Research and Development Projects

Constructing Quantitative Knowledge-in-Use of Energy -  about energy and its conservation, in part because energy continues to be taught using the compartmentalized 19th century language of “forms”. Building off prior work in middle schools, this project is developing instructional materials and assessments for high school physics that focus on building students’ quantitative energy knowledge-in-use through a project-based learning approach grounded in a systems-transfer and fields model of energy and energy conservation. The curriculum, which emphasizes quantitative modeling of energy transfers in complex real-world phenomena, represents a substantial departure from how energy is typically presented in high school physics. This work will lead to future studies on the efficacy of replacing common energy “forms” instruction with a system-transfer approach.

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.

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.