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Current Projects

Connecting Undergraduates to Biodversity Instruction through Citizen Science (CUBICS)

Principal investigators: Stephen Witzig, Kathryn Kavanagh & Robert Gegear

Funding: National Science Foundation

Abstract: The CUBICS project intends to create a community of 40 college faculty and “future faculty” (graduate students and postdocs) in the SouthCoast region of Massachusetts who will use biodiversity- and climate-focused citizen science projects in their undergraduate courses. Research has shown that science faculty, while content experts in their discipline, often lack pedagogical training for connecting their scientific expertise to engage students in science. This is a problem because we consistently see students leaving STEM majors. We believe that active engagement in real scientific efforts through citizen science projects will increase undergraduate retention in science through college and into their future careers. We aim to intentionally create a community of faculty among diverse institutions, help them develop their citizen science project ideas, monitor how they execute their projects, assess the impacts on their students, and develop guidelines for expanding this idea to other regions and other scientific subject areas. The means to accomplish this goal will be a series of workshops (Summer Institutes) where faculty will gather to learn about the science, the opportunities for active involvement in citizen science, and to develop their particular projects for their courses. Each college will have a lead member who will recruit other faculty members, forming a network within and across the institutions. The community project partner includes an environmental center who will contribute expertise in environmental education as well as locations suitable for field projects. They will also contribute to and maintain their own citizen science projects. The CUBICS projects will focus on biodiversity and climate change. As such, we also aim to improve content understanding of critical environmental issues within the faculty and subsequently to the generations of students who will have the experience of contributing to real scientific efforts. The projects developed in the program will benefit local efforts to quantify change in the biodiversity and environmental parameters through the coming decades of rapid environmental change, with the goal of adding substantively to scientific efforts.

Collaborative Research: STEMcyclists: Black and Brown Youth Transforming STEM via Bikes

Principal investigators: Noemi Waight - PI (SUNY University of Buffalo), Shakhnoza Kayumova (UMass Dartmouth), Ryan Rish (SUNY University of Buffalo), Greses Perez (Tufts College Trustees), Sarah Robert (SUNY University of Buffalo)

Funding: National Science Foundation

Abstract: The bike is an engineering system centered on a transparent technology that promotes freedom of movement and thus has the potential to democratize mobility and access.

As an accessible technology it allows for tinkering, redesigning, repairing, customizing, re- mixing, repurposing, building, and re-building. This project uses bikes and biking to introduce

STEM content and experiences to traditionally underrepresented youth (grades 9-10) by having them participate in place-based informal learning activities. The researchers along with community organizations work together to plan and facilitate a summer institute and cohort sessions during the academic year. The youth will engage in STEM learning in their community by creating and contributing knowledge that informs their own learning in topics like science, engineering, and biomechanics. The goal of this project is to use bikes and biking learning experiences to advance STEM, human-centered engineering, and science frameworks through the assets of an urban, community-based youth organization. The project will impact 96 students in grades 9 and 10 in an urban setting. Data will be collected before, during, and after summer and fall/spring sessions over the course of three years. The main data sources will be observations of, and videorecording of all sessions; semi-structured interviews with youth, peer mentors, instructors, team members and community partners; and, youth produced project artifacts, and planning and design, modules, and institute artifacts. This asset-based approach will be accomplished through four overlapping foci: (a) applying the STEM processes (engineering design principles and scientific practices) of rebuilding bikes; (b) understanding the biomechanics of bikes and biking; (c) using the bike as a medium to experience and uncover STEM phenomena in the community; to (d) transform youth STEM identities. This project will get youth interested and engaged in STEM by having their understandings represented based on how they engage with and apply engineering principles to rebuild bikes, the actual bike rebuild, youth discussions as well as interactions with peers and instructors/facilitators.

