Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Calling All K-12 Students: NASA’s Artemis Program Invites You to Imagine Living on the Moon

Through its Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. NASA is collaborating with commercial and international partners to establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade and to apply what is learned to take the next giant leap—sending astronauts to Mars.

 

K-12 Artemis Moon Pod Student Essay Contest

 

 

NASA is inviting students in kindergarten through Grade 12 to join the Artemis adventure.  Through its challenge, students can imagine “what it might be like if you were living with a pod of astronauts 250,000 miles from Earth.”

In the challenge, students write essays focusing on leading a one-week expedition at the Moon’s South Pole. Plans and details of the expedition should consider the types of skills, attributes, and personality traits of their Moon Pod crew, and one machine, robot, or technology that will be left on the lunar surface to help future astronauts explore the Moon.

Three levels of challenges are being held for students in Grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. Every student who submits an entry will receive a certificate from NASA and be invited to a special NASA virtual event—with an astronaut! For all entry requirements and judging criteria, please read the rules.  Students and teachers can sign up and submit their entry at the contest site. Even if you are not a student you can still participate. U.S. residents over the age of 18 can apply to be judges for the contest to help NASA make their selection.

The essay competition is being managed by a web-based platform developed by Future Engineers based in Burbank, California.  This platform was created with the support of a 2017 award from the IES Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR).  Future Engineers built this 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 Artemis essay contest follows the Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” contest, which was also managed by Future Engineers. (See the recap of that challenge here.)

 

Stay tuned for the winning essays in the months to come!

 


Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov) is a research scientist at the Institute of Education Sciences at the US Department of Education and Program Manager of ED/IES SBIR.

Katherine Brown is the lead communication specialist for the Office of STEM Engagement at NASA.

 

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 Office of STEM Engagement

NASA’s journeys have propelled technological breakthroughs, pushed the frontiers of scientific research, and expanded our understanding of the universe. These accomplishments, and those to come, share a common genesis: education in science, technology, engineering, and math. NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement strives to create unique opportunities for a diverse set of students to contribute to NASA’s work in exploration and discovery; build a diverse future STEM workforce by engaging students in authentic learning experiences with NASA’s people, content and facilities; and attract diverse groups of students to STEM through learning opportunities that spark interest and provide connections to NASA’s mission and work. To achieve these goals, NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement strives to inspire the next generation to discover their way to a new era of American innovation and explore further into space than ever before.

 

Small Changes to Textbook Design Can Make a Big Difference for Student Learning

During spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of millions of U.S. schools. As schools reopened this fall, conversations have revolved around using this unique situation as a chance to rethink education and how students learn. When we think about innovative ways to improve education, ideas tend to gravitate towards radical changes to the classroom experience, expensive interventions, and costly professional development. Everyone is looking for the next “big” idea, but perhaps part of the solution lies in a more subtle, inexpensive, and less disruptive change that may be as impactful as a completely new education approach: strategic revisions to the materials teachers and students already use in their classrooms (whether in person or virtual).

Textbooks (or ebooks) and supplemental education materials are central to providing students with the content knowledge and practice experiences to support mastery of academic skills. Textbook developers spend significant time and effort to ensure that the content in those textbooks aligns to standards and provides students with the information and examples needed to understand key concepts. However, even with age-appropriate content and high-quality practice exercises, textbooks may not be effective as learning tools if they present and sequence information in a way that is not aligned to what we know about how people learn.

You may be wondering how much room there is for improvement—textbooks seem pretty good at delivering content as is, right? Actually, findings from three IES-funded projects demonstrate that there are multiple ways to improve texts and student understanding of key concepts. Here are a few of those ways:

 

Present a wide range of fraction practice problems. Textbooks focused on fractions learning tend to present more problems with equal denominators for addition and subtraction problems than for multiplication problems. Why does this matter? In IES-funded research, David Braithwaite and Bob Siegler showed that students pick up on this bias. As a result, students are more likely to make errors on equal denominator fractions multiplication problems because they are so used to seeing those problems when practicing fractions arithmetic and subtraction. The recommended minor change is to include a wider range of fractions practice problems, including equal denominator multiplication problems, to ensure that students do not form irrelevant associations between superficial features of a practice problem and the solution strategies they are practicing.

