Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

New Reports and Resources Around ELs and STEM

In recent months, several federal reports and resources related to English learner (EL) learning and education related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have been released.

First, the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) released its third “data story” about ELs in US schools. This story, which builds on two previously released stories about the characteristics and educational experiences of ELs, focuses specifically on ELs’ NAEP performance and high school graduation rates. Through interactive infographics (many of which are built on data from the National Center for Education Statistics), the story shows that higher percentages of ELs are proficient in math than in reading, but that nearly half of all states experienced declines in the number of ELs who scored proficient in math between 2009 and 2017. The story also shows that graduation rates for ELs improved by 10 percentage points between 2010-11 and 2015-16 (from 57 percent to 67 percent), but still fall well below the rates for non-ELs (84 percent). While interesting and informative, the data story also underscores the necessity of research and development to produce better resources and information to support EL learning.

In that vein, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. This report examines what we know about ELs’ learning, teaching, and assessment in STEM subjects and provides guidance on how to improve STEM learning outcomes for these students. It reflects the consensus of a committee of EL experts that was chaired by NCER and NCSER grantee Dr. David Francis and included past grantees Dr. Okhee Lee and Dr. Mary Schleppegrell alongside a dozen other experts in EL education, STEM education, and teaching. One of the report’s central conclusions is that ELs develop proficiency in both STEM subjects and language when their classroom teachers provide them with opportunities for meaningful interaction and actively support both content and language learning. Given that many STEM teachers do not receive preparation to teach in this way, the report provides several recommendations to improve pre-service and in-service training. It also includes recommendations for how developers and publishers might produce better instructional materials and assessments to help both teachers and EL students. 

Efforts of both types – instructional preparation and development of new materials – may be further supported by two new toolkits released by the Office of Education Technology. The toolkits are designed for educators and developers, and each is organized around five specific guiding principles to help the targeted group approach education technology with ELs’ unique needs in mind. The principles for developers emphasize the importance of thinking ahead about EL needs for those who wish to make products for this population. Meanwhile, the educator principles center on issues of awareness, and encourage teachers to learn more about the features, platforms, and resources that are available for ELs in the world of education technology. The principles also complement one another – for example, developers are encouraged to offer instruction-focused professional development, and educators are encouraged to seek out the same.

Brought together, these resources provide a snapshot of ELs’ mathematics achievement, a summary of research evidence about learning and instruction for ELs in STEM, and a set of principles to guide instruction and development efforts in the technology space moving forward. They also make a clear case for continued investment in R&D efforts to support STEM learning for both EL students and their teachers. Since 2010, the National Center for Education Research has invested nearly $20 million across 13 research and researcher-practioner partnership grants that have focused on STEM learning and ELs. Several such grants are coming to a close in the 2019 fiscal year; watch this space for future blog posts about the products and findings from these projects.

Exploring New Insights and Approaches to Closing the Gender Achievement Gap in STEM

Gender achievement gaps in education, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) domain continue to persist. On the 2015 NAEP, male students continue to significantly outperform female students in science in Grades 8 and 12, and on the 2017 NAEP, male students outperformed female students in mathematics at Grades 4 and 8. In addition, a recent study by Reardon and colleagues supported by IES found that the gender achievement gap favoring male students in mathematics was related to local socioeconomic conditions, with the gap being more prevalent in more socioeconomically advantaged school districts.

Although we know that the gender achievement gap is pervasive, particularly in STEM, what can we do to help close the gap? Previously, IES released a Practice Guide on Encouraging Girls in Math and Science that included evidence-based recommendations for how practitioners can better support and encourage girls to pursue math- and science-related fields. Adding to this research base, three new FY 2018 IES grants funded under the Education Research Grants program will explore potential causes and correlates of gender differences in achievement that can provide new insights and approaches to closing the gender achievement gap in STEM.  Here is a brief summary of these studies along with their potential contributions to research, practice, and policy.

Gender Stereotypes in STEM – Although many factors influence the gender gap in STEM, research points to gender difference in students' interest and motivation in STEM as a major contributor to later disparities in STEM majors and careers. Allison Master and colleagues will explore how and when gender stereotypes about academic fields emerge, the relationship between stereotypes and motivation in STEM fields, and whether teaching a growth mindset (i.e., the belief that intelligence is malleable) can change stereotypes and improve students' sense of belonging, self-efficacy, interest, and outcomes in STEM in grades 2 to 8. The results from this study will be used to inform the development of future interventions to reduce the impact of STEM-gender stereotypes.

