Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: When STARS Align: Exploring Spatial Thinking and Relational Scaffolding (STARS) in Elementary Astronomy
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Anggoro, Florencia Awardee: College of the Holy Cross
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2017) Award Amount: $311,139
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305A150228
Description:

Co-Principal Investigator: Jee, Benjamin (Worchester State University)

Purpose: This project team seeks to identify malleable instructional factors that will help students with spatial perspective taking, a process that is critical for learning astronomy topics such as the day-night cycle and a central concept in elementary school science curricula and the Next Generation Science Standards. There is evidence that spatial thinking skills are malleable and that these skills are important in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Researchers will (1) test the theory that relational scaffolding—successive comparisons of different perspectives of the solar system (e.g., an Earth-based perspective versus a space-based perspective)—will help children integrate different perspectives and better understand scientific explanations of the day-night cycle, and (2) describe the relationship between children's spatial thinking skills and their astronomy learning.

Project Activities: The research team will carry out two studies. Study 1 will test whether teaching students about the day-night cycle using relational scaffolding is related to student learning and spatial skills. Study 2 will examine the effects of actively comparing different perspectives of the solar system on learning and spatial skills. The goal of these studies is to identify malleable factors of instruction that will help students with perspective taking in the context of learning about the day-night cycle.

Products: The products of this project will include preliminary evidence of promising instructional approaches to teaching about the day-night cycle in astronomy, which has the potential to be generalized to other STEM fields as well, and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Participating elementary schools and after-school programs will be located in an urban area in Massachusetts.

Sample: Study participants will include approximately 232 third-grade students (128 in Study 1, 104 in Study 2). The sample will reflect the diversity of students in the participating schools, which includes 64.2% non-White students and 73% of students classified as low-income.

Intervention: To address the exploratory questions, the researchers will provide students with training using the Spatial Thinking and Relational Scaffolding (STARS) approach they have developed. In their studies, students in the STARS condition will participate in a series of study sessions in which different perspectives of the day-night cycle (e.g., first-person perspective, third-person/space-based 3D model perspective), are explicitly compared. The goal of these studies is to identify malleable instructional factors that will help students with perspective taking when learning about the day-night cycle in astronomy. The findings will be informative for the development of spatial thinking interventions in STEM courses.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will carry out two studies, one during each year of the grant. Both studies will use a between-subjects design where children will be randomly assigned to study conditions. Study 1 will manipulate the presence of relational scaffolding. Students in the Spatial Thinking and Relational Scaffolding (STARS) condition will participate in a series of study sessions in which different perspectives of the day-night cycle (e.g., first-person perspective, third-person/space-based 3D model perspective), are explicitly compared. This condition will be compared to two other conditions: no scaffolding and typical instruction. Study 2 will examine the role that explicit comparison plays in learning. Students will be randomly assigned to either the STARS condition or a condition in which different perspectives are viewed sequentially with no explicit comparison. Students' knowledge of the day-night cycle and related concepts will be assessed in pre- and post-tests. Students will also participate in pre- and post-interviews so that researchers can assess a child's conceptual representation of the solar system and give children an opportunity to express their knowledge through alternative methods such as drawing and modeling. Students will also have an immediate assessment at the end of each study session. Spatial ability and vocabulary skills will be assessed before the study begins, and spatial ability will be assessed again at the conclusion of the study.

Control Condition: The control condition differs across studies due to the research question being addressed. In Study 1, participants in the control condition will receive typical instruction of the day-night cycle, which will include a live demonstration with a 3D model of the day-night cycle but will not include any other viewing perspectives. In Study 2, participants in the control condition will receive the same instruction as those in the STARS condition except that they will not be given opportunities to explicitly compare the different perspectives of the day-night cycle.

Key Measures: Children's knowledge of the day-night cycle and related concepts will be measured using items from the Astronomy and Space Science Concept Inventory, researcher-developed interview questions, as well as researcher-developed drawing and Play-Doh modeling tasks. Spatial ability and vocabulary will be measured using mental rotation and perspective taking tasks, and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-IV).

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will use multiple regression techniques to predict children's performance on post-test assessments. In addition, to look at the contribution of each assessed subcomponent of spatial ability (i.e., mental rotation and perspective taking), the research team will test each as a unique predictor in alternative models. Vocabulary ability and pretest performance will be entered as control variables in the analysis. Nonparametric analyses will be used to compare the frequency of scientifically accurate and inaccurate beliefs between conditions at pre- and posttests. The research team will conduct qualitative analyses of the interviews, which will be used to assess childrens' conceptual representations of the solar system.


Back