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icon of glasses and a book Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning


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FY Awards

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Improving Teacher Capacity to Implement High Quality Service Learning in Elementary Science Classrooms

Year: 2015
Name of Institution:
University of Virginia
Goal: Development and Innovation
Principal Investigator:
Rimm-Kaufman, Sara
Award Amount: $1,494,451
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2018)
Award Number: R305A150272


Co-Principal Investigators: Eileen G. Merritt (University of Virginia), Tracy Harkins (Harkins Consulting, LLC), and Jamie DeCoster (University of Virginia)

Purpose: In this project, researchers will develop and test materials and professional development supports to help fourth and fifth grade teachers create service learning opportunities for their students during science instruction. Service learning has the potential to promote students' academic achievement and civic engagement through applied learning opportunities in the community. It also has the potential to meet a number of teacher needs, including the ever present challenge of engaging students, promoting social skills, and managing classroom behavior to support learning of rigorous academic content.

Project Activities: In the first two project years, the researchers will partner with Harkins Consulting, LLC (formerly KIDS Consortium) to augment and adapt their existing service learning materials. The modified materials and teacher supports will be field tested with teachers to determine if they can be implemented with fidelity in fourth and fifth grade classrooms. In the final year, the researchers will randomly assign teachers to the service learning intervention or a wait-list control group to determine potential impacts on teacher practices and student social skills, civic engagement, and science learning.

Products: Researchers will produce a fully developed guide (materials and professional development) for teachers on how to integrate service learning into science instruction. The research team will also produce measures of high quality service learning program implementation and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in Massachusetts.

Sample: The participants in this study are fourth and fifth grade teachers and their students. In Year 1, approximately six teachers expert in service learning will participate in development activities. In Year 2, another 15 to 18 teachers will take part in field testing. In Year 3, about 72 teachers and 576 students will participate in the pilot study.

Intervention: This professional development program will help teachers integrate service learning into their science instruction. The researchers envision a summer workshop for teachers followed by additional workshops during the school year supplemented with individualized coaching. The training will emphasize how service learning can foster students' feelings of autonomy and competence. Teachers will also learn techniques to manage classroom behavior and promote social skills conducive to student collaboration during service learning activities. Teachers will also receive specific instruction on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and how service learning can align with NGSS learning objectives.

Research Design and Methods: In the first year, researchers at the University of Virginia will partner with Harkins Consulting, LLC to augment and adapt their existing service learning materials. Fourth and fifth grade teachers who provide exemplary service learning instruction will provide feedback through focus groups and surveys to inform modifications through an iterative process. In Year 2, these modified materials and professional development supports will be field tested with additional fourth and fifth grade teachers. These teachers will participate in focus groups and respond to surveys to determine feasibility related to teachers' time, school resources, and student challenges. In the final year, the researchers will randomly assign a new group of fourth and fifth grade teachers to the intervention or a wait-list control group to determine impacts on service learning practices during science instruction and students' social skills, civic engagement, and science learning.

Control Condition: Teachers randomly assigned to the control group will continue to provide typical science instruction in their fourth and fifth grade classrooms and will be offered the service learning intervention after the pilot study is completed.

Key Measures: The researchers will develop student-report, teacher-report, and observational measures of service learning instruction. Student outcomes will be measured using the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS), the Civic Engagement Scale, and self-reported science enjoyment and science relevance (modified Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures). The researchers will also develop a measure of science achievement that is aligned with NGSS standards on the Earth and Human Activity for fourth and fifth grades.

Data Analytic Strategy: In the development and field testing phases, the researchers will engage in qualitative data analysis using a four-stage, iterative process of data collection (focus group and survey responses), data reduction (etic and emic codes), data display, and conclusion drawing and verification. The researchers will identify themes associated with variations in teachers' response to the intervention components (favorable versus unfavorable) and teachers' perceptions of principal support to inform the iterative development process. In the pilot study phase, multilevel analyses will be used to determine potential impact of the intervention on teacher practices and student outcomes. The researchers will also explore whether implementation fidelity is a moderator of potential impacts.

Project website: