Inside IES Research

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Learning from CTE Research Partnerships: How Michigan Built Trust with Researchers to Better Understand State Data

As part of our ongoing blog series aimed at increasing state research on career and technical education (CTE), Austin Estes, Senior Policy Associate at Advance CTE, and Corinne Alfeld, Research Analyst at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), are conducting interviews with individuals who are part of successful CTE State Director research partnerships. The first interview was with Jill Kroll of the Michigan Department of Education and Dan Kreisman of Georgia State University (and Director of CTEx). [Note: this interview has been edited for length; you can find the full interview transcript here].

 

Jill Kroll Dan Kreisman
Michigan Department of Education Georgia State University

 

The first question we have is about the projects that you work on together: what were some of the research questions you came up with, and how did you come to settle on those research questions?

Jill – I first connected with Dan and with Brian Jacob at University of Michigan when I saw Brian present to our P-20 council about some research that he was doing connecting the wage record data for five community colleges. I was like “Gee, is there any way you can do something similar with the statewide secondary student data?” And he said it was possible. So I worked within our department procedures to find out how we could go about establishing a relationship that would allow this opportunity.

Dan – That led to a whole bunch of other discussions of things that we thought were interesting. So, to say that there is a set of research questions is not the way I view our relationship. We talk with folks in Jill’s office regularly to hear what questions are pressing for them, and then we try to help facilitate answering those and then see where those lead us. I think one of the important things is we try to think about where there are policy levers, so we want to say “If we answer this question, how can the state or the districts use that information to further their mission of providing CTE programming to students in Michigan?”

Jill – I’ve been really happy with the extent to which Dan and the research team have consistently focused on the “so what?” Rather than focusing on vague research questions of interest only to other researchers, they have emphasized their interest in doing research that has practical application, that can be used by educators in the field.

Could you share an example of how you’ve been able to use some of this evidence and research to change policy, or at least to shape your understanding on some decisions that you’re making at the state level?

Jill - When we were starting to work on our Perkins V [the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act] state plan, we had a short time to determine what we wanted to consider for our secondary indicator of program quality. Because Brian, Dan, and their students had been working with this data for so many years, they had the capacity to very quickly do the matching and

 come up with an approximation for us about what postsecondary credit attainment would look like, and what strengths and weaknesses they saw in the data. It would have been really difficult for our office, or even multiple state agencies, to have been able to work that quickly and give it the critical analysis that they did.

The other thing they did when we were making the decision for that indicator is look at the data that we had for work-based learning and tell us what could be done with it. What came out of that was that the data was not in any form that could be analyzed (text and PDFs). This was really revealing to our State Director Brian Pyles, and it led him to set a policy that we are going to build a consistent way of collecting data on work-based learning. So that is another piece where it influenced practice and policy. One of the most exciting and valuable things that I find about the partnership is that Dan and the other researchers have a lot more capacity to analyze the data in a way that we just don’t have the time to do. Sometimes we don’t have the expertise, and sometimes we just don’t look at the data in the same way.

Dan –And there’s a flip side that without their input, we often are looking at data and can’t make heads or tails of something. And we can get on the phone or write an email to someone over there and say “Hey we’re seeing this thing. Can you tell me what that means?” And they will come back with “Oh, the system changed” or “There was this one policy,” and “Here’s what you have to do to make it fit everything else.” And this happens all the time. We would be completely lost without this open channel that we have to their office.

I think it’s important not to dismiss the power of good descriptive work. Lots of times, the questions that states are grappling with can often be illuminated with some really careful and good descriptive work. You can say, “This is what we’re seeing, this is the big picture,” if you step back for a minute, and that information lots of times has been as valuable as the stuff we try to do that is more causally oriented in our research.

Jill – I agree, and I want to follow up on the whole issue of how important trust is. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to me that Dan and the other researchers come to us with those questions, that they check in with us. That’s absolutely critical. Anyone who works with any kind of data knows that it’s just so complex. If you link tables wrong, or misunderstand a data field, you can come to a completely wrong decision. So that communication and that interaction and trust are key to accurate outcomes.

As you’re both looking ahead, what’s next on the agenda? What are some of the research questions and priorities you have for this partnership?

Dan – Number one is tracking students into the labor market. That’s our biggest and most outstanding question. And the degree to which CTE programs are preparing students for college and the labor market and careers. In terms of other projects, one of the things we’re interested in is technical assessments. We’re also part of a consortium of several states – that’s the CTEx group. We meet annually together, and that allows us to harmonize things across states to see how trends are similar, how enrollment rates work, all sorts of different questions across multiple states.

