The five-year Rhode Island Technology Enhanced Science (RITES) project is a major initiative funded by a grant from the NSF to the University of Rhode Island to improve secondary science learning throughout Rhode Island through the use of highly interactive technologies. In RITES, we're a partner providing technical, curriculum, and management support. The project began in October 2008 and runs through September 2013. By then, all RI secondary science teachers will have had a chance to participate in the project and will have access to its online curricular materials.
The RITES partners
The RITES program is funded by a $12.5M grant from the NSF’s Math Science Partnership. It is designed to improve secondary science learning statewide over five years, starting in October 2008. In addition to the University of Rhode Island, the core partners are Rhode Island College, Johnston (RI) Public Schools, and the Rhode Island Department of Education. Supporting Partners include Brown University, the Community College of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, and the Concord Consortium. Project evaluation is provided by the Educational Alliance at Brown University.
RITES and Rhode Island schools
RITES will reach all 686 middle school and high school teachers and all 84K secondary students in Rhode Island with excellent, challenging, computer-based, standards-aligned science materials. Pairs of high schools and middle schools can join the program by application. Teachers in accepted districts can attend a two-year professional development program that introduces RITES materials, as well as related content and teaching strategies. The first cohort of 120 teachers from six districts started their professional development in the summer of 2009.
RITES at the Concord Consortium (CC)
Concord's role has been to provide software, help develop standards-based investigations, support the research effort, and provide initial assistance in project management. By design, CC was most engaged during the first year of the project, drawing upon our interdisciplinary team, extensive software, and experience in STEM education to help launch RITES. Our primary role has shifted from being deeply involved in all aspects of the project to consultation and technology support.
RITES can be viewed as a scale-up of prior NSF-funded research on technology-enhanced science teaching and learning that has been ongoing for sixteen years at CC in collaboration with colleagues at Berkeley, SRI, Stanford, Northwestern and elsewhere. This work is based on the idea that the most important innovations technology brings to science education are a set of powerful, highly interactive applications: computational models, probeware, and productivity tools. To realize the promise of these applications, they must be embedded in a curriculum providing context, instructions, analytical tools, scaffolding, and assessment. Teachers need formative feedback and researchers need detailed information on student progress. All these functions are provided by a software platform that supports authoring new materials, editing existing materials, and delivering the materials. In RITES, these complete curriculum packages are called Investigations, and they are accessed through the RITES portal.
Design and Resource Team Participation
A central strategy of the RITES project is to create new standards-based materials coupled with professional development for teachers based on the pedagogical content knowledge needed for implementation in the classroom. Both the materials production and PD leadership is the responsibility of the Design Team and three resource teams (for life science, physical science, and earth and space science) under its umbrella. CC contributes both to the Design Team and the resource teams.
As a member of the Design Team, CC created a template for Investigation authors based on a careful reading of current research as well as suggestions from the RI Department of Education on the structure of instructional materials. The Design Team has further adapted the template based on the experience of authors in the first two years of the project. These templates greatly simplify the process of developing Investigations. CC also generated an Investigation evaluation rubric designed to help ensure uniformity of quality and style.
CC initially provided extensive staff support for the three resource teams that were responsible for authoring Investigations. A CC staff member was assigned to lead each group. This provided invaluable connections between the technology and curriculum efforts. These staffers were able to forward software design requirements to the programmers, and to show the resource teams how to use the software as soon as it was created. They also took major responsibility for authoring the initial Investigations and helped create uniformity across the resource teams. In the second and third years, CC staff are serving as consultants for the resource teams, involved as the groups are starting up and then by request.
The RITES project will transform the quality of science teaching and learning at all Rhode Island secondary schools with the goal of increasing the number and diversity of students who are proficient in science and pursue careers in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM). The project integrates all segments of the Rhode Island educational community—from teachers to higher education science departments, and from schools of education to state offices that monitor and support STEM education, plus the private sector.
Because RITES Investigations are computer-based, they can integrate probes and models (computer simulations) into the learning experience in a powerful way. The RITES investigations are created by Resource Teams consisting of middle and high school teachers teachers, university faculty, and education researchers. In the first two years of the RITES project, the Resource Teams published 24 Investigations. Late July of 2011 will see a new crop of Investigations published and a round of revision to some of the previously published Investigations.
Computer models or simulations offer a way for students to experiment with situations that are too small, large, slow, fast, expensive, or unsafe for actual experimentation. They can visualize and think about processes that would otherwise be invisible, hopelessly abstract, or confusing.
Two kinds of models are embedded in RITES investigations:
- The Molecular Workbench is an environment for creating models of atoms, molecules, photons, and their interactions. Based on physically accurate computation, these models can simulate phase change, diffusion, black body radiation, chemical explosions, and much, much more.
- NetLogo is an easy-entry agent-based programming language for modeling complex systems of all kinds, from ecosystems to global warming.
Other web-based simulations, such as PhET physics models, are used in RITES activities by linking to outside webpages.
Various Vernier and PASCO probes are used in RITES Investigations. The FAQ tab includes a list of probes that can be used within RITES Investigations. See below for the probe interfaces that can be used in RITES.
The ability to take real-time data with sensors and save it in a graph offers many advantages over a traditional pencil-and-paper lab, especially with regard to inquiry.
- A student can take and save data quickly and easily. The immediacy of data collection provides frequent chances to talk about the experiment and offer explanations.
- Multiple runs are also easy, making it possible to repeat an experiment many times and explore alternative ideas about what's going on.
- A student can be asked to make a prediction and then compare it to the results of the experiment.
- The data are automatically saved as part of the student's work, along with any annotations made by the student.
- Currently the supported probe interfaces are Vernier across all platforms, and the newer Pasco PasPort USBLinks (2100A), as well as the SPARK, Xplorer GLX, and PowerLink on Windows. For other vendors, such as Data Harvest and TI, please consult with RITES Teacher Help.