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Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education

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Campus Projects to Improve STEM Teacher Training and Professional Development Quality

Advancing Arctic Paleoecology: An Integrative Approach to Understanding Species Refugia and Population Dynamics in Response to Late-Quaternary Climate Change

National Science Foundation Award # 1418339
Feng Sheng Hu
Department of Plant Biology
Project Dates: August 1, 2014 - July 31, 2019 (Estimated)

This project will use an innovative approach to investigate glacial refugia and population dynamics associated with vegetation responses to late-Quaternary climate change in Alaska and adjacent Canada. The research will test the following hypotheses based on data from two target species (Picea glauca and Alnus viridis): (1) Multiple Last Glacial Maximum refugia existed for each species in isolated areas nested in a complex topography, and the locations of these refugia differed between species; (2) Some of the refugial populations expanded to form modern species ranges whereas others remained largely restricted to their Last Glacial Maximum locations; (3) Within and between species, refugial populations spread at different rates and in different directions during the early postglacial period; and (4) Glacial refugia existed in areas with low climate velocity, and the directions and rates of postglacial colonization were determined by the spatial patterns of climate velocity. Graduate and undergraduate students will receive transdisciplinary training and gain a broad perspective to global change study. This project will provide intellectual focus, financial resources, and mentorship for the career development of three young investigators. Research results will be disseminated broadly to the scientific community, the public, and land managers. The centerpiece of the outreach activities is a workshop to educate high school teachers on Arctic climate and ecological changes. Through these teachers, a large group of midwestern students will be exposed to the excitement of Arctic research. Materials from the workshop will be disseminated online to a broad audience.

The approach will integrate genomic analysis, species distribution modeling that involves remote-sensing techniques, climate-velocity mapping, and existing fossil data in a hierarchical Bayesian modeling framework. The proposed research will uncover cryptic glacial refugia in the study region, elucidate the landscape and climate contexts for refugial populations, and offer new insights into population dynamics in late-Quaternary vegetation development. The project promises to provide spatially explicit, population-level details of species range shifts in relation to climate change that cannot be reliably acquired using conventional paleoecological analyses. Equally important, this project may serve as a model demonstrating the utility of a crosscutting approach to investigate the impacts of climate change on plant population processes in the paleorecord. The novel approach that will be developed through this project presents an opportunity to advance Arctic paleoecology and foster next generation research and training in the discipline.

CAREER: Noticing and Using Students' Prior Knowledge in Problem-Based Instruction

National Science Foundation Award # 1253081
Gloriana Gonzalez Rivera
Department of Education
Project Dates: May 15, 2013 - April 30, 2019 (Estimated)

Advocates of problem-based instruction argue that the approach can help students develop a deeper understanding of mathematics, acquire more positive attitudes toward mathematics, and gain experience with more authentic applications of mathematics. Engaging students in problem-based instruction, however, increases challenges to teachers who must attend to the influence of student prior knowledge and adjust instruction accordingly. The proposed project will develop and study a professional development framework that is designed to help high school geometry teachers attend more carefully to student prior knowledge, interpret the learning implications of student prior knowledge, and adjust teaching practices accordingly. Participating teachers will learn to perform these complex tasks by participating in study groups to analyze animations of productive teaching practices; to collaborate in planning, implementing, and analyzing geometry lessons; and to critique videos of their own classroom instruction. Prior research has shown that collective examination of videos can help teachers increase attention on student thinking, a key to noticing and accommodating student prior knowledge.

A key, innovative feature of the professional development framework for this study is the use of animated vignettes of classroom instruction to prepare teachers to examine videos of their own practice. The advantage of using cartoon-based animations of classroom practices is that they can be designed to depict specific teaching actions while excluding the usual distractions in videos, such as physical features, clothing, or individual mannerisms. Also, teachers can develop a critical eye for relevant interactions without feeling the need to be overly polite when discussing fictional scenarios portrayed by cartoon characters. This preliminary practice will also enable teachers to develop a common language about noticing and responding to student prior knowledge before critiquing videos of their own classroom practices.

This project advances knowledge of professional development experiences that help teachers notice and take into account the prior knowledge that students bring to the classroom. Results from studying the effects of coupling analysis of animated vignettes of classroom practices with critiquing videos on one's own classroom practices have the potential to significantly enhance professional development practices among mathematics teachers, as well as teachers in general. Results from the project will be broadly disseminated via conference presentations, articles in diverse media outlets, and a project website that will make project products available, be a location for information about the project for the press and the public, and be a tool to foster teacher-to-teacher communication. The results of this study, as well as the protocols and instruments developed during the research project, will inform and support the researcher's own efforts to better understand and improve teacher learning. The education plan of the researcher focuses on translating the outcomes of this study to the practices of preservice teacher education by connecting instructional decision-making more explicitly to research on student learning, thereby promoting learning trajectory based instruction.