Jill – One of the things we’re talking about right now is that we don’t have, in an accessible form, data on access to a particular program. We know that career centers serve certain districts, but if someone asked, “If student A is going to Central High School, what programs do they have access to? we don’t have a good way of answering that at the moment. We’ve had a couple of discussions about how we can work together to build basically a dataset that clarifies that. That would be mutually beneficial and would take resources from both in order to do something like that.

Thinking back on this partnership, is there any advice you would give to other State Directors or CTE researchers?

Dan – Building a strong relationship is the first thing you have to do. And part of that is spending time face to face talking about questions, moving around ideas, looking at data together. We had the benefit of a long windup period. We spent at least a year just talking about questions and putting together data before we even started doing any analyses. We also had buy-in from Jill’s office up and down the line from folks who were doing the research to people who were in policymaking roles. And without all of that, none of this would even have been possible.

And the second part is to not downplay the value of just providing good information. A lot of us on the research side don’t realize how little time folks in the state offices have to take a step back and say, “What’s going on with our data? Let’s look at the big picture.” And one of the things we can provide them is just giving them that big picture and handing it to them in a digestible way. And doing that is the first step, is a really good way to start building that trust. They really see the value of what you can do early on. And then you can start to get into more difficult or longer-term questions.

Jill – The first advice I would give is: Do it! Partner with researchers. I can’t say enough positive about it. The second is: Follow department procedures and be transparent with department leadership. You know that windup might be really, really slow while you jog through the channels that you need to in your department to do things by the book, but I think it pays off in the long run.

My third one is: Be transparent and open with school districts. Share what you’re doing and invite their input. Anybody who works with state data would probably know, you’re always a little hesitant about what the public would think about this use of data. The way that Dan and the postdocs and graduate students have openly shared the work that they’ve done with our CTE administrators has really helped, in that I have not gotten any doubt from districts.

The full transcript can be accessed in Advance CTE’s Learning that Works Resource Center. Other blog posts in this series can be viewed here.

An Example of the Unquantifiable Effect of Research on Practice

At IES, we continue to think about ways to positively impact education practice through research. It is relatively straightforward to count and share the publications and research outputs produced by our grants. A bigger challenge is measuring the impact IES-funded research has on implementing evidence-based practice after the research project is complete. So we were thrilled when we received the following letter from Patrice Bain—a middle school teacher, author, education specialist, speaker, and consultant—who has worked closely with IES for many years.

I used to think of government agencies as impersonal bureaucracies often hidden from the public eye. One agency, IES, not only proved me wrong, it positively changed my life.

In 2006, Drs. Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniel from Washington University in St. Louis obtained a grant from IES to research how students learn in an authentic classroom. The classroom where this research began was mine. And this is where the life-changing impact began.

The IES grant paid for technology to be used in my school’s classrooms and research assistants to aid our teachers. Heading up the research at my school was Pooja Agarwal, and this began a collaboration lasting over a decade.

In 2007, IES invited me to be the sole K-12 educator to co-author a practice guide. The large organization, to me, now had a face: Elizabeth Albro, who warmly welcomed me. I clearly recall sitting at a large table in Washington, DC, surrounded by my cognitive science superheroes: Drs. Hal Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Brian Bottge, Art Graesser, Janet Metcalfe, and Ken Koedinger. Each talked about important research that would impact learning in classrooms, and I knew my newly-expanded teaching repertoire now would be based in the science of learning. The final result of our meetings became the highly cited practice guide Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning. In addition, information from this guide was featured on the website Doing What Works.

As Pooja and I delved into how retrieval, spacing, and metacognition played a role in student learning at my school, I was contacted by REL Mid-Atlantic, a part of IES that offers research-based professional development in Delaware, Washington, DC, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Touting the benefits of teaching using the seven recommendations in Organizing Instruction and Study, I gave professional development presentations in the Mid-Atlantic regions with Drs. Hal Pashler, Ken Koedinger, and Nate Kornell.

Pooja and I also gave several presentations that included the research happening in my classroom. With IES funding, that research became a multi-year project involving over 1500 middle and high school students. With the passing of each year and research on learning becoming more defined, I was able to develop strategies utilizing retrieval, spacing, and metacognition. Pooja and I continued our collaboration. I was seeing success in the eyes of my students: I wasn’t just teaching content, I was teaching them how to learn.

