Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

IES Honors Dominic Gibson as Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow

Each year, IES recognizes an outstanding fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. The 2018 winner, Dr. Dominic Gibson completed his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Chicago. He is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Washington where he specializes in understanding how children learn words and mathematical concepts. In this blog, Dominic discusses his research and his experience as an IES fellow.  

What inspired you to focus your research on early mathematics?

So many everyday activities as well as many of humanity’s greatest achievements rely on math. Simple math becomes so second nature to us that it is often difficult for older students to conceptualize what it would be like to not have a basic understanding of numbers. But children take months and often years to learn the meanings of just the first few number words (one, two, three) and to learn how the counting procedure really works. Children’s acquisition of other math terms (angle, proportion, unit of measurement) is similarly marked by misconceptions and slow, difficult learning.  

Overcoming these learning challenges relies on an interesting mixture of uniquely human abilities (like language) and skills we share with other animals. Moreover, children’s ability to master early math concepts predicts their future academic success. Therefore, by studying how children learn about math, we can better understand the sources of humanity’s unique achievements and apply this knowledge to reducing early achievement gaps and maximizing our potential.

Based on your research, what advice would you give parents of pre-kindergartners on how to help their children develop math skills?

My biggest piece of advice is to talk to children about numbers and other basic math concepts. Children benefit from abundant language input in general, and “math talk” is no different. Even simply talking about different numbers of things seems to be particularly important for acquiring early math concepts. Numbers can be easily incorporated into a variety of activities, like taking a walk (“let’s count the birds we see”) or going to the grocery store (“how many oranges should we buy?”). Likewise, good jumping off points for using other types of early math talk such as relational language are activities like puzzles (“this one is too curvy to fit here—we need to find a piece with a flat edge”) and block building (“can you put this small block on top of the bigger one?”).

It also may be useful to note that even when a child can say a word, they may not fully understand what it means. For instance, two- to four-year-old children can often recite a portion of the count list (for example, the numbers one through ten) but if you ask them to find a certain number of items (“can you give me three blocks?”) they may struggle when asked for sets greater than two or three. Therefore, in addition to counting, it is important to connect number words to specific quantities (“look there are three ducks”). It may be especially helpful to connect counting to the value of a set (“let’s count the ducks—one, two, three—there are three!”).

My last piece of advice is to be careful about the types of messages we send our children about math. Many people experience “math anxiety,” and if we are not careful, children can pick up on these signals and become anxious about math themselves or internalize negative stereotypes about the types of people who are and are not good at math. Ensuring that children feel empowered to excel in math is an important ingredient for their success.

How has being an IES predoctoral fellow helped your development as a researcher?

The diverse group of people and perspectives I encountered as an IES predoctoral fellow made a huge impact on my development as a researcher. As an IES predoctoral fellow pursuing a degree in psychology, I met many students and faculty members who were interested in the same questions that interest me but who approached these questions from a variety of other disciplines, such as economics, public policy, and sociology. I also connected with networks of educators and policymakers outside of academia who alerted me to important issues that I may have missed if I had only worked within my own discipline. Through these experiences, I gained new tools for conducting my research and learned to avoid the types of blind spots that often develop when approaching a problem from a single perspective. In particular, I gained an appreciation for the challenges of translating basic science to educational practice and the number of interesting research questions that emerge when attempting to do this work.

Compiled by Katina Rae Stapleton, Education Research Analyst and Program Officer for the Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences, National Center for Education Research

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

Rethinking Connections Between Research and Practice in Education

IES-funded researchers from the Center for Research Use in Education (CRUE) at the University of Delaware recently learned that their article, “Rethinking Connections Between Research and Practice in Education: A Conceptual Framework,” was the 8th most-read article in any AERA journal in 2018!

In the article, the authors argue that “Recent efforts to improve the quality and availability of scientific research in education, coupled with increased expectations for the use of research in practice, demand new ways of thinking about connections between research and practice.”

Elizabeth Farley-Ripple, University of Delaware, CRUE
Elizabeth Farley-Ripple, University of Delaware, CRUE
 

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), education leaders must use evidence to inform their practice. However, the CRUE researchers argue that this simple framing “risks reducing evidence use to an administrative task rather than multiple activities constituting a political and social practice within a complex organizational process.” In fact, “the field lacks a comprehensive understanding of what evidence-based decision-making looks like in practice—for example, when is evidence brought into the decision-making process? Who engages with it? How is it understood in the local context? How often is it reviewed?”

CRUE’s research on this issue reveals gaps in the assumptions and perspectives of the research and practice communities, including the usefulness of research products; the nature and quality of research; the problems that research addresses; the structures, processes, and incentives for research production and use; and the specific relationships between the communities. They present a conceptual framework that highlights how these differences in understanding affect both the depth of research use and the depth of research production. Their article in Educational Researcher explains each of these and how they work together.

