Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

A Night to Play and Learn

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

It was an event that had the feel of an arcade, but the heart of a schoolhouse.

The Ed Games Expo on Wednesday, December 9, 2015, hosted 45 developers who are building games for learning that are designed to engage students across a variety of topics and subject matters. One-third of the games on display at the Expo are supported by the Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research (ED/IES SBIR) program, which provides awards to companies to improve the use of technology in education.

Photo by Lauren Kleissas

(Photo by Lauren Kleissas)

"Games are inherently engaging," said Brooke Morrill, an educational researcher at Schell Games. "A student may or may not be interested in a topic matter, but it doesn't matter. They are engaged in the game."

Schell Games was demonstrating a prototype of "Happy Atoms," a game that combines hand-on resources with technology to create an interactive learning experience. Users can use create atom models with balls and sticks; similar to the way it’s been done in Chemistry classes for generations. But using an app equipped with vision recognition software, users can scan the model they've built to see what they've created or if they've made any mistakes. The app then connects to curriculum-aligned content about the molecule and how it is used in the real world.

Happy Atoms (pictured below) was a long-time pet project of the company's CEO, Jesse Schell, who is a vanguard in the educational gaming industry. However, the company didn't have funding to put a full-time team on the game's development. In 2014, Schell received a Phase I funding from ED/IES SBIR to develop a prototype and, earlier this year, received a Phase II award to further develop and evaluate Happy Atoms.

"We wouldn't be where we are without our IES funding," Morrill said.

A few tables away, the Attainment Company was demonstrating ED/IES SBIR-supported technology that is designed to build the reading, comprehension, and writing skills of special education students. For instance, Access: Language Arts is an app and software designed to allow middle school students with intellectual disabilities to read adapted versions of the books their peers are reading (like The Outsiders and the Diary of Anne Frank) while building their writing skills and even engaging in research.

 

"We know many students, especially those with autism, are motivated by technology because of the consistency it provides," said Pamela J. Mims, an assistant professor of special education at East Tennessee State University, who is working with Attainment on Access: Language Arts.  "We collected a lot of data on this and we see a lot of engagement."

Engagement is a big part of what drove John Krajewski, of Strange Loop Games, to develop ECO, another game that has received Phase I and II funding through ED/IES SBIR. Krajewski calls ECO a “global survival game,” in which students work together to build and maintain a virtual world for 30 days.

“You are trying to build up enough technology for your society, but in the process you can pollute and damage this world to the point it could die on its own,” Krajewski said. “You have to make decisions as a group about what has to be done in this world.”

In order to preserve the world, players have to pass laws that will protect resources while allowing society to continue to develop. For example, students might decide to limit the number of trees that can be cut down each day. Then, they can use graphs and data to see the impact of their laws and the health of their world. ECO not only builds an understanding about ecology and environmental science, but it builds real-world skills, like collaboration, communication, and scientific conversation and debate.

Krajewski said the funding from ED/IES SBIR not only allowed the project to be developed, but was a vote of confidence that allows ECO to be accepted in the field.

“IES has given us total runway to make this thing happen, which is awesome,” he said.

ED/IES SBIR is now soliciting Phase I proposals from firms and their partners for the research, development, and evaluation of commercially viable education technology products. You can learn more on the IES website

 

The IES Investment in Mathematics and Science Education Research

By Christina Chhin, NCER Program Officer and Rob Ochsendorf, NCSER Program Officer

Here is a common question we receive at IES: “What has IES funded in the areas of mathematics and science?” Given that both NCER and NCSER have dedicated “Mathematics and Science Education” research topics, you would think it would be an easy question to answer. That is until you see that both NCER and NCSER also support projects focusing on math and science through other research topic areas, including programs such as Cognition and Student Learning, Early Learning Programs and Policies, Educational Technology, and Effective Teachers and Effective Teaching. To help answer this question, IES has just released a compendium of research grants focusing on mathematics or science funded between 2002 to 2013. This compendium is part of a series of documents intended to summarize the research investments that NCER and NCSER are making to improve student education outcomes in specific topical areas.

As noted in the compendium, between 2002 to 2013, NCER and NCSER has funded over 300 projects focused on mathematics or science education, with 215 of them being instructional interventions (e.g., packaged curricula, intervention frameworks, and instructional approaches), 75 professional development programs, 165 educational technologies, and 65 assessments in math and science. The math and science compendium is a useful tool for a wide array of education stakeholders, as it not only provides brief descriptions of each project, it also is categorizes each project into sections based on content area, grade level, and intended outcome.