EAGER Collaborative Proposal: Developing Engineering Faculty as Engineering Education Researchers Through Mentorship

National Science Foundation Award #1914735
Karin Jensen
Project Dates: February 15, 2019-January 31, 2021 (Estimated)

This exploratory project investigates how engineering faculty learn to become engineering education researchers through mentoring relationships via the NSF-funded Research Initiation in Engineering Formation grants. Findings from this research are used to develop training materials and inform a networking event intended to pair engineering faculty interested in engineering education research with potential mentors at different institutions. Training engineering faculty in engineering education research expands the number of faculty adopting research-based instructional practices in their courses, and results in improved teaching, advising, programming, and policy-making by closing the research-to-practice gap.

While previous mentorship models have focused on the content of engineering education as a field, this work identifies effective strategies from successful mentoring relationships that incorporate the social and cultural components of becoming an engineering education researcher. By conducting qualitative interviews of engineering faculty and engineering education researchers mentee-mentor pairs, the study the study develops a conceptual model of the formation of engineering education researchers' identity. This model clarifies how researchers undergo a paradigm shift and potential career pivot to expand their expertise in a related, but distinct, discipline of engineering education. This novel approach provides important information to enhance existing training materials and to develop additional training opportunities for engineering faculty who are interested in conducting engineering education research. Additionally, the model has implications for understanding job retraining and approaches for engaging faculty in lifelong learning.

Exploration of Pressure- and Field-Tuned Phenomena and Phases in Mn- and V-based Spinels

National Science Foundation Award # 1464090
S. Lance Cooper
Department of Physics
Project Dates: September 1, 2015 - August 31, 2019 (Estimated)

"Magnetically responsive" materials have magnetic and conducting properties that can be sensitively tuned with pressure and magnetic field, and exhibit a range of scientifically interesting and technologically useful properties, including coexisting magnetic and electric orders, magnetic-field-induced shape and conductivity changes, and strain controlled magnetism. Understanding the physical mechanisms responsible for these exotic properties is not only important scientifically, but is an essential prerequisite to optimizing these materials for use in technological applications. This project combines the use of high pressures, high magnetic fields, and visible laser light to identify and control the underlying mechanisms responsible for magnetically responsive behavior in a select group of magnetically responsive materials. Among the goals of this project are to identify the key physical mechanisms that give rise to magnetically responsive behavior, to control these mechanisms in order to create novel properties of scientific and technological interest, and to investigate as-yet-unexplored phase regions to uncover new, and potentially useful, physical properties. The diverse techniques employed in this research - including high-pressure techniques using diamond anvil cell technology, high-magnetic-field and low-temperature methods, optical and laser techniques, and materials growth methods - provide the graduate and undergraduate student researchers outstanding training for a diverse range of careers in academia, industry, or national laboratories. This project is also dedicated to imparting scientific literacy and enthusiasm for science in both the general public and K-12 students, through public lectures on science, middle-school scientific demonstrations, and lab tours that highlight the excitement of the materials studied and the scientific techniques used in this project.

PIRE: Integrated Computational Materials Engineering for Active Materials and Interfaces in Chemical Fuel Production

National Science Foundation Award # 1545907
N Aluru, Scott Barnett, Petros Sofronis, Sharon Hammes-Schiffer, Elif Ertekin
Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering
Project Dates: October 1, 2015 - September 30, 2020 (Estimated)

A major challenge before renewable energy technologies can be implemented at global scales is to find a way to store the energy produced by intermittent sources such as the wind and the sun. Existing technologies fail to meet the energy storage demand and novel solutions are needed. An attractive technology that can potentially meet the growing demand is solid oxide electrolysis, where electrical energy produced by renewables is converted into chemical energy and stored for later use. Solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOECs) are complex, integrated material systems that use electrical energy as input to catalyze chemical reactions that produce chemical fuels. However, at present SOECs last for only a few hundreds of hours primarily because of degradation and failure at interfaces and in the bulk. In this project, an international partnership, comprising the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of California at Berkeley, and Northwestern University in the U.S. and Kyushu University in Japan, has been formed to demonstrate an integrated approach to enabling SOEC technology. This PIRE award uniquely combines the world-class experimental resources and expertise at KU with the complimentary experimental expertise at UCB and NU, and the world-class computational facilities and expertise at Illinois to solve the energy storage grand challenge. This project will have a lasting institutional impact, including long-term synergistic collaborations between U.S. and Japan; extensive research and training for students and early career investigators in cutting-edge interdisciplinary topics in an international collaborative context, and outreach to K-12 teachers, science museums and summer camps. The integrated PIRE project will advance research in a number of disciplinary areas, including materials, physics, chemistry, engineering and computational science, and create a global citizenry to power the future.

