Archive for April, 2012

April 26, 2012

Trumpets from the Front Line of Visitor Engagement

I learned a tidbit recently about what to takes to be an effective zoo and aquarium educator, and I think it comes down to this:

 Sometimes, you just have to BE the penguin.


Image of an Adelie Penguin courtesy of National Geographic

 Before you think I’m mixing Eastern and elementary (school) philosophy and need to double-check my sources, I want to tell you a story about one of the most illuminating glimpses into engagement I could have ever observed. It came in the form of nearly 30 zoo and aquarium educators recording observation data and taking turns preening, bowing, and “swimming” penguin-style across the jellyfish floor of the New England Aquarium.

I shook my plumage dry with the best of them, and eagerly recorded the emphatic behavior of my chosen ‘penguin’. It didn’t occur to me until after I had placed my colored Post-Its on the wall to count his waddles, preens, and singular high-pitched bray that the “Be An Animal Scientist” activity was a scientific data collection and analysis activity designed by aquarium educators to engage…K-2nd grade aquarium visitors. Still, there we all were—a flock of mature mock-penguins—completely lost in our enactments.


My recorded ‘penguin’ behaviors…

It all came together when I considered the nature of this exuberant end to the first day of the ZAARC (Zoo and Aquarium Action Research Collaborative) Institute. The Institute was an introductory meeting designed to initiate discussions, presentations and modeling of effective action research* practices to determine how and if zoo and aquarium educators could engage in reflective inquiry and examinations of ‘visitor engagement’ at their own institutions.

And then I realized the question really came down to the how, not the if.

Perhaps measuring engagement through action research can be even MORE preemptive than pilot testing designs with visitors. Perhaps it really is about just buckling down, being that proverbial penguin, and testing your activities yourself. If you end up flapping your flippers wildly and trumpeting with aplomb, you just know you have developed something truly special.

*Action research, as I learned that day, is a “form of inquiry that enables educators in every job or walk of life to investigate and evaluate their work” (McNiff and Whitehead).

April 19, 2012

NCSM and NCTM 2012, Here We Come!

Hello, math-educator friends and colleagues! This next week, TERC staff will be attending and presenting at the 2012 NCSM Annual Conference and the 2012 NCTM Annual Conference —two of the largest math education events in the country. Join us in Philadelphia for over 10 staff presentations, Monday, April 23rd-Friday, April 27th on topics ranging from intervention strategies in the elementary classroom to framing the Common Core State Standards within elementary teaching practices to measuring and aligning early algebra learning in the elementary and middle grades.

Click to download the official listings document and descriptions!

This year, the theme for NCSM (April 23-April 25) is “Life, Liberty, and Mathematics for All: NCSM Leads the Way” with 5 presentation strands including:

  • (1) Bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap: Implementing the Common Core State Standards; 
  • (2) ALL Means ALL: Promoting Equity in Mathematics Education;
  • (3) Mathematics Leaders Translate Vision to Practice: Developing and Supporting Coaches, Specialists, and Teacher Leaders;
  • (4) Making Mathematics Learning Visible: Implementing Formative and Summative Assessments to Support Student Learning;
  • and (5) Leadership to Enhance Mathematics Teaching and Learning for All: Helping administrators and other leaders support high quality mathematics instruction.

This year, NCTM (April 25-April 28) will offer over 700 presentations, special strand sessions pertaining to new technologies, and an exhibit hall with vendors, organizations, and—TERC, at exhibit booth #452! Stop by to check out some of our newest math and numeracy publications, informal math research projects, disabilities education tools, and online gaming and new media endeavors for K-adult audiences.

Travel safe, and see you next week!

April 12, 2012

AERA Presentation Preview!

AERA’s Annual Meeting is one of the primary destinations for educational researchers to share their latest endeavors and innovations. This year, nearly 20 TERC staff members are attending to present sessions or strands. The theme of this year’s meeting is “Non Satis Scire: To Know Is Not Enough”—focusing on discussions and applications of scholarly research to improve education and serve the public good. Whether you’re headed to Vancouver this Friday (April 13th) through Tuesday (April 17th) for AERA or not, check out this roster of TERC presenters and abstracts:

Under the Microscope: Review of the Research on Biological Lab Experiences, 1987-2007     

Fri, Apr 13 – 12:00pm – 1:30pm; In Session: “High School Biology: Investigations in Learning and Instruction”; Presenters/Authors: Brian E. Drayton (TERC), Gillian M. Puttick (TERC), Meaghan Donovan (TERC)

  • Abstract: We report here on results from a study of the English-language, peer-reviewed research literature for the period 1987-2007 on life-science laboratory experiences. We explored to what extent the research literature addressed not only the learning of specific concepts but also the growth of biological reasoning, particularly with respect to characteristics of living systems that philosophers of biology have suggested are unique to biology. We asked To what extent does the research base: 1. Provide evidence of the value of labs to support learning for various constituencies of interest (e.g. students differing by gender, learning styles, ethnicity); 2. Address a range of topics across grade levels; 3. Show how labs foster biological reasoning with respect to distinctive characteristics of biological systems?