A wealth of information on the science of learning seemed to be making a mark. Yet learning myths—those based on anecdotes and fads—were still circulating. To combat this, IES and NCER invited me to be on a working task group to tackle Neuromyths vs. Neurotruths. Once again, as I sat around a table in Washington, DC with learning superheroes, we explored how to begin to dispel prevalent myths of learning.

Because of IES and the opportunities I was given, I wanted to shout from a mountaintop that we can transform teaching. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it in my classroom. I realized a book started to brew within me. I’m not sure how the decision occurred, but I knew my collaboration with Pooja Agarwal was worthy of documenting. And so it began. We wanted to write a practical, evidence- and research-based book. Books had been written by cognitive scientists; books had been written by teachers. However, our book would be the first written by a cognitive scientist and an educator.

Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning was released in June 2019. The ideas have resonated with educators across the globe. We are transforming education.

And it all started with IES approving a grant.

 

IES Celebrates Computer Science Education Week and Prepares for the 2020 ED Games Expo at the Kennedy Center

This week is Computer Science Education Week! The annual event encourages students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to explore coding, with a focus on increasing representation among girls, women, and minorities. The event honors the life of computer scientist Grace Hopper, who broke the mold in the 1940s as a programming pioneer. Coding and computer science events are occurring in schools and communities around the country to celebrate the week.

This week is also a great time to highlight the computer science and engineering projects that are coming to Washington, DC for the 2020 ED Games Expo at the Kennedy Center on the evening of January 9, 2020. Developed with the support of the Institute of Education Sciences and other federal government offices, the projects provide different types of opportunities for students to learn and practice computer science and engineering skills with an eye toward examining complex real-world problems.

At the Expo, expect to explore the projects listed below.

  1. In CodeSpark Academy’s Story Mode, children learn the ABCs of computer science with a word-free approach by programming characters called The Foos to create their own interactive stories. In development with a 2019 ED/IES SBIR award.
  2. In VidCode, students manipulate digital media assets such as photos, audio, and graphics to create special effects in videos to learn about the coding. A teacher dashboard is being developed through a 2019 ED/IES SBIR award.
  3. Future Engineers uses its platform to conduct STEM challenges for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students. Developed with a 2017 ED/IES SBIR award.
  4. Fab@School Maker Studio allows students to design and build geometric constructions, pop-ups, and working machines using low-cost materials and tools from scissors to inexpensive 3-D printers and laser cutters. Developed with initial funding in 2010 by ED/IES SBIR.
  5. In DESCARTES, students use engineering design and then create 3-D print prototypes of boats, gliders, and other machines. Developed through a 2017 ED/IES SBIR award.
  6. In Ghost School, students learn programming and software development skills by creating games. In development with a 2018 Education Innovation and Research grant at ED.
  7. In Tami’s Tower, children practice basic engineering to help Tami, a golden lion tamarin, reach fruit on an overhanging branch by building a tower with blocks of geometric shapes. Developed by the Smithsonian Institution.
  8. In the Wright’s First Flight, students learn the basics of engineering a plane through hands-on and online activities, then get a firsthand look at what it looked (and felt) like to fly it through a virtual reality simulation. Developed by the Smithsonian Institution.
  9. In EDISON, students solve  engineering problems with gamified design software and simulate designs in virtual and augmented reality. In development with support from the National Science Foundation. 
  10. May’s Journey is a narrative puzzle game world where players use beginning programming skills to solve puzzles and help May find her friend and discover what is happening to her world. Developed with support from the National Science Foundation. 
  11. In FLEET, students engineer ships for a variety of naval missions, test their designs, gather data, and compete in nationwide naval engineering challenges. Developed with support from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research.
  12. Muzzy Lane Author is a platform for authoring learning games and simulations without requiring any programming skills. Developed in part with a Department of Defense award.

About the ED Games Expo: The ED Games Expo is the Institute’s and the Department of Education's annual public showcase and celebration of educational learning games as well as innovative forms of learning technologies for children and students in education and special education. At the Expo, attendees walk around the Terrace Level Galleries at the Kennedy Center to discover and demo more than 150 learning games and technologies, while meeting face-to-face with the developers. The Expo is free and open to the public. Attendees must RSVP online to gain entry. For more information, please email Edward.Metz@ed.gov.

Edward Metz is the program manager for the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research program.

Christina Chhin is the program officer for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education research program.