This project will develop an integrated computational and experimental approach to design efficient, reliable, low temperature, extended lifetime SOECs. The novel aspects of the proposal are: 1) Computational and experimental design of novel proton and oxygen-ion conducting electrolytes. This effort will involve the design and development of proton conducting oxides with sufficient stability, operating temperature of 600?aC or lower, higher energy efficiencies at acceptable current density and high proton conductivity. 2) Computational and experimental design of novel electrodes focusing on chemistry and microstructure. This effort will involve the design and development of high-activity electrodes based on microstructure optimization and materials activity. In addition, a detailed understanding of new electrodes such as the Ruddlesden-Popper structures and ordered perovskites will be developed. 3) Computational models and experimental validation of degradation modes in SOECs. This will involve the development of a comprehensive understanding of degradation modes at electrolyte/electrode interfaces focusing on relationships between temperature and applied potential to cation segregation, bubble formation, delamination and fracture. The computational effort is strongly tied with the experimental effort and all computational predictions will be validated with experiments. Undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers will be engaged in a rich US-Japan exchange program and their PIRE research and education experience will prepare them for challenging positions in the global workplace. Outreach activities will focus on K-12 engagement, teacher training, disseminating knowledge via science museums, and summer camps.

Strategies: Catalyzing Inclusive STEM Experiences All Year Round

National Science Foundation Award #1850398
Lynford Goddard, Luisa-Maria Rosu, Benjamin Williams, Lara Hebert
Project Dates: March 15, 2019–February 28, 2022 (Estimated)

This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by preparing middle school students for advanced science and math courses, and for engineering careers. The project seeks to promote inclusion, diversity, equity, and access for learning experiences and careers in STEM. It provides middle and high school students opportunities and resources to immerse themselves in STEM activities throughout the year. The project has identified guidance counselors as an untapped resource. Counselors play a pivotal role as gatekeepers to informal learning opportunities and to educational paths into STEM careers. The project also enables multiple school stakeholders to effectively prepare students for a STEM major/career. This effort will benefit society by widening the path to high-demand, high-wage, high-skill STEM jobs and thereby improve the diversity of our nation's technical workforce. The project is a 3-pillar intervention strategy with 24 partner schools participating in a comprehensive 10-day (80 hour) summer institute to equip teams (each consisting of a counselor, a teacher, and a third school stakeholder) with the knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and resources to act as effective STEM advocates. The project will facilitate a school-year networked improvement community (NIC) that connects teams within and across schools as research is being conducted to better understand and address underlying inclusion, diversity, equity, and access issues in STEM. The NIC process will allow the PIs to work with the teams to implement out-of-school-time STEM clubs to provide unique engineering design, project-based, and other hands-on experiences to 1,000 students throughout the school year.

The Strategies project will address the following questions. What learning experiences involving emerging technologies effectively enable diverse populations of students gain familiarity and relevant competencies with these technologies, and what factors influence the outcomes of the learning experiences? What factors and key experiences effectively promote awareness of STEM careers, motivation to pursue a STEM career, and persistence in undertaking education pathways to those careers, particularly among students from underrepresented populations? What strategies to engage principals, guidance counselors, and other school system administrative leaders effectively promote student and teacher adoption and effective use of practices and technologies that support STEM learning and career awareness, and what factors influence the outcomes of those strategies? The fundamental project goal is to enable female, underrepresented minority, and/or low-income middle and high school students to participate in sustained, intensive, hands-on STEM learning experiences that build technical knowledge and ability and that offer insights into different STEM careers. The project will enable students access to participate, make the impact of such experiences endure, integrate them with other school efforts, and purposely engage underrepresented students. The project team has significant infrastructure for the summer camps and an extensive network of partner schools, districts, and career and technical education consortia to assist in implementing and institutionalizing the strategies. Using a mixed-methods approach, the project team will examine program effectiveness on the development of technical skills and self-efficacy in students and on the practices of counselors and other team members. Each out-of-school-time STEM club will be outfitted with equipment, software, and using published curriculum materials to do challenging yet age-appropriate projects that teach basic concepts in design of experiment, analog and digital circuits, signals, electromagnetics, communications, controls, power and energy, microscopy, nanotechnology, photonics, algorithms, and programming. Scholarships will be provided to 228 students to attend existing STEM summer camps at the University of Illinois, where the students can explore different STEM majors and develop technical skills under the guidance of university faculty in high-tech instructional labs. The project team will investigate the synergistic effects of school year STEM clubs, university-hosted summer camps, and a NIC that includes counselors and teachers. The research is potentially transformative because it creates a new paradigm for advancing students' interest, self-efficacy, abilities, and pathways in STEM.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.