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

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.

Recognizing Our Outstanding IES Fellows

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences recognizes some of its fellows for their academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. This year, IES has selected Rachel Baker as the 2016 Outstanding Fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences.

Dr. Baker (pictured right) received her doctorate in Higher Education Policy and the Economics of Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Policy at the University of California, Irvine, where she studies inequalities in postsecondary access and success using behavioral economic models of decision making and quasi-experimental and experimental methods. Dr. Baker will receive her award and present her research at the annual IES Principal Investigators meeting in Washington, D.C. in January 2018.

For the first time this year, IES is also recognizing two finalists for the outstanding fellow award, Dr. Elizabeth Tighe and Dr. Karrie E. Godwin.

Dr. Tighe received her doctorate in Cognitive Psychology from Florida State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at Georgia State University where she focuses on advancing our understanding of the literacy skills and instructional needs of struggling adult readers who attend Adult Basic and Secondary Education programs.

Dr. Godwin received her doctorate in Developmental Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology in the School of Lifespan Development and Educational Sciences at Kent State University. Her research examines how cognitive and environmental factors shape children’s development and learning in the laboratory and in the classroom.

We asked all three awardees how participating in an IES predoctoral training program helped their development as researchers.  For more information about the IES predoctoral training program, visit our website.

Rachel Baker, Fellow in Stanford University Predoctoral Training Program in Quantitative Education Policy Analysis

With full acknowledgement that it is impossible to know for certain how my development as a researcher has been shaped by participating in the IES pre-doctoral fellowship (where’s the counterfactual?), I can point to three factors that I think have been critical:  (1) the community of Stanford’s IES pre-doctoral fellows and  associated faculty, (2) the tightly structured curriculum and frequent opportunities to engage with high quality research, and (3) the freedom, within this structure, to engage with my own research questions.

From my first day at the Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, I was exposed to a pervasive culture of intellectual rigor and the pursuit of high-quality research. But this culture of exactitude was paired with diversity of thought, a true investment in the ideas and work of students, and a sense of collegiality and collaboration. Every day, I felt both challenged and supported by the Stanford IES group. This professional network has been essential to my growth.

CEPA’s core curriculum prepared me well to conduct high-quality, policy-focused research. In particular, the classes on designing and implementing quasi-experimental studies has influenced my work tremendously – from the large, obvious ways, such as how I conceptualize and design research, to the small details of implementation that can make or break a study. The series of required classes was complemented by frequent, less formal engagement with the practice of research in the form of weekly seminars in which students presented work in progress and an unparalleled seminar series with speakers from other institutions.

But within this tight community and academic structure, a real benefit of the IES fellowship was my ability to engage with the research questions that I was most interested in. The financial security of the fellowship meant that I could work on projects, directed by faculty or of my own design, that I thought were timely, important, and interesting. In my five years, I worked closely with four CEPA faculty members, each of whom influenced the way I ask and answer questions in essential and unique ways.

I am grateful to the IES pre-doctoral fellowship, and especially the Stanford IES group, for the five years of opportunities, resources, and professional community.

Elizabeth Tighe, Fellow in Florida State University Program to Increase Research Capacity in Educational Science

The IES predoctoral training fellowship provided multiple avenues for me to work with interdisciplinary research teams and take courses that developed my quantitative skills within the realm of education research. Three benefits in particular were integral in shaping my development as a researcher: rigorous quantitative training; generous financial support for designing and implementing my own studies as well as providing networking opportunities at conferences; and the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the coursework and research.

For my graduate studies, I chose Florida State University for the innovative and interdisciplinary research conducted through the Florida Center for Reading Research. By assisting on various projects, I honed my quantitative skills and learned new theoretical perspectives from multiple disciplines. For example, I gained experience with eye-tracking equipment, assessment and measurement of reading-related constructs, and evaluation of classroom curricular materials. The flexibility of the fellowship allowed me to develop my own program of research, which focused on struggling adult readers enrolled in adult literacy programs. In addition, I utilized my quantitative skills on large-scale, existing datasets of students enrolled in K-12 education. These experiences provided ample opportunities to bridge my interests in adult literacy and quantitative methodology and to publish and present at different outlets.    

The financial support for conferences afforded me extensive networking opportunities with colleagues. This helped me to establish grant-writing collaborations, provide statistical consulting for projects, participate in cross-university symposia, and form professional friendships from which I continue to reap benefits today. I attended practitioner-oriented conferences in adult education and a training workshop for using a large-scale dataset on adults’ literacy, numeracy, and digital problem-solving skills. In conjunction with a colleague at the University of Iowa, my current lab received a grant to use this large-scale dataset to examine the literacy skills of United States inmates. 