Elementary Students’ Recognition of Algebraic Structure: Not All Tasks Are Created Equal          

Sat, Apr 14 – 10:35am – 12:05pm; In Session: “Elementary Preparation for Learning Algebra Concepts”; Presenters/Authors: Isil Isler (University of Wisconsin – Madison), Ana C. Stephens (University of Wisconsin – Madison), Maria L. Blanton (TERC), Eric J. Knuth (University of Wisconsin), Timothy Marum (University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth), Angela Gardiner (University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth)

  • Abstract: This paper reports results from a written assessment given to 290 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students. We share and discuss students’ responses to items addressing their understanding of equation structure and the meaning of the equal sign. We found that while an operational view of the equal sign was predominant, some students were able to recognize underlying structure in arithmetic equations. The degree to which students were successful varied from task to task, with extremely “obvious” tasks such as 5 + 3 = ___ + 3 being more apt to elicit structure-based strategies. Our findings can inform early algebra efforts by identifying tasks that have the potential to help students begin to think about equations in a structural way.

English Language Learners and Mainstream Students Solving Multiple-Choice Science ‎Items With and Without Vignette Illustrations          

Sat, Apr 14 – 10:35am – 12:05pm; In Session: “Cognition and Assessment Paper Session”; Presenters/Authors: Rachel R. Kachchaf (TERC), Guillermo Solano-Flores (University of Colorado – Boulder)

  • Abstract: We compared how English language learners (ELLs) and monolingual English students ‎solved multiple-choice items administered with and without a new form of testing ‎accommodations—vignette illustration (VI). Thirty-six native Spanish-speaking English language ‎learners (ELLs), and 36 native-English speaking non-ELLs reported their thinking while ‎answering the items. Results from both qualitative and quantitative analyses show that ELLs ‎used a wider variety of actions oriented to understanding the items than non-ELLs. In contrast, ‎non-ELLs used a wider variety of problem solving strategies than ELLs. An interaction between ‎the characteristics of the students, the items, and the illustrations indicates a considerable ‎heterogeneity in the ways in which students from both linguistic groups thinking about and ‎respond to science test items.‎

Wiring Culture Circles: Fostering Intergenerational Dialogues on Providing Quality Education in America’s Public Schools

Sat, Apr 14 – 10:35am – 12:05pm; In Session: “Sociocultural Context of Schooling”; Presenters/Authors: Eli Tucker-Raymond (TERC), Christopher George Wright (TERC)

  • Abstract: The movement for Quality Education as a Constitutional Right (QECR) is a national grassroots effort to guarantee, a quality education for all citizens. To add our own thrust to the QECR movement, we brought together educators and students in an urban center to discuss what it meant to provide and experience quality education in the United States. We used a media text, the television show The Wire to help us attempt to read and transform our own sociocultural contexts of schooling and those of others. It discusses what the implications of such conversations might be in the quest to invigorate conversations about QECR.

Integrating Informal Education Experiences in K-12 Technology-Intense Teacher Professional Development              

Sat, Apr 14 – 2:15pm – 3:45pm; In Session: “Informal Settings as Spaces for Teacher Development”; Presenters/Authors: Cathlyn D. Stylinski (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science), Caroline E. Parker (Education Development Center, Inc.), Carla M. McAuliffe (TERC)

  • Abstract: Innovative applications of technology offer many benefits but also significant challenges for K-12 classrooms. Our study explored approaches and perspective of technology-intense teacher professional development projects that incorporated informal education experiences to meet these challenges. During these experiences, teachers most typically had a mentoring role with youth. Some projects emphasized a more typical classroom instructor role; while others formed equal partnerships between teachers and youth or even had youth teach teachers. Most project leaders and teacher participants felt these experiences were critical, citing opportunities to practice and reflect on new approaches, develop deeper understanding, and gain confidence without classroom constraints. These findings align with other studies highlighting the benefits of these low-stakes environments for reform-based teaching.

