Research Projects

Research Projects

Active Projects

Biology Guided Inquiry Learning Environments (BGuILE)
The Biology Guided Inquiry Learning Environments is a collaboration of learning scientists, teachers and biologists, working to bring biological inquiry into middle school and high school biology classrooms. The BGuILE project develops technology-infused curricula designed to help students learn about the process of scientific investigation and argumentation by doing science, working on puzzling and authentic problems. Current BGuILE activities include curriculum and technology development and studies of student learning and teaching practice. This is a LeTUS-affiliated project. BGuILE papers

Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling (CCL)
CCL is dedicated to the creative use of technology to deepen learning. It develops tools and curricula for use in both classrooms and informal learning settings. CCL offers support to teachers and organizations that use its tools and materials and frequently offers workshops for teachers. Projects: Object-Based Parallel Models; Modeling Across the Curriculum; Connected Mathematics: Making Sense of Complexity; Participatory Simulations: Network-based Design for Systems Learning in Classrooms PI: Wilensky, Uri

Center for Curriculum Materials in Science (CCMS)
CCMS is a collaboration among faculty in Learning Sciences at Northwestern, the University of Michigian, Michigan State University and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The center aims to create a knowledge base to enable development of science curricula, teaching strategies and technologies that reflect research on student learning. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the center provides fellowships for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows committed to science education reform. Edelson, Daniel

Chicago Public Schools NASA Capstone Course for Space Science
SESP and the Earth and Planetary Science department have partnered with the Chicago Public Schools, Adler Planetarium, DePaul University, Loyola University, and University of Chicago to offer high school students and teachers a 5-week summer research experience in studying climate change using NASA data. Students use their research experience as the basis for developing science fair projects to be presented at the Chicago city science fair. Researchers are creating classroom curriculum resources to support teachers in replicating the summer research experience as a 12th-grade elective NASA research course. PI: McGee, Steven

Chicago Transformation Teacher Institutes (CTTI)
CTTI is an NSF-funded Math Science Partnership of five universities (University of Illinois at Chicago, DePaul University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, and Northwestern University) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Its aim is to increase the content, pedagogical, and leadership skills of teachers through a school leader-team approach. The CTTI teacher program includes several components in addition to networking programs: Coursework in mathematics, physical science, and life and environmental science. The courses provide for increased content knowledge by teachers, including how the content is embedded in contemporary issues and current research. They also support the growth of deep knowledge required for strong cross-curricula work. Workshops on leadership and teaching that provide increased skills in how to use content to understand classroom practice, including instructional design, selection of classroom materials, pedagogy, and assessment of student knowledge. Improved curricula for schools to use in 12th grade capstone and AP classes. These curricula will be part of a vertical alignment of all four years of high school science or mathematics. PI: McGee, Steven Brazdil, Linda

CogSketch: Sketch understanding for research and learning
CogSketch is a project in the new NSF Sciences of Learning Center, the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC). We are extending our sketch understanding architecture into a system that can be used to support cognitive science research and education more broadly. Our vision is that, in ten years, sketch-based educational software will be widely available to learners.

Computer-Supported Visual Representations for Learning Modeling
The goal of this project is to create a visual representation system with computer support that helps students learn how to articulate and reason with models of complex phenomena and systems. Sponsor: Research on Learning and Education Program, National Science Foundation PI: Forbus, Kenneth Sherin, Bruce

Conceptual Dynamics Project
The goal of the Conceptual Dynamics Project is the development of new frameworks for capturing student learning in science. Through the development of these frameworks, we hope to inform the design and assessment of learning environments, as well as to contribute, more broadly, to research that seeks to understand thinking and learning in rich subject-matter domains. This is a LeTUS -affiliated project. PI: Sherin, Bruce

Distributed Leadership Study
The Distributed Leadership Study is a longitudinal study of urban school leadership. The study is designed to explore and understand leadership as a practice of instructional improvement and to examine the relations between leadership practice and teachers' classroom work. The goal is to construct a theoretical framework that is grounded in the day-to-day practice of leadership. PI: Spillane, James

The EcoCasting Project is a set of hands-on inquiry activities focused on ecosystems, food webs, bioaccumulation, and invasive species designed for use in environmental science and biology classes in grades 9-12. The curriculum uses computational modeling to help students learn about the scientific observations, measurement techniques, and computer models used in an ongoing National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ecological Forecasting project. This curriculum is based on research conducted in Calumet Harbor, Illinois, where a NOAA team is developing more precise food web models to better predict PCB toxin levels in Great Lakes fish. PI: Jona, Kemi

Elementary Education Science Partnership (E2SP)
SESP has partnered with the CPS Office of Science, The Field Museum, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Children's Museum, and Lincoln Park Zoo to develop a new school-based professional development program focused on improving K-3rd grade teachers' ability to effectively use informal resources to engage their students in learning science. SESP is providing professional development and coursework for E2SP teacher leaders and school-based instructional leadership teams. PI: McGee, Steven Haroutunian-Gordon, Sophie