My accrued training, experiences, and interdisciplinary collaborations are directly applicable to my current role as an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Assistant Director of the Adult Literacy Research Center (ALRC) at Georgia State University. I work alongside an interdisciplinary team of scholars within the Language and Literacy Initiative, which affords me the opportunity to work with professors and to mentor graduate students in multiple departments. My lab is currently is working with the ALRC and Applied Linguistics Department to investigate the comprehension monitoring skills of struggling adult readers using eye-tracking equipment. As a result of my IES training, it was imperative for me to find a position that supported my multidisciplinary research interests.

Karrie E. Godwin, Assistant Professor, Kent State University, Fellow in Carnegie Mellon Program in Interdisciplinary Education Research (PIER)

My participation as an IES predoctoral fellow in the PIER program at Carnegie Mellon University was seminal in guiding my development as a researcher. For me, there are three aspects of the program which were especially formative.

First, I was fortunate to be surrounded by thoughtful, caring, and passionate mentors who embody the goals of the PIER program. I am especially grateful to Anna Fisher, David Klahr, and Sharon Carver, who provided incredible guidance, advanced my critical thinking skills, taught me the importance of good experimental design and research hygiene, and how to effectively disseminate my work—not only to other scientists, but also to practitioners and stakeholders.

Second, PIER is committed to training scholars in rigorous research methodology that bridges theory and practice. My training has enabled me to conduct disciplined research in which I examine children’s cognitive development and the underlying mechanisms of change which inform educational practices by identifying causal and malleable factors that can be leveraged to promote better learning outcomes for children.

Lastly, PIER exposed me to a diverse set of scholars affording unique and dynamic opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaborations that would have been highly improbable in more traditional and siloed environments. For example, in addition to working with other psychologists, I formed productive collaborations with colleagues in robotics, human computer interaction, and statistics. This was a unique and powerful component of the program. Additionally, this feature of the program encouraged and developed my communication skills to groups and communities outside of my specific domain where traditional jargon is typically ineffective. This skill has been incredibly important in helping to communicate my research to other scientists from different disciplines but also to practitioners and the media.

In my new role as an assistant professor at Kent State University, I am drawing upon my experience in PIER and using the skills I gained during my fellowship to build my program of research. I am continuing to investigate children’s cognitive development in order to create more optimal learning environments and instructional materials that aim to enhance children’s learning outcomes. In addition, my new position allows me to help train students to become producers of high-quality research and to help future educational practitioners be thoughtful consumers of research. I am certain the skills I gained as an IES fellow at Carnegie Mellon will enable me to fulfill my commitment to improve children's learning outcomes through disciplined research.

Compiled by Katina Stapleton, National Center for Education Research

 

 

Teach a Researcher to Fish: Training to Build Capacity for IES Data Analysis

The Institute of Education Sciences is pleased to announce upcoming training opportunities to help researchers study the state of adult skills and competencies. Training Researchers to Use PIAAC to Further Multidisciplinary Research is a hands-on, interactive training to build the field’s capacity for conducting research using data from the OECD Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Picture of students participating in trainingThe training, conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), aims to teach researchers how to use IES data and data tools for further, independent research beyond the training so that they can meet the emerging needs of policymakers and practitioners needs for years to come.

This program is an example of the various ways that IES is building the evidence base in education. The training is supported by a Methods Research Training grant from the National Center for Education Research. It uses PIAAC data, which in the U.S. were collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The training also uses data tools that are available through NCES.

Beginning this August, ETS is holding 3-day and 1-day PIAAC trainings in cities throughout the U.S. These trainings will bring together researchers from various organizations and institutions to learn not only about the data and tools but also about how to use them to address important questions about policy-related research from a wide host of fields including education, gerontology, sociology, public health, economics, workforce development, and criminal justice and corrections education. These trainings will culminate with an IES/ETS-sponsored conference in Washington, D.C. in December 2018, during which participants will have an opportunity to present their research.

Who is Eligible?

Researchers from universities, research firms, or other organizations (e.g., advocacy groups, local governments) and who have a doctoral degree or are graduate students in a doctoral programs, experience with statistical packages (e.g., SAS, SPSS) and with secondary data analysis, and an interest in adult learning, skills, and competencies.

What Does it Cost?

The training itself is free for participants, and participants who are U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents will receive assistance to cover housing and per diem during the training. Visit the training website for more information about possible finical assistance.

When is the Training? How do I Apply?

