STEM Teaching and Learning Research

Lisa Gonsalves, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, mentoring adults working to become science teachers.

Using a vertically integrated approach to address the learning needs of K through 16 students and teachers, the University of Massachusetts Boston leads the way in Massachusetts when it comes to collaborating with public schools, community colleges, universities, and industry in raising the standard of teaching, learning, and research in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM. Our faculty are also making contributions on a national scale to the field of STEM learning research.

To ensure our success now and in the years to come, the university leadership committed itself some ten years ago to providing professional development opportunities for faculty and staff. One of these is the Center of Science and Mathematics in Context, or COSMIC, established in 2004. Thanks to a $14.6M in Math and Science Partnership (MSP) grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the same year, the Boston Science Partnership grew dramatically almost overnight in mission and scale—and the partnership was now led by UMass Boston.

An essential feature of the MSP program is that projects develop strategies to ensure that students are prepared for, have access to, and are encouraged to participate and succeed in challenging mathematics and/or science courses. In fact, a recent report by the NSF highlights UMass Boston's many successes and leadership role as a highly effective model for other MSP programs throughout the nation to emulate.

Below are details on just some of our STEM successes and ongoing collaborations with our external partners. To learn even more, contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Strategic Initiatives & Dean of Graduate Studies at 617.287.5614 or 617.287.5608. For a complete list of our current and past STEM education and learning projects scroll to the bottom of this page.

The Boston Science Partnership

The Boston Science Partnership (BSP) is a teacher development program to improve science education in Boston from middle school through graduate school. A key feature of this program is its vertical approach, which defines outcomes encompassing the entire science curriculum from grade 6 through university.

One of the BSP’s aims is to boost student enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) science programs throughout the district. The partnership provides intensive, year-round support to AP science classrooms throughout the Boston Public Schools. The result, between 2000 and 2013, is a dramatic increase in the number of Boston Public School students taking and performing well on the challenging AP exams.

Success strategies include workshops and institutes for teachers, university-based laboratory programs for students and teachers, summer “bridge” programs for entering AP students, classroom volunteer support, and a full-length practice exam for students. The partnership recruited experienced AP teachers to help; the long-term goal is to develop them into endorsed College Board consultants. Core partners UMass Boston and Northeastern University are working in collaboration with the College Board and Harvard Medical School on this initiative.

The Boston Energy in Science Teaching Project

The Boston Energy in Science Teaching (BEST) Project was Phase 2 of the Boston Science Partnership. In recognition of the BSP’s outstanding success, the National Science Foundation awarded Professor of Organic Chemistry and Marine Organic Chemistry Robert Chen and Distinguished Professor of Science Education Arthur Eisenkraft a $2.1M grant in 2011 to implement the BEST Project. Led by Chen and Eisenkraft, UMass Boston faculty work with science teachers in the Boston Public Schools to explore the use of an over-arching concept—energy—to promote science learning. The BEST project is also a vehicle for examining how a teacher’s in-depth conceptual understanding translates into deeper student engagement, exposition, and learning.

Building Teaching and Learning Capacity
through Community-Based Engineering

Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Kristen Wendell was awarded a five-year $598,269 CAREER grant by the NSF in 2013. In tune with recent changes to Massachusetts K-12 science education, Wendell and her research team are developing a community-based engineering module, as well as assessment tools, which can be used to benefit novice elementary school teachers. The grant will provide the opportunity to investigate the current engineering abilities and practices of three cohorts of 30 novice teachers. A subset of 48 of 90 teachers will be followed into their first year of in-service teaching, allowing for researchers to document how these teachers bring this experience into their new position at the head of their own classroom.

Supporting Children’s Engineering Discourse and Decision-Making with Multimedia Engineering Notebook Tools

As engineering emerges as a consistent part of K-12 education, there is a need for models and tools that support students' engineering design practices across all engineering curricula. In particular, students need support in developing ways of talking and writing that enable practices such as proposing possible design solutions and redesigning. Such practices require engineers to engage in reflective decision-making in communication with others.

In this work-in-progress, supported by a three-year $262,806 National Science Foundation grant, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Kristen Wendell and Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Patricia Paugh are developing and studying multimedia engineering notebook tools that support urban elementary students’ engagement in engineering practices, particularly those that involve reflective decision-making with fellow students. They work is a close collaboration with elementary teacher researchers, and they are in the first phase of this three-year project.

WIPRO Science Education Fellowship

The WIPRO Science Education Fellowship (SEF) is a teacher-leadership program funded by the Wipro organization. In 2012, Wipro committed $3.3 million to the UMass Boston Center of Science and Mathematics in Context, over five years, to train three cohorts of 120 school teachers, fostering leadership and teaching excellence in science education among students from areas in Boston and New Jersey. 

The Wipro Science Education Fellowship is based upon the success of the Boston Science Partnership’s Science Education Fellowship, which was supported through the National Science Foundation Math Science Partnership Program from 2009 to 2012. The fellowship is a two-year-long program for experienced teachers. The program uses a model of teacher support and development to increase the quality of teaching and leadership in science throughout several districts. This model includes a comprehensive set of activities designed to improve teacher practice, focusing on the outcome of increased achievement in science for all students.

National Center of Excellence for Computing and Information Technologies

In an increasingly competitive and technology-driven global economy, the United States' economic strength depends on an educated and highly skilled workforce. For more than ten years the Boston Area for Advanced Technological Education Connections (BATEC), led by its now nationally acclaimed Executive Director Deborah Boisvert, developed a regionally coordinated system to meet the demand for trained professionals in information technology. In fact, BATEC was so successful the NSF awarded UMass Boston a $5M grant for establishing a new National Center of Excellence for Computing and Information Technologies, and BATEC was renamed Broadening Advanced Technological Education Connections. Since 2011, BATEC and its partners have been co-designing scalable and sustainable programs for replication throughout the country.

To learn more, contact

Zong-Guo Xia, PhD, Vice Provost for Research and Strategic Initiatives & Dean of Graduate Studies, 617.287.5608