Computational thinking is a critical set of skills that provides learners with the ability to solve complex problems with data. The importance of computational thinking has led to numerous initiatives to infuse computer science into all levels of schooling. High-quality research, however, has not been able to keep up with the demand to integrate these skills into K–12 curricula. IES recently funded projects under the Education Research Grants, the Small Business Innovation Research, and the Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Education Interventions programs that will explore computational thinking and improve the teaching and learning of computer science.
- Greg Chung and his team at the University of California, Los Angeles will explore young children’s computational thinking processes in grades 1 and 3. The team will examine students’ thought processes as they engage in visual programming activities using The Foos by codeSpark.
- The team from codeSpark will develop and test a mobile game app for grade schoolers to learn coding skills through creative expression. The game supports teachers to integrate computational thinking and coding concepts across different lesson plans in English Language Arts and Social Studies.
- VidCode will develop and test a Teacher Dashboard to complement their website where students learn to code. The dashboard will guide teachers in using data to improve their instruction.
- Lane Educational Service District will work with researchers from the University of Oregon to evaluate the impact of the district’s Coder-in-Residence program on student learning and engagement.
IES is eager to support more research focused on exploring, developing, evaluating, and assessing computational thinking and computer science interventions inclusive of all learners. IES program officer, Christina Chhin, will speak at the Illinois Statewide K-12 Computer Science Education Summit on September 20, 2019 to provide information about IES research funding opportunities and resources focusing on computer science education.
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
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
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 Challenge. Through 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.
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