Research Alliance Receives $6 Million in Funding

Research Alliance Receives $6 Million in Funding

collage of ETHS_NUNorthwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) has secured more than $6 million in funding for the Northwestern Evanston Education Research Alliance and research in Evanston School Districts 65 and 202. 

SESP faculty members have received three National Science Foundation grants totaling $3.8 million and $2.3 million from private foundations, including the William T. Grant Foundation and the Spencer Foundation.  Additionally, a faculty member from the McCormick School of Engineering has received a $550,882 National Science Foundation grant.

The Northwestern Evanston Education Research Alliance (NEERA) is a research-practice partnership supported by the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. The partnership, which brings together Evanston schools, their administrators, and Northwestern researchers from SESP and the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) works to improve the lives of Evanston students by implementing practical research findings.

Learn more about the National Science Foundation-funded projects:

Interests for All: Professors Nichole Pinkard and Reed Stevens received $2.5 million to support “Interests for All,” a project designed to broaden participation in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) by integrating two successful learning approaches, City of Learning and FUSE.

City of Learning, developed by Pinkard, is an educational ecosystem that creates a grassroots, city-based mass-engagement movement around learning. The FUSE program, co-created by Stevens and used around the world, allows children to choose their own maker-like challenges in a studio environment.

By blending and building upon these two novel approaches, the researchers will create the “I4all” infrastructure and study how it is used over time to support out-of-school learning opportunities for Evanston children.

“A key goal for the I4all infrastructure is to increase access to STEAM pursuits, especially for underrepresented youth, and help to coordinate and build capacity for STEAM learning across in-school and out-of-school with District 65 and community partners,” Pinkard said.

So far, little is known about whether out-of-school learning can help close the achievement gap, because it isn’t systemically documented or tracked. “Our project will provide new data and help shed light on what happens if all middle school children are given the chance to participate in STEAM activities in both formal and informal learning spaces,” Stevens said.

Bringing Computer Science to the Community: Pinkard, Shirin Vossoughi, Marcelo Worsley, and Paula Hooper received $300,000 to design and operate a community-based learning hub in the Fifth Ward of Evanston.

The researchers will collaborate with Evanston/Skokie School District 65, the McGaw YMCA and Family Focus on the project, which will also provide adults in the community with training and support. Ultimately, the researchers hope a community-driven approach to out-of-school learning – one that’s designed to support youth and caring adults -- can get more young people excited about careers in computer science.

At the hub, children will be encouraged to work on projects that involve coding, digitizing and using visual design skills to produce “socially-conscious solutions to student and community defined design challenges,” said Worsely, assistant professor of learning sciences and computer sciences.

“It’s important to integrate out-of-school learning computer science activities into the CSforALL model so kids have access to the learning spaces, peers, mentors, and resources they need to deepen their literacies and skills,” added Vossoughi, assistant professor of learning sciences.

The hub, which will be located in a former neighborhood school, can increase the quantity and quantity of programming offered in the communities that have been traditionally marginalized, the researchers say.

It can also serve as a model for integrating the learning that occurs both inside and outside the classroom to create learning pathways that move fluidly between school, home, and community.

Music, Dance, and Coding Can Improve Computer Science: Northwestern and Georgia Tech researchers received $999,865 to develop a new system and professional development tools to bolster computer science literacy across a network of schools, community centers, libraries, and homes.

The project, which uses two new platforms that combine music and coding, is a partnership between Northwestern, Georgia Institute of Technology, the Evanston/Skokie School District 65, and the Evanston Public Library System.

In addition to Horn and Pinkard, the research team includes Northwestern’s Amy Pratt and Georgia Tech’s Brian Magerko and Jason Freeman.

“We’re exploring ways to make coding relevant in places where kids spend their time outside the classroom and create shared physical and online spaces, said Horn, principal investigator on the project. “Then they can interact with coding in ways they care about.”

TuneTable and EarSketch, two platforms that teach coding through music, will be integrated with a third, more expansive platform, called “Evanston Learns in-school, out-of-school and online” or EL3 to reach more students and track their engagement.

When EL3 was piloted during a month-long coding campaign in Evanston/Skokie District 65 elementary and middles schools, 79 percent of third through eighth-grade students participated.

“But while we have the technology and community infrastructures in place, we still need to figure out how to keep youth engaged in longer-term projects that illustrate the value of coding and using computers to solve computational problems,” Pinkard said.

By 2030, one of every two STEM jobs in the United States will be in computing. But the number of women and minorities in post-secondary computer science programs remains discouragingly and persistently low.

Reaching children early, by offering a wide variety of computational experiences, at many ages and settings can help shape their path through high school and college, Horn said. “We can’t rely on formal experiences with computational literacy alone to develop the next generation of scientists, engineers, and citizens.”

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/5/18