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Innovation through Institutional Integration (I3): The Modeling Institute

Tirupalavanam Ganesh (Arizona State University)

Period of Performance: 9/15/2009 to 8/13/2014

Arizona State University’s (ASU) Innovation through Institutional Integration (I-3): The Modeling Institute integrates the efforts of its most successful NSF-sponsored initiatives in STEM teacher education and more: Modeling Physics (numerous NSF programs); Project Pathways (MSP); Professional Learning Community Resources (TPC); Project Learning through Engineering Design and Prime the Pipeline Project (ITEST); Ask-a-Biologist (NSDL); SMALLab (CISE & IGERT); Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER); and MARS (NASA). The I-3 Modeling Institute focuses on the integrative theme of critical educational junctures at the middle grades level. The result of this I-3 effort is intended to be the production of 200 middle grades teachers with STEM endorsements through a program of study that integrates modeling as the core construct; development of ten STEM sustainability-themed master’s level courses; persistence of these STEM teachers as professionals through the establishment of Scientific Villages (professional learning communities); STEM-net (a Phoenix area STEM teacher professional development network) and Ask-A-Scientist resources (a web-based portal for on-demand learning); and College For Kids (a summer camp for middle school students and practicum for nascent STEM middle grades teachers).

The I-3 Modeling Institute draws upon ASU’s seminal work in modeling and employs it as the integrative construct, connecting mathematics and scientific content through meaningful activity. The I-3 Modeling Institute’s theory of action emanates from research studies that show the capacity to create models of scientific phenomena and to test those models is dependent on the development of mathematical ways of thinking about the phenomena, including the ability to make sense of patterns in data. Moreover, studies of student learning demonstrate that context is critical for coming to understand mathematical concepts and skills. This project incorporates cutting-edge research-based instructional and assessment methods, centered on Modeling Instruction in a sustainability context.

Innovative aspects of the I-3 Modeling Institute include: recruiting and preparing a large number of in-service elementary teachers to become middle grades STEM teachers; infusing the modeling construct into a master’s level STEM education program; integrating sustainability science as a problem-solving context in the science and mathematics courses; and coordinating across STEM departments, resulting in powerful linkages to research scientists as part of the STEM education learning community. The I-3 Modeling Institute supports the career trajectory of elementary school teachers towards a disciplinary specialization that enables them to enrich the educational experiences of middle school students. The I-3 Modeling Institute focuses on improving the learning of middle grades students, themselves. Research indicates that middle school is where interest in mathematics and science begins to wane, along with test scores and STEM career aspirations. I-3 Modeling Institute graduates are equipped with a toolbox of knowledge and skills to engage students in dynamic mathematics and science learning.

The I-3 Modeling Institute, developed in partnership with two of the fastest growing school districts in Arizona, leverages the most successful aspects of each of the programs to be integrated in order to generate an enduring STEM certification and professional development program for elementary school teachers to become middle school science and mathematics teachers in urban Phoenix and rural Maricopa county schools. Ultimately, the partnership upon which this program rests is the nucleus for a vibrant STEM education community supporting ongoing professional development and collaborations among university researchers and secondary STEM educators.

Learning through Engineering Design and Practice: Using our Human Capital for an Equitable Future

Tirupalavanam Ganesh (Arizona State University)

Period of Performance: 9/1/2007 to 8/31/2012

Arizona State University (ASU) in collaboration with Arizona Science Center, Boeing, Intel, Microchip, Motorola, Salt River Project, AZ Foundation for Resource Education, AZ Game & Fish Department, US Partnership for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, Mesa Public Schools, and Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley, offer a three-year extracurricular project resulting in IT/STEM-related learning outcomes for 96 participants in grades 7, 8, and 9. The project targets and engages female and minority youth traditionally under-represented in IT/STEM fields in multi-year out-of-school technological design and problem solving experiences. These include summer internships/externships and university research in the science center and industrial settings where participants develop socially responsible solutions for challenging real world problems. The program includes cognitive apprenticeships with diverse mentors, opportunities to practice workplace skills such as leadership, teamwork, time management, creativity and reporting, and use of technological tools to gather and analyze complex data sets. Participants simulate desert tortoise behaviors, research and develop designs to mitigate the urban heat island, build small-scale renewable energy resources, design autonomous rovers capable of navigating Mars-like terrain, and develop a model habitat for humans to live on Mars. Together with their families participants gain first-hand knowledge of IT/STEM career and educational pathways.

