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IES Grant

Title: Building Students' Environmental Knowledge and Engagement With Local Government Through Civic Science
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Flanagan, Constance Awardee: University of Wisconsin, Madison
Program: Civics Education and Social Studies      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2021 – 06/30/2025) Award Amount: $1,765,340
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A210221

Co-Principal Investigator: Lowenstein, Ethan

Purpose: In this project, the research team  will develop and pilot a high school curriculum that integrates civic with scientific literacy to engage students with local governments and community-based organizations to impact environmental policy. Little attention has been paid to the integration of civic and scientific literacy; yet this nexus and skill set is the kind of civic preparation younger generations need to make informed decisions about environmental problems. Similarly, in civic education, relatively little attention is paid to educating youth about the role of local government and community-based organizations in democracy. Yet students can have direct access to and interact with these local entities where their insights and policy recommendations could have a real impact.

Project Activities: In the first two years, the project team will conduct professional development sessions to train teachers in the civic science curriculum; engage partners from community-based environmental organizations to deliver core curricular elements; conduct a series of iterative studies where the civic science curriculum will be refined, and reflective feedback collected from teachers, community partners, and students. In Year 3, teachers from the iterative development phase will train new teachers in the refined curriculum and the project team will conduct a pilot study with comparison classes to determine its efficacy on students' civic outcomes. In Year 4, the project team will analyze and disseminate results of the pilot study, develop a civic science toolkit (curriculum and "how to" partnership guide) and an assessment of the implementation costs that can be used by school districts across the country.

Products: Final products include the civic science curriculum, a professional development toolkit and community partnering guide with printable and online resources, an assessment of the costs, and peer-reviewed and outreach publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The iterative phase will take place in an urban school district in Michigan that serves predominantly students of color from low-middle income families. The pilot study will be conducted in several urban and suburban districts in Michigan that did not participate in the iterative phase and that serve students from a broad range of SES and racial/ethnic backgrounds.

Sample: Participants in Year 1 and 2 will include 2 high school social studies and 2 science teachers, 300 students, and 3 partners from community environmental organizations. Participants in Year 3 during the pilot study will include 2 high school social studies and science teachers and their students with half assigned to the intervention (n=400 students) and half a comparison group, implementing their regular curriculum (n=400 students). The sample will reflect the demographic characteristics (race/ethnicity, SES) of the state's student population.

Intervention: Students and teachers will investigate a water-related environmental issue in their community and local policies. They will engage with community-based organizations that educate and mobilize citizens on environmental issues and work with and hold government accountable. Curricular elements are based on effective civic practices for sustaining common pool resources including a focus on local place and teamwork over an extended time. The intervention will include: 1) The civic science curricular materials focused on identifying and researching an environmental issue with local partners; techniques for communicating with stakeholders; and framing information and analyses in a compelling argument for government policy and oversight and 2) A professional development and support guide with plans for teacher trainings, curricular elements, and implementation including guidance on identifying and recruiting relevant community partners.

Research Design and Methods: To develop the intervention, the researchers will conduct iterative studies to determine fidelity, usability, and feasibility of the curriculum. They will gather data on program elements and implementation of those elements from participating teachers, students, community partners, elected officials and staff of local government. Methods will include classroom observations, teacher and community partner logs, interviews with elected officials, brief student feedback forms on activities and team dynamics, 4 student essays reflecting on the core curricular elements, and pre-post student surveys using validated measures of relevant civic outcomes. They will adapt curricular elements in Year 2 based on insights from Year 1 iterations and will use the same methods to assess fidelity, usability, feasibility of the revised curriculum. After iteration, the research team will test the impact of the final revised curriculum on students' civic outcomes in a pilot study to include classroom observations of fidelity of implementation, students' pre-post surveys, and four student reflective essays on core curricular elements.

Control Condition: Classes in the control condition will implement standard curricular content.

Key Measures: Researchers will combine measures used in prior studies with measures developed for this project. Surveys will be based on scales tapping adolescents' civic knowledge, skills, and attitudes validated in prior studies. Logs will be adapted from coaching logs of the project's teacher support arm and reflective essay prompts adapted from those used by evaluation arm.

Data Analytic Strategies: The research team will use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods. Students' reflective essays will be coded for understanding of and attitudes toward the core elements of the civic science curriculum. To assess the impact of the final curriculum on outcomes of interest, researchers will conduct multi-level regression models using combinations of random and fixed effects to account for student clustering by teacher and classroom.

Cost Analysis: Researchers will determine the costs associated with implementing the final curriculum using the ingredients method" of cost analysis. This will entail systematically collecting and analyzing all program expenditures on personnel, facilities, equipment, materials, and training.