Item Illustration Complexity and the Performance of English Language Learners in a Science Test       

Sun, Apr 15 – 10:35am – 12:05pm; In Session: “Large-Scale Assessments for Students With Disabilities and English Language Learners: Test Design and Student Characteristics”; Presenters/Authors: Chao Wang (University of Colorado – Boulder), Magda Yanira Chia (University of Colorado – Boulder), Rachel R. Kachchaf (TERC), Guillermo Solano-Flores (University of Colorado – Boulder)

  • Abstract: We address the need for enhanced practices that contribute to more valid and fair testing for English language learners (ELLs). We examine the formal properties of illustrations used in a science test and examine how those properties influence student performance. We tested ELLs and non-ELLs with 27 vignette-illustrated items whose illustrations were created systematically according to a procedure developed for such purpose. We will code the properties of the illustrations by using our coding system for examining characteristics of illustrations in science items (Author, 2011a, 2011b) and will measure their complexity. We will use regression analysis to examine the impact of item illustration complexity on student performance in science.

Reexamining the Links Between Curriculum and Instruction for Latina/o Mathematics Learners           

Sun, Apr 15 – 12:25pm – 1:55pm

Session Participants: Chair: Craig J. Willey (Indiana University – Indianapolis);

“Moving From Knowing to Doing: Teachers Developing Mathematics Discourse Communities With Latinas/os”, Craig J. Willey (Indiana University – Indianapolis); “Strengthening the Links Between Curriculum and Instruction for Latina/o Mathematics Learners”, Kathleen Pitvorec (University of Illinois at Chicago), Lena Licon Khisty (University of Illinois at Chicago), Craig J. Willey (Indiana University – Indianapolis); “Enhancing Mathematics Curricula and Instruction to Facilitate Latino English Language Learners’ Success: A Case Study of Juan”, Kathryn B. Chval (University of Missouri), Rachel J. Pinnow (University of Missouri), Amanda Thomas (University of Missouri); “The Rise and Run of a Procedural Approach in Discussions about Slope”, William Carl Zahner (Boston University)

Discussant: Beth M. Warren (Cheche Konnen Center, TERC)

  • AbstractDespite decades of educational reform efforts for Latina/o students, their mathematical performance – as measured by standardized tests – has persistently lagged behind other demographic sub-groups (Gandara & Contreras, 2009). New approaches are needed to translate what we know about effective curriculum and instruction for bilingual Latina/o learners, into concrete actions in the classroom. This symposium reports on four studies that will help us better understand how to support teachers and students as they navigate the world of language-rich mathematics curriculum and pedagogy. We will describe the struggles of practicing mathematics teachers of Latina/o students and discuss how we bridge educational theory and practical applications in curriculum and classroom instruction.

When and Where I Enter: Preservice Teachers’ Acknowledging and Understanding Their Positionality

Mon, Apr 16 – 10:35am – 12:05pm; In Session: “The Impact of Teacher Reflexivity on Student Achievement”; Presenters/Authors; Brian L. Wright (TERC), Felicity A. Crawford (Wheelock College)

  • AbstractAchieving the status of highly qualified teacher cannot be limited to technical competence and knowledge of subject matter alone, but must also include a deliberate and purposeful focus on the development of candidates’ racial and cultural awareness, multicultural consciousness, and positionality. This paper discusses an assignment used in a graduate teacher education program titled, “Location, Location, Location” designed to help pre-service teachers’ locate their positionality and interrogate their racial and cultural attitudes and beliefs.

The Interaction Between Design and Experience in an Online, Interactive Poster Competition                   

Mon, Apr 16 – 4:05pm – 5:35pm; In Session: “Division C Section 7 Technology Research Poster Session”; Presenters/Authors: Joni K. Falk (TERC), Rena Stroud (TERC), Kathryn Hobbs (TERC), Brian E. Drayton (TERC)

  • AbstractThis paper describes an innovative, interactive, virtual poster competition ( created for the National Science Foundation’s IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research and Traineeship) Program, and discusses the benefits and drawbacks of having poster competitions online as opposed to face-to-face. It explores the breadth, depth, and nature of participation, participants assessment of the online experience compared to traditional poster sessions, and last the effect of structuring this event as a competition as opposed to a poster session, on presenters who were selected as finalists, as well as on presenters who were not. This study examines the interactions between format (online vs. face-to face), context (competition vs. poster session), and the perceptions of the experience by participants.

