NYU Steinhardt Awarded More Than $4 Million from NSF for STEM Education Research

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded NYU Steinhardt three grants totaling more than $4 million for research working to improve computer science and computational thinking in elementary and middle schools.

Two of the grants are part of the NSF’s STEM + Computing Partnerships (STEM+C) program, which seeks to address the urgent need to prepare students from early childhood through high school with essential skills to successfully participate in a world in which computing plays an increasing role. STEM+C promotes computational thinking and computing activities in the classroom through integrating computing in STEM education as well as STEM content in computer science education.

The NSF awarded NYU Steinhardt a $2.5 million grant (1742138) to develop a year-long fifth-grade science curriculum with a focus on English learners that integrates computational modeling. The curriculum will align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), an effort to rethink and improve how science is taught and learned in U.S. classrooms. Since their release in 2013, the NGSS were adopted by 18 states and D.C. while other states have adapted the standards.

The science curriculum will integrate computational models using StarLogo Nova, a block-based programming environment, to allow students to model causal relationships that explain the studied phenomena, such as what happens to garbage over time. To determine the feasibility of implementing the curriculum in classrooms, the researchers will gather data through focus groups, classroom observations, and teachers’ feedback. To measure learning outcomes, students will complete assessments of science and computational thinking.

The three-year grant began August 1, 2017. The project is led by Okhee Lee, professor of childhood education at NYU Steinhardt, along with NYU Steinhardt’s Lorena Llosa, MIT’s Eric Klopfer, and Vanderbilt’s Corey Brady and Douglas Clark. The research will take place in public schools in Elizabeth, New Jersey and Nashville, Tennessee. Both districts have diverse student populations, including English learners.

In addition, the Research Alliance for New York City Schools was awarded $1.25 million (1742320) to support the Maker Partnership, a new collaboration with Schools That Can and MakerState. The project is designed to build knowledge about how to help elementary teachers integrate computer science and computational thinking into their regular science classes using maker pedagogy. The maker approach is based on the engineering design process, with students brainstorming and developing solutions, using technology to create prototypes, and then testing and refining those prototypes together.

Beginning in the fall of 2018, the Maker Partnership will provide curriculum, extensive training and professional development to third- through fifth-grade teachers in eight New York City elementary schools. Researchers will study and provide feedback on the implementation of the curriculum and professional development and will explore outcomes for both teachers and students.

The project is expected to generate valuable lessons about how to prepare elementary grade teachers to successfully incorporate computer science into their teaching. It will focus particularly on high-poverty schools that serve large numbers of Black and Latino students—students who historically have been underrepresented in computer science and STEM more broadly.

The three-year grant will begin January 1, 2018. The project is led by Cheri Fancsali, research director of the Research Alliance; Casey Lamb, chief operations and development officer of Schools That Can; Noel Parish, executive director of Schools That Can NYC; and Stephen Gilman, founder and executive director of Maker State.

A second project in New York City schools, supported through a $300,000 NSF grant (1738645), will also focus on computer science. One barrier schools face is how best to teach computer science to students who are learning English. Translanguaging is an approach that allows teachers to tailor their teaching to whatever language skills children bring to the table. It is thought that the skills multilingual kids use to learn multiple languages may also be useful in helping them learn to program computers. This project will explore whether that is the case, and will develop and test approaches for bilingual educators to incorporate computer science concepts in their teaching.

This project is a partnership between researchers in computer science education at NYU, researchers in language and literacy at the City University of New York (CUNY), and educators at three New York City public middle schools serving predominantly low-income Latino students. As part of the project, the researchers will develop a professional development toolkit for integrating computational thinking topics in the middle grades leveraging translanguaging pedagogy. Designed to support emergent bilinguals in the classroom through professional development that encourages teachers to create and adapt curricula to their students, the project will also help build capacity in computer science education as the City continues to roll out its Computer Science for All initiative.

The two-year grant began August 15, 2017. The project is led by Christopher Hoadley, associate professor of learning sciences/educational technology at NYU Steinhardt, along with Kate Menken of CUNY’s Queens College and Laura Ascenzi-Moreno of CUNY’s Brooklyn College.