Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Highlighting the Science of Learning at the 2021 ED Games Expo

Research on how people learn is critical for informing the design of effective education technology products. To design products that improve student learning, we need to understand how students approach solving problems, the information they need to adopt optimal solution strategies, the skills that underlie success in particular academic domains, the best ways to arrange information on a screen to guide student attention to relevant information, and the best study strategies for optimizing learning and retention. Through its research grants programs, IES has invested in research projects to develop and test education technology products based in the science of learning.

 

The 2021 ED Games Expo, which takes place virtually from June 1-5, features a number of these products, and you can learn more about them through a mix of live and pre-recorded sessions and videos. Most are ready to demo now. Students and educators can send questions about the research, game-play, or ed tech experience directly to the participating researchers. Here are just a few of the many ways you can interact with IES-funded researchers at the Expo:

 

  1. The Virtual Learning Lab (VLL) will be hosting a live, virtual session on Friday, June 4th from 4:00-5:30pm Eastern Time to celebrate their 5-year research collaboration to explore precision education in the context of algebra instruction. The VLL developed an AI-powered video recommendation system that personalizes math instruction within Math Nation. The researchers measured student ability and engagement, detected effects of virtual learning environment usage on achievement, and identified characteristics of effective online tutoring. The session will feature short talks and opportunities for Q&A: 
  • A Video Recommendation System for Algebra (Walter Leite, University of Florida)
  • Reinforcement Learning for Enhancing Collaborative Problem Solving (Guojing Zhou, University of Colorado Boulder)
  • Natural Language Processing for VLE Research (Danielle McNamara, Arizona State University)
  • Identifying Pedagogical Conversational Patterns in Online Algebra Learning (Jinnie Shin, University of Florida)
  • Scaling Items and Persons for Obtaining Ability Estimates in VLEs (A. Corinne Huggins-Manley, University of Florida)
  • Measuring Student Ability from Single- and Multiple-Attempt Practice Assessments in VLEs (Ziying Li, University of Florida)
  • Detecting Careless Responding to Assessment Items in VLEs (Sanaz Nazari, University of Florida)
  • Personalization, Content Exposure, and Fairness in Assessment (Daniel Katz, University of California, Santa Barbara)
  • Fair AI in VLEs (Chenglu Li, University of Florida)

 

  1. The ED Games Expo YouTube Playlist, which will be posted on June 1st on the event page, features 26 products developed with IES grant funding. For ed tech products informed by research on how people learn, check out the products funded through the Cognition and Student Learning topic:
  • Graspable Math allows math teachers to assign interactive algebra tasks and turns equations into tangible objects that middle school and high school students can manipulate to practice and explore. Teachers can follow live, step-by-step, student work.
  • eBravo Boulder Reading Intervention is a self-paced personalized reading comprehension curriculum that teaches secondary students the problem-solving skills good readers use to learn from challenging texts, in this case in the science discipline of ecology. Reading strategies and exercises are guided by well-researched models of reading comprehension, helping students build deep, durable, and reusable knowledge from text. 
  • iSTART and Writing Pal are interventions designed for middle school students, high school students, and young adults improve their reading and writing skills. Within these interventions, students play games to practice reading comprehension and writing strategies.
  • All You Can Eat, Gwakkamole, and CrushStations are part of a suite of Executive Function skill-building games, designed to improve student shifting, inhibitory control, and working memory respectively.

 

We hope you can join us for this exciting event in June to learn more about and try out all the research-based products ready to be used in our nation’s schools. For more information on the featured resources and online events, please see this blog.


Written by Erin Higgins (Erin.Higgins@ed.gov), Program Officer for the Cognition and Student Learning program, National Center for Education Research

Spotlight on School-based Mental Health

This May as we recognize National Mental Health Awareness Month, schools around the country are welcoming students and educators back for in-person instruction after more than a year of remote or hybrid teaching and learning. One issue schools must consider during this transition back is the increase in mental health concerns among adults, young adults, and adolescents this past year. Here at IES, we support research that explores, develops, and tests innovative, field-initiated approaches to support mental health in schools and classrooms. This new IES blog series will explore school-based mental health by looking at IES-funded research that helps answer the five Ws:

 

  • Why school-based mental health? The first blog in the series will consider the benefits of school-based mental health such as providing increased access to services, especially for children of color, and potentially counteracting the stigma some associate with mental health treatment.