Freezing Time: Using Digital Video to Help Teachers Reason About Classroom Events.
Our research project is motivated by the belief that, in order to promote meaningful learning in the classroom, science and mathematics teachers need to substantively attend to their students’ thinking. The project is thus concerned with examining what teachers pay attention to in the classroom and how they interpret what they notice. In particular we are implementing new digital video technologies and designing new research methodologies to gain better access to teachers’ tacit thinking about what moments during instruction are pedagogically relevant. Through our work with pre-service and in-service K-12 teachers we hope to learn how to better help teachers tune their attention to their students’ thinking. PI: Sherin, Miriam Sherin, Bruce

GLOBE Watershed Dynamics
The Watershed Dynamics project is a partnership between the Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP) at Northwestern University, the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) program, CUAHSI (the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc.). Each organization represents a group of people interested in hydrology and science education. Working together, curriculum developers at OSEP, the worldwide network of science educators in GLOBE, and scientists and engineers from CUAHSI, have created tools and curricula to support student investigations of the watershed. PI: Jona, Kemi

HP Catalyst Grant – STEM ACCESS (Access to Curriculum, Computers, and Educational STEM Solutions)
With grants from the Hewlett-Packard Catalyst Initiative, Northwestern University has acquired HP tablet laptop computers and Fourier sensors that will be available for temporary loan to Chicago area schools. The goal of this project is to increase the use of cyberlearning tools in math and science classrooms and to facilitate access to online laboratories, such as the iLabs network ( PI: Jona, Kemi

We are creating remote online laboratories that enable students and educators to use real scientific instruments, rather than simulations, to carry out experiments from anywhere at any time. Unlike conventional facilities, iLabs can be shared and accessed widely by audiences across the world that might not otherwise have the resources to purchase and operate costly or delicate lab equipment. PI: Jona, Kemi

IQWST: Investigating and Questioning our World through Science and Technology
IQWST is investigating how to design middle school science curriculum materials that support students in learning ambitious science content and scientific practices through meaningful investigations. Edelson, Daniel

Meaningful Science Consortium (MSC)
MSC is a multiyear reform initiative for science departments in Chicago high schools. The mission is capacity building, and its approach is to work collaboratively with teachers and administrators to build new strengths through professional development, coaching, assessment, and professional networking—all geared towards helping teachers improve student outcomes. MSC supports adopted curricula and a course sequence for freshman, sophomore, and junior years at the targeted high schools. Teachers received 75 hours of professional development in their first two years of teaching an MSC course. Coaches, who met one-on-one with teachers weekly, provided content and pedagogical background as well as expertise in the specific MSC curriculum to assist teachers with their planning. MSC provides each course with 4 common assessments that are linked to the Illinois Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) that students take in spring of their junior year. Three of the exams, administered quarterly, are formative in nature and the fourth is the end of course exam. The exams have been designed to be predictive of performance on the PSAE exam. PI: McGee, Steven Brazdil, Linda

Modeling Designs for Learning Science (MoDeLS)
MoDeLS project, funded by the National Science Foundation's Instructional Materials Development program, is working to develop a theoretically-grounded and empirically-supported learning progression for late elementary and early middle school students with regard to their modeling practices and metamodeling knowledge.

The NebraskaMATH study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a collaboration with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. The project aims to improve achievement in mathematics for all students and narrow achievement gaps among at-risk populations. Led by James P. Spillane, researchers at SESP collect and analyze survey data on social networks in schools. PI: Spillane, James

Next Generation Science Exemplar (NGSX) The Next Generation Science Exemplar System for Professional Development (NGSX) is a web-based PD system designed to help professionals in education grow in their understanding of 3-dimensional learning as laid out in the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards. In order to accomplish this goal, NGSX engages K-12 teachers, administrators, science coaches, and higher education pre-service faculty in face-to-face study groups with a wide range of digital resources, guided activities, and interactivity with colleagues. Participants who are interested in becoming a future NGSX facilitator complete the Facilitator Pathway in NGSX. This pathway prepares facilitators to create a knowledge-building culture when they lead NGSX study groups in districts and states across the United States. NGSX also serves as a research site to collect data on 3-dimensional learning and the implementation of that learning in classrooms. In collaboration with multiple institutions, we are developing and modifying the web-based resources and analyzing data from the study groups. PI: Reiser, Brian

NUBIO is a set of challenging, biotechnology-driven laboratory investigations designed for the high school biology classroom, which embeds inquiry-driven, hands-on learning in the context of Oncofertility. These labs, which can be used individually or in combination, motivate student learning through a “bench to bedside” approach that links traditional biology content to real-world clinical applications in oncology, human reproduction, and fertility preservation. NUBIO was developed at Northwestern University through in a collaboration between the Office of STEM Education Partnerships, the Woodruff Laboratory at the Feinberg School of Medicine, and local Chicago-area educators. PI: Jona, Kemi

