Congressional Briefing Underscores Necessity of IES Research in STEM Education
May 29, 2013

An AERA co-sponsored Capitol Hill briefing on May 23 spoke to the vital role of STEM education research funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in advancing math and science teaching, in the United States, from pre-school through secondary education.

IES Director John Easton discussed the institute’s growing portfolio of STEM research programs, including the development of technology and engineering literacy assessment, research alliances between IES’s regional education laboratories and local education partners, and the Small Business Innovation Research Program. He emphasized the IES’s focus on research that is relevant to, and useable for, policy and practice.

Easton’s remarks were followed by presentations by notable scholars:

  • Douglas Clements, Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning and Professor at the University of Denver, focused on early-math learning, detailing findings on math’s predictive power on later math and literacy development. He noted that while young children are capable of learning many math concepts, teachers underestimate how much knowledge students can gain, thus not challenging them or individualizing instruction. He also discussed learning trajectories, and how a common integrative research base can build standards, assessment, and curriculum in tandem while benefiting students.
  • Robert Siegler, Teresa Heinz Professor of Cognitive Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, presented his work from the Center for Improving the Learning of Fractions. In a study of 290 at-risk fourth-graders who used number lines to demonstrate knowledge of fractions, those who received intervention caught up to “typical achievers.” In a different study with Head Start participants, those who played a board game involving numbers made significant progress in math skills compared to those who only played a board game involving colors. This intervention was most beneficial to low-income students.
  • Nora Newcombe, a professor at Temple University, discussed her study on the teaching of two different science curricula – one textbook-based and the other built around hands-on inquiry – compared to a “business as usual” curriculum in four urban cities. Students taught with one of the intervention curricula made more gains in science than those receiving a traditional curriculum in cognitive inquiry. Larger gains were observed when teachers taught the curriculum a second time. However, the benefits were smaller for underrepresented minority (URM) students. Newcombe concluded that teachers need stability in the workplace so that they can become comfortable with the curriculum, while there is further need to understand why URM students benefit less than non-URM students.     

“IES is a crucial source of support for research of excellence that drives scientifically-based education practice and policy,” said AERA Executive Felice J. Levine.  “The educational well-being of our children, strength of our workforce, and the country’s position of global leadership are highly dependent on the advances in education research supported by IES.”

Other co-sponsoring organizations included the American Psychological Association, Consortium of Social Science Associations, Council for Exceptional Children, Federation of Associations in Brain and Behavioral Sciences, National Center for Learning Disabilities, and Society for Research in Child Development.

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