Picture of the cover of "A Compendium of Math and Science Research Funded by NCER and NCSER: 2002–2013"

So, how does the investment in mathematics and science that NCER and NCSER have made compare to other education research investments? Between 2002 and 2013, NCER and NCSER funded more than 1,110 education research grants, so research on mathematics and science makes up approximately a third of the research centers' total investment.  The compendium shows that NCER and NCSER have made significant contributions to STEM education by supporting rigorous, scientifically valid research that is relevant to education practice and policy focused on mathematics and science education; however, there is still room for growth. For instance, the compendium makes apparent that NCER and NCSER have funded few projects focusing specifically on geometry or earth and space science in grades K to 12. NCER and NCSER have come a long way in helping to support high-quality mathematics and science education research and will continue to do so to help address the gaps and needs in the field. 

Do you have a research project that will address some of these identified gaps? If so, be sure to sign up for IES Newsflash or follow us on Twitter, so that you will receive notice when our new Requests for Applications are released. 

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

 

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!

Developing School-Wide Approaches for Bullying Prevention: The Value of Partnerships

By Katherine Taylor (NCSER Program Officer) and Emily Doolittle (NCER Program Officer)

About 22% of 12 to 18 year olds report being bullied at school. Bullying behavior can be obvious (pushing, name calling, destroying property) or more subtle (rumor spreading, purposeful excluding). In whatever form it takes, bullying involves acts of physical, verbal, or relational aggression that are repeated over time and involve a power imbalance. Bullying has a variety of harmful effects, including the potential for a negative impact on student academic achievement. This leads to the question, what can schools do to prevent bullying? In support of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, we want to highlight two IES projects that have tackled this issue by developing programs that support social and problem-solving skills for students and a positive school climate.

In one project, Drs. Terri Sullivan and Kevin Sutherland at Virginia Commonwealth University developed and tested a school-wide violence prevention model for middle school students, with a special focus on youth with disabilities. The resulting model incorporates elements of a social-emotional skill-building program, Second Step, and a comprehensive bullying prevention program, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

In a second project, Dr. Stephen Leff at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia developed and is currently testing the Partner for Prevention (P4P) program to address aggression and bullying in elementary schools. P4P includes a classroom program, consultation for teachers and playground and lunchroom staff, and community outreach to engage parents in efforts to address bullying.

In both projects, the initial development work was accomplished using a community-based participatory research framework. Both projects used community stakeholder input to develop programs that support social and problem solving skill development for students as well as a positive school climate. Drs. Sullivan, Sutherland, and Leff shared their insights from doing this type of work and collectively emphasized the importance of creating partnerships with schools and attending to the unique strengths and needs of each school.

What are some key elements of developing school-wide bullying prevention programs?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: One key element is to work with administrators, teachers, and other school staff to understand school dynamics that foster prosocial behavior and those that may place students at risk for exposure to bullying behaviors (e.g., places in the school such as stairwells or bathrooms). Another is to have a strong school committee to assist with developing the program in order to maximize the relevance and meaningfulness of the interventions for students and school staff.

Dr. Leff: It is important to understand how the school has tried to address problems such as bullying in the past, as this provides important information about how to work best with formal and informal school leaders, and how your program can complement successful efforts already in place or support in areas that have been challenging. 

What are some keys to successful implementation?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: One key to successful implementation is to monitor implementation progress via the collection of fidelity data, including data on student engagement (which schools are very interested in) and share these data with teachers and other staff, both to reinforce strong aspects of implementation as well as to highlight areas that need improvement. Another is to successfully engage with administrators; the more involved and supportive they are, the more successful implementation will be.

Dr. Leff:

  1. Establishing buy in from the principal, teachers, lunch-recess supervisors, and students.
  2. Developing internal champions within schools to help promote the program and speak to other teachers about the importance of the work.
  3. Discussing how to make programs sustainable is a conversation that needs to occur from day one.

What are the challenges to doing these types of school-wide interventions?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: School-wide interventions are complex and ensuring that each component (individual, classroom, and school) is working well takes considerable effort.

Dr. Leff: These programs can be difficult to implement due to competing demands such as scores on state-wide and national testing. One of the main strategies is to help teachers understand how programs such as ours are able to improve the classroom teaching climate and thereby support academic and social-emotional functioning of the students. 

What have you learned from doing this type of work?

Drs. Sullivan and Sutherland: It’s a two-way street - we as researchers need to work hard to develop trust with the teachers, administrators and school staff, supporting them at every turn which can result in the long-term in a win-win for all parties.

Dr. Leff: One of the biggest lessons learned during the P4P has been how much the partnership between a school and team impacts the success of the program.

