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IES Grant

Title: Enhancing Middle School Mathematics Achievement through Spatial Skills Instruction
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Sorby, Sheryl Awardee: University of Cincinnati
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $3,499,941
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A170640
Description:

Previous Award Number: R305A150365
Previous Institution: Ohio State University

Co-Principal Investigator: Martha Carr (University of Georgia), David Uttal (Northwestern University)

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to evaluate the impact of a spatial skills training curriculum on mathematics achievement for middle school students. Well-developed spatial skills have been shown to be important to success in a variety of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. However, causal studies showing a link between spatial skills training and future STEM performance represent a significant gap in our understanding of the link between spatial skills and STEM achievement. The research team will conduct an efficacy study comparing a spatial training curriculum to business as usual instruction to evaluate the effect of the curriculum on spatial skills, mathematics achievement, and future STEM achievement.

Project Activities: The spatial skills curriculum was designed for supplemental instruction. It consists of nine modules, each of which includes both multimedia software and workbook pages. In Year 1, the research team will gather baseline data on students' spatial skills, mathematics achievement, and motivation at participating schools. In Years 2 and 3, the research team will conduct a three-level clustered randomized controlled trial, where teachers will be randomly assigned into treatment and control conditions. Participating students from Years 2 and 3 will be tracked into Year 4 to determine any long term impacts from the spatial skills curriculum.

Products: The research team will generate evidence of the efficacy of the spatial skills curriculum for improving middle school students' spatial skills and mathematics achievement, and peer reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in schools located in urban and suburban school districts in multiple states.

Sample: The sample will include about 55 middle school teachers and their approximately 1100 seventh grade students.

Intervention: The spatial skills curriculum is intended as supplemental instruction. The curriculum consists of nine modules, each of which focuses on a different topic of spatial skills training and each of which includes activities using multimedia software and workbook pages. Each module is designed to take up approximately two class periods, for a total of 18 class periods throughout the school year. The curriculum includes a combination of active strategies that have been designed to engage students in their own learning. The software modules include instructional information about the topic at hand as well as several sets of matching and multiple-choice problems. The workbook pages contain additional matching and multiple-choice problems, but also include additional exercises where students sketch objects from multiple vantage points.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the research team will gather baseline data on students' spatial skills, mathematics achievement, and motivation at participating schools. In Years 2 and 3, the research team will carry out the three-level clustered randomized controlled trial. Teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment (spatial skills curriculum) or control condition. In Year 2, teachers in the spatial skills curriculum condition will implement the curriculum in their classrooms throughout the school year while teachers in the control condition will engage in business-as-usual instruction. In Year 3, all teachers will implement the spatial skills curriculum. All participating students in Years 2 and 3 will take pre-tests to assess their spatial skills, mathematics achievement, and motivation prior to the start of the curriculum implementation. All participating students in Years 2 and 3 will take post-tests to assess spatial skills, mathematics achievement, and motivation within one month after the end of the implementation of the curriculum. The research team will collect the Year 2 cohort of students' standardized test scores, STEM course grades, and STEM course taking for two years following the implementation of the curriculum. They will collect the same data for the Year 3 cohort of students for one year after the implementation of the curriculum.

Control Condition: The control condition will be business as usual instruction.

Key Measures: The primary measures will include assessments of spatial skills, mathematics achievement, and motivation. Spatial skills measures will include items from the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations, Mental Cutting Test, Differential Aptitude Test: Space Relations, and items from a test of visualization modified by the research team to be consistent with the curriculum. Mathematics achievement measures will include released items from the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) focused on geometry and problem solving, scores on CSAP mathematics and science tests, scores on the geometry and word problem subcomponent of the CSAP mathematics test, end of year grades in mathematics and science courses, and 9th grade mathematics placement levels. Motivation will be measured using the Geometry Motivation Questionnaire.

Data Analytic Strategy: After testing for baseline equivalence using general linear models, the research team will analyze the data using a three-level hierarchical linear model, with teachers at level 3, classrooms nested within teachers at level 2, and students nested within classrooms at level 1. The research team will also analyze the effects of potential moderators such as gender and socioeconomic status at the different levels of the model.


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