 

  • What can schools do to support the mental health of their students and staff? The second blog in the series will highlight several projects that are developing innovative new ways to provide mental health services in school settings.

 

  • When during the school day can schools implement these mental health practices so that they do not compete with the academic/instructional goals of school? The third blog in the series will highlight a variety of projects that delve into the implementation challenges inherent to providing school-based mental health services and support.

 

  • Who in the school should implement these mental health practices? The fourth blog in the series will explore the critical scale up challenge for schools of having staff with adequate time who can be appropriately trained to provide mental health supports to students.

 

  • Where can these mental health practices be implemented? The final blog in the series will investigate the implementation challenges of different education settings (PreK, elementary, middle, high school, postsecondary) for school-based mental health programs and practices.  

 

See these blogs for more information about some of the school-based mental health research supported through the two IES research centers, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).  


Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research at IES

 

Mental Health Awareness Month

The past year and a half have brought new meaning to May’s National Mental Health Awareness Month. As students, families, and school staff navigate virtual, hybrid, and new routines surrounding in-person learning, promoting mental wellbeing has been a large topic of discussion for supporting students and educators.

The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) funds projects that include an emphasis on the mental health of students with or at risk for disabilities and their educators. Below are examples of such projects, which focus on supporting students who have internalizing disorders or experienced trauma and preventing and reducing burnout in special education teachers.

Internalizing Disorders

At the University of Connecticut Health Center, Dr. Golda Ginsburg tested the efficacy of a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) intervention for youth ages 7-17 in special education with an anxiety disorder as part of the School-based Treatment of Anxiety Research Study (STARS) program. This intervention was designed to be implemented by a school-based mental health clinician and contains seven core modules to help students understand, manage, and cope with anxiety. STARS also includes similarly focused parent training modules. Results demonstrated that parent-reported level of child anxiety decreased after participating in the program. They also suggested that older youth, those with social phobia, and those with more severe anxiety at the start of the study were more likely to benefit from participating in the STARS program.

Dr. Ginsburg has been developing another intervention for anxiety, Teacher Anxiety Program for Elementary Students (TAPES). This is a professional development program that enhances teacher knowledge and skills for identifying and reducing anxiety in students with or without disabilities who have elevated anxiety symptoms. TAPES contains materials informed by CBT to be used class-wide and during teacher-parent-student meetings. The research team will soon be conducting a pilot test of this program.

Additionally, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Stephen Kilgus and colleagues are currently developing the Resilience Education Program (REP), a tier 2 intervention for elementary students at risk for internalizing behaviors. REP consists of three components: A cognitive behavioral instructional curriculum to promote acquisition of social-emotional skills, use of the Check In/Check Out (CICO) system (an existing intervention for promoting the maintenance of acquired skills), and parent skills training that promotes CICO implementation and facilitates positive parent-child relations.

Trauma

At SRI International, Dr. Carl Sumi and colleagues tested the efficacy of the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), a school-based, structured, symptom-focused therapy program for middle school students who have experienced significant trauma and are experiencing related emotional or behavioral challenges. CBITS consists of 10 group therapy sessions and one individual session with a school-based mental health clinician with training on relaxation techniques, cognitive therapy, exposure, and social problem solving. The study found positive impacts of the intervention overall on social-emotional and academic outcomes, but the outcomes varied depending on level of behavioral concerns prior to beginning treatment. Specifically, for youth with more significant externalizing behavior problems (such as aggression), those who experienced CBITS had greater reductions in post-traumatic stress and other emotional and behavioral problems, as well as improved scores on a standardized literacy assessment. In addition, for students with internalizing behavior problems (such as anxiety), participation in CBITS led to better performance on standardized math tests 1 year later.

