Session 2 Abstracts

A New Visual Teaching Aid: DanceChemistry

Gidget Tay
Co-author: Kimberly D. Edwards (Chemistry Lecturer, UCI)

A visual aid teaching tool, the DanceChemistry video series, has been developed to teach fundamental chemistry concepts through dance. These educational videos present chemical interactions at the molecular level using dancers to represent molecules. The DanceChemistry videos help students visualize chemistry ideas in a new and memorable way. This project involves students, staff, and instructors in both the chemistry and dance department and provides a platform for a diverse set of people to work together. Students that participate in these videos play an active role in their own education while providing a visual teaching aid for their peers to use. These videos also give graduate students who are interested in pursing a career in teaching an opportunity to create an educational tool for their own future use. I surveyed 1200 undergraduate chemistry students who watched my videos in class; the students who watched the videos scored 30% higher on a short quiz than their classmates who did not see the video. Greater than 75% of the students said they would like to learn the chemistry concept using these videos. The DanceChemistry videos are broadly disseminated for free on YouTube; this broad distribution enhances the infrastructure for education at secondary schools and provides underserved communities in science with free instructional videos that can be used to improve scientific understanding from a creative viewpoint.

Enhancing Working Memory Training with Concurrent Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

Jacky Au
Co-authors: Susanne Jaeggi (School of Education), Martin Buschkuehl (MIND Research Institute), Steven Small (School of Medicine), Susan Duncan (School of Social Sciences), Julian Quintanilla (School of Biological Sciences), Claire Arakelian (School of Social Sciences), Kimberly Bunarjo (School of Social Sciences)

Electrical stimulation of the brain is an ancient technique that dates as far back as the first century, when Roman physicians wrapped electric eels around their patients’ heads as a remedy for headache. Though the methods of the ancient Romans leave something to be desired, modern-day science validates the use of electrical stimulation to modulate neural activity in the brain. The goal of the present research is to explore the use of one specific stimulatory method, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), in improving working-memory and executive control in healthy adults. The tDCS is administered by attaching a stimulating electrode to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region known to subserve working-memory performance, and a grounding electrode to the contralateral supraorbital region (above right eyebrow). The stimulating electrode is thought to increase the resting membrane potential of target neurons in order to increase brain plasticity. By introducing computerized working-memory training (WMT) during this period of heightened plasticity, we hope to augment the effects of WMT. Participants are asked to come into the lab and are randomized into one of two conditions. The first undergoes a week-long intervention of concurrent tDCS and WMT. The second undergoes the same protocol but with sham tDCS instead of active. In the sham condition, current is only administered for a brief ramp-up period in the beginning and then shut off without the participant’s knowledge. Sensation is often imperceptible after the initial ramp-up of current, and therefore participants are usually unable to differentiate between sham and active conditions. Pre- and post-tests are conducted one day immediately before and after the intervention, assessing performance on untrained working-memory tasks, as well as broader executive abilities such as response inhibition and interference control. Previous work (Buschkuehl et al., 2014, Hsu et al., 2013) using an identical WMT regimen has shown significant improvements in these domains. Data collection is still ongoing, but we hypothesize our sham+WMT group will replicate previous findings, but our active+WMT group will show significant improvements above and beyond even that of the sham group. As our progress as a society becomes increasingly bottlenecked around the ability of each of its members to handle information overload in an effective and efficient manner, studies such as this one become increasingly pertinent. Though modest, our results will pave the way for future studies of brain stimulation and cognitive enhancement that may literally revolutionize the way we think.

Can Everybody Be a Math Person? The Links Between Competitive Classrooms and Academic Identity

Peter McPartlan
Co-author: Meeta Banerjee (Ph.D., UCI Department of Education)

Increasing the number and quality of U.S. STEM graduates has become a national priority (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). In order to do so, research has begun to focus on providing students with opportunities to develop interest in math and science at a young age. The task of identifying classroom conditions that optimize interest and effort has been aided by the Eccles Expectancy-Value model, which takes into account how future utility, personal importance, and cost of succeeding influence perceptions of value and importance in different subjects (Eccles, 2005). Notably, this model has been used to show that among early adolescents, more competitive, performance-oriented classrooms are associated with declines in math value (Anderman et al., 2001). However, it is critical to understand how the competition and ability comparisons typical of performance-oriented classrooms affect individual components of an academic identity, specifically in the math domain.