Opening Doors for Cybersecurity & AI

Principal investigators: Chandra Orrill (Rethink Learning Inc.), Shakhnoza Kayumova, Pratim Sengupta (University of Calgary)

Funding: National Science Foundation – EAGER program

Abstract: As reliance on technology increases across society, it is critical to develop a population that is more knowledgeable about and engaged in the topics of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI). The aim of the Opening Doors project is to engage industry professionals in the fields of cybersecurity and AI in conversations with educational researchers, AI and cybersecurity researchers, and K-12 teachers. These conversations will serve as a means to identify disciplinary knowledge, including needs and benefits, at the intersection of cybersecurity and AI. The group will work to identify ways to engage middle school students and their teachers in learning about AI, cybersecurity, and the intersections between them. By including this array of voices, the project will generate knowledge about the differences and similarities between industry and academic expectations. The discussion will also drive the development of a survey that can be used to determine what students know about AI and cybersecurity as well as a proof-of-concept instructional module that addresses one of the identified gaps in knowledge. The project team will also document the process for building this interdisciplinary community of practice to focus on a single issue in ways that shape students’ educational experiences. The project will determine whether investing effort into deciphering what middle school students do know, and what they can know, will lead to students who are more engaged in cybersecurity and AI as citizens, users, programmers, or in other roles as they mature into adulthood. The outcomes of this project will advance understanding of the nature of expertise of researchers and professionals in AI and cybersecurity, as well as supporting and studying communication between them, while exploring ways to translate that expertise into curricula for widespread dissemination to middle school teachers and students. The project team will use a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches to accomplish the following outcomes: (1) the development of an interdisciplinary think tank along with a documented process for creating it that can inform others interested in building similar partnerships; (2) the development of survey instruments designed to uncover what middle grades students understand about AI, cybersecurity, and the intersection of these two areas as they affect their lives, as well as possible careers available in this interdisciplinary space; (3) findings from the survey on possible gaps as well as what middle grades students understand about these areas; and (4) one proof-of-concept learning module that can be implemented by any middle school teacher anywhere.

Computational Thinking Counts in Elementary Grades: Powerful STEM Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century

Principal investigators: Chandra Orrill (Rethink Learning Inc.), Shakhnoza Kayumova (UMass Dartmouth), Ramprasad Balasubramanium (UMass Dartmouth)

Funding: National Science Foundation - STEM+C Program

Abstract: This 4-year STEM+C grant aims to develop a professional development model for bringing computational thinking into the formal mathematics and science curriculum for grades 3-5 in one district. To achieve this goal, we will implement a three-year professional learning model that includes summer workshops and ongoing support throughout the year. In the summers, participating teachers will learn about design thinking, project-based learning, and computational thinking in addition to being introduced to new technologies. During the year, in- class implementation support will be offered and monthly video club sessions will be conducted to sensitize teachers to noticing in their classrooms. Throughout the process, teachers will co- design and implement projects-based lessons and design-thinking projects that they have designed to integrate computational thinking into math and science. The research will focus on the professional learning model in which teachers will be creating project-based units that incorporate computational thinking into math and science. We have chosen to partner with schools in one urban district to engage in design-based implementation research in which we work closely with a group of teachers to examine and refine our model of professional learning. Given the research at the elementary level, and studies in language, culture and linguistics, we argue that it is important to engage children in computational thinking and disciplinary content and practices early in their academics through project-based and design-thinking projects and activities. Until now, most computational thinking projects have been limited to informal learning environments because of constraints teachers face. By working with teachers as co-developers, we raise the relevance and “fit” of the units for the schools. The outcomes of this research effort will include: teacher-developed project-based or design thinking lessons; a longitudinal study of teacher professional development for promoting computational thinking in the STEM disciplines in elementary grades; a refined and scalable model for professional development; and a set of video teaching cases that provide teachers with models of implementation of such units in their own classrooms that highlight ways to recognize a wide variety of student thinking strategies, particularly when student thinking is not verbal. We will also develop an annual conference at which teachers from the district can learn from each other and can share their own experiences.

CAREER: Analyzing the Nexus between Advantaged Social Positioning and Science Identity Development among English Language Learners

Principal investigator: Shakhnoza Kayumova

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation - CAREER

Abstract: Over 5.4 million of the U.S. public school students are identified as English language learners (ELLs), with 4.4 million being Spanish-speaking. Despite the increasing culturally and linguistically diverse population of students and growing demands for STEM jobs, research has noted mounting disparities in English language learners’ science achievement and their substantial underrepresentation in the STEM workforce. Addressing the growing disparities between English language learners and their counterparts in STEM fields remains a national priority. This CAREER project examines the empirical nexus between ELL students’ language identity and science identity development. The project addresses the pressing need for empirical studies that combine theoretical perspectives from second language education, linguistics, and science education to understand science identity development among English language learners. Based on social positioning theory, the research argues that English language learners’ disadvantaged positioning in their educational experiences (due to their limited language proficiencies) undermines their developing educational identities.

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