March 28, 2013

“Join” EarthLabs Teacher Alison Mote on a Summer Scientific Research Expedition

This summer a team of scientists will embark on Expedition #341 aboard the JOIDES Resolution, an ocean drilling research vessel, to collect sediment samples from deep beneath the ocean floor off the south coast of Alaska. These sediments are expected to reveal valuable information about Earth’s geologic and climactic past, and to inform current scientific knowledge about the relationship between global climate change, tectonics, glacial advance and retreat cycles, paleo-ocean circulation, and Earth’s changing magnetic field.

The JOIDES (Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling)  seagoing research vessel that drills core samples and collects measurements from under the ocean floor, giving scientists a glimpse into Earth’s development...

The JOIDES (Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling) seagoing research vessel that drills core samples and collects measurements from under the ocean floor, giving scientists a glimpse into Earth’s development. Image © JOIDES Resolution

Periodically, between May 29th and July 29th, Expedition #341 will be LIVE-broadcasted from ship-to-shore through real-time events and interactive Skype chats with on-board scientists, technicians, and crew. Since 2009, these live broadcasts have reached tens of thousands of students, teachers, and museum visitors nationwide, offering exposure to cutting-edge research and STEM careers. Students and teachers can get involved by signing up now for the live broadcast at  or by requesting a Skype chat with the team here. Sign up now, since these Skype chats are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis.

Notably, this year, Alison Mote, a teacher at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin, TX, will join Expedition #341 as one of two Onboard Education Officers. An Environmental Science and engineering teacher, Alison has worked closely with TERC researchers in developing, field testing, and refining curriculum units for TERC’s EarthLabs   project. With Alison’s support, TERC will be developing a new EarthLabs unit that tells the story of the JOIDES Resolution research expedition #341 and addresses how scientists learn about long-term climate change through sediment sampling and analysis. To learn more about the EarthLabs project and modules, be sure to visit:


March 13, 2013

New Tumblehome Learning/’Mixing in Math’ Partnership Broadcasted in Times Square!

New Tumblehome Learning/TERC partnership broadcasted over Times Square!

New Tumblehome Learning/TERC partnership broadcasted over Times Square!

This past week, the question circulating around TERC’s physical and digital hallways was this: “Is that photo I saw on Facebook real?”

It is indeed! Our news release on the new Tumblehome Learning/’Mixing in Math’ partnership, announced by PR Newswire, was transmitted to the Reuters Sign in Times Square multiple times Tuesday through Friday of last week. Perhaps if you spent afternoons last week in Times Square, you may have caught a glimpse of the Food Fights, Puzzles, and Hideouts book cover!

So what’s this all about? Tumblehome Learning (THL), a non-traditional transmedia publishing company, has partnered with TERC to publish a ‘Mixing in Math’ suite of games and activities. Developed at TERC and based on work funded in part by the National Science Foundation*, these additions to the THL product line of science books and games include the book Food Fights, Puzzles, and Hideouts and the sets of games Jump Ship and Blockade. Spanning the key topics in the elementary grades’ Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, the products help parents, homeschooling families, librarians, and afterschool providers engage children ages 4-12 in the math of everyday activities.

In fact, Food Fights, Puzzles and Hideouts presents hundreds of full-color interdisciplinary math games, projects, and activities that can be done at home, at after-school programs, at school, or ‘mixed in’ to car rides, snack times, and parties. With the card deck Jump Ship players get nine fast-paced games and 22 different levels of play, and  Blockade packages eight dry-erase board games for 2-4 players and offers 28 game options.

Want to learn more or order any of these products? Please visit the official press release, or Tumblehome Learning’s site to order any of these resources for math learning at prices of $10.95 and under.

* ‘Mixing in Math’ has been funded in part by the National Science Foundation, (ESI-0406675, ESI-0714537, ESI-9901289), and has been extensively piloted with children, parents, and informal educators, including after-school providers, librarians, and family numeracy providers. Independent evaluation shows that the materials improve attitudes about math and build math skills and engagement among adults and children.


March 5, 2013

Girls Are the Newest Game Designers at TERC!

How many developers does it take to roll out six versions of engaging online games in 3 days?

It takes six…11-12 year old girls.