 

Provide students with a mix of practice problems that require different strategies rather than practice problems of the same type. Typical math practice involves solving the same type of problem repeatedly to practice the specific solution strategy a student just learned. However, across numerous IES-funded studies, Douglas Rohrer and his research team have shown that students benefit substantially more from math practice that involves a mix of problems that require different strategies (those learned in previous lessons mixed with those just learned). One of the major benefits of this approach is that students get practice choosing which strategy to use for a particular problem. Rohrer and his team found that across 13,505 practice problems from six popular math textbooks, only 9.7% of those problems were mixed up in this way. The recommended minor change is to simply mix up the problem sets so that students have more experiences encountering different types of problems in a single sitting.

 

Where and how you place visuals on textbook pages matters, especially when you want students to compare them. Textbooks typically use visuals such as diagrams and photos to help reinforce key concepts. In an IES-funded study, Bryan Matlen and colleagues examined anatomy and evolution chapters within three popular middle school science textbooks and found an average of 1.8 visuals per page. Students were expected to make comparisons using about a third of those visuals. Of those they had to compare, about half were positioned in suboptimal ways—that is, the images were not presented in a way that made it easy to identify how the elements of one image compare to the elements of the other. For example, imagine a student is asked to compare two x-ray images of hands to identify a bone that is missing from one of them. This task is much harder if one hand is shown upside down and the other is right-side up or perpendicular to the first image. Consistent with this example, Matlen and colleagues have conducted studies showing that visual comparisons are more effective when the features of the visuals that need to be compared are spatially aligned. The recommended minor change is to be intentional about the placement of visuals that students are supposed to be comparing; make sure they are placed in optimal alignment to each other so that it is easier for students to see how the features of one correspond to those of the other.

 

In sum, transformative, radical ideas about how to improve education are interesting to brainstorm about, but sometimes the key to improvement is identifying small changes that can deliver big results.


Written by Erin Higgins (Erin.Higgins@ed.gov), Program Officer for the Cognition and Student Learning Program, National Center for Education Research.

 

Exploring How COVID-19 Affects Learning and Critical Thinking

Our nation continues to navigate a unique and challenging year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In our first blog post in this series, we highlighted how educators, students, families, and researchers are adapting while trying to engage in opportunities to support learning. COVID-19 has created numerous challenges in education research with many studies needing to be modified or put on hold. At the same time, new research questions arise focusing on the impact of the pandemic on student learning, engagement, and achievement. Here, we highlight two IES-funded projects that are conducting timely and relevant research exploring the impact of COVID-19 on learning and critical thinking.    

Guanglei Hong, Lindsey Richland, and their research team at University of Chicago and University of California, Irvine have received supplemental funds to build off their current grant, Drawing Connections to Close Achievement Gaps in Mathematics. The research team will conduct a study during the 2020-21 school year to explore the relationship between student anxiety about the health risks associated with COVID-19 and their math learning experiences. They predict that pressure and anxiety, like that induced by COVID-19, use the same executive function resources that students need to engage in higher order thinking and reasoning during math instruction, which negatively affects the ability to learn. Through this study, the research team will also test whether particular instructional approaches reduce the effects of pressure and anxiety on learning. These findings will be useful for teachers and students in the near term as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and longer term for students who experience anxiety due to a variety of other reasons.

In addition, IES has funded an unsolicited grant to Clarissa Thompson at Kent State University to investigate whether an education intervention aimed at decreasing whole number bias errors can help college-aged students and adults more accurately interpret health statistics about COVID-19. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the public receives daily updates about the number of people locally, nationally, and globally who are infected with and die from COVID-19. Beliefs about the risk of getting a disease is a key predictor of engagement in prevention behaviors. Understanding the magnitude of one’s risk may require making sense of numerical health information, often presented in the form of rational numbers, such as fractions, whole number frequencies, and percentages. An intervention to decrease whole number bias errors and improve understanding of rational numbers has the immediate and pressing benefit of being able to accurately reason about the risk of COVID-19 and other health risks. This skill is also critical for success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Both of these projects offer opportunities to better understand learning and critical thinking in the midst of the pandemic. They will also provide the field with generalizable information about ways to improve learning in STEM fields. Stay tuned for more COVID-19 related education research discussions as we continue this series on our blog.

 


Written by Christina Chhin (christina.chhin@ed.gov) and Erin Higgins (erin.higgins@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research (NCER).

This is the third in a series of blog posts focusing on conducting education research during COVID-19. Other blog posts in this series include Conducting Education Research During COVID-19 and Measuring Attendance during COVID-19: Considerations for Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Environments.

 

Back to School During COVID19: Developers and Researchers Continue to Respond to Support In-Class and Remote Teaching and Learning

 

Many programs across the Federal government, such as the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the IES Research Grants programs, fund projects to develop and evaluate new forms of education technology and interventions that can be implemented to support instruction and learning at schools and for remote learning. More than 150 of these technologies were demoed in January 2020 at the ED Games Expo, a showcase for learning games and technologies developed with support from IES and more than 30 other Federal programs.

