Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

The Month(s) in Review: September and October 2015

By Liz Albro, NCER Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning

New Evaluation of State Education Programs and Policies Awards Announced

Congratulations to the recipients of our Evaluation of State Education Programs and Policies awards. These projects examine a range of topics: low-performing schools, college- and career-readiness standards, and teacher effectiveness and evaluation.

Building Strength in Numbers: Friends of IES Briefings

The Friends of IES, a coalition of research organizations working to raise the visibility of IES-funded studies, asked three IES funded researchers to participate in briefings for Department of Education leadership and for the public on Capitol Hill. Sharing findings from their IES-funded studies, the researchers highlighted how providing high quality mathematics instruction to children as young as three-years-old, and providing systematic and sustained opportunities for those children to learn more mathematics in subsequent instructional years, can substantially narrow achievement gaps at the end of preschool and how those gains can persist over time. What to know more? Read our earlier blog post or the AERA news story for additional details.

Congratulations to Patricia Snyder on receiving the 2015 DEC Award for Mentoring

Congratulations to Patricia Snyder, recipient of the 2015 Division for Early Childhood (DEC) Award for Mentoring. DEC, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children, awards this honor to a member who has provided significant training and guidance to students and new practitioners in the field of early childhood special education. Snyder is a professor of special education and early childhood studies and the David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida. She is also the Principal Investigator (PI) and Training Program Director for a NCSER-funded postdoctoral training grant, Postdoctoral Research Training Fellowships in Early Intervention and Early Learning in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has also served as the PI and co-PI on several other NCSER-funded awards.

Thanks to all of our IES Postdoctoral Fellows: Past, Present and Future!

Did you know that the third week of September was National Postdoc Appreciation Week? While we tweeted our appreciation for the postdocs we support through our NCER and NCSER Postdoctoral Training Programs, we thought you might like to learn a bit more about what some of our postdocs are doing.

Publishing: Postdocs are busy publishing findings from their research. For example, David Braithwaite, a fellow in this Carnegie Mellon postdoctoral training program recently published Effects of Variation and Prior Knowledge on Abstract Concept Learning. Two postdoc fellows, Kimberly Nesbitt and Mary Fuhs, who were trained in this Vanderbilt postdoctoral training program, are co-authors on a recent publication exploring executive function skills and academic achievement in kindergarten.  Josh Polanin, another Vanderbilt postdoc, recently published two methodological papers: one on effect sizes, the other on using a meta-analytic technique to assess the relationship between treatment intensity and program effects.

Receiving Research Funding:  Previous postdoc fellows who trained at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have recently been awarded research funding. Erin Reid and her colleagues were recently awarded an NSF DRK-12 grant to adapt and study a teacher professional development (PD) intervention, called Collaborative Math (CM), for use in early childhood programs. Former fellow David Purpura was recently awarded a grant from the Kinley Trust to delineate the role of language in early mathematics performance. Dr.  Purpura is also co-PI on a 2015 IES grant, Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics.

Congratulations and good luck to all of our recently complete postdocs! Sixteen fellows have completed this year with 10 completing in the past two months. These fellows bringing their expertise to the community as full-time faculty, directors of research programs, and research associates at universities, non-profits, government agencies, and other organizations.

What have the Research Centers Funded? Check Out Our New Summary Documents

NCSER has funded research in a variety of topics relevant to special education and early intervention since 2006. Recently, NCSER staff summarized the work on several topics, with more to come in the future.

Research supported by both Centers is also described in our Compendium of Mathematics and Science Research, which was released in October.

Updated IES Research in the News

Curious to know what other IES-funded research projects have gotten media attention? We recently updated our IES Research in the News page, so that’s your quickest way to find out!

The Month in Review: August 2015

By Liz Albro, NCER Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning

Good Luck to Applicants!

Application deadlines for our main NCER and NCSER competitions have come and gone this month. We accepted applications for 5 competitions on August 6th and 3 competitions on August 20th. Now it’s time for us to begin screening applications and moving them into the peer review process!

NCER Staff Were Out and About

NCER staff had the opportunity to learn from experts in several meetings during the month of August.

Liz Albro attended the CRESST Conference 2015, where she participated in a session titled: Is There a Role for Evidence in the Future of K-16 Technology? The short answer was yes! She was joined at the meeting by Russ Shilling, the Executive Director of STEM Education at the Department, researchers with expertise in educational data mining, cognitive science, learning analytics, and assessment, and developers of education technology from around the world.