The training will take place several times in the coming months:

  • August 30-Sept. 1, 2017 in Chicago;
  • October 2-4, 2017 in Atlanta; 
  • December 4-6, 2017 in Houston;
  • April 13, 2018 in New York City (at the AERA Annual Conference)
  • Culminating Conference: December 1-3, 2018, in Washington, DC

Visit the ETS training website for more information about the program and the most up-to-date schedule. Registration is open and can be completed online.

Written by Meredith Larson, Program Officer, National Center for Education Research

 

Recognizing Our Outstanding Predoctoral Fellows

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recognizes an outstanding fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. For the first time, IES has selected joint recipients for the 2015 award: Meghan McCormick and Eric Taylor. They will receive their awards and present their research at the annual IES Principal Investigators meeting in Washington, D.C. in December 2016.

Meghan completed her Ph.D. in Applied Psychology at New York University and wrote her dissertation on the efficacy of INSIGHTS, a social emotional learning intervention aimed at improving low-income urban students’ academic achievement. She is currently a research associate at MDRC. Eric completed his PhD in the Economics of Education from Stanford University and wrote his dissertation on the contributions of the quality and quantity of classroom instruction to student learning. Eric is currently an assistant professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

We asked Meghan and Eric how participating in an IES predoctoral training program helped their development as researchers.  For more information about the IES predoctoral training program, visit our website.

Meghan McCormick

Having the opportunity to be part of the IES Predoctoral Training Program helped me to develop a set of theoretical, quantitative, and practical skills that I would not have had the opportunity to develop otherwise. 

I was drawn to attend NYU (New York University) for my doctoral studies specifically because the school of education at NYU offered the (IES) predoctoral training program, in addition to hosting a core set of faculty with research interests very much aligned with my own. In my first year of graduate school, I quickly became aware that being a part of the IES program allowed me the freedom to study with an interdisciplinary set of scholars who could support multiple components of my training through a diverse set of experiences.

For example, in my work with Elise Cappella, Erin O’Connor, and Sandee McClowry, I was able to learn about the logistics of implementing a cluster-randomized trial across a broad set of schools, and conducting impact analyses to evaluate the efficacy of one social-emotional learning program called INSIGHTS. My experience working with Jim Kemple and Lori Nathanson at the Research Alliance for New York City schools showed me how to use research in a way that was responsive to the needs and goals of education policy makers. Quantitative coursework with Jennifer Hill and Sharon Weinberg helped me to apply rigorous quantitative methods to the data that were collected in schools, and to think concretely about the implications of research design for my future work. Coursework with developmental psychologists conducting policy-relevant research, such as Pamela Morris and Larry Aber, helped me to apply comprehensive theoretical framing when examining research questions of interest, and interpreting results. In addition, I have always been primarily interested in conducting interdisciplinary research that is responsive to policy and practice. My dissertation research grew out of my interest in learning about interdisciplinary methods for causal inference and applying them to research questions I had about how, for whom, and under what circumstances the social-emotional learning program I helped to evaluate effected outcomes for low-income students.

Most importantly, perhaps, having been part of the IES program’s collaborative and interdisciplinary community helped me to identify the type of research I wanted to do after finishing graduate school. Primarily, I knew that I wanted to conduct policy-relevant research, using the most rigorous quantitative methods available, with a team of researchers coming from different backgrounds. This realization led me to work at MDRC, where I have been working with JoAnn Hsueh and other colleagues to apply my skills from the predoctoral training program in new research design work that is responsive to critical policy questions in early education policy and practice right now. I feel prepared for this new work given the opportunities that the IES program afforded me across the last five years. 

Eric Taylor

I would emphasize two benefits. First, the IES program at Stanford helped me create and strengthen professional relationships with other education researchers and practitioners. Those relationships provided important opportunities to learn skills in ways that could not happen in the classroom but also complemented the excellent classroom instruction. The new relationships were diverse: other graduate students in different disciplines, Stanford faculty and faculty at other institutions, and, critically, practitioners and policy makers. For example, supported by my fellowship, I joined faculty at (the University of) Michigan and Columbia (University) working with the DC Public Schools to improve teacher applicant screening and hiring.

Second, those relationships combined with the financial support of the fellowship made it possible to work on new and timely research projects. During my time as an IES predoc, with collaborators at Brown, we started a researcher-practitioner partnership with colleges at the Tennessee Department of Education. The resulting work has taught me much about the day-to-day realities of school policy making and management, and how research can and cannot help. The partnership with Tennessee also grew into a five-year grant from IES, which began last year, to study state policy and teacher development through evaluation.

In short, I am certain my career is much further along today than it would have been without the IES predoc fellowship.

By Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, National Center for Education Research