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IES Grant

Title: Making Space in Science Instruction: Developing the SPACE-IT Program to Foster Students' Spatial Thinking Skills and Science Achievement
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Gagnier, Kristin Awardee: AnLar
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2021 – 06/30/2025) Award Amount: $1,998,794
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A210537

Previous Award Number: R305A210519
Previous Institution: Johns Hopkins University

Co-Principal Investigators: Fisher, Kelly; Holochwost, Steven; Rangasammy, Godfrey

Purpose: In this project, researchers aim to develop and pilot test SPACE-IT, a novel professional development (PD) program that utilizes workshops and coaching to facilitate 5th grade teachers' effective science instruction and students' spatial thinking skills, interest, and science achievement. Research within the cognitive and developmental sciences has shown that thinking spatially is a critical yet overlooked component of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) success. Despite this growing body of work, teachers rarely receive training on how to provide instruction that simultaneously builds students' spatial thinking skills and scientific knowledge.

Project Activities: During Year 1, the team will develop the spatial coaching training component and group spatial PD workshops. In Year 2, the research team will focus on measurement development and formative evaluation as well as conduct a series of focus groups with coaches and teachers to inform the iterative refinement of the SPACE-IT program. In Year 3, the research team will conduct a feasibility test of the SPACE-IT program with small groups of coaches and 5th grade teachers. In Year 4, the research team will conduct a pilot study to test the promise of the SPACE-IT program for improving student and teacher outcomes.

Products: The research team will produce a fully developed intervention and initial evidence of its promise for improving instruction and student achievement in science. The SPACE-IT intervention is intended for both practitioner and researcher use and will include (1) a spatial coach training component with 9 interactive, training sessions and corresponding materials (e.g., training manual and coaching rubric), (2) 6 teacher group spatial PD workshops and 6 types of support materials (e.g., workbooks and classroom toolkits), and (3) 10 novel, useful measures to assess coaches' and teachers' knowledge, skills, and implementation. Dissemination efforts will be tailored to various stakeholder needs and focus on effectiveness, products, and structures to support effective program implementation.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in an urban district outside of Washington, DC.

Sample: The sample will include approximately 56 5th grade teachers and 1,200 5th grade students drawn from a diverse student body; 63% are eligible for free or reduced lunch, 21% are English language learners, and 90% are racial/ethnic groups underrepresented in STEM.

Intervention: SPACE-IT is a teacher training program that can be used across any curricula, classroom context, and instructional schedule. It will teach 5th grade teachers how to "spatially enhance" their science teaching to facilitate students' spatial thinking skills and science interest and achievement. It will include two components: (1) six interactive group spatial PD workshops where teachers learn to use 5 evidence-informed spatial enhancement techniques in their science lessons, and (2) a dedicated "spatial enhancement" coach who works biweekly with teachers to identify spatial-enhancement opportunities and provides individualized guidance and reflective feedback to support teachers' effective use of spatial enhancement techniques in their classroom.

Research Design and Methods: In Years 1–3, the project team will develop the SPACE-IT program iteratively by developing program components, testing those components with teachers and coaches, and then revising the components to improve usability and feasibility. In Year 4, the research team will use a cluster randomized controlled trial to examine the program's effect on student and teacher outcomes. The research team will use a stratified sampling technique to divide schools into separate strata based on student demographic characteristics (SES, ethnicity). Within each stratum, schools will be randomly assigned to either the control condition or to the SPACE-IT condition, where teachers receive six, interactive spatially-enhanced group PD workshops followed by biweekly spatial coaching throughout the academic year.

Control Condition: In the pilot study, control classroom teachers receive the standard PD provided in the district. Throughout the year, the research team will track the quality of teachers' PD and the number of PD hours.

Key Measures: The research team will collect a variety of student measures, including the spatial abilities subset of Thurstone's Primary Mental Abilities and the Spatial Reasoning Instrument, student academic achievement in science, and interest in science activities and careers. Teacher measures include surveys and observations of classroom use of spatial enhancements during science instruction, skill at identifying and implementing spatial enhancements, knowledge of spatial thinking principles and practices, spatial thinking skills (paper folding, mental rotation), and self-efficacy in teaching science and in supporting student spatial thinking skill during science instruction. Coach measures include spatial coaching knowledge and skill, quality of spatial coaching, and spatial coaching self-efficacy.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will use hierarchical linear modeling to examine the differential impact of SPACE-IT on student and teacher outcomes, while controlling for demographic characteristics and student verbal and mathematical skill. They will also conduct exploratory analyses to examine changes in coach knowledge and skill and determine if the impact of the program varies by socioeconomic status, gender, English Language Learner status, spatial thinking skill at school entry, teacher education, experience, and specialty (e.g., science/math).

Cost Analysis: The research team will identify the quantity and quality of program ingredients using multiple data sources (interviews, direct observations, documentation). They will then use CostOut to identify the price of each program ingredient.

Related IES Projects: Developing a Spatially-enhanced Elementary Curriculum and Teacher Training Series to Improve Science Achievement (R305A170411).