On August 20, NCER convened a technical working group (TWG) meeting on Researching the Influence of School Leaders on Student Outcomes. Nine researchers and practitioners who study education leadership met with ED staff to discuss the lessons learned from research that explicitly connects school leadership to student outcomes and the challenges to conducting such research. Department staff, including NCER’s Katina Stapleton, also presented information about education leadership studies funded by the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, and the Office of Innovation and Improvement. A meeting summary will be available soon on our TWG page.

In the final week of August, Meredith Larson, who oversees our research program on adult education, and Daphne Greenberg, the principal investigator of our National R&D Center, the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy, attended the 2015 National Meeting for Adult Education State Directors hosted by the Department’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.

Between Parents and Kids: IES-Funded Research in the News

Two publications from IES-funded research hit the national news this month … and both highlighted the critical role that parent-child interactions play in children’s learning outcomes. In one article, featured on WebMD, Paul Morgan and his colleagues reported that 2-year-old children with larger oral vocabularies demonstrated better academic achievement and behavior at kindergarten entry. The team also discussed child and family characteristics that are related to vocabulary size at age 2, which may help identify which groups of children are at risk for needing early language intervention.

In the other, discussed in the New York Times, Sian Beilock, Susan Levine, and their colleagues reported that parents’ math anxiety is related to their young children’s math achievement – and seems to emerge when math-anxious parents try to help their kids with their math homework.

We Said Farewell to Our Interns

As August ended, our summer interns went back to school. We were sad to see them go, but excited for them as the new school year begins. Think you might be interested in interning at IES? Read an interview with one of our interns, and learn how to apply to the internship program at the Department.

Questions? Comments? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov

Supporting STEM Transfer Through Research at the Intersection of Cognitive Science and Education

By Erin Higgins, NCER Program Officer

Wait, have I already learned that?  Can I use what I learned in math class to help me solve this physics problem? Students struggle with these types of questions every day – unsure how to identify situations where their knowledge is transferrable. Even when they do recognize opportunities to use knowledge learned in one context in a different situation, they may not apply their knowledge appropriately. This is especially true in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. To improve student outcomes in STEM, we need instructional strategies and curricula that help students and teachers with this enduring challenge of transfer.

At the Association for Psychological Science’s 27th Annual Convention, I put together a symposium that highlighted emerging research that addresses this complex issue. Four researchers funded through NCER’s Cognition and Student Learning topic discussed findings from their ongoing research. Each is approaching this issue from a unique perspective regarding factors that help or hinder transfer, and each is examining this issue with different learning tasks, content areas (science, math) and age groups.

Jennifer Kaminski presented research conducted in collaboration with Vladimir Sloutsky (The Role of External Representations in Learning and Transfer of Mathematical Knowledge) that demonstrates that both undergraduate and elementary students who learned a mathematical concept in a simple symbolic format were more likely to transfer their knowledge than those who learned the concept in a more contextualized and perceptually-rich format. This finding is particularly interesting given the widely-held belief that students learn mathematics concepts better with concrete objects, and suggests that there may be many instances where teaching students in a more abstract way facilitates later transfer. This research team is continuing this line of work in their more recently funded IES grant, Facilitating Transfer of Mathematical Knowledge from Classroom to Real Life.

Charles Kalish presented research with elementary-aged students and adults showing that the structure of the math practice problems students encounter affects the memory representations built in response, which then determines whether students can successfully transfer their knowledge in mathematics (Promoting Discriminative and Generative Learning: Transfer in Arithmetic Problem Solving). For instance, in a study with elementary-aged students, 2nd graders practiced arithmetic by playing a computer-based ice cream game, where they had to make ice cream flavors for monsters by combining different types of ice cream. Students who received “grounded” practice interacted with the math practice problems in a way that highlighted the underlying quantities in the arithmetic problem while students who received “symbolic” practice were given standard arithmetic problems to solve. Students who received the grounded practice showed higher performance on a later test on arithmetic problems involving quantities not seen during practice. In light of the research presented by Kaminski in this symposium, this research demonstrates that the issue of transfer in mathematics is extremely complex, and it may be the case that there are circumstances where a more concrete, grounded approach to instruction is best and other circumstances where a symbolic, abstract approach will lead to the best transfer.

Kenneth Kurtz presented research on a technique called category construction, which is a sorting task intended to teach students the conceptual principles that underlie different examples of the same science concepts (Enhancing Learning and Transfer of Science Principles via Category Construction).  Compared to students who engaged in the more standard approach of completing worksheets about science concepts, students who engaged in category construction were better able to apply the newly learned science concepts to novel situations.