The researchers behind the girls’ energy conservation badge program for Girl Scouts and the EdGE transmedia games are now investigating how girls think about energy conservation through interactive game design for their peers.  In this exploratory endeavor, project researchers are evaluating how SCRATCH-familiar girls apply their engagement around computer programming to promote understanding of energy saving and the connection of energy use to climate change.

From the desk of a game design guru...

From the desk of a game design guru…

Over the course of a three-day on-site pilot, TERC researchers mentored the six 6th grade game designers as they brainstormed, storyboarded, animated, and pushed live their six respective games. The girls were already active members of the SCRATCH community, having learned about the programming technology either through school or tech-savvy parents and friends (several had been designing games in SCRATCH since first or second grade).

While the girls had varying degrees of familiarity with energy issues coming into this pilot, their on-site exposure to some of the complexities of this topic led them to produce demo games uniting interactive story lines with issues of climate change, energy tradeoffs, and sustainability. Their demos included challenges ranging from rescuing fish from environmental hazards against the clock to answering energy tradeoff questions to save a penguin from a melting iceberg—and featured imaginative characters spanning a recycling and composting cat and an energy-tradeoff-wise talking flower.


Hard at work…

Said one of the designers after showing her game, “This project at TERC was really great. I got to learn more about climate change and think about making a game that would appeal to other people my age—and also younger kids too—so they could learn about global warming at younger ages.”

Said another, “designing with SCRATCH means that kids anywhere around the world can learn about climate change and play our games.”

All six gaming gurus agreed that designing a game that was both fun AND educational was the hardest part of the equation—those categories still have the stigma of being mutually exclusive—and that there was inherent difficulty in addressing lots of ‘tweaks’ and ‘bugs’ in the game design process while not diluting the educational content in their games. But judging from the responsive and compelling games demoed by these girls, their game designing efforts paralleled how one participant described a ‘good’ game experience—“challenging, but definitely not impossible”.

February 25, 2013

“In the PD Realm, One Size Does Not Fit All”

Metrics for what qualifies as the ‘best’ curriculum-based professional development program often differ slightly from district to district; school to school; even teacher to teacher. Generally speaking, adherence to content or subject; PD leaders’ levels of experience; and opportunities for participant discussions and networking are favorable—if not completely necessary—components for any curriculum-aligned PD program.

These days, there’s also a surplus of choice in terms of delivery models for professional development. Too often, administrators are left asking, “Which of these many program models is ‘best’ to meet the collective needs of our teachers?” or “Which program structure can be adapted in content and duration to meet the implementation challenges facing our new teachers OR scaled up for our more experienced teachers?” Conversely, districts looking for targeted PD are forced to decide whether the ‘best’ program for them is an online course; a single-day drill-down; or a week of summer coursework. Paradoxically, a wealth of options in the PD realm doesn’t seem to make the decision-making process any easier—especially as very few PD programs come with a lovely ‘all inclusive’ label…

The Investigations Workshops umbrella of PD offerings...

The Investigations Workshops umbrella of PD offerings…

But with Investigations Workshops, no superintendent, principal, or teacher has to worry about exclusionary PD programming. Since 1996, the Workshops team has been offering a varied selection of expert-led PD programs to complement the Investigations in Number, Data, and Space curriculum. From face-to-face workshops to customized professional development models to online courses catering to groups or individuals and ranging in duration from one day to one year, Workshops offers the most comprehensive Investigations PD programming out there AND the most customizable programming for any need; for a single participant; for all participants.

In one large, urban Maryland district, administrators have adopted a ‘custom package’ of Workshops PD to great effect. By offering face-to-face workshops for new teachers, topical workshops throughout the year for teachers and instructional specialists, and the new online course, an Instructional Specialist of Elementary Math for the district says, “With Investigations Workshops’ varied offerings, we can meet the needs of all our teachers and, therefore, the needs of our system.”

In many ways, recognizing that we have a varied population of educators with different respective needs has helped us approach our customized Workshops programming,” she elaborates. “We have teachers who are very thirsty for face-to-face summer professional development and they seek out the opportunities that we can provide. We also have teachers who don’t want the intensive summer PD model, but get something out of customized Workshops institutes throughout the school year. And then we have a lot of teachers with packed schedules who prefer the new online course model, as they can fit it in to their busy schedules whenever they want. We know this custom approach is working because of word-of-mouth—teachers talk about their positive Workshops experiences, and we continue to get more and more interest in these opportunities.

