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Research

Current Research Projects

Here is a sampling of the research currently (and formerly) going on by faculty in the department. Take a look, and feel free to get in touch with any of us for more information, with questions, and with ideas for collaboration.

Children's Mathematical Representations
Bárbara M. Brizuela
The Children's Mathematical Representations project investigates children's early learning of mathematical notations. It builds from the assumption that conventional knowledge is built on prior understandings. From this assumption, it follows that children's ideas about mathematical notations could be constitutive of their later conventional understandings. One of the central tasks of the investigation is to document how children initially represent numerical and mathematical understandings and how and why their expressive repertoire changes over time.
DataSketch
Michelle Wilkerson-Jerde
The DataSketch project explores how middle school students think and learn about data visualization. It involves two interrelated strands of work: (1) research on grade 5-8 students' existing competencies and practices related to data visualization, and (2) the development and study of a tablet based toolkit for students to sketch and program visualizations that respond to archival or live data stream input.
Dynamics of Learners' Engagement and Persistence in Science
David Hammer
Dynamics of Learners' Engagement and Persistence in Science is funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. We look across educational experiences from elementary school to university to  find examples of students' engagement in science, in particular moments, lasting for days, or even personal transformations over a semester. Within each of these, we are studying what contributes to that engagement—how it begins, how it sustains.
Early Algebra
María Blanton and Bárbara M. Brizuela
Through design based classroom teaching experiments, the Early Algebra Project investigates the ways in which children from Kindergarten through 8th grade generalize, justify, represent, and reason algebraically. Through our research, we have shown that introducing algebra as part of the early mathematics curriculum is highly feasible and we have also clarified how specific representational tools — tables, graphs, numerical and algebraic notation, and certain natural language structures — can be employed to help students express functional relations among numbers and quantities and solve algebra problems.
Engineering Inquiry for All at Nedlam's Workshop
PI Brian Gravel, Co-PIs Ben Shapiro and Chris Rogers
Nedlam's Workshop is a makerspace at Malden High School, supported by the National Science Foundation. We are collaborating with MHS to develop the space, which includes digital technologies such as 3D printers and Arduino microcontrollers, as a resource for the school and community. It is also a site for our research on how making can help all students succeed in school: How do students learn in a makerspace, and how might their experiences there affect their identities and experiences in the rest of their academic program?
Novel Engineering ("Integrating Engineering and Literacy")
Chris Rogers, David Hammer and Merredith Portsmore
Novel Engineering is a five year project at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach and funded by the National Science Foundation, working with area elementary school teachers to incorporate engineering into classwork around children's literature. Children identify problems and design solutions for the fictional "clients" in stories they are reading for class. Our research concerns various aspects of learning and teaching in this project, cutting across literacy and engineering education.
Prison Knowledge Production and Schooling
Sabina Vaught
This set of research projects includes ethnographic studies, policy analyses, and epistolary engagements. The inquiry focuses on the mechanisms of prison schooling and power, particularly through dimensions of race and gender. The interplay of the state, law, and educational institutions form the analytical nexus.
SiMSAM
Brian Gravel and Michelle Wilkerson-Jerde
SiMSAM (PIs Wilkerson-Jerde & Gravel, either is fine to contact): Simulation, Measurement, and Stop Action Moviemaking (SiMSAM) explores how middle school students reason about physical phenomena using modeling and simulation technologies. Our goal is build a tool that allows students to move back and forth between formats to create, share and test their own and each others' scientific models.
STEMLiMS: Investigating STEM Literacies in Makerspaces
PI Brian Gravel, in collaboration with Eli Tucker-Raymond at TERC
STEMLiMS is an NSF-funded project project aimed at understanding how participants in makerspaces engage in STEM literacy practices as they create and produce physical products of personal and social value. We are studying how participants in makerspaces interpret, use, and create representational texts, and we will use what we learn to inform the design of makerspaces for learners. Sites for our work include Artisan's Asylum, the South End Tech Center and Sprout & Co. as well as the makerspaces at the Cambridge Friends School and the Somerville STEAM Academy.