ECR Projects

Explore past and current fundamental STEM education research projects across the three research areas that NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program funds, as well as across ECR funding types. Other search filters draw from both NSF's data and the ECR Hub's hand coding of award abstracts.

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Examining the Effects of Perceptual Cues on Middle School Students? Online Mathematical Reasoning and Learning

Effective Years: 2023-2026

Many students lack the necessary procedural and conceptual knowledge to progress beyond Algebra I. This limits their ability to pursue STEM interests, training, and careers. In this promising approach to giving support to learners, investigators will study the use various perceptual cues embedded in online math materials for middle school students in an effort to evaluate whether manipulating the visual perceptual cues in the materials, such as coloring and spacing, influence learning and performance by directing students’ attention towards key pieces of information during problem solving. The outcomes will provide an understanding of whether and how different types of perceptual cues work in order to provide low-cost, and effective instructional support in online math learning environments that will better prepare students for algebra and higher-level mathematics. It is proposed that viewing cues that highlight relevant mathematical structures will support immediate performance and learning, but that viewing cues that break the pattern or structure of the notations, in combination with training, will support greater retention.

The purpose of this research is to implement two experimental studies that investigate whether and how congruent and incongruent perceptual cues within math notation influence middle school students’ order-of-operations performance, learning, and retention, and to understand how perceptual cues create desirable difficulties, or productive struggles, in mathematics practice. Study 1 will experimentally manipulate and test the individual effects of perceptual cues in math notation on middle school students’ performance on order-of-operations problems. Study 2 will use a 3×3 factorial design to systematically test the individual and synergistic effects of congruent and incongruent perceptual cues on students’ order-of-operations performance, learning, and retention. Additionally, both studies will investigate whether students’ prior knowledge, math anxiety, and perceptual processing skills moderate the effects of perceptual cues. This project will produce evidence of the roles of perceptual cues on students’ math performance, learning, and retention, including preliminary evidence of any differences in the effects of congruent vs. incongruent perceptual cues, and whether these variations in perceptual effects influence learning synergistically.

This project is funded by the EDU Core Research (ECR) program, which supports fundamental research on STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.