11 innovative STEM publications that mobilize knowledge

To work towards our mission to innovate and inspire equitable, large-scale improvements in STEM teaching and learning through technology, we make our STEM resources free and our research findings accessible and usable.

Achieving such an ambitious mission takes countless partners and perspectives, and we are thrilled to collaborate with teachers, students, scientists, and researchers. In 2023, our 11 publications, written with dozens of collaborators, include classroom activities as well as classroom research on topics ranging from STEM models and simulations to teacher resources, inquiry activities, computational thinking in the geosciences, and more.

Through all these publications, our goal is to mobilize relevant knowledge between the education researcher and practitioner communities. One article in particular, which was awarded the Peter Holmes Prize for “excellence in motivating practical classroom activity” exemplifies this commitment.

Text analytics

The award-winning article in Teaching Statistics describes a study designed to shed light on students’ understanding of text as data. College-aged students were asked to identify features useful for sorting headlines into clickbait and news. The findings? Text provides a compelling example of unstructured data that can be used to explore classification problems, using motivating examples relevant to students and society.

STEM models and simulations

In another discipline, we describe a set of freely accessible, online, and interactive lessons that focus on the evolution of sweet garden peas in The American Biology Teacher. These Next Generation Science Standards-linked lessons integrate concepts across a wide range of biological scales and are designed to be used in a flexible order with support provided to teachers on choosing a sequence that meets their students’ needs.

Science inquiry experiments

We present a case study in the International Journal of Science Education that examines how limitations posed by the physical world (called “material resistance”) and graph interpretation intersected during a high school biology investigation using digital sensors. We found that students struggled to make sense of real-world data they collected, in particular data that was near the resolution image of a sensor. Importantly, what we learned was in hindsight, as both the teacher and project researchers initially misinterpreted the students’ difficulties with graph interpretation. We argue that students should be supported to recognize that encountering unexpected results from their investigations and working to understand what these results reveal about the real world is an important and valid aspect of science practices.

In an article in Science Education, we propose and validate a new construct—epistemic knowledge associated with scientific experimentation (EKSE)—underlying students’ decisions and reasoning elicited during experimental design, data collection/measurement, and data analysis/interpretation. EKSE progresses in five levels of sophistication from no information to nascent, dogmatic, contextualized, and, finally, reflective. We found that students’ epistemic knowledge can improve after engaging in a curriculum that encourages independent scientific experimentation with materials.

Geoscience education

We describe a geoscience curriculum module designed for secondary students that integrates a block-code-based computational modeling environment and age-appropriate translations of the computational practices of volcanologists who study tephra hazards and risks. Our results, published in the International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, indicate that students made statistically significant gains in science content as well as in computationally supported experimentation, data visualization and interpretation, and modeling practices.

In an article in the International Journal of Science Education, we define geo-sequential reasoning in the context of plate tectonics and use it to analyze how students explain the geological processes that occur along convergent boundaries as part of the plate tectonics system. We found that a majority of students used simulation-based evidence when describing the sequence of events along the convergent boundary and that the synced planet surface and cross-section views in the simulation supported students’ inclusion of processes responsible for the events.

System modeling

We compared two approaches to system modeling—static equilibrium and dynamic time-based modeling using our SageModeler tool—and identified their potential for engaging students in applying aspects of systems thinking. Our results, shared in Frontiers in Education, indicate that using a system dynamics approach prompted more complex reasoning aligning with systems thinking, but it is still unclear whether linear causal reasoning may serve as a scaffold for engaging students in more sophisticated types of reasoning.

In an article in the Journal of Science Education and Technology, we showed students’ increased capacity to explain the underlying mechanism of chemical kinetics in terms of change over time, though student models and explanations did not address feedback in the system. We also found specific challenges students encountered when evaluating and revising models, including epistemological barriers to using real-world data for model revision.

In a second article in the same journal, we describe an empirical study that examines how 10th grade students engage in aspects of systems thinking via computational system modeling. Through testing and debugging system models, students can identify aspects of their models that either do not match external data or conflict with their conceptual understandings of a phenomenon, prompting them to make model revisions, which in turn deepens their understanding. We found that students can make effective use of different testing and debugging strategies.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we also found that students sometimes engaged in unexpected reasoning when describing their system models. In an article in the International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, we identified the questioning strategies that elicited these explanations. Some of the most productive questions asked about distal relationships between nonadjacent variables (for example, when A was connected to B, which was connected to C, we asked about A’s effect on C).

Teacher resources

Finally, we published a study in the Journal of Science Teacher Education investigating the use of digitally enhanced educative curriculum materials (EMCs) by teachers built into an online plate tectonics curriculum module, the relationship between teachers’ use of the materials and student learning gains, and teacher reflections about the materials. Results indicate that there were large variations in the amounts and types of ECM features teachers accessed. Middle school teachers accessed significantly more features than high school teachers; students of teachers who used ECMs during class time made significantly higher learning gains than students of teachers who used them only before and/or between class time; and teachers most valued features related to student assessment.

In addition to these peer-reviewed articles, our newsletter and blog highlight additional research projects. For example, a blog post by a science teacher describes how she and her students openly share not only what they know but also how they know what they know about the Earth. Another blog post by one project’s external evaluator describes his perspective on helping all students see how what they are learning is relevant because it impacts their lives or sparks their curiosity about the world.

We welcome your feedback and the reciprocal exchange of ideas between classroom and out-of-school educators, scientists, and researchers. Contact us with your questions and comments.