Calling All Students to the Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” Contest

On August 27, 2019, NASA launched a national contest for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students to name the Mars 2020 rover, the newest robotic scientist to be sent to Mars.  Scheduled to launch aboard a rocket in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and touch down on Mars in February 2021, the to-be-named rover weighs more than 2,300 pounds (1,000 kilograms) and will search for astrobiological signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

By focusing the Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” contest on K to 12 students, NASA seeks to engage U.S. students in the engineering and scientific work that makes Mars exploration possible. The contest also supports national goals to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and help create the next generation of STEM leaders.

Students can sign up and submit their entries for the competition at https://www.futureengineers.org/nametherover. Entries must include a proposed name for the rover and a short essay of 150 words or less explaining the reasons for the name. NASA will select 156 state winners (one from each state and age group), before narrowing down to the top 9 entries that will be part of a public poll. The grand prize winner who will name the rover will be selected and announced in spring of 2020.

Even if you are not a student you can still participate. US residents over the age of 18 can apply to be judges for the contest to help NASA make their selection.

The Mars 2020 Project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages rover development for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

NASA Partners with an ED/IES SBIR Awardee to Run the Contest

The education technology firm that NASA selected to help run the competition is Burbank, California-based, Future Engineers.  The “Name the Rover” contest leverages Future Engineers’ online challenge platform, which was developed with the support of a 2017 award from the US Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR).  The platform will receive, manage, display, and judge what is anticipated to be tens of thousands or more student submissions from around the country.

Future Engineers has a history of collaborating on space-themed student challenges. The company previously ran a national competition series in 2018 for the ASME Foundation with technical assistance from NASA, where K-12 students submitted digital designs of useful objects that could be 3D printed on the International Space Station, resulting in the first student-designed 3D print in space.

Future Engineers developed its platform to be an online hub for classrooms and educators to access free, project-based STEM activities, and to provide a portal where students submit and compete in different kinds of maker and innovation challenges across the country. The Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” contest will be the first naming challenge issued on its platform.

We look forward to the results of the competition!

Originally posted on the U.S. Department of Education’s Homeroom blog.


Edward Metz is a research scientist at the Institute of Education Sciences in the US Department of Education.

Bob Collom is an integration lead in the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.


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 by millions of students in thousands of schools around the country.

About NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP)

NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP) in the Planetary Science Division is a science-driven program that seeks to understand whether Mars was, is, or can be, a habitable world. To find out, we need to understand how geologic, climatic, and other processes have worked to shape Mars and its environment over time, as well as how they interact today. To that end, all of our future missions will be driven by rigorous scientific questions that will continuously evolve as we make new discoveries. MEP continues to explore Mars and to provide a continuous flow of scientific information and discovery through a carefully selected series of robotic orbiters, landers and mobile laboratories interconnected by a high-bandwidth Mars/Earth communications network.

Are You What You Eat? Understanding the Links Between Diet, Behavior, and Achievement During Middle School

We’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” but what exactly does it mean for student learning and achievement in middle school? In 2018, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham received an IES Exploration grant to investigate the direction and nature of the relationships between middle school students’ diet, behavior, and academic achievement. These relationships have not been fully studied in the United States, nor have longitudinal designs been used (most existing studies are cross-sectional) making it hard to determine the precise nature of the links between what adolescents eat and potential implications for learning and achievement.  

Because children in the United States consume about half of their nutrients at school, the need to identify school nutrition policies and practices that benefit student behavior and achievement is great, especially given newly published findings that motivated this IES research and that have attracted lots of media interest in recent days (see this story from CNN and this press release). The Alabama researchers found that specific nutrients (high sodium, low potassium) predicted depression over a year later in a sample of 84 urban, primarily African American adolescents (mean age 13 years). In the IES study, these researchers are expanding their work with a larger and more diverse sample of 300 students. In the first year of this 4-year study, the researchers recruited about two thirds of their sample (186 students across 10 schools) who completed the first of three week-long assessments as 6th graders and who will complete assessments again in the 7th and 8th grades. During each week-long assessment period, each student reports on their own diet and academic functioning, and on their own and their peers’ emotions and behavior. They also complete objective tests of attention and memory. The researchers observe each child’s actual food and beverage consumption at school and behavior during one academic class period. They also collect school records of grades, test scores, attendance, discipline incidents, and information about each school’s nutrition policies and practices. Parents and teachers also report on student diet, behavior, and academic functioning.

This school year the researchers are recruiting the rest of their sample. If their findings suggest a role for school practices and dietary factors in student behavior and achievement, they can guide future efforts to develop school-based programs targeting students’ diet that could be easily implemented under typical school conditions.

Written by Emily Doolittle, NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research