ECU Awarded Grant to Enhance STEM Education

Makenzie Evans, a junior English Education major, demonstrates how to use the Mursion simulation classroom to Dr. Jay Golden, ECU Vice Chancellor of Research, Economic Development and Engagement.

Makenzie Evans, a junior English Education major, demonstrates how to use the Mursion simulation classroom to Dr. Jay Golden, ECU Vice Chancellor of Research, Economic Development and Engagement.

The East Carolina University College of Education was recently awarded a $599,939 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve undergraduate STEM education.

Project INTERSECT (Interactive STEM Education Competence in Teaching) will address the nature and role of discipline-specific discourse in the classroom. The goal of the project is to explore how training with immersive classroom simulation activities affect the ability of ECU math and science teacher candidates use of discourse as a means of instruction. The Project INTERSECT team will use the Mursion Lab at ECU—a teacher training lab with digitally simulated classroom settings—to research this topic.

Leading the research portion of this study will be principal investigator Daniel Dickerson, ECU Associate Professor of Science Education and STEM CoRE (Collaborative for Research in Education) Coordinator, along with co-principal investigators Holly Fales and Christine Wilson, both of whom are Instructional Technology Consultants and ECU Mursion Coordinators within the College of Education. Also leading the team will be Carrie Lee, ECU Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education, and Ricky Castles, ECU Assistant Professor of Engineering.

The Project INTERSECT team (from left to right), Dan Dickerson, Carrie Lee, Holly Fales, Christine Wilson, and Ricky Castles.

The Project INTERSECT team (from left to right), Dan Dickerson, Carrie Lee, Holly Fales, Christine Wilson, and Ricky Castles.

Dickerson said helping pre-service teachers (teacher candidates in training) learn how to confidently voice their evidenced-based ideas and respectfully support or challenge the diverse views of others are critical skills that employers around the world are highly interested in.

“The outcomes of this National Science Foundation funded work will inform and support changes to STEM teacher education across the state and beyond by helping pre-service teachers engage their students in thoughtful, content-based discourse,” Dickerson said. “Equally important, pre-service teachers will learn how to further help their students speak respectfully and professionally to one another even when they disagree.”

“Traditional teaching simulation activities such as peer-to-peer role-play are limited, brief, and rarely provide sufficient practice for discourse skill development,” said co-principal investigator Holly Fales. “Virtual simulation places pre-service teachers in an immersive and realistic education environment, providing the opportunity to practice and develop the complex skills necessary for effective teaching.”

During the project, pre-service teachers taking elementary math and science method courses will participate in Mursion simulations in which discourse skills in the form of teacher moves (tactics employed by teachers to achieve an instructional goal) will be coded and analyzed. Teacher moves will then be measured in videos submitted by participants from the teaching internship to measure the impact of immersive simulation preparation during methods courses on discourse and engagement skills in the live classroom.

“The ability to use Mursion at ECU is a wonderful tool pre-service teachers have available to them to enhance their training before they get into the field that has never been an option before,” said co-principal investigator Christine Wilson. “We are excited for Elementary Science and Math pre-service teachers to use this experience to lead the way as they begin their journeys changing the lives of the next generation.”
Co-principal investigator Ricky Castles said giving the pre-service teachers opportunities to practice math and science discourse with a variety of simulated students with different personalities, interests, and learning styles will help the pre-service teachers elevate the interest in math and science.
“The key to furthering innovation in science, technology, and engineering is getting more students excited about science and math from an early age and developing their competencies in these areas,” Castles said. “This grant will focus on improving the discourse and interaction pre-service teachers have with their students through practice with simulated students in the Mursion classroom.”

Educators from local school districts learn how to use the Mursion Lab at ECU during a visit in August 2017.

Educators from local school districts learn how to use the Mursion Lab at ECU during a visit in August 2017.

Co-principal investigator Carrie Lee said that she is very excited about helping lead the effort to enhance the way teacher educators engage pre-service teachers in deliberate and reflective practice of teaching. Specifically, Lee will research how pre-service teachers learn to lead effective discussions through talk moves, or, strategic questions and comments that make the discussion more student centered.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created by the U.S. Congress in 1950 that supports basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future, and was created “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare…”

Project INTERSECT will begin at ECU in the fall 2017 and continue for three years.

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