Project to pilot tools to meet STEM learning goals in California classrooms

Project to pilot tools to meet STEM learning goals in California classrooms

Jen Humphrey

LAWRENCE — Just as the tools of the classroom have changed from slates and blackboards to tablets and computers, so, too, have the learning goals changed.

Reciting facts has yielded to demonstrating higher order learning, including argumentation, decision-making and the ability to compare and contrast.

Janis BulgrenA University of Kansas grant from the National Science Foundation is pioneering ways to help students and their teachers meet these next-generation standards for learning.

The grant to KU Center for Research on Learning, a part of the KU Life Span Institute, focuses on higher order thinking for middle school students and is being implemented districtwide in Santa Clara, California. The grant focuses on learning in general education STEM courses such as earth, life and physical sciences.

“We asked the teachers, 'What do you want help with in meeting these new education standards?'” said Janis Bulgren, research professor at the Center for Research on Learning, who is leading the grant at KU.

“We asked them, ‘What science ideas and practices are challenging for students in your classrooms?’” The grant brings together two instructional approaches to teach those subject areas. One is a set of tools called Content Enhancement Routines that will support science learning and reasoning. Routines focus on organization and understanding of information, analyzing causation, making comparisons and developing answers to critical questions, as well as argumentation, decision-making and problem-solving collaborative skills.

The second type of instructional approach the grant will fund brings instructional technology in the form of a Google App that supports cloud-based application functions. It will build on the Content Enhancement Routines developed at KU to ensure students have access to graphics, videos, models, and background knowledge. The suite of interventions will be co-designed with educators and experimentally tested. The application is being led by Jose Blackorby at CAST, a Boston-based nonprofit education research and development organization.

“What we heard from students and from teachers is that they needed new ways to explore learning and teaching in today’s world,” Bulgren said.

She noted that students at risk — including students with learning disabilities — needed different tools to achieve the new standards, including Common Core, state and national standards.

Bulgren said the research in Santa Clara could help other classrooms nationally.

“There’s enthusiasm for something new and different,” she said. “The kids get to approach the content on their laptops and learn in new ways, and teachers have new tools to engage students in the classroom.”