Since the global outbreak of COVID19 and the closure of schools across the United States and the world, a group of government-supported developers and researchers responded to provide resources to educators, students, and families to facilitate remote learning. More than 50 developers and researchers offered 88 learning games and technologies at no cost through the end of the school year for use in distance learning settings with internet access (see this blog for the list). In addition, many of the developers and researchers provided technical assistance directly to individual teachers to support implementation at a distance, and many created new materials and worked to refine and adapt their products to optimize usability and feasibility for fully remote use. More than a million students and thousands of educators used these learning technologies during the spring.

In April and May 2020, more than 70 developers and researchers partnered to produce and participate in a series of free day-long virtual events, which were called “unconferences.” The events featured presentations on innovative models and approaches to teaching and learning remotely and provided an in-depth look at the learning games and technologies created by the presenters. More than 25,000 educators attended these virtual events in real-time, hundreds asked questions and made comments through chats during the events, and many thousands more have accessed these videos after the events. See this blog for the list of archived videos.

A New Resource: Guides to Education Technologies that are Ready Now

As schools begin re-opening for the new school year, a group of 70 developers and researchers have collaborated to produce a new series of Guides to Education Technologies. The guides present information on government-supported education technology products that are ready now for in-class and remote learning. All the resources are web-based and can be used on either computers, tablets, or personal devices. The resources in the guides include a mix of no-cost products as well as ones that are fee-based.  

With awards from government programs, all of the resources were developed through an iterative process with feedback from teachers and students, and most were evaluated through small pilot studies to measure the promise of the technologies to support improvements in student learning and relevant educational outcomes. All the products were used and demonstrated to be feasible for use in remote settings in the spring after the onset of the pandemic.

The guides present resources appropriate for young children through postsecondary students in education and special education, for English learners, and for teachers in education and special education across a wide range of educational topics. Many of the technologies personalize learning by adjusting content to students as they go and present information to educators to inform instruction.

The Guides focus on the following areas and can be accessed below:

 

Stay tuned to the Inside IES Blog for more information and resources about the response to the COVID-19 in education.


Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov) is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

 

NASA Launches a Rocket to Mars with a Rover (Perseverance) and Helicopter (Ingenuity) On Board to Explore

Editor’s Note: This Inside IES Blog is crossed-posted on Homeroom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education.

 

On July 30, 2020, NASA launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a journey to Mars. The rocket is carrying a rover named Perseverance and a helicopter named Ingenuity, both of which will land inside Mars's Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. While on Mars, Perseverance and Ingenuity will collect the first Martian soil and rock samples for future return to Earth, search for signs of extinct or extant life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet with the help of new technologies and scientific instruments.

Perseverance and Ingenuity were named by students through a national Kindergarten to Grade 12 student competition run by NASA in partnership with Future Engineers and Battelle Education.

The student whose entry won the prize to name the rover is Alexander Mather, a seventh grader from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Alexander submitted the name Perseverance and included the following in his essay:

“Curiosity. Insight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past Mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious, and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing. Perseverance.”

 

Watch the March 5 program where the winning name was revealed here:

 

The student whose entry won the prize to name the helicopter is Vaneeza Rupani, a junior at Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport, Alabama. Vanessa submitted the name Ingenuity and included the following in her essay:

"The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration. Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things, and it allows us to expand our horizons to the edges of the universe."

 

Watch the video trailer featuring the naming of the Mars helicopter: 

 

About the “Name the Rover” Contest

Not only did the contest help NASA pick a new name for the rover, it also engaged U.S. students in the engineering and scientific work that makes Mars exploration possible, stimulated interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and inspired the next generation of STEM leaders.

After launching the competition in August 2019, students from 50 states, U.S. territories, and military bases submitted over 28,000 essays. More than 4,500 volunteer judges narrowed the pool to 155 semifinalists. From these, NASA chose nine finalists—Clarity, Courage, Endurance, Fortitude, Ingenuity, Perseverance, Promise, Tenacity, and Vision—and opened a public poll in which anyone could vote. After considering these poll results, NASA officials chose the two names.

To manage the competition, NASA used a web-based platform developed by Burbank, California-based Future Engineers.  This platform was created with the support of a 2017 award from the U.S. Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR).  Future Engineers built this 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 was the first naming challenge issued on the platform. We look forward to more student challenges to come!


Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov) 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. 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.