In addition to youth outcomes, the adults associated with this project are better prepared to positively influence IT/STEM learning experiences for under-represented youth. The evaluation measures participant content knowledge, attitudes and interest in IT/STEM subjects, workplace skills and intentions to pursue IT/STEM educational and career pathways to understand participant reactions, learning, transfer and results. Informal curricula developed through this project, field-tested with youth at Boys & Girls Clubs and youth at Arizona Science Center will be available on the project website.

CAREER: Connecting with the Future: Supporting Identity and Career Development in Post-secondary Science and Engineering

Jenefer Husman (Arizona State University)

Period of Performance: 6/6/2006 to 8/31/2012

Some of the most important steps students take toward a Science and Engineering (S & E) career are choosing the right coursework, experiences, and mentors to help them accomplish their career goals. To help students choose career paths in S & E, and persist in the face of inevitable difficulties and disappointments, we need to understand how they conceptualize their futures (Packard & Nguyen, 2003). The concepts and processes involved in this conceptualization make up a person’s future time perspective (FTP). The more accurate, complete, and viable a person’s FTP, the more likely they are to succeed, both in the present and in the future. By better understanding how students think about their futures in S & E, we can better support and guide them, increasing the number of students who choose and succeed in S & E careers.

This project will develop and validate a model of FTP and apply it to evaluating interventions intended to help students choose and persist in engineering career paths. It has three phases. In Phase I, a model of students’ FTP, and, in particular, their future as engineers will be developed and tested. In Phase II, the model will be extended, tracking students from freshman year to senior year in order to explore the relationship between students’ FTP, their academic performance, and their motivation to pursue careers in engineering. Because of the longitudinal nature of the project, students who move from engineering into other scientific fields, into science education, or into a non-science-oriented career will also be tracked. Phase III will begin the process of using what has been learned in the previous phases about the motivational profiles of successful engineering students to evaluate programs already in place to recruit students into engineering.

This research will be conducted at Arizona State University (ASU), a university notable for the diversity of its student body, not only in ethnicity and language, but also socioeconomic status and family educational experience. The diversity of ASU’s student body and the large sample that will be tracked will support the extension of findings from this project to other universities. The PI will work with a consortium of universities in the Southwestern United States for dissemination of research results and consultations about interventions at other universities.

REU Site: Nanophotonics at the University of New Mexico

Marek Osinski (University of New Mexico)

Period of Performance: 3/1/2011 to 2/28/2014

The intellectual focus of the REU Site program is nanophotonics, or the physics and applications of nanoscale photonic structures. The REU projects will be designed to contribute to cutting-edge research programs of faculty mentors.

This three-year REU Site program on Nanophotonics at the University of New Mexico (UNM) is intended to support 8 undergraduate students with diverse technical backgrounds each summer, and 9 local students throughout the academic year (AY), giving the students a unique interdisciplinary research and educational experience. The objectives of this program are to: 1) provide meaningful research experience in nanophotonics; 2) facilitate personal and professional development of the students in areas important for careers in engineering and science; and 3) to provide the undergraduate students with mentored team laboratory experience, with positive role models that they can identify with. The proposed program will be carried out at the Center for High Technology Materials, a major research center at UNM, which will offer the students a fertile world-class collaborative research environment.

Nanophotonics has the potential to revolutionize a wide range of applications. For example, it can transform the telecommunications industry by providing low power, high bandwidth, ultra-small, interference-free devices such as electro optic and all-optical switches on a chip. Light-matter interactions on the nanoscale can be enhanced by orders of magnitude, leading to light con-fining structures that can slow down, enhance, and manipulate light. Numerous novel applications in biology and medicine are enabled by the combination of small size and high efficiency of optical emission offered by nanocrystals. The Principal Investigator has an aggressive recruitment program, emphasizing institutional commitment to training of underrepresented groups.


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