Finally, Holly Taylor presented research exploring the effects of a spatial thinking program for elementary-aged children on both spatial thinking and STEM performance (An Elementary-age Origami and Pop-up Paper Engineering Curriculum to Promote the 3-D Spatial Thinking and Reasoning Underlying STEM Education).  Based on origami and paper-engineering activities, the program trains 2D to 3D spatial transformation and diagram interpretation skills. This research is ongoing, though preliminary results suggest that students’ spatial reasoning skills are improved when they engage in this program. Future research will evaluate the extent to which this intervention improves STEM achievement.

Together, these four presenters’ lines of research demonstrate the value of applying traditional cognitive psychology and cognitive development theories to challenges in education practice in order to improve education outcomes for students. By aligning instructional approaches to the ways in which the mind works (e.g., by addressing how different memory models affect how we use information, how spatial reasoning impacts math and science problem solving, and how our perceptual system impacts how we represent information in our minds), we can begin to develop approaches that more effectively impart knowledge to students in ways that will allow for the broadest and most successful transfer.

Additional summaries of the research presented at this symposium can be found at: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/06/03/findings-show-ways-students-can-transfer-math.html and http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2015/06/sorting_improves_science_transfer.html

Questions? Comments? Please send us an email at IESResearch@ed.gov.

Adding Knowledge, Subtracting Student Challenges: The Math Cognition and Learning Conferences

By Rob Ochsendorf (NCSER Program Officer), Joan McLaughlin (NSCER Commissioner), and Liz Berke (NCSER Intern) 


How would you solve this problem?  7 + 25 – 23 = ___.  Skilled math students recognize key features of problems and use appropriate shortcuts when solving problems but recent research led by Dr. Katherine Robinson has shown that less than a third of 7th graders actually used shortcut strategies.  Dr. Robinson noted that, “These students show strong preferences for using well-practiced rote strategies for solving these problems rather than thinking deeply and flexibly about either the problems or how they can use their knowledge of arithmetic to facilitate problem solving.”  


During May of this year, Dr. Robinson and other researchers from across the world convened in St. Louis, Missouri to share findings in the growing area of research known as math cognition. This two-day conference entitled, “Typical and Atypical Learning of Complex Arithmetic Skills and Higher-Order Mathematics Concepts,” is part of a series of five annual conferences, Math Cognition and Learning Conferences  (MCALC), funded by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) with additional support from NCSER.  

Dr.  Joan McLaughlin, NCSER Commissioner, and Dr. Rob Ochsendorf attended MCALC this year and highlighted the importance of math cognition research to support students with or at risk for disabilities in their math learning.  NCSER funds a number of projects in this area, including a National Research and Development Center focused on understanding the cognitive processes involved in the development of fraction skills in elementary school children.  NCSER has taken an interest in the MCALC mission from the beginning and continues to support graduate students’ attendance and participation each year.  

 

At the conclusion of this year’s meeting, NCSER staff talked with lead investigators Dan Berch (University of Virginia) and David Geary (University of Missouri) to discuss the MCALC meetings and activities, which have included the founding of a new international society for math cognition (Mathematical Cognition and Learning) and an edited book series, in addition to the annual meetings.  


What do you think were the key takeaways from the 2015 MCALC meeting? 

The conferences really have two important, interrelated goals.  The first is social - to help researchers, especially the younger ones, develop connections with and discuss their ideas and current research with each other and senior members of the field.  This networking is important for building collaborations and for finding links between different areas of mathematical cognition and learning. The second is to more fully understand mathematical learning and cognition. The focus at this meeting on individual differences highlighted the importance of domain-general and math-specific knowledge in fostering both procedural and conceptual aspects of mathematical development, and provided directions for intervention with struggling students. 

What are the important long term contributions of this series of meetings? 

The long-term goal of the meetings and the new society is to bring together people with a shared interest in quantitative processing and development that might otherwise not be aware of one another's work, much less discuss it one-on-one. The 5-volume series coming out of the meetings is important as well.  We hope that these will provide a critical and useful reference work that highlights cutting edge advances across the whole field, from number processing in nonhumans to educational interventions.

Are there issues that you would like the IES research community to be aware of in terms of these meetings and these developments?  

I'd like to see more IES researchers entering the field. There is a clear need to better understand and foster students' mathematical development and there is now a thriving research community and literature base that makes this an exciting and rewarding field to be a part of. 


Two more MCALC meetings will be held in 2016 and 2017.  


May, 2016 - The Role of Linguistic, Cultural, SES, and Parenting Factors in Mathematical Cognitive Development  


May, 2017 - Improving Mathematical Learning: How Neurobiological, Cognitive, and Developmental Approaches Can Inform the Design of Effective Instructional Interventions 

 

If you are interested in attending one of these upcoming meetings, please contact Dr. Dan Berch.  

Other questions? Comments? Please contact us at IESResearch@ed.gov.