Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Exploring Students' Progression in developing Quantitative Knowledge-in-Use about Energy
Center: NCER Year: 2023
Principal Investigator: Geier, Robert Awardee: Michigan State University
Program: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (08/01/2023 – 07/31/2027) Award Amount: $1,999,773
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A230401

Co-Principal Investigators: Fortus, David; Krajcik, Joseph; Neumann, Knut; Nordine, Jeff

Purpose: Energy is a central idea in science. Many students, however, struggle to understand and apply quantitative ideas about energy and its conservation, in part because energy continues to be taught using the compartmentalized 19th century language of "forms". Building off prior work in middle schools, this research team will develop instructional materials and assessments for high school physics that focus on building students' quantitative energy knowledge to solve real world problems, referred to as "knowledge-in-use" through a project-based learning approach grounded in a systems-transfer and fields model of energy and energy conservation. The curriculum, which will emphasize quantitative modeling of energy transfers in complex real-world phenomena, represents a substantial departure from how energy is typically presented in high school physics.

Project Activities: The research team will engage in an iterative process to develop and test new project-based instructional units for high school physics that are intended to replace existing energy instruction in physics. The new units will consist of approximately 6 weeks of lessons focused on non-idealized phenomena in mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism. The researchers will develop the units with teachers in Michigan and test and revise them in urban, suburban, and rural districts in the state. Additionally, the researchers will develop assessments to examine student quantitative knowledge-in-use and their competence in addressing energy-related issues.

Products: The products resulting from this project include curriculum units with student and teacher guides and professional learning materials. Assessment products include three-dimensional assessment tasks and scoring guides targeting quantitative knowledge-in-use. The project will also result in publications and presentations to inform the research community as well as practicing science teachers and teacher-educators through their professional associations. Work products will be shared with curriculum designers to encourage incorporation in multiple commercial and open curricula.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in urban, suburban, and rural high schools in Michigan

Sample: The sample for the first iteration of testing the units will include 3 teachers and approximately 200 students. The full pilot study sample will include 30 teachers and approximately 2,000 students. These teachers and students are located in central Michigan or in urban areas in the upper Midwest. The students in the sample will be socioeconomically and ethnically diverse. Participating districts have a student population that includes 21 to 98 percent minority students and 34 to 92 percent of students qualifying for free/reduced price lunch.

Intervention: The intervention replaces the 19th century idea of energy forms in favor of focusing on energy transfers between systems through a series of units for physics instruction in mechanics, thermodynamics and electromagnetism. The intervention will employ a project-based learning approach that allows students to make sense of complex, real-world phenomena using the systems-transfer approach. The curricular units will include student guides that scaffold classroom activities, readings that connect to real-world and societal issues and support for student thinking. The researchers will also produce teacher guides that provide pedagogical justifications for activity designs, strategies for facilitating discussions, and support for teacher understanding of content and scaffolding for students.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will develop instructional materials by identifying performance expectations aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and building learning sequences around a coherent storyline. Materials will be drafted, reviewed by expert panels, piloted, and field tested with a focus on student development toward meeting performance expectations. Revisions occur after each step in the process. In phase 1, the researchers will develop the curriculum materials and have experts review them. Phase 2 includes a preliminary pilot study (3 teachers, 200 students) and baseline data collection (15 teachers; 1,000 students). Phase 3 includes the full pilot student with a baseline and repeated field tests (15 teachers; 1,000 students per year) across urban, suburban, and rural districts and a baseline (15 teachers; 1,000 students) and field test (15 teachers; 1000 students) targeting high-needs urban and rural populations. This design allows the team to examine both the promise of the new unit and its scalability, along with teacher experiences as they transition to a new way of teaching energy.

Comparison Condition: The research team will collect comparison data from students in participant teacher classrooms during the school year prior to the full pilot tests, allowing for comparison of traditional, business-as-usual forms of instruction to the intervention for individual teachers.

Key Measures: The team will develop and validate assessments that align with the NGSS performance expectations for high school physical science and measure students' ability to apply energy and energy conservation concepts to complex real world phenomena. These assessments will be administered as pre- and post-tests, and complemented by a collection of student artifacts, teacher and student interviews, classroom observations, and teacher surveys to track both student learning and teacher experiences while implementing the intervention. The researchers will also use distal assessment items developed for state standardized tests aligned with NGSS for additional validity checks of the assessment.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will employ a two-level regression analysis with time as a covariate to compare between intervention and comparison students' knowledge of energy and energy conservation concepts. The researchers will investigate feasibility and usability by employing inductive analysis of teacher interviews, surveys, and reflections gathered after implementation of the intervention.

Cost Analysis: The researchers will focus their cost analysis on the local education agency implementing the change and will use the ingredients method. Ingredients to be examined include professional development and administrative support costs, variable costs (equipment and fees), out-of-classroom teacher time, and adoption costs for implementing a new curriculum (added teacher time during adoption year, initial equipment and professional development costs) amortized over the average curriculum adoption life in the district. The researchers will also conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis to examine learning gains described above as related to relevant costs for the baseline ("business as usual") and intervention cases, with sensitivity analyses exploring differential effects across types of schools/school populations and teacher experience.