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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Cognitive Mechanisms of Guided Instruction in the Early Elementary Years

Effective Years: 2023-2028

The purpose of this study is to compare the results of two teaching styles: direct instruction and guided query, for early elementary students in science. Guided queries -- when teachers ask questions that engage the learner in prediction, explanation, and reflection -- have been shown to support knowledge building and motivation in brief lab settings. However, there is disagreement among scholars about how the learning outcomes of guided query teaching styles compare to those of direct instruction in more traditional education settings, and it is unknown how the learning processes involved unfold over longer times, and among children embedded in different communities. This project addresses these gaps in our understanding by conducting a longitudinal study with early elementary school students to investigate the short- and long-term effects of direct and guided query instruction about a foundational physical concept: properties of matter. The sample includes children embedded in families and communities with diverse backgrounds, which allows observations on the effects of the different teaching styles on children with different prior experiences. This project informs the decision-making process about which teaching styles are best suited for teaching science to early elementary school children across different communities and also is developing an inexpensive, easy-to-scale-up, and ready-to-deploy curriculum that could be implemented in schools or families. The curriculum will address young children's known misconceptions about matter earlier than typical curricula.

Cognitive and motivational mechanisms may be differently impacted by diverse teaching styles. To shed light on the mechanisms underlying learning from direct and guided instruction, this project involves longitudinal assessment of children's knowledge about matter and its interactions, as well as of their motivation and attitudes toward science before and after receiving training. A sample of 300 early elementary school children, drawn from communities with diverse backgrounds, will be randomly assigned to three conditions: (i) Direct Instruction, (ii) Guided Query; and (iii) Baseline condition. Children in all three conditions will be assessed in five different data collection waves over a period of 3.5 years. In addition to assessing cognitive mechanisms through children's a) factual, b) causal-explanatory, and c) conceptual knowledge about matter and its interactions, the project also assesses motivational mechanisms through measures of children’s d) curiosity, e) perseverance on science related tasks, and f) attitudes toward self and learning. After Wave 1 of data collection, children in the Direct Instruction and Guided Query conditions will receive supplemental training that is delivered across six different teaching modules. Children in the Baseline condition will not receive any training (outside their typical school curricula). The difference between the Direct and Guided Query Instruction conditions is in terms of how the training content is delivered to children. In the Direct Instruction condition, the content will be delivered directly via providing facts and explanations, whereas in the Guided Query condition it will be delivered after guiding children with questions, asking them to execute thought experiments, generate predictions, and produce explanations. The results of this study will illuminate the mechanisms by which direct and guided query instruction shape the process of knowledge construction and children's attitudes toward self and learning.

This project is supported by NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM 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.