She adds,

In the PD realm, one size does not fit all. Investigations Workshops offers the best variety of Investigations in Number, Data, and Space-specific professional development. We’ve been happily using the Workshops program for 5 years now, and plan on continuing to offer Workshops to all our teachers, new and experienced.

For more information about Investigations Workshops professional development offerings, custom packages, testimonials, or to contact the Workshops team, please visit:

February 14, 2013

Beat the Winter Doldrums With…the ‘EdGE’ of Science!

This week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is convening in Boston for the 2013 Annual Meeting—bringing together scientists, educators, and research luminaries to share the latest innovations in (and applications of) scientific research.

And speaking of the applications of science—AAAS has organized a fun, free, family-centric event called the Family Science Days, happening this Saturday and Sunday (2/16 and 2/17) from 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. at the Hynes Convention Center. The AAAS Family Science Days showcase interactive tabletop exhibits, hands-on demonstrations, kid-friendly activities, and stage shows from experts in the fields of biology, chemistry, nanoscience, earth and space science and more. This event open to all, but organized especially for students in grades 6 to 12. And TERC will be there!

Play Impulse, a new particle propelling challenge from EdGE@TERC!

Play Impulse, a new particle propelling challenge from EdGE@TERC!

Have a son or daughter who loves gaming, science, or solving puzzles? Be sure to check out the Educational Gaming Environments (EdGE )@TERC’s exhibit booth on Saturday or Sunday at the Family Science Days. The EdGE team of scientist-game designers and developers will be showing their newest ‘Leveling Up’ learning games, Impulse and Quantum Spectre. Stop by, play the games, ask questions, share your ideas, and learn more about how EdGE is creating compelling science-rich game experiences that gamers like to play.

Play Quantum Spectre, EdGE's new laser puzzle game!

Play with lasers in EdGE’s new Quantum Spectre at AAAS’ Family Science Days, but watch out for the spectres!











For more information about where the EdGE team and other TERC staff will be presenting this spring and summer, be sure to visit: TERC’s newsroom.


January 28, 2013

Q&A: Investigations Workshops Talks Online Courses & Taking Elementary Math PD to the Web

In response to the need for quality math professional development that is available anytime and anywhere, TERC’s Investigations Workshops team has gone to the web. In 2012, they launched their online program to great success, with a full-house first group of participants completing a 6-week online course. On January 23rd, they debuted their second online course offering. I had the opportunity to sit down with Myriam Steinback, Project Director of the Workshops, and Cynthia Garland Dore, Sr. Research Associate on the project and a veteran Investigations Workshops leader, to chat about the history of the Workshops, their current ruminations on online models for delivering targeted PD, and their hopes for the future of elementary math professional development.

TERCTalks: Myriam, can you tell me how you got started with the Investigations Workshops?

Myriam: When I first began leading elementary math PD workshops back in 1996, the typical programs available to teachers were one-time, less-than-half-a-day sessions. Many teachers wanted more from their professional development, but for a variety of reasons, districts were not as focused on providing in-depth PD offerings. We established the Investigations Workshops with the goal of providing intensive programs focused on augmenting mathematical content knowledge. We really wanted to develop a resource for continuous improvement in math teaching and teacher learning.

Our first offerings were summer institutes in Massachusetts and Michigan but that soon expanded. We have provided support to schools and districts in 48 states and we run our programs throughout the year. We offer several content-specific workshops; targeted PD Institutes for district leaders and school administrators; and an institute for stakeholders who are designing Investigations-focused PD sessions themselves. Recently, we’ve started offering a blended Common Core Institute (including face-to-face work and follow-up webinars) to help leaders with the implementation of the CCSS. We also create customized programs for districts.

TERCTalks: It has been a busy year for you with the launch of the online course. Could you tell me about the first class of teachers, and any observations and findings you have from the first iteration of the course?