From Caring Comes Courage: Enactments of Caring to Support Women of Color in STEM

Tue, Apr 17 – 10:35am – 12:05pm; In Session: “Science, Engineering, and Technology: Changing the Way We Teach and Learn in the Classroom”; Presenters/Authors: Apriel K. Hodari (Council for Opportunity in Education), Irene Anastasia Liefshitz (Harvard University), Lily Ko (TERC), Maria (Mia) Ong (TERC), Carol A. Wright (City University of New York)

  • Abstract: It is said that justice is what love looks like in public. While “love” is rarely an explicit focus of educational research, few would argue with the idea that educators enact their caring by providing opportunities for all students, particularly women and students of color. In this way, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) support programs may be interrogated through a lens of justice and caring. In this paper, we present an analysis of four postsecondary STEM support programs whose leadership enacts social justice and deep caring, and discuss whether their modes of practice link to success for women of color in STEM.

Seeding Social Norms About Energy Conservation Among Girl Scouts         

Tue, Apr 17 – 10:35am – 12:05pm; In Session: “Social and Personal Connections to Informal Learning”; Presenters/Authors: Debra Bernstein (TERC), Gillian M. Puttick (TERC), Polly Hubbard (TERC)

  • AbstractEnergy conservation and awareness are increasingly important goals for youth and community programs. This study examined whether sharing a social norm message (SNM) with Girl Scouts who had recently completed an energy conservation program would impact their energy use and related attitudes. Thirty-seven girls (aged 11-14) participated in the study. Results suggest that the SNM was effective in maintaining post-program energy conservation behaviors for participants already dedicated to conservation (as indicated by behavior reported at baseline), but not for those with low dedication. The impact of the SNM on attitudes was influenced by participants’ strength of connection to Girl Scouts. This study makes a contribution by expanding the use of SNM to promote conservation behavior in adolescents.

Developing Middle School Teachers’ Understandings About Scientific Inquiry and Investigations: A Case of Formal-Informal Partnerships               

Tue, Apr 17 – 2:15pm – 3:45pm

Session Participants:“Learning Science as Inquiry With the Urban Advantage: Project Overview”,  Patricia S. Bills (Michigan State University); “Development and Use of Teaching Case Materials”, Suzanne Elgendy (American Museum of Natural History); “Providing Opportunities for Teachers to Learn About Scientific Inquiry and Investigation”, Jamie N. Mikeska (Michigan State University); “The Contribution of Professional Development Resources to Teachers’ Understandings about Scientific Inquiry and Investigations and Teachers’ Instructional Practice”, Robyn A. Carlson (Michigan State University); “Integrating the Resources of Informal Science Institutions and Formal Science Education: Facilitating Partnerships and Building Knowledge”, Kenne A. Dibner (Michigan State University)

Chair: Suzanne M. Wilson (Michigan State University)

Chair: James B. Short (American Museum of Natural History)

Discussant: Ann Rosebery (TERC)

  • Abstract: This symposium focuses on a collaborative development and research project centered on advancing our knowledge of the role informal science education institutions can play in enhancing science literacy for middle school teachers, students, and administrators. In particular, we detail the development and use of a teaching case (including text, video, and web components), as well as research to study the effects of this case-based, science-specific professional development on teachers’ understanding of scientific investigations and their classroom practice. Our work adds to the accumulating body of empirical research exploring the effects of professional development.

April 5, 2012

Sometimes, You Judge a Book by Its Cover…

…and it wins!

TERC’s staff is comprised of researchers, developers, evaluators, mathematicians, scientists, educators, designers and—authors. In addition to the array of deliverables borne of the research endeavors here, the list of STEM-related books by TERC staff is substantive—and downright comprehensive.

That said, it might surprise you to learn that a TERC-authored book recently won an award for its cover design. But that’s exactly what happened with Susan Jo Russell’s (TERC), Deborah Schifter’s (EDC), and Virginia Bastable’s (SummerMath for Teachers) Connecting Arithmetic to Algebra, recently published by Heinemann. The book cover below was a Bookbuilders of Boston winner in the ‘Professional Covers’ category and will be featured at the 55th Annual New England Book Show on Wednesday, May 2nd, at Boston’s Symphony Hall.



Be sure to check out this great accompanying essay (or click on the image below) by Susan Jo appearing in the Heinemann catalog. She examines one classroom technique for connecting a 2nd grade addition and subtraction lesson to the properties of operations—AND the Common Core State Standards. For many more of those helpful classroom examples of connecting arithmetic to algebra in the elementary and middle grades, pick up a copy of Connecting Arithmetic to Algebra at Heinemann.