Current Research

RESEARCH INTERESTS

My research focuses on children’s and teacher’s scientific and mathematical reasoning in the context of schooling, with an emphasis on activities and tools for developing thought. There are two major strands to this program. The first focuses on the creation and study of learning environments that foster the development and growth of experimentation and inquiry in the elementary and middle school grades. This research, first conducted while a member of the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt and later as a McDonnell Fellow with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and the National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science, involves collaboration with teachers in local elementary and middle schools to reform science and mathematics so that students can invent and revise forms of scientific and mathematical explanation. My current work involves the types of scaffolds developed within classrooms that support the nature of children’s scientific understanding around motivating hands-on activities. Technological support, instructional design, reasoning strategies and curriculum development are all involved in the design of my teaching experiments. My findings to date indicate when given the opportunity to reflect and revise their own experiments, middle school children are capable of experimentation strategies previously thought not practical by traditional science educators. I am currently building upon my research program to investigate the role of variance and error in measurement that occurs (but is often ignored) within the context of project based instruction. Initial work in this area has been presented at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Association with colleagues from Vanderbilt university, Michigan State University and The University of Wisconsin in addition to the 2001 Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and will be published in the Spring of 2002 in the peer-reviewed journal Mathematical Thinking and Learning.

A second strand of research, connected to the first, focuses on investigating the opportunities for model-based reasoning (the ability to construct and articulate explanations of observable phenomena) that occur in typical science classrooms as students move conceptually from intuitive everyday understanding to more formalized scientific understanding. I believe students’ and teachers’ ability to work meaningfully on this kind of activity depends in large part on their ability to distinguish between theory, evidence, and their own intuitive or everyday beliefs. Within both strands, I have designed and help develop a number of Internet-based tools for teachers and students, with attention to the role that such tools play in fostering communities of learners.

AWARDS AND HONORS

  • Otto Basser Award for Outstanding Dissertation in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University, 1998
  • Cognitive Studies for Educational Practice Post Doctorate Fellowship. (competitive) 1998-2000
  • Tennessee Space Grant Fellowship (NASA). Vanderbilt University, 1991-1996
  • Peabody Super Student Scholarship. (competitive) 1991-1994
  • New Jersey Governor’s Teacher Recognition Award. 1990

RESEARCH EXPERIENCE

Postdoctoral Fellow, Wisconsin Center for Educational Research and the National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science.
January 1998 – August 1999
Investigated opportunities for model-based reasoning that occur in typical science classroom as students move conceptually from intuitive everyday understanding to more formalized scientific understandings. Implemented and designed a web-based tool to assist teachers in communicating their professional practice with parents.

Research Assistant, Learning Technology Center, Vanderbilt University.
January 1993 – 1998
Schools For Thought- McDonnell Foundation. Designed, implemented, and researched an 11 week unit for investigating at-risk middle school students ability to bridge contextualized problem solving into a community of learners instructional format. Responsibilities also included planning and participating in a series of year long bi-weekly workshop with participating classroom teachers on merging cognitive learning theory with classroom instruction.

Research Associate. Learning Technology Center, Vanderbilt University.
September 1991 – January 1998
“Scientists in Action”- National Science Foundation funded project incorporating cognitive, instructional and technological advances in a project-based interactive environment for middle school students. Assisted in the production of videos that encouraged students to participate in the process of science sense making.

Program Assessment. The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service.
January 1992 – August 1997
Building Self Esteem Through Science and Technology (4-H BEST). Conducted research on at-risk middle school children’s self concept enhancement through an after school intervention program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Research Assistant. Learning Technology Center, Vanderbilt University.
September 1994 – August, 1995
Young Kids Literacy Project- McDonnell Foundation project incorporating multimedia with cognitive and social cognitive theory to assist at-risk elementary students learning of literacy, mathematics, and science. Developed software for exploring concept of light and evaluation of conceptual understanding in everyday scientific concepts.

Program Assessment. Rutherford County, TN School District. Franklin RiverWatch Program, Franklin, TN.
September 1992 – August 1995
Devised scales and measurements in addition to implementing two studies that assessed middle school children’s ability to solve problems concerning river monitoring.

Program Evaluation. Hands on Universe (TERC), Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, San Francisco, CA. 1994
Implemented a case study of classroom use of Internet related software and teacher’s evolving pedagogy.

RESEARCH AREAS OF FOCUS

  • Learning processes involved in technologically supported learning environments
  • Identification of learner’s mental representations of everyday scientific phenomena
  • Affordances of multimedia for facilitating complex problem solving in science and math
  • Evolution of teachers’ pedagogy in technology-driven classroom reform
  • Instructional uses of analogical models for problem solving in science

GRANTS

Principal Investigator, “NSF Project CAT (Critical Thinking Assessment Test)” National Science Foundation (subcontract from Tennessee Technological University), September 2004 to September, 2007, $20,000.

 Principal Investigator, “Challenges to Projects: VaNTH K-12 Partners in Education,” National Science Foundation (NSF 14656-S1 Amendment 4), September 2001 to September, 2004, $150,000.

Co-Principal Investigator , “Inventing New Strategies for Integrating Technology in Teacher Education,” Department of Education ( DOE P342A000111) , May 2000 to May, 2004), $850,000) [Co-PI’s Paul Resta and Jere Confrey]

Principal Investigator, “ From Everyday Science to Formalized Scientific Understanding: A Cognitive Instructional Approach to Seasonal Change” James S. McDonnell Foundation’s Cognitive Studies in Educational Practice (CSEP), January 1998 to August, 2000, $59,400.

Principal Investigator, “ Mission to Mars Teacher Enhancement Project.” Tennessee Space Grant Consortium, Vanderbilt University, June 1998-June 1999, $30,000.