Myriam: I have to say we hesitated going online for a while, mainly because we wanted to do it right. A real strength of our face-to-face program is the collaborative inquiry into the math. You just can’t deny the incredible collective impact of a group of math educators fully engaged and excited about solving math problems together! We wanted to make sure we didn’t lose the kinds of meaningful interactions we saw in our face-to-face workshops.

Fortunately,  we had the right development team that included the curriculum authors and ETLO (EdTech Leaders Online). In the fall of 2012, we offered our first course—we ran five full sections—and the feedback was very gratifying. One participant told us that this course was the 8th online course she had taken and she had never had one that was so interactive and well set-up. She specifically mentioned loving the way she could view and interact with student work. Others mentioned how they appreciated being able to take the course with other teachers from their schools and how the time to reflect allowed them to get a better understanding of Common Core standards.

Q: What have you been able to incorporate from what you learned in this course about Investigations and about the Common Core, into your classroom? Wordled responses from course participants...

Q: What have you been able to incorporate from what you learned in this course about Investigations and about the Common Core, into your classroom? Wordled responses from course participants…

TERCTalks: You have now both led face-to-face workshops and the online course. Can you talk about how they compare?

Myriam: For those of us facilitating the course, comparisons with our face-to-face experiences were inevitable. Surprisingly, we realized that interactions among participants were not only possible, but also very reflective, engaging, and, in some cases—eloquently articulated. The asynchronous nature of the course prompted some participants to say, “I love that I can do this in my PJs whenever I want!” We even had a participant in one of our sections say—upon introducing herself—that she was due to give birth “any time now”, and would continue the course to completion, which is exactly what she did.

Cynthia: While some participants ‘came’ to the course alone, some administrators registered groups of teachers from their schools and had them meet weekly to go through the week’s session together and discuss and debrief. We realize that this situation is not one that all schools can do, and we are in fact happy to have people from schools across the country in attendance.—however, the model of registering multiple teachers from the same school is a nice way to add a blended, face-to-face aspect to the programming. So we definitely can say it was a big success—the interactions among participating educators across grade levels, backgrounds, and differing geographic regions were powerful.

TERCTalks: Can you elaborate on some of the cool tools and features of the online course?

Myriam: The online course has ‘Voice Threads’, video, a sorting feature that allows participants to search and sort student work, and also ‘Key Learnings’ e-guides for each session. And the Discussion Forum includes prompts so that participants can address and respond to issues pertinent to each course session.

Cynthia: I think the way we can archive the course experience is a wonderful feature. The course sections will be available for participants to return to for up to a year after they complete the course. The first course finished up in December, and already,  I am impressed with the number of participants who have returned to the resources and conversations.

TERCTalks: What’s next on the horizon for Investigations Workshops?

 Myriam: We are committed to offering a full suite of online programs to complement our face-to-face programs. New courses will be rolled out this spring. Our online course offerings allow us to strengthen a professional learning community of math educators that—in many ways—grew out of our institutes throughout the years. We’re able to continue the mission we established when we began—to provide resources that support continuous learning in mathematics education—and we couldn’t be happier that the response to our online program has been so enthusiastic.

 Thanks Myriam and Cynthia!

For more information about the Investigations Workshops PD offerings or to register, please visit:


January 4, 2013

Qs: What Should People Know about Energy? What are the Challenges Teachers Face in Teaching Students about Energy? What Can Be Done to Meet these Challenges?

A: The Energy Summit is on answering these questions.

Courtesy of the Energy Summit

Courtesy of the Energy Summit

Energy is everywhere—its ubiquity in our everyday lives and across scientific disciplines is unquestionable, and it is commonly considered the ‘single most important crosscutting concept in science.’ But according to the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University, STEM faculty members themselves are often challenged by the notion of applying the concept of energy to their own research and communicating its importance to non-scientists. And with the advent of the NGSS and an increased need for secondary teachers and students to acquire an understanding about energy, the informational trickledown from the energy research community to K-12 audiences is muddy, and K-12 pedagogical strategies for teaching energy are duly inconsistent…

But the Energy Summit (an NSF-funded project by CREATE for STEM) is trying to change all that. Expert researchers from all over the world were invited to a first forum this past weekend in East Lansing, Michigan to share innovations in energy education research and proposed strategies for teaching energy in the K-12 classroom. And our own Sara Lacy was there, presenting a ‘TED-style’ 10-minute talk on her paper describing the development of a learning progression to teach 3rd-5th graders about energy.