The Relation of Gender-Integrated Classroom Climate to Students' Academic Outcomes - Because boys and girls are typically taught together in classrooms, there is the assumption that boys and girls are cooperative and integrated in their classroom activities, yet evidence suggests this may not be the case.  Some classroom climates facilitate gender integration, while other classroom climates may perpetuate gender segregation where students tend to only work with classmates of the same gender. Carol Lynn Martin and colleagues will examine how gender integration relates to 4th to 6th grade students' school-related engagement and academic perceptions and achievement. The results from this study will provide preliminary evidence of potentially promising practices for gender integration in classrooms that can help girls feel more comfortable working with boys and may encourage persistence in STEM.

Underrepresented Student Learning in Online Introductory STEM College Courses – Online instruction has the potential to make course content more accessible to a larger number of students, thereby strengthening the STEM pipeline. Michelle Perry and colleagues will explore the interaction among various characteristics of online instruction and postsecondary students' persistence in STEM courses. In particular, the researchers will explores how students traditionally underrepresented in STEM (e.g., women, first-generation students, minorities) benefit from or are impeded by online course features (e.g., course videos, discussion boards). The results from this study will provide a theory of postsecondary online STEM instruction that could strengthen persistence in STEM among women and others traditionally underrepresented in STEM. 

Written by Christina Chhin, Education Research Analyst, 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.

 

 

 

Making Contributions: IES-funded Research in Mathematics

From 2002 to 2013, the Institute of Education Sciences has funded scores of research grants with a focus on improving mathematics education. Many of the outcomes of that research have been captured in a new publication, Synthesis of IES-funded Research on Mathematics.  

This Synthesis was co-authored by Bethany Rittle-Johnson, of Vanderbilt University, and Nancy C. Jordan, of University of Delaware, two nationally recognized experts in the area of mathematics education research. The co-authors reviewed published research and organized the synthesis for the public to answer the overarching question—What have we learned? The short answer: A lot!

Here’s a look at the new Synthesis by the numbers:

 

200

Between 2002 and 2013, IES has funded almost 200 grants on mathematics learning and teaching through its two research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

 

69

The co-authors synthesized what was learned from 69 IES-funded grants that had peer-reviewed publications published between January 1, 2002, and June 30, 2014. Grants that did not have peer-reviewed publications during that time frame were not included in this synthesis.

 

28

The Synthesis summarizes 28 contributions that IES grants have made in furthering our understanding of mathematics teaching and learning for students in kindergarten through high school. A summary of research findings is provided for each contribution, along with citations to the publications that will allow practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to access more information about the findings if they are interested.

 

2

The research contributions listed in the Synthesis are divided into two sections

  1. Improving Mathematics Learning in two areas: Whole numbers, operations, and word problem solving in elementary school, and fractions and algebra in the middle grades; and
  2. Development and Evaluation of Teacher Professional Development Approaches.

 

65%

The Synthesis cites research that shows that annual income is 65 percent higher among adults who have taken calculus in high school than among adults who have completed only basic mathematics. It is our hope that this Synthesis will spark efforts to improve American students’ math proficiency and increase their interest in taking higher level math.

 

So, where do we go from here? IES will continue to make significant contributions to mathematics education research and practice. In particular, the co-authors of the Synthesis recommend the following future directions for IES-funded research in mathematics:

  • Replication: Studies of promise or ones that demonstrate positive results must be replicated and extended to ensure that the findings can be reproduced in different educational settings, improve student achievement on measures used by teachers and schools, and lead to improvements that can be sustained over time;
  • Innovation: Future work should continue to innovate and test new strategies for improving mathematics achievement. Research should examine the features of interventions that most effectively build concepts and skills in mathematics topics and address whether observed gains can be transferred to other areas of mathematics learning; and
  • Context: Future research must continue to address what works for whom and under what conditions.

Although the Synthesis provides a broad overview of the contributions IES-funded research has made in mathematics education, it is not exhaustive. There are many more IES-funded studies that did not have published results by June 30, 2014. These studies are likely to produce additional findings on mathematics learning on these topics, as well as on topics not addressed in the Synthesis, such as mathematics learning in high school. Also, it should be noted that other centers and programs within IES conduct research and evaluation on mathematics that can be helpful to researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

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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.