Dr. Doug Clements, co-director of Marsico Institute (Marsico), has been named principal investigator on a new Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grant to more extensively study children’s learning using video and data from Marsico’s previous IES grant, Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics. Co-principal investigators on this project are Drs. Julie Sarama, also co-director of Marsico, and Dr. Traci Kutaka, research associate for Marsico.

The earlier grant was a series of eight studies evaluating the efficacy of using a learning trajectories approach to mathematics instruction. These experiments showed that a learning trajectories approach fostered the development of early mathematics skills that are predictive of later school achievement.

This time around, Kutaka and her colleague Dr. Pavel Chernyavskiy from the University of Wyoming, have developed new questions and research designs. The team will dig deeper into one of these studies to determine precisely how kindergarten children’s problem-solving strategies vary across different types of arithmetic story problems and how they evolve over the course of successful teaching. The team also will use these analyses to construct two novel indicators of instructional efficacy: modal strategy sophistication and strategy breadth. These indicators will account for patterns of strategy use over time, application of strategies to increasingly complex arithmetic problem types, and instructor feedback.

According to Sarama, “New IES funding allows us to leverage hundreds of hours of video collected within a randomized design to better understand both children’s thinking and learning from scientifically-designed instruction and to benefit the field with new tools for future studies.”

The Marsico team will carry out the study in two phases. In the initial phase, the team will watch and code videos of instructional sessions captured during the previously completed efficacy trial of a learning-trajectories approach. During phase two, the researchers will estimate hierarchical ordered logit models to produce patterns of strategy use over time – within and between instructional sessions – for particular story problem structures. These models will then inform the construction of two novel indicators of instructional efficacy.

“At the core of learning trajectories is research on children’s thinking. This study will extend this research, providing both researchers and practitioners with a new lens for noticing, understanding, and supporting this thinking and its development,” said Clements.

The project has been funded, in whole, by the Institute of Educational Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

This year, we held the Summer 2020 MCE Day of Celebration to celebrate our graduate students on Friday, Aug. 21 at 1 p.m. (Mountain Standard Time). While we couldn’t celebrate in person this year, we recorded a very special video to honor our students. Watch the video on our MCE Day of Celebration page.

Cecilia Orphan, PhD, assistant professor in the Morgridge College of Education’s Higher Education Department, was recently quoted in an article by Chalkbeat Colorado. The article, “Colorado hopes a new higher ed funding formula will make a difference for students. It might not be easy,” dives deep into the latest update to Colorado’s education funding formula, which uses seven criteria to judge community and state colleges and universities. Dr. Orphan and colleague Dr. Denisa Gándara, a Southern Methodist University assistant professor of higher education, both shared their worries about how competition created by the funding model affects students.

“Orphan said funding by outcomes in some states reduced coordination among schools because they were competing to attract certain groups of students. But she applauded Colorado higher education leaders for showing that they are willing to work together with state policymakers to rally around shared goals.

‘With the recent change to focus more explicitly on racial equity and first-generation students and students from Colorado, that is really exciting,’ she said.

University of Denver Morgridge College of Education professors Drs. Denis Dumas and Peter Organisciak have been named co-Principal Investigators on a three-year, $964,081 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). This project, in partnership with Dr. Selcuk Acar at the University of North Texas, will develop a new test for Original Thinking, or creativity, in elementary school students.

The research team is highly interdisciplinary, consisting of specialists in gifted education, measurement and assessment, and information science. Building from this rich collaboration, the team will develop a new test instrument for creativity to administer to children, as well as algorithmic tools to automatically scores that test. They call their new system the Measure of Original Thinking in Elementary Students (MOTES), and it will adopt text mining methods, mining language from millions of child-oriented books, TV shows, and movies in order to identify which elementary students are capable of generating the most original ideas.

Measuring Original Thinking in children has a long history. However, the manual scoring of existing tests limits their accessibility—because many schools cannot afford the costs and logistics of such tests—and introduces measurement error into the scores. Therefore, fewer children are measured for Original Thinking, leading directly to the under-representation of minoritized students and low-socioeconomic status learners in gifted and talented programs. There is a need for screening tools that allow the measurement of Original Thinking in a large number of students quickly and at lower cost.

“This will truly be a first in the history of educational research,” said Dumas, “to be able to be able to provide a cutting-edge measure like this—totally free to educators and school leaders–
will lead to a turning point in how schools think about highly creative kids, and how to identify and nurture them.”

Organisciak says of the approach, “The past few years have seen a great deal of innovation in natural language processing, which can benefit education measurement through better understand of responses that can only be collected in open-ended ways. I’m excited to translate those methods to practice, and hopefully make an impact on how schools serve children.”

At project completion, the MOTES will be available to education practitioners and researchers who can obtain instant scores, for free. The team will also present findings from the research in conference presentations and in peer-reviewed publications, as well as in class with their students at Morgridge.

At Morgridge College, social justice is at the core of our community, academics and student life. Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion goes beyond theory. It is woven into the fabric of the College with a commitment to underserved populations in tangible, real-world ways. Whether it’s opening doors of opportunity, students blazing new trails of inclusive research, or faculty leading the nation-wide diversity conversation, Morgridge’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion makes an impact.


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