KY EPSCoR: Research to Compare Informal and Formal Environments towards Understanding How Middle Level Students Learn Math and Science

Grants and Contracts Details


NASA-based REAL Curriculum - Under this project, we will be giving middle level students the opportunity to experience the excitement of exploration and discovery by becoming real astronomers and space science researchers. Through project Realistic Explorations in Astronomical Learning (REAL), students are engaging in a novel interdisciplinary space science environment through the integration of meaningful mathematical and scientific content. The overall objectives of the REAL curriculum are to provide middle level students with: a) Hands-on experiences of space science research; b) The ability to both quantitatively and qualitatively understand the phases of the Moon, the origins and evolution of specific features on the surfaces of planetary bodies within our Solar System, and the geologic principle of superposition and relative/absolute age dating; c) The opportunity to learn meaningful space science and mathematics in a project-enhanced, national standards-based manner and develop spatial reasoning skills that will transfer to other STEM areas such as Chemistry, Physics, Geometry, etc.; d) The confidence and ability to communicate their own scientific/mathematical thinking and the ability to understand others' scientific/mathematical thinking; and e) Measurable gain scores on conceptual forms of assessment in both mathematics and science. This proposal will scale-up the REAL Project (Wilhelm, Jackson, & Wilhelm, 2011) which has been successfully implemented in three Kentucky schools. Through Realistic Explorations in Astronomical Learning (REAL), students engage in a project-based space science environment via the integration of meaningful mathematical and scientific content that is mapped to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (2010) and the Next Generation Science Standards Framework (2011). Students who experienced this 8-week, NASA-based, Earth/Science unit have made significant gains on science assessments as well as geometric spatial assessments. A quasi-experimental study that utilized quantitative measures to document students' understanding before and after project implementation was conducted spring 2011 and spring 2012. Research subjects were sixth-grade students from local Kentucky schools. Figure 1 shows the preliminary data results for spring 2012 where experimental students significantly outperformed the control students on the Lunar Phases Concept Inventory (science assessment). Spring 2011 results showed all experimental groups making significant gains on four assessments including three spatial mathematics assessments. The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM, 2010) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Framework (NRC, 2012) both include practices and/or crosscutting concepts that contain spatial mathematical domains. For example, CCSSM practice eight describes how students should "look for and express regularity and repeated reasoning" (looking for patterns) and the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts include patterns, systems and system models, structure and function, and stability and change. CCSSM practices declare that students should "model with mathematics" and NGSS practices assert how students should have experiences "developing and using models"- where such modeling applications could include geometric systems modeling (e.g. Earth/Moon/Sun system, orbital motions, etc.). The REAL curricular project emphasizes these practices and crosscutting concepts that are fundamental to the development of spatial visualization and Earth/Space conceptual understanding, and the REAL project has assessment data demonstrating significant student learning gains in these areas. Brief Description of Activities Last year, we received a small ($10,101) NASA Kentucky grant that provided funding for professional development and data collection with seven experimental teachers (and two control teachers). The funding was mainly for teacher stipends and travel with no support for REAL implementation supplies. For this new project implementation, we plan to extend the project to the informal environmental realm and conduct research to compare informal and formal learning environments towards understanding how well middle level students learn mathematics and science in an Earth Space context. It is crucial that both learning environments utilize the same instructional supplies. With more money for teacher stipends and travel, and funding for REAL Classroom Kits (materials needed for the REAL implementation), we will be able to significantly increase the mathematics and science learning of approximately Kentucky middle grade students. Our major project activities will include: 1) recruitment of approximately 13 teachers; 2) assembly of classroom REAL kits; 3) group professional development with new REAL teachers prior to implementation; 4) pre-assessment data administered (four science and mathematics spatial assessments and approximately 50 student interviews); 5) REAL implementation (teachers will videotape three of their REAL lessons for data analysis purposes); 6) on-going, just-in-time professional development with teachers during implementation; 7) post-assessment data collection (including teacher reflections); 8) data analysis; 9) REAL findings disseminated. A repeated measures ANOVA (RMANOVA) will be conducted for each science and mathematics domain within each assessment and for the overall scores of each assessment. RMANOVA will be used to ascertain the development of students' science and spatial content knowledge and skills from pre to post implementation. We also conducted an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) to examine any differences between informal environmental learning and formal environmental learning groups as well as gender differences within and between informal and formal groups.
Effective start/end date1/1/1312/31/13


  • KY Council on Postsecondary Education


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