Learning Sciences Alums Receive National Science Foundation Awards

Learning Sciences Alums Receive National Science Foundation Awards

All in one year, three Learning Sciences PhD alumni -- Victor Lee (PhD08) of Utah State University, Ravit Golan Duncan (PhD06) of Rutgers University and Paulo Blikstein (PhD09) of Stanford University -- were awarded prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Awards.

Victor Lee

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations, according to the Foundation.

"It's really exciting that we have been able to all build on our knowledge and experiences from our days as Learning Sciences PhD students at Northwestern and use those as a foundation for pursuing and developing such diverse and exciting new research programs," says Lee. 

Lee’s research topic is “Engaging Elementary Students in Data Analysis through Study of Physical Activities.” He is investigating the learning that can take place when elementary school students are directly involved in the collection, sense-making and analysis of real, personally meaningful data sets. The hypotheses of this work are that by organizing elementary statistics instruction around the study of physical activities, students will have greater personal engagement in data analysis and will also develop better understanding of statistical ideas.

Ravit Duncan

"I'm especially interested in drawing on resources that are already out there — commercial devices that athletes and exercise hobbyists use to track their progress on the one hand and children's bodily movements and activities on the other — and thinking about new ways to bring those together to create a new kind of learning experience," says Lee. "This work should help us to learn more about the potential of these technologies and also help us understand, in a more nuanced way, how the body, movement and experience factor into learning scientific and mathematical ideas.

Duncan’s research is on “Investigating Core Issues in Learning Progressions Research.” She will be conducting two parallel studies on learning progressions (LPs), which describe the paths that students might take as they develop progressively more sophisticated ways of reasoning about scientific concepts and practices in a domain. Her project seeks to better understand how student knowledge develops in genetics. She is investigating the validity of LPs based on the outcomes of earlier studies. 

Paulo Blikstein
Blikstein's research on "Bifocal Modeling: A New Framework for the Learning of Advanced STEM Content in High School" will advance his idea of "bifocal modeling" to promote understanding of deep scientific concepts in high school. In bifocal modeling, learners build two models of the same scientific phenomenon — a "physical model" in the real world with sensors, and a virtual model on the computer. The two models are connected in real time through a hardware interface created by Blikstein. Running both at the same time, students explore and compare the two models’ behavior, and based on the differences between the real and the virtual models, they refine their initial hypothesis.

The approach is designed to help learners construct explanatory mental models of complex scientific phenomena. According to Blikstein, “The research has the potential to boost motivation and engagement in science, promote students' scientific reasoning, and generate scientific self-efficacy.”

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 7/28/11