These two research studies are ongoing. As study results become available, we will learn whether these innovative interventions show promise for reducing incidents of bullying and improving students' achievement in school. Stay tuned!

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

IES Honors Statistician Nathan VanHoudnos as Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow

By Phill Gagne and Katina Stapleton, NCER Program Officers

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 2014 winner, Dr. Nathan VanHoudnos completed his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University and wrote his dissertation on the efficacy of the Hedges Correction for unmodeled clustering. Nathan is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University. In this blog, Nathan provides insights on becoming an education researcher and on research study design. 

How did you become interested in education research?

I was born into it. Before he retired, my father was the Director of Research for the Illinois Education Association. Additionally, my grandparents on my mother's side were both teachers. 

 

As a statistician, how do you explain the relevance of your research to education practitioners and policy-makers?

I appeal to the crucial role biostatisticians play in the progress of medical research. Doctors and medical researchers are able to devote their entire intellectual capacity towards the development of new treatments, while biostatisticians are able to think deeply about both how to test these treatments empirically and how to combine the results of many such studies into actionable recommendations for practitioners and policy makers.  I aim to be the education sciences analogue of a biostatistician. Specifically, someone whose career success is decided on (i) the technical merits of the new methodology I have developed and (ii) the usefulness of my new methodology to the field. 

Your research on the Hedges correction suggests that many education researchers mis-specify their analyses for clustered designs. What advice would you give researchers on selecting the right analyses for clustered designs? 

My advice is to focus on the design of the study. If the design is wrong, then the analysis that matches the design will fail, and it is likely that no re-analysis of the collected data will be able to recover from the initial mistake. For example, a common design error is randomizing teachers to experimental conditions, but then assuming that how the school registrar assigned students to classes was equivalent to the experimenter randomizing students to classes. This assumption is false. Registrar based student assignment is a kind of group based, or clustered, random assignment. If this error is not caught at the design stage, the study will necessarily be under powered because the sample size calculations will be off. If the error is not caught at the publication stage, the hypothesis test for the treatment effect will be anti-conservative, i.e. even if the treatment effect is truly zero, the test statistic is still likely to be (incorrectly!) statistically significant. The error will, however, be caught if the What Works Clearinghouse decides to review the study. Their application of the Hedges correction, however, will not fix the design problem. The corrected test statistic will, at best, have low power, just like a re-analysis of the data would. At worst, the corrected test statistic can have nearly zero power. There is no escape from a design error. 


To give a bit of further, perhaps self-serving advice, I would also suggest engaging your local statistician as a collaborator. People like me are always looking to get involved in substantively interesting projects, especially if we can get involved at the planning stage of the project. Additionally, this division of labor is often better for everyone: the statistician gets to focus on interesting methodological challenges and the education researcher gets to focus on the substantive portion of the research. 

How has being an IES predoc and now an IES postdoc helped your development as a researcher?

This is a bit like the joke where one fish asks another "How is the water today?" The other fish responds "What's water?" 

I came to Carnegie Mellon for the joint Ph.D. in Statistics and Public Policy, in part, because the IES predoc program there, the Program for Interdisciplinary Education Research (PIER), would both fund me to become and train me to become an education researcher. The PIER program shaped my entire graduate career. David Klahr (PIER Director) gave me grounding in the education sciences. Brian Junker (PIER Steering committee) taught me how to be both methodologically rigorous and yet still accessible to applied researchers. Sharon Carver (PIER co-Director), who runs the CMU lab school, built in a formal reflection process for the "Field Base Experience" portion of our PIER training. That essay, was, perhaps, the most cathartic thing I have ever written in that it helped to set me on my career path as a statistician who aims to focus on education research. Joel Greenhouse (affiliated PIER faculty), who is himself a biostatistician, chaired my thesis committee. It was his example that refined the direction of my career: I wish to be the education sciences analogue of a biostatistician. 

The IES postdoc program at Northwestern University, where I am advised by Larry Hedges, has been very different. Postdoctoral training is necessarily quite different from graduate school. One thread is common, however, the methodology I develop must be useful to applied education researchers. Larry is, as one might suppose, quite good at focusing my attention on where I need to make technical improvements to my work, but also how I might better communicate my technical results and make them accessible to applied researchers. After only a year at Northwestern, I have grown considerably in both my technical and communication skills.

What career advice would you give to young researchers?

Pick good mentors and heed their advice. To the extent that I am successful, I credit the advice and training of my mentors at Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern. 


Comments? Questions? Please write to us at IESResearch@ed.gov.