Principal Policy and Practice Study
The primary goal of the Principal Policy and Practice Study is to examine the preparation, recruitment, retention and career paths of school principals through an in-depth look within Chicago Public Schools. Supported by funding from the Spencer Foundation, this work led by James P. Spillane is undertaken in collaboration with the Consortium for Chicago School Research. PI: Spillane, James

Reach For the Stars
GK-12: Graduate Student Fellows as Resident Scientists. This NSF program places STEM graduate student fellows in K-12 science classrooms for the academic year with the goal of enriching their education and strengthening their development as researchers by advancing their communication and teaching skills. The fellows work in partnership with a collaborating teacher to bring more inquiry-based teaching methods into the classroom and to further expose K-12 teachers and students to the research process. PI: Jona, Kemi

Spencer Research Training Grant Program (Spencer RTG)
Through the Research Training Grant Program, at the invitation of the Foundation, grants are made to schools of education to support the doctoral training of education researchers. The program's goals are: (1) to enhance the research training of graduate students in education by providing financial aid to students so that they can study full time; (2) to develop a larger and stronger national community of inquiry; and (3) to stimulate conversation about research training within and across institutions. SESP has been awarded a major Spencer Research Training Grant to study "Improving the Life Chances of Children and Families in Poverty." PI: Lee, Carol

Supporting Scientific Practices in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms This research and development project is to develop a learning progression, supported by longitudinal studies of student learning, of students' scientific practices at both elementary and middle school grade bands. The project, Engaging Learners in Scientific Practices, builds on successes in two prior projects, IQWST (Investigating and Questioning Our World Through Science and Technology) and MoDeLS (Modeling Designs for Learning Science). Research on scientific practices typically treats scientific argumentation, explanation, and scientific modeling as stand-alone practices for supporting students and theoretical analyses. This project will develop an integrated model of how these three aspects of scientific practice interrelate and work together. A learning progression for this integrated model of practice characterizes how learners can build increasingly more sophisticated versions of this practice over time. This project will construct this learning progression through measurable improvements in students’ performance and understanding of scientific practice observed in longitudinal studies conducted in the elementary and middle grades. To explore changes in dimensions of argumentation, explanation, and scientific modeling aspects of science practice, this project will conduct longitudinal studies in elementary and middle grades. This project will use measures of classroom discourse, pre- and post- test assessments, and reflective interviews grounded in students’ own experiences with practices in the classroom to assess their growth across these dimensions. PI: Reiser, Brian

Tangible Interaction Design and Learning Laboratory (TIDAL Lab)
Emerging interactive technology is rapidly transforming the ways in which we work, play, communicate, and learn. Research in tangible interaction attempts to blur the line between digital technology and the broader physical, social, and cultural worlds within which computer use is situated. At the TIDAL lab, we are exploring the use of tangible interaction to create innovative learning experiences. We take a cautious but optimistic stance towards technology. To this end, our work tightly couples theoretically informed learning research with iterative design processes. PI: Horn, Michael

Three-Dimensional Ecosystems and Evolution Exemplar Units In collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder, we are developing four exemplar units that are aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These exemplar units focus on two disciplinary core ideas related to ecosystems and biological evolution for both the middle and high school grade bands. The units are organized around a scientific phenomenon and driving question that emerges from students’ sensemaking about the phenomenon, include formative and culminating assessments, and incorporate video demonstrating the curriculum in action in classrooms. These units will provide models for others to follow in terms of form and substance. Moreover, the units will provide tools, routines, and perspectives for others to learn how to support 3-dimensional learning as described in the NGSS and the Framework for K-12 Science Education in science classrooms. Reiser, Brian

Understanding the Role of Video in Teacher Learning
This National-Science-Foundation supported project examines the role of video in teacher learning, specifically how video can support the development of a particular kind of teaching expertise, "professional vision." Professional vision involves the ways in which teachers notice and interpret classroom interactions and is particularly important today as teachers are asked to make many teaching decisions in the midst of instruction. A central goal of this project is to develop a theoretical framework for examining teacher learning via video, and to apply this framework to several diverse video-based professional development programs. The framework will be used to study the micro-dynamics of teacher learning within each of these programs, as well as what teachers learn in each program over a longer time scale. The results of the research will be integrated into courses for pre-service and in-service teachers as well as for learning science graduate students. PI: Sherin, Miriam

YouSTEM: Interest-Driven STEM Exploration Space
YouSTEM spaces will engage youth in STEM fields through low barrier, hands-on exploratory challenges. The project is exploring the deployment of YouSTEM programming in libraries and area high schools. Using a leveling up model from gaming, students will gain increasing science and engineering skills and interest. Connecting these spaces virtually will create a community of youth learners. PI: Jona, Kemi