The framework shows that increasing education research use in practice is a complex, bidirectional issue, in which characteristics of both communities play a part: researchers need to produce work that is “decision-relevant,” and practitioners need to make decisions that are “research-attuned.” 

Written by Corinne Alfeld, NCER Program Officer

Recognizing Our Outstanding IES Predoctoral Fellows

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recognizes an outstanding fellow from our Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. This year, IES has selected joint recipients for the 2017 award: Rachel Abenavoli and Callie Little. They will receive their awards and present their research at the annual IES Principal Investigators meeting in Washington, D.C. in January 2019.

Dr. Abenavoli received her doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). She is currently a postdoctoral research scientist at New York University’s Steinhardt’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change, and is working in the area of early learning and social-emotional development.  Dr. Little received her doctorate in Developmental Psychology from Florida State University (FSU). She is currently a research fellow in the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences at the University of New England in Australia, where she specializes in understanding the development of cognitive and academic skills for individuals from early childhood through college.

We asked our Outstanding Fellows how participating in an IES-funded predoctoral training program helped their development as researchers.

Rachel Abenavoli

The IES-funded predoctoral training program at Penn State provided me with the resources, opportunities, and skills needed to begin building my own program of education research. I began my graduate program with broad interests in young childrenRachel Abenavoli’s social-emotional functioning. The fellowship helped me shape and narrow the focus of my research. By participating in regular seminars, attending talks, and meeting with external invited speakers, I began applying my developmental lens and focus on early social-emotional skills to the study of educational contexts and educationally-relevant outcomes. With generous fellowship funding that gave me the freedom and flexibility to pursue my own research questions, I was able to focus my work in graduate school on the interplay between children’s social-emotional and academic skills as they make the transition to school.

The IES fellowship also provided me with opportunities to learn, practice, and hone my methodological skills. Courses and seminars in program evaluation, causal inference, and multilevel modeling were particularly critical in building my capacity for conducting rigorous school-based research. Invited speakers complemented these core learning experiences by highlighting best practices and innovative approaches in education science. I came away from this training equipped with a range of analytic and methodological tools that are necessary to address the diversity and complexity of education research questions, settings, and designs.

Being an IES fellow has also connected me to a network of established and early career education researchers. Regular meetings with faculty mentors and other IES fellows from different home departments provided a space to discuss new ideas, experiences in the field, and possible collaborations. Conference funding enabled me to attend education research conferences and expand my professional network beyond Penn State. Engaging with this community solidified for me the value of a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to understanding children’s learning and development in context.

My work is more rigorous and more relevant to education practice and policy because of the IES predoctoral fellowship, and I’m so grateful for the experiences, mentors, and other fellows who are critical to the success of the program at Penn State.

Callie Little

First and foremost, the support and training I received through the IES pre-doctoral fellowship at FSU provided me with an intense and philosophical appreciation of construct validity: whether an investigation can accurately measure what it was designeCallie Littled to measure. This appreciation will continue to guide how I develop and implement research studies.

The rigorous statistical courses included in FSU’s core curriculum provided a solid foundation for building my quantitative skills. Additionally, the combined focus on study-design and methodological training supplied me with a comprehensive knowledge base and the skills to investigate the complex associations among reading skills, and between reading skills and behavioral outcomes. The exposure to multiple advanced statistical methods coupled with the opportunity to directly apply these methods to relevant data so early in my career prepared me for my current projects which use large-scale twin data to conduct high-quality research on individual differences in the development of cognitive and academic skills.

The multidisciplinary environment at FSU, with its rich and diverse range of research programs and faculty, exposed me to a series of analytic techniques and content-area expertise that helped to shape an open-minded and creative approach to formulating research questions. This unique environment was one of the greatest advantages to the IES fellowship, providing the opportunity for strong mentorship, collaboration, and feedback. Most importantly, I used this opportunity to develop ongoing projects with colleagues where we innovatively combine evidence-based methods from several fields.

Fellowship funding enabled me to attend conferences and workshops with other IES fellowship teams, and provided me with access to research resources. I gained new insights into science communication, learned new techniques, and broadened my network of collaborators. I was able to recruit participants and purchase standardized assessment materials, and design and implement several of my own studies during my Ph.D. The resulting rich and unique data sets form the foundation of my current independent research.  From my experiences through the IES fellowship at FSU, I stand well-prepared to continue to conduct innovative and high-quality research into the complex mechanisms underlying achievement.

Katina Stapleton is the program officer for the Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences.