheat farmers during the Great Depression in Texas 1929, and in doing so guide decisions by learning about the interaction of agriculture, the environment, and how government policies affect the economy (watch video).

Specific design elements of these games offer new ways to stimulate young people’s civic knowledge, skills, and engagement. For example:

All of these interventions employ game-based learning to motivate and engage students in new ways. For example, ECO is an unscripted “sandbox” where students create unique and personalized worlds, while Up from the Dust follows an adventure-based historical story. GlobalED2 and Discussion Maker employ role-playing and EcoMUVE guides inquiry-based virtual and real-world exploration.

Additionally, these programs all seek to build citizenship skills with cross-disciplinary content. For example, ECO, EcoMUVE, and GlobalED2 focus building citizen-science skills such as inquiry and analysis; Discussion Maker can apply content from almost any course within democratic debate; and Up from the Dust immerses students in a storyline with history, economics, and government concepts.

At the same time, these interventions also promote collaborative civic learning by simulating democratic processes for a whole class of students, both virtually and face-to-face. In ECO, students collaborate to create their own government with which they need to maintain through rules and laws. Discussion Maker and GlobalED2 use analysis, deliberation, and debates for individuals and groups of students. In EcoMUVE, students can conduct inquiry-based learning within the virtual environment. In Up from the Dust students engage in group discussions after gameplay to assess how specific decisions influenced results.

Several of these games also allow for feasible classroom implementation of what would otherwise be complex interventions. For example, some of the interventions provide real-time cues to students as they progress through the game, allowing a teacher to focus on facilitating overall instruction rather than coordinating every step of the game for every student.

To learn more about these projects, and to learn more about upcoming funding opportunities for the research and development and evaluation of technologies that support civic learning, visit the IES website or follow IES on Facebook and Twitter @IESResearch

Ed Metz is a Research Scientist at IES, where he leads the SBIR and the Education Technology Research Grants programs.