School Personnel

Science in Action: Understanding and Sustaining Student Engagement in Environmental Science in Urban, Poverty-Impacted Schools

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This project addresses three main research questions: (1) What are the processes of engagement in advanced project-based science that help or hinder learning for students in urban, poverty-impacted schools? (2) What instructional and curricular strategies support productive disciplinary engagement in complex, real-world environmental science tasks for students who may differ widely in domain knowledge (science concepts and practices) and literacy skills? And (3) Do these strategies to support productive disciplinary engagement lead to more positive outcomes in terms of interest, identity, and learning in science?


Three urban districts in three states, including one charter network that are implementing the Knowledge-In-Action Project-Based AP Environmental Science Curriculum.

Research Design: 

The project uses a longitudinal and comparative research design and will generate evidence that is descriptive [case study, design research, ethnography, observational] and causal [quasi-experimental, HLM analysis of comparative quantitative data]. Original data are being collected on students in AP Environmental Science in poverty-impacted urban schools, particularly those implementing the project-based Knowledge in Action APES curriculum, using school records, assessments of learning, observation [personal observation, videography], and survey research [self-completion questionnaire, semi-structured or informal interviews, focus groups]. The project is comparing implementation of designed supports for engagement and literacy in advanced environmental science in a project-based APES course with implementation of the project-based course without these additional supports.

Instruments or measures being used include AP Environmental Science end-of-course exam; APES Complex Scenario Test; and self-report measures of beginning and end-of-course interest, agentic engagement, classroom learning focus, post-graduation plans. Design research involves cycles of collaborative design, field testing, and assessment of engagement and literacy supports. Video and interview data will be analyzed using discourse analytical techniques focused on engagement, agency, and negotiation during complex tasks. Comparative analysis of quantitative data will be analyzed using HLM7 to account for nesting of data.


Findings will be posted as they become available.

Publications & Presentations: 

Tierney, G., & Nolen, S. B. (2014) Positioning Teachers as Codesigners in Design-Based Implementation Research: Implications for Teacher Engagement. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Philadelphia, PA. April 4-7.

Other Products: 

Design principles and iteratively-designed prototypes for engagement and literacy supports in advanced science classes.

Target Population: 
Research Design: 


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