Sara, a Senior Scientist at TERC, was one of the Summit 19 experts (of 50 participants) invited to submit a paper describing her research, opinions, and questions on the teaching and learning of energy. “Looking Through the Energy Lens: A Proposed Learning Progression for Energy in Grades 3-5”—coauthored with Roger Tobin, Marianne Wiser, and Sally Crissman (also of TERC)— details elementary student ideas about energy; four foundational concepts necessary to a scientific understanding of energy; a new framework for pre-college energy education; and instructional sequences for grades 3-5. Sara is currently the Principal Investigator for an affiliated project at TERC called  Rethinking How to Teach Energy: Laying the Foundations in Elementary School.

A second forum for the Energy Summit will focus on how educators are incorporating energy concepts into secondary science content and classrooms nationally and globally.

With this great news, welcome to 2013!


December 13, 2012

‘Mixing in Math’ Goes to Mom’s Homeroom!

We want to show (parents and kids) that there’s a lot of math in the things you already find fun!—Marlene Kliman, Mixing in Math

By most accounts, we consider modern, involved parents very lucky. Today’s parents have access to a vast array of products, resources and technologies to facilitate math learning for their children. But excess of choice comes with a high cost.  Research shows that too many choices often leads people to be less—not more—satisfied once they actually make a decision on a product or methodology. And ready access via the world wide web to research studies indicating the importance of informal math learning in fortifying everything from students’ conceptual understanding in the classroom to future STEM career pathways often makes parents feel MORE pressure to make the right decisions on math teaching products and techniques. Thus many parents in our LeapFrog®-inundated era encounter the following conundrums:

“What are the best tools and products to be using to help my kids become comfortable with math?”

“How can I help my kids become comfortable with math at home if I am not comfortable with my own math skills or if I didn’t like math as a kid?”

The answer is much more simple than many parents think. You can ‘mix in’ math— from measurement to estimation to algebra—into activities that you’re already doing with your kids using supplies you already have around the house. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Creating these tips, techniques, methodologies and activity adaptations is exactly what TERC’s Mixing in Math(MiM) project team has been doing for years. MiM Senior Scientist Marlene Kliman says it best, “we want to show (parents and kids) that there’s a lot of math in the things they already find fun!”

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 12.01.34 PM

Click the above image of Marlene to visit Mom’s Homeroom and view the video!

In fact, Marlene—along with a local family—was just featured in a new video for Mom’s Homeroom— an online resource hosted by MSN and Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats—showcasing some of her favorite MiM activities for parents to easily implement into their kids’ everyday routines. Marlene shared 3 (of the roughly 200) MiM activities including Penny Jar, Soaring Towers, and Fair Shares that could be scaffolded up or down for varying age ranges (preK to 5th grade) and math comfort levels.

Even better? All MiM activities are free, offered in English and Spanish, equally adaptable for classroom or informal settings, and available at: Be sure to check them out and download your favorites—they’re kid-tested and mom/dad-approved!


November 29, 2012

Q&A: Dr. Jodi Asbell-Clarke and Being Cutting ‘EdGE’, Leveling Up, and Making Project FUN

At TERCtalks, we’re excited to be kicking off a series of Q&As with PIs, PDs, and the other talented staff that make us tick out here in Cambridge. In our maiden Q&A voyage, I sat down to chat with Dr. Jodi Asbell-Clarke, an astrophysicist, educator, and Senior Principal Investigator (PI) who has been working at TERC for over 20 years developing online learning progressions, coursework, and curricula in the Earth and Space Sciences. In 2009, Jodi started the Educational Gaming Environments (EdGE) group to study science learning through ‘gamer-approved’ games. In the three years since, she and her team have developed and evaluated numerous transmedia games (including Martian Boneyards and Canaries in a Coalmine); presented at GLS (Games, Learning, Society), the Cyberlearning Research Summit, and Games for Change; published an extensive compendium of research papers; and picked up a lot of consoles and tablets to clock countless in-world hours. Here, Jodi talks with me about EdGE’s current work, favorite games, and what’s next from the ‘cutting-EdGE’…of STEM gaming research and development.