Teacher Burnout

At Ball State University, Dr. Lisa Ruble and colleagues are adapting an existing manualized intervention for mental health workers, Burnout Reduction: Enhanced Awareness, Tools, handouts, and Education (BREATHE), to be used with special education teachers to reduce burnout. BREATHE is both a prevention and intervention strategy, as it aims to prevent burnout from occurring and reduces burnout when present. Sessions cover CBT stress reduction techniques, meditation and relaxation practices, and social skills training to increase coping skills and the ability to manage stressful job demands.

This blog was written by Alice Bravo, virtual intern for IES and doctoral candidate in special education at the University of Washington, and Jackie Buckley, program officer for NCSER’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Competence program. Katie Taylor is the program officer for NCSER’s Educators and School-Based Service Providers program.

Copy, Paste, Transpose: Math Anxiety Is More Common than You Think

This blog is part of our “What Does This Mean for Me” series and was written by Yuri Lin, a virtual intern for NCER.

 

As an undergraduate student who just completed my required math courses, my days of struggling with math are still fresh in my mind. I know the feelings of shame and anxiety when I struggle to solve math problems, and I know I am far from the only person who has experienced this. I have friends who have blanked on exams and tutored middle schoolers who have experienced the same brand of math anxiety, just a handful of years removed, transposed into different classes.

Math anxiety has been defined as discomfort or nervousness that arises when thinking about doing math or while doing math. In some cases, math anxiety could interfere with one's ability to do math and could lead to lower mathematics achievement. This phenomenon occurs broadly across all age and grade levels, including teachers and adults, and has been estimated to peak in middle and high school. To learn more, I asked four IES-funded researchers to share their discoveries about math anxiety and their advice for students, parents, and math educators.

 

Sian Beilock, PhD (@sianbeilock), is a cognitive scientist and the eighth President of Barnard College at Columbia University. Her research focuses on brain and body factors that affect performance anxiety.

An Exploration of Malleable Social and Cognitive Factors Associated with Early Elementary School Students' Mathematics Achievement

Key Finding: Math anxiety starts early. We focused specifically on children at the start of formal schooling and found that some reported fear and apprehension around math. 

Advice for Parents: For parents, I would stress that it is important not to paint a picture of "some people are good at math and others aren't." We can all get better at math. When parents say things to their children like, "It’s okay; I am not a math person either," even though they are trying to comfort their kids, it sends a very strong signal that some people can do math, and some can't. The result is that kids who are anxious about math avoid it, and an unwanted anxiety-achievement cycle is created.

 

Jeremy Jamieson, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester. His research focuses on the physiological and psychological impacts of stress, as well as how to manage stress responses to promote resilience.

Exploring Stress Responses in the Classroom and Reappraising Stress to Facilitate Academic Performance

Key Finding: Math anxiety is not just a psychological problem but also has important consequences for biological functioning. Community college students who reported higher levels of math anxiety also had unhealthy perceptions of stress and lower levels of testosterone (a performance-enhancing hormone) on days when they had to take a math test.

Advice for Students: Feeling stressed and anxious about math shows that you care, and those feelings of stress and anxiety do not mean one is “not good” at math. In fact, you can even use the stress you feel about math to help meet difficult challenges. Your body evolved stress responses to mobilize resources and help you perform. When you believe stress is a tool to help achieve difficult goals, your body will respond with a challenge response (which is like excitement) to assist you in reaching new heights.

 

Leigh McLean, PhD, is an Assistant Research Professor at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on teacher-student interactions in classroom environments and how these interactions affect teacher and student outcomes.

Exploring Elementary Teachers' Feelings, Beliefs, and Effectiveness across Mathematics, Science, and Literacy

Key Finding: When teachers are more math-anxious, so are their students. Importantly, when teachers enjoy teaching math and feel more efficacious in their math teaching, student math anxiety decreases and engagement increases. When teachers and parents have math anxiety, children can pick up on this anxiety, and it can impact both how children feel about math themselves and how they perform in math.