In the current study, we hypothesize that in highly competitive classrooms, social comparisons between students will be more salient, which will amplify the importance of math within the academic identities of high-achieving middle-school students while degrading the importance of math within the identities of low-achieving students. This would suggest that competitive, performance-oriented classrooms are limited in their capacity to promote math value for all students. The study uses longitudinal survey data from the Michigan Study of Adolescent and Adult Life Transitions, examining a sample of approximately 3,250 adolescent students in Spring of the 6th grade. The math classroom competition measure was created from student perceptions of competition. Math social comparisons as indicators of math identity were formed from questions such as “Knowing how well I do in math compared to other kids my age has helped me decide that I’m good at math.” Academic identity was comprised of student ratings of value, importance, and utility.

Preliminary analyses show a positive correlation between classroom competition social comparisons. Results also showed that students who use social comparisons as indicators of positive math identity have greater math importance and math utility, but lower math anxiety. This suggests that classrooms high in competition may be making social comparisons more common as well as more salient indicators of math identity. Such a result stands to contribute new evidence to existing research suggesting that mastery-oriented classrooms and performance-oriented classrooms affect significant differences in student motivation and achievement outcomes. Implications for conditions under which competition may facilitate academic identity will be discussed.

Beyond the Bell: Findings from an Afterschool STEM Learning Initiative

Rahila Simzar
Co-authors: Deborah Vandell, Pilar O’cadiz, Valerie Hall, Andrea Karsh

In 2009 the Obama Administration launched the Educate to Innovate initiative to improve American students’ math and science achievement. Bolstered federal investment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education resulted in an increased awareness and dedication to improving students’ STEM learning opportunities. Out-of-school time (OST) learning has surfaced as an untapped resource in advancing these goals. Recent efforts have exposed the potential for STEM learning in OST contexts. These added STEM learning opportunities positively impact students’ interest in science in the real world, which ultimately motivates STEM career choices. Thus, recent initiatives have focused on improving students’ STEM OST learning opportunities.

This study took place during the 2013-14 implementation of the Power of Discovery: STEM2 learning initiative–a large systemic effort to improve STEM teaching and learning in California afterschool programs. We use pre- and post-initiative survey, interview, and observation data to characterize the effectiveness of the initiative. Mixed methods analyses examine the relations between STEM professional development experiences, program staff beliefs, and student outcomes over an academic year. During the initiative, staff reported increases in staff discussions about STEM activities, staff discussions with classroom teachers about STEM activities, and increased participation in STEM-related events with parents. This network building among program staff and among program staff and classroom teachers was linked to gains in students’ math and science efficacy, as well as students’ beliefs about their likelihood of future success. Time spent in STEM activities also was linked to gains in math efficacy. Interviews with program staff suggested that providing staff opportunities to build STEM networks with each other, with classroom teachers, and with parents enhanced their efforts to improve STEM learning. Observations conducted at sites that received initiative-based treatment offer rich vignettes characterizing high and low quality STEM activities.

This study offers a multi-faceted view of happenings that occurred during a unique initiative. Findings point to the value of providing afterschool program staff with opportunities to connect to school administrators and classroom teachers and build relationships with parents around the quality and purpose of the STEM learning activities they lead in the afterschool program. Further, both quantitative and qualitative evidence from this study highlight how the development of vibrant communities of practice–where staff share knowledge of promising practices and build networks to gain greater access to curriculum and professional development resources–can serve to grow their confidence in implementing STEM activities resulting in positive student outcomes.

Students as Policymakers: Engaging Middle School Students in Youth Participatory Action Research

Christopher Stillwell

Solutions to the countless crises middle schools face are typically proposed by policy makers with little actual classroom experience. Meanwhile, essential insights from students on the issues they experience firsthand every day are largely ignored. Youth participatory action research (YPAR) can help. In YPAR, social researchers collaborate with youth, training them to identify and research concerns in their schools and take leadership to address them. Yet numerous factors can pose obstacles, including factors related to the youth’s developmental capacity to partake in such activity, as well as facilitator factors that can inadvertently cause more harm than good.

My work offers a critical investigation of a case of YPAR in a university-middle school partnership at a school identified as in need of turnaround because of an entrenched culture deemed unsafe and unconducive to learning. The analysis of this undertaking answers a call for more transparent descriptions of tensions and contradictions that participants grapple with in such projects, providing potential YPAR facilitators with the insight to identify and prepare for problems long before they derail a project, helping to ensure that efforts do not go to waste or unintentionally cause harm to the communities they are meant to serve.