Jodi Asbell-Clarke of the Educational Gaming Environments (EdGE) group at TERC

TERCTalks: Hi Jodi. Would you mind starting off by telling us how learning and gaming fit together?

Jodi Asbell-Clarke: Our research within EdGE has focused on how games people play in their free-choice time (that is, in out-of-school or informal environments) can be leveraged for STEM learning outcomes. We’re not designing to the common notion of an “educational game”— we’re trying to design and evaluate young adult games that are highly challenging, immersive, and have compelling graphics and science-rich storylines that appeal even to seasoned gamers.

TT: Could you tell us a bit more about why ‘highly challenging’ games appeal to players?

JAC: I can. Seymour Papert coined the term ‘hard fun’ in relation to his studies in engagement and motivation in learning. ‘Hard fun’ defines an experience that is fun because it is hard. Translated into game design, that means designing a game that is persistently challenging but within grasp of the player to motivate them to keep playing. Interestingly, this notion encapsulates exactly what good teaching does as well. We are constantly thinking about the notion of ‘hard fun’ or how to make our games robust with advanced science content but simultaneously within grasp for our players.

TT: Can you share with us some familiar examples of young-adult games or game experiences (either of EdGE’s own creation or of familiar name) that have had positive results for the research you do?

JAC: I have two familiar examples that have informed the game development we’ve done in EdGE. The first is the Portal series. The Portal games really intrigued me as an educator and a budding gamer. Portal features an immersive first-person environment—and the way Valve developers have scaffolded the gaming experience to build on player knowledge for advancement mirrors formal educational pedagogy. Did I mention that Portal is extremely addictive? I actually spent a lot of time grinding at the game when I should have been finishing up my dissertation…

Another example is Angry Birds. With earlier versions of Angry Birds, you again have this engaging gaming model—so like Portal, you have an embedded mechanism that is highly addictive—especially in relation to players experiencing physics. But in the early games, the developers chose not to tweak the game content to include accurate laws of motion. So with Angry Birds—you have a cool model, but the physics was misleading.  That could be worse than not having physics content at all!

In short, Portal and Angry Birds are two different models we examined when thinking of how to design games that are exciting and compelling and—with good design—can ALSO be educationally substantive.

TT: Can you tell us about a current project EdGE is working on currently to design ‘exciting and educationally substantive’ games?

JAC: We’re working on a project called Leveling Up, in which we’re designing at least four games to support and measure standards-based high school science content. We’re currently recruiting players for a game called Impulse! that starts with a simple-but-effective structure similar to that of Angry Birds—players have to propel a ball into a net. That impetus doesn’t change, but ascending levels require players to contend with gravitational forces, electrical forces, and ambient “enemy” particles that change, move, obstruct paths, and are notably dictated by Newton’s Laws. So, we’re anticipating that students who play this game will not only be better predictors of physical laws when they encounter them in class, but will have that intimate experience with physics that they can leverage in the classroom and beyond. We are using really cool new methods to measure learning in these games. NSF has funded us to look at these games as innovative assessments that could be used in future learning environments.

TT: In another current project, you’re partnering with Finnish researchers to examine STEM learning and engagement in transmedia games. How did this partnership come about?

JAC: The National Science Foundation brought together a team of 15 US and 15 Finnish researchers from different institutions—all of whom were already funded by NSF, or the equivalent Finnish agency, to do ‘cutting edge’ research in STEM education. We met at the Finnish embassy for 2 days—to learn from each other, network, and design a collaborative project. At first, that seemed impossible, but magically, at the end of 48 hours, we had a blueprint for Project FUN—short for the “Finnish-US Network”.

Over the next 2 years and 4 meetings, we’ll be sharing and evaluating our tools and methodologies for looking at engagement and learning in transmedia gaming. Right now, our US partners are comprised of WGBH (who has designed online games and some augmented reality games for elementary age students), NIU (led by Brianno Coller, who has lead the design of highly creative games with creative outcomes for college students that rely on engineering problem-solving) and the EdGE team. Our Finnish partners are also experienced in game design for public school and university audiences. Interestingly, in their research, our Finnish partners use innovative methods such as sensory tracking—things like Computer-Human-Interaction devices to study eye movement and biofeedback to examine engagement. We are really excited to blend those methods into studies with our new forms of assessment of emergent learning in games that use educational data mining techniques. We think this could be a powerful new form of assessment that will change the way people think about STEM learning and assessment.