Advice for Math Educators: We would advise anyone who is in a role where they are teaching children math to be aware of their own math-related feelings, especially anxiety. Kids will not only pick up on the content adults teach them but also on the emotional signals adults give off. If a caregiver or teacher is experiencing math anxiety, they could try to find ways to increase their own math enjoyment and confidence, and this would likely benefit children’s learning.

 

Lindsey Richland, PhD (@lerichland), is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on children’s development of mathematics thinking and cognitive skills, as well as teacher best practices to support this development.

Drawing Connections to Close Achievement Gaps in Mathematics

Key Finding: State math anxiety, which describes how much anxiety a student feels in a particular situation, changes a lot as students learn to solve problems that require higher order thinking. This suggests that it is not always helpful to make generalizations about trait anxiety, which is believed to be a fairly stable characteristic in individuals.  Instead, it may be more effective to develop specific interventions or learn more about problem types that can affect math anxiety.

Advice for Math Educators and Students: When you’re feeling anxious, you may have worries running through your mind that can distract your attention. One of the best ways to make sure you don’t lose out on learning is to use visual cues to help access information you need. When doing a math problem, write down all your work, rather than trying to do steps in your head. Use prior worked examples to help solve new problems. Teachers can do the same–make sure students have a visual record of classroom instruction that they can return to if their mind wanders or provide worked examples to help students learn new problem-solving techniques. 

 


Written by Yuri Lin, intern for the Institute of Education Sciences’ National Center for Education Research and a Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major at UCLA.

Educating English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote and In-Person Instruction and Assessment

The IES-funded R&D Center, the Center for the Success of English Learners (C-SEL), is undertaking a focused program of research aimed at improving access and outcomes for English Learners. One of C-SEL’s recent activities has been to develop resources to aid policymakers and practitioners working with middle school and secondary English learners. The research team at the Center, including Drs Diane August and Coleen Carlson, along with Maria Yolanda Cieslak and Kenneth Michael Nieser, recently released a brief on Educating English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote & In-person Instruction & Assessment-Recommendations and Resources for State and Districts. In this guest blog, the researchers provide an overview of the brief.

English Learners (ELs) benefit from specialized support to help them acquire second language proficiency and core content knowledge that builds on their cultural and linguistic assets. This specialized support is required by law, and the U.S. Department of Education reminded States that this is the case, even when learning is remote. Based on a review of the existing relevant literature, this brief provides detailed information related to the impact of remote learning on English Learners (ELs) and their teachers during the pandemic and the potential and limitations of using digital learning resources (DLRs) to educate these students. For instance, while DLRs have the potential to support learning and engagement for ELs, districts report barriers to their use, such as lack of home access to DLRs; teachers’ level of expertise and technology skills; and the lack of knowledge around what are the appropriate DLRs for ELs.

The brief also describes current legislation that authorizes funds for a variety of activities that could be used to support ELs and their families when instruction is delivered remotely. Some of these federal resources include:

  • Formula Grant Programs Under the Every Student Succeeds Act
  • CARES Act
  • Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act

In addition, the brief includes information about policies and resources for each of the 50 states in place in December 2020 that support districts and schools in instructing and assessing EL students remotely. It also includes a reading list of recent resources focused on remote learning for ELs, with brief descriptions of each resource and links to the resource.

In March 2021, the Center hosted a webinar to discuss recent recommendations for states and districts. One set of recommendations focuses on methods to enhance the learning and emotional well-being of EL students who have lost ground during the pandemic. Recommendations are also made for assessing ELs when schooling is or has been remote or hybrid. These recommendations can be found in the brief.  

In the upcoming months, C-SEL investigators look forward to preparing future blog posts and research briefs on the research of the Center and the students and teachers we are serving. Next up on the agenda is an overview of the students, highlighting their diversity, and some too often ignored, forgotten, or simply unknown characteristics of this important subgroup. Stay tuned!


Dr. Diane August is Principal at D. August and Associates and a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Dr. Coleen Carlson is an Associate Research Professor, and Associate Director at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES) at the University of Houston.

Ms. Maria Yolanda Cieslak is a Professional Development Specialist at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Mr. Kenneth Michael Nieser is a Researcher at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics at the University of Houston.