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 four studies: (A) using EEG and facial expression recognition to determine whether early exposure to abstract scientific concepts may have any long-tern deleterious effect on students motivation and self-efficacy in relation to science, (B) 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, (C) looking at connections between the changing levels of sex hormones in adolescents and changes to their motivation to engage with science, and (D) how specific face-to-face and distance learning teaching practices influence students’ motivation and self-efficacy in science learning.

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 applying for financial support that will allow us adapt this new approach for use in high schools 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. At present this project provides ongoing support to Israeli Waldorf high school science teachers.

The Grand Challenges - For too long, science education has failed to connect with the lives, interests and concerns of its students, who are constantly faced with global issues such as pandemics, climate change, diminishing biodiversity, or fresh water shortage – issues that are reshaping the most basic aspects of their present and future lives. We refer to these complex and multifaceted issues as Grand Challenges (GCs). Despite students’ growing concern with these GCs, school science classes typically focus on the teaching of aloof scientific principles which have little or no relation to these real-world social and ethical scientifically informed issues. This project aims to restructure middle school science education around GCs, and around the desire of science students to be well-informed on these subjects and to develop agency regarding them.