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Research and Development Projects

Motivating the Learning of Science - Multiple studies have documented that adolescents' motivation to engage with science, in and out of schools, declines as they grow older, especially during the transition from elementary to middle school. This ongoing project investigates the relation between various environmental factors and the development of students' interest, self-efficacy and motivation to engage with science as they progress from 4th to 9th grade. Past studies in my research group have focused on differences between different kinds of schools (traditional, religious, democratic, and Waldorf), different populations (secular vs. religious, mid to high SES vs. low SES), teachers’ goals and pedagogical practices, peer and parent influence. We have developed a mathematical model allows us to predict how most students' motivation for science learning will develop over a single school year. At present we are engaged in three studies: (A) tracking individual students over three years to create rich descriptions of how events and the environment shapes their interest in, attitudes toward, self-efficacy and motivation to engage with science, (B) looking at connections between the changing levels of sex hormones in adolescents and changes to their motivation to engage with science, and (C) how specific school settings and teaching practices inform students’ motivation.

Rethinking Instruction on Energy – Together with colleagues at Michigan State University and IPN in Germany, we have developed a novel approach to energy instruction in middle schools. This new approach does away with energy forms and with transformations. According to it, there is only one energy, not multiple forms of energy, and this energy can only be transferred between systems, not be transferred and transformed. This approach involves introducing the concept of fields. Studies we have concluded have shown that this approach outperforms traditional approaches to energy instruction on every measure we considered. We are now considering how take this new approach to high school and make it quantitative (until now it has been a qualitative approach).

Science in Waldorf Schools - The Waldorf approach to science education emphasizes the theory-free observation of phenomena, the artistic representation of the phenomena, delaying the introduction of abstract concepts until the end of middle school, rejecting textbooks, and providing the science teacher with great autonomy in selecting the topics of instruction, all with the aim of preserving the students' sense of wonderment of nature, curiosity, and desire to learn more. This project characterized the ways science is taught in most Israeli Waldorf schools and evaluated whether the aims of this approach were being met.

IQWST - Investigating and Questioning the World through Science and Technology - was an NSF-funded project that developed the next generation of inquiry-based science curricula for middle schools that brought together science educators, scientists, cognitive psychologists, and literacy experts from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Weizmann Institute of Science, and Project 2061 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The curriculum includes 12 units, 4 in each year, 3 in each of the following disciplines: physics, chemistry, life science, and earth science and is published by Activate Learning in the USA. At present work on the project involves studying its contribution to students' developing understanding of energy and their self-efficacy in using the concept of energy in making sense of phenomena.