TT: What does the education climate look like in Finland in regards to school systems, assessments, etc.? How will this inform the Project FUN?

JAC: The Finnish educators I met in in Washington talked about entirely different measures used in their school system. They look more holistically at students’ learning experience. They measure “sense of purpose” and “wellbeing” in evaluating a learning activity or assessment.

Finland is interesting because it has repeatedly performed in the top three in international comparisons of education, such as PISA. They have extremely high standards for the teaching profession, and high respect and pay for teachers. They also focus on creativity, imagination, and individual initiative in their education system, and it seems to work!

We hope that FUN will help us all to ask the right questions going forward, use the most effective tools and methodologies for studying game-based learning from our studies and the Finnish studies to create some of the most innovative learning environments out there.

TT: Do you anticipate STEM-learning through gaming can be useful for underserved learners? Why?

JAC: This gets to the heart of my work as an educator. Most of the curriculum development work I’d been doing for the past 20 years only reaches a select audience—and doesn’t impact on a significant population of underserved learners. Through game design and development, I don’t have to go through schools or struggle with trying to reach those students with learning difficulties by offering up a traditional curriculum. I get a point of entry where many underserved learners already are. Actually, I was an apathetic student in the science classroom and lab early on, so I certainly understand the need for educational content that appeals to different learning styles and capabilities!

TT: So, what’s on the horizon for you and EdGE beyond Leveling Up and Project FUN?

JAC: We have a really strong team within EdGE. Beyond our game design and development work, we’re in the process of submitting a proposal to support teachers in using games as curricular examples in school environments through new toolsets and methodologies. We just submitted a proposal for a e-sports lab that would employ collaborative tools we’ve developed in our own games and engineering design challenges to create this participatory experience where players can design everything from prosthetics to parkour shoes. And of course, we need a couple more years to validate the learning outcomes in our current games and gameplay.

We want to get to the point where it’s evident that gaming can pass muster for real learning assessments. We have great partnerships with GameGurus, our evaluation team New Knowledge Organization, and other researchers like the University of Wisconsin with whom we are designing backend mechanisms to collect research data on players that can be integrated with school data. Ultimately, the goal of all of our work with EdGE is to build towards ubiquitous learning environments—through the measurement, tracking, and further validation of game-based learning.

For more information about EdGE, please visit the EdGE website, and connect with the team via their blog, Facebook and Twitter.

November 1, 2012

‘Closing the Gap’ on Education Research & Development

Last week, I attended the 30th Annual Closing the Gap Conference as an exhibitor to share our active disabilities education research projects with an audience of educators, special educators, physical therapists, occupational therapists, assistive technology developers, and parents to individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities. Over the course of the four-day conference, I quickly lost track of the number of times I heard the following words—or variations thereof—from booth visitors:

“I think you’re too hard for my kids.”

I started noticing that this observation was most often communicated after a first glance at our booth banner, which contained the words: ‘TERC: An education research and development organization’. After a while, I realized the problematic phrase was likely education research and development’. To the majority outside the education r&d field, the sector connotes notions of exclusivity and a lack of practical applications. And I totally get it. When I started working at TERC (now nearly 4 years ago), it took me a long time to grasp what ‘education research and development’ entailed (and to this day, I am continuously refining my definition and lexicon). “I think you’re too hard for my kids” illuminates a big, recurring (and not uncommon) issue in how we talk about what we do to education practitioners, the public—and even amongst ourselves.

