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IES Grant

Title: Cosmic Chemistry: Engaging Summer Learning for High School Students
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Mackety, Dawn Awardee: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
Program: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,499,881
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A090344

Co-Principal Investigator: Andrea Beesley

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to iteratively develop and evaluate a summer science curriculum — Cosmic Chemistry. Partnering with Union Public Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this three-year Goal 2 project work with disadvantaged students who are at risk of low achievement in science and who wish to take chemistry in high school. The program will use the real-world context of space science to set high expectations, build background knowledge, and motivate students, with the ultimate goal of increasing studentsí science achievement. The final product will be a Cosmic Chemistry Toolkit that contains all the necessary resources for an existing summer program to implement the intervention.

Project Activities: Researchers will devote the first two years of the grant to developing and refining Cosmic Chemistry, a research-based, two-week summer science program. This program is intended to provide support for students who may experience some difficulty in their upcoming chemistry course. The program will include curriculum sequences and a storyline, museum exhibits, a sense-making strategies document, and websites for both students and facilitators. Additionally, the team will create guides for program coordinators and facilitators. After iterative development, the tool kit will be evaluated in a field test.

Products: Products of this project include a fully developed Cosmic Chemistry Toolkit, as well as a set of results from the pilot study. Researchers will disseminate findings through peer-reviewed publications, publications for practitioners, and presentations at conferences for researchers and practitioners.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place at the Intermediate High School in the Union Public Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Sample: The sample for the project includes four to six facilitators and approximately 10-15 high school students per facilitator. The total sample will be approximately 60 students who have not yet taken a chemistry course, are at risk of low achievement in science, and who wish to take chemistry in high school but are unlikely to do so without additional support.

Intervention: The Cosmic Chemistry summer curriculum will include three units to be conducted in sequence: (1) About the Genesis Mission and Elements, (2) Planetary Diversity, and (3) Sun and Solar Wind. The curriculum will address a variety of chemistry topics, including the structure and properties of matter, physical and chemical reactions, atoms and atomic mass, elements and the periodic table, isotopes, and the chemistry of solar system objects. The curriculum will embody the characteristics of successful summer programs and active science learning through inquiry and will be enhanced using a conceptual framework and research-supported approaches that connect academic learning with essential supports for learning — setting high expectations, increasing background knowledge, and motivating students.

Research Design and Methods: The methodology can be characterized as user-centered design testing (iterative, process evaluation), wherein quality and utility for the curriculum are assessed and intervention components modified. Methods include observations, questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups. Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: The research will provide formative feedback to refine and improve the content, utility, relevance, feasibility, and quality of the Cosmic Chemistry curriculum. Research questions will be used to direct inquiry, data collection, and analysis toward this end. Data will be collected from facilitators, student participants, and observations. Instruments to be developed for the project include observation protocols, facilitator logs, focus groups, and student questionnaires. All outcomes will be analyzed, refined, and approved by content and curriculum development experts.

Data Analytic Strategy: Quantitative data will be analyzed using frequencies and percents as well as means and standard deviations. Qualitative data will be analyzed via an iterative process of coding and theme categorization using the constant comparative method. All analyses will be based on the appropriate assumptions for analyzing the specific type of data and the nature of the questions being answered.

Project Websites:


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Parsley, D., and Ristvey, J. (2014). Cosmic Chemistry: A Proactive Approach to Summer Science for High School Students. Afterschool Matters, 19: 20–27.