Data come from facilitators’ written responses to open-ended survey prompts, students’ responses to Likert scale survey items, and extensive field notes that were checked against the field notes of colleagues to gain multiple perspectives. Analysis began with review of all data in a preliminary round of in vivo coding intended to allow themes to emerge. Data were then revisited to further investigate patterns and recurring themes. In the final phase, blocks of theme-related data were examined in relationship to one another and also in relationship to the common tensions identified in existing literature on challenges of implementing YPAR.

This research shows that factors related to youths’ behavior, mismatched expectations, and lack of voice in society can put them at odds with YPAR’s approach to collaboration and research. Facilitators’ ways of engaging in YPAR can similarly complicate participation, such as facilitators’ tendency to presume adult norms for participation and to engage in discussions at a level that inadvertently reinforces the norm of youths’ lack of voice in adult society. This research points toward specific practices related to leadership and preparation that YPAR facilitators can follow in order to address these complicating factors effectively.

Language, Culture, and Teacher Identity: A Longitudinal Investigation of Teachers’ Development of Equity-Minded Mathematics Practices

Cathery Yeh

Spend some time in any major school district in America and you will notice a significant demographic gap between the teachers and the students they serve. Today, nearly half of the students in the nation’s public schools are culturally and linguistically diverse. However, linguistically and culturally diverse (CLD) teachers represent only 18% of the teaching workforce. Studies have shown that teacher diversity reinforces teacher effectiveness. Culturally and linguistically diverse teachers serve as advocates, cultural brokers and role models of achievement; they are more likely to foster culturally relevant teaching and confront issues of racism through their teaching. These practices have been shown to lead to improved outcomes in tests scores, attendance, high school completion, and college attendance. However, very little research has examined the experiences and practices of the beginning stages of teaching for CLD teachers. The first few years are critical, particularly for CLD teachers. Teacher turnover during initial practice is acute. Furthermore, this period is an intense identity experience where new teachers engage in identity work as they strive to make sense of what it means to be a teacher and how to teach. This study examines the factors that impact the retention and attrition of CLD elementary teachers as well as the factors that support or impede their development and implementation of reform-based, equity-minded mathematics practices. Four CLD teachers, all who have articulated an equity-minded vision of mathematics teaching at the end of their teacher preparation, will be followed from their year in the teacher education program through their first two years of teaching in high-needs linguistically rich Latin@ communities. The purpose of this study is to understand the mechanism of elementary mathematics teachers’ learning, how and why elementary teachers develop practices of mathematics teaching while participating in multiple communities of practices. Elementary mathematics has become a highly politicized gatekeeper to high-level mathematics and science. Identifying the mechanisms for the development of equity-minded mathematics teaching as well as the challenges can support in the development of a theory of beginning CLD teachers’ development that can be used to inform teacher preparation and other initiatives.

Engaging elementary school students through the arts and inquiry to improve scientific learning

Doron Zinger

What would happen if we ignited student scientific learning? What would it be like if students were excited about science? How can we improve on the thirty percent science proficiency rate of 8th graders? What if a science curriculum integrating art and inquiry could address these questions? The Equitable Science Curriculum for Integrating Arts in Public Education (ESCAPE) brings an engaging inquiry and visual and performing arts (VAPA) approaches to science instruction through a partnership between researchers from UCI, curriculum designers from the Orange County Department of Education, and artists from the Segerstrom Center for the performing arts. The project focuses on improving science learning for 3rd-5th grade students in high need schools with large populations of English Language Learners, targeting 21,000 students over the course of three years. The ESCAPE program was launched this summer through a week long institute attended by one hundred and fifty teachers from twenty eight schools and nine districts in Orange County. Institute participants went back to their classrooms this school year equipped with tools to teach six engaging science lessons. These lessons focus on addressing common scientific misconceptions, as well as general grade level scientific knowledge based on the new Next Generation Science Standards. Curriculum and instruction are designed to reduce student cognitive load to help make content more accessible. Three lessons will be delivered through an inquiry and VAPA approaches. Which will improve student learning more?

Students in the project will be pre and post-tested through each set of lessons. The primary goal of the study is to see which approach; VAPA or inquiry engages students more and leads to greater student learning. Additionally, data collected will be analyzed to determine if there is a difference in student learning based on the sequence of instruction, with inquiry or VAPA being first. Addressing students’ scientific learning and engagement at earlier grades can have a significant impact on later learning. Positive outcomes from this project can have significant broader impacts on science instruction on a larger scale through the development of an online certificate course based on the science curriculum developed. The online curriculum will initially be available for teachers in Orange County, however the goal is to ultimately make it available on a larger scale.