When I was able to engage these visitors in conversation, I quickly learned that they were looking for resources—i.e. hardware, software, tools, activities, and products—that they could take back to their classrooms, homes, and clinics and use with their disabled and special needs students. Fittingly (and true-to-form to the ‘development’ part of our equation), the PIs for the three strands of project work we were highlighting at the conference had all designed practical, easy-to-use, and vetted resources for classrooms, clinics, and beyond…

Judy Vesel’s Signing Math and Science body of work was born out of the NSF-funded EnViSci Network project, in which Vesel developed inquiry-based environmental science units that used the classroom as a laboratory and included data sharing for elementary and middle-grade students. She first received funding from NSF to adapt the units with Vcom3D’s Signing Avatar (R) to make them accessible to students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Vesel then received funding to develop the Signing Science Dictionary (SSD) (funded in part by grants from NEC Foundation of America, the National Science Foundation (HRD-0533057), and the Department of Education (H327A060026)). In partnership with Vcom3D, she designed and developed the content and lexicon for this avatar-based dictionary of science terms and definitions in American Sign Language (ASL) or Signed English (SE) for deaf or hard-of-hearing students in grades 4-8. The Signing Science Dictionary (SSD) was initially available as web and CD-based software for use on individual PCs.

Two mobile screenshots of the Signing Science Pictionary (SSP) definition and avatar interfaces

Following the successful implementation and efficacy evaluation of the SSD in inclusive and special education classrooms, Vesel subsequently developed the standards-based Signing Math Dictionary for middle school students (funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (HRD-0833969)), Signing Science and Math Pictionaries for K-4 Learners (SSP funded in part by grants from grants from the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, Disability Inclusion Initiative and the Department of Education (H327A080040); SMP funded in part by a grant from the Department of Education (H327A100074)), a Signing Earth Science Dictionary (funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (GEO-0913675)), as well as a Signing Life Science Dictionary and Signing Physical Science Dictionary (funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DRL-1019542)) for high school students—in English and Spanish, with audio modes—with Vcom3D. Beyond classroom applications of the web or CD-based Signing Math and Science software, the Signing Math and Science dictionaries and pictionaries are now mobile-device extensible—with iPod/iPhone apps available from These mobile apps have already found their way into informal settings—like museums—through The Handheld Signing Math & Science Dictionaries for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Museum Visitors Research Project (funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DRL-1008546)).

Karen Mutch-Jones’ and Gilly Puttick’s research—embodied in the Lesson Study for Accessible Science (LSAS) and Accessing Science Ideas (ASI) projects—focuses on how teachers can employ specialized curriculum supports to improve content knowledge and scientific habits of mind among populations of students with learning disabilities and executive function challenges in middle-school inclusive science classrooms. Mutch-Jones and Puttick are currently analyzing ASI data.  They expect to report on the extent to which project-developed content enhancements for two FOSS middle-school curriculum units influenced teachers’ thinking about instruction—and how they contributed to gains in content knowledge for both students with and without disabilities. Findings from their prior project, LSAS, suggest that collaborative work between science and special educators on Lesson Study teams can positively influence teachers’ ability to create more accommodations for students with learning disabilities and to adapt instructional plans to make science more accessible for all students.

My Kids Can and Count Me In!—two books by Judy Storeygard available from Heinemann and Corwin Presses, respectively

The goal of Judy Storeygard’s My Kids Can and Count Me In! is to help teachers address the needs of all students in inclusive K-5 math classrooms. Storeygard’s research has consisted of designing, implementing, and cataloging best practices for teachers of students with disabilities. My Kids Can: Making Math Accessible to All Learners, K-5 is a compendium of teacher stories and practices for working with struggling students—and is accompanied by a DVD which contains classroom footage and examples of language, dialogue, and teaching moves for helping struggling students reach grade-level competency. Count Me In! K-5: Including Learners with Special Needs in the Mathematics Classroom contains strategies and ‘success stories’ for teachers and special educators in the elementary math classroom, emphasizing differentiated instruction for students with particular special needs (e.g difficulties with attention, focusing, memory, organization). The books are available from Heinemann and Corwin, respectively.

“I think you’re too hard for my kids” was a great reminder that we always have to be aware of our audience—and importantly, their needs—in conveying the breadth (or thematic strands) of the work we do at TERC. Ultimately, we engage in research to develop robust signing math and science dictionaries and pictionaries, content enhancements, and professional development monographs in the hope that these resources will find their ways into classrooms and homes—and into the hands of teachers, parents, and students who need them. And I hope the number of visitors at CtG who stuck around the booth and chatted with me  about Signing Math and Science, LSAS and ASI, and My Kids Can and Count Me In! indicated that we got one small step closer to ‘Closing the Gap’—and demystifying what we do—in the education research and development field.