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IES Grant

Title: National Research & Development Center on Cognition and Science Instruction
Center: NCER Year: 2008
Principal Investigator: Merlino, F. Joseph Awardee: 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education
Program: Education Research and Development Centers      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years Award Amount: $9,995,038
Type: Multiple Goals Award Number: R305C080009

Topic: Cognition and Science Instruction

Purpose: The purpose of the National Center on Cognition and Science Instruction (NCCSI) is to modify and adapt two widely used middle-school science curricula by applying three theoretical principles of cognitive science: analogical reasoning, spatial reasoning, and student prior knowledge. Additionally, professional development materials will be created. The efficacy of the modified curricula and the support materials will be examined with scientifically rigorous, randomized controlled trials.

Established through a five-year, $10.0 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education, the NCCSI is staffed with nationally-recognized experts in cognitive psychology, science education and instruction, teacher professional development, and research evaluation and methodology.


Curricula changes

Changes will be made to the life science, physical science, and earth science units of two widely-used curricula: Holt and FOSS. There is a high intersection of content between the two curricula and state standardized science assessments.

The Cognitive Science Teams (CSTs) will design and conduct small-scale pilot studies, followed by selection and refinement of the adaptations. Next, the CSTs will work with the Professional Development Teams (PDTs) to produce professional development materials to support teaching the specified curriculum through the use of the adaptations.

An efficacy study will be conducted to evaluate the impact of these adaptations on student learning after they have undergone the full cycle of small-scale piloting and one year of large scale testing, analysis and modification. Middle-schools in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will be randomly assigned to one of three experimental treatment groups: (1) full treatment, with curriculum adaptations and professional development on both the adaptations and curriculum content; (2) limited treatment, with standard Holt or FOSS curriculum and professional development on the curriculum content; and (3) control condition, with standard Holt or FOSS curriculum with no additional professional development. Outcome measures include grade 8 state standardized science assessments and researcher-developed science assessments. Three-level hierarchical linear models (with students nested within classrooms nested within schools) will be used to examine the effect of the science curriculum adaptations on student achievement.

Key Personnel: Andrew Porter, Robert Boruch, Rebecca Maynard, Laura Desimone, Christine Massey, Christian Schunn, Kalyani Raghaven, Timothy Nokes, Nora Newcombe, Jennifer Cromley, Keith Kershner, Donna Cleland, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stankus

Center Website:

IES Program Contact: Dr. Christina Chhin
Telephone: (202) 219-2280


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Alfieri, L., Nokes-Malach, T.J., and Schunn, C.D. (2013). Learning Through Case Comparisons: A Meta-Analytic Review. Educational Psychologist, 48(2): 87–113.

Covay Minor, E., Desimone, L.M., Caines Lee, J., and Hochberg, E. (2016). Insights on how to Shape Teacher Learning Policy: The Role of Teacher Content Knowledge in Explaining Differential Effects of Professional Development. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(61): 1–34.

Cromley, J.G., Weisberg, S.M., Dai, T., Newcombe, N.S., Schunn, C.D., Massey, C., and Merlino, F.J. (2016). Improving Middle School Science Learning Using Diagrammatic Reasoning. Science Education, 100(6): 1184–1213.

Porter, A.C., Polikoff, M.S., Barghaus, K.M., and Yang, R. (2013). Constructing Aligned Assessments: Using Automated Test Construction. Educational Researcher, 42(8): 415–423.


Resnick, I., Shipley, T.F., Newcombe, N., Massey, C., and Wills, T. (2012). Examining the Representation and Understanding of Large Magnitudes Using the Hierarchical Alignment Model of Analogical Reasoning. In Proceedings of the 34th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 917–922). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.