Social and Organizational Factors in STEM Motivation and Achievement

Classic Opportunity to Learn (OTL) studies have examined the relationship between STEM achievement, and the curriculum, pedagogies and tasks that students experience. Such studies have shown that many students encounter little classroom experience with the challenging forms of thinking and reasoning in mathematics and science that they are expected to master in order to progress to STEM studies in higher education. But it is also clear that factors beyond curriculum content and instructional approaches are at play. An increasing body of research points to the role of affective factors and sense of identity within different contexts and organizational and social structures as equally powerful influences on learning and persistence in STEM fields. This session will highlight a number of REESE projects exploring these issues through a range of methodological approaches, including literature syntheses, analyses of district data, longitudinal studies, and experimental manipulations of the emotional context for STEM activities. Such studies suggest the need to revisit the OTL concept to incorporate organizational and social aspects of opportunity to learn. Presentations by REESE PIs included:

  • Elaine Allensworth, Passing Through Science: The effects of raising graduation requirements on student achievement in Chicago  [PDF]
  • Geoffrey Cohen, Improving Academic Achievement by Reducing Psychological Threat: A Theory-Driven Intervention  [PDF]
  • Jennifer Cromley, Understanding STEM Persistence: Memorizing, Digesting, and Personal Epistemology  [PDF]
  • Roslyn Mickelson, The Effects of Integrated Education on Science and Mathematics Outcomes: A Synthesis of the Social Science Literature  [PDF]

 A PDF of the evaulation form for this session can be downloaded here.

 About the Speakers

Barbara Means is co-director of the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International, an independent nonprofit research organization based in Menlo Park, CA. Dr. Means’ research focuses on ways to foster students' learning of advanced skills through the introduction of technology-supported innovations. Currently, she directs SRI’s study of science learning in California afterschool programs and a national study of how schools are using student data to inform instructional decision making. Her recent work includes a synthesis of cognitive, curriculum, and intervention research on secondary mathematics learning; a meta-analysis of research on the effectiveness of online learning; and an examination of high schools with a science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) focus. Dr. Means served on the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, which produced the volume How People Learn, and as a member of the Academy’s Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA). Her published works include the edited volumes Evaluating Educational Technology, Technology and Education Reform, and Teaching Advanced Skills to At-Risk Students and the jointly authored volumes The Connected School and Comparative Studies of How People Think. Dr. Means earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stanford University and her Ph.D. in educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Elaine Allensworth is Co-Director for Statistical Analysis at the Consortium for Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology, and an M.A. in Sociology/Urban Studies from Michigan State University. Allensworth is an expert in statistical methodology, but believes strongly in combining qualitative and quantitative methods. Her work focuses on the structural factors that affect high school students’ educational attainment, particularly the factors that affect graduation and dropout rates. She was the lead author on a number of studies on graduation rates in the Chicago Public Schools, including What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in CPS (2007), The On-Track Indicator as a Predictor of High School Graduation (2005), and Ending Social Promotion: Dropout Rates in Chicago after Implementation of the Eighth-Grade Promotion Gate (2004). She recently began a three-year mixed-methods study of the transition to high school which follows a cohort of students from eighth grade into their second year in high school. This study looks at students’ perceptions of the challenges of high school, the school practices that can foster successful freshman-year performance, and the practices that can hinder students.

Geoffrey Cohen is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Much of Cohen’s research examines processes related to identity maintenance and their implications for social problems. One primary aim of my research is the development of theory-driven, rigorously tested intervention strategies that further our understanding of the processes underpinning social problems and that offer solutions to alleviate them. Two key questions lie at the core of my research: “Given that a problem exists, what are its underlying processes?” And, “Once identified, how can these processes be overcome?” One reason for this interest in intervention is my belief that a useful way to understand psychological processes and social systems is to try to change them. We also are interested in how and when seemingly brief interventions, attuned to underlying psychological processes, produce large and long-lasting psychological and behavioral change.

Jennifer Cromley is an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology in the department of Psychological Studies in Education in the Temple College of Education. Her research concerns the roles of cognition and motivation in comprehension of text and in academic achievement, broadly construed. She is PI of two NSF-funded projects (Teaching Effective Use of Diagrammatic Reasoning in Biology and A multi-method approach to understanding dropout from STEM gateway courses) and is Temple site PI of an IES-funded project (The 21st Century Center for Cognition and Science Instruction). She serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Educational Psychology, American Educational Research Journal [Section on Teaching, Learning, and Human Development—TLHD], and Contemporary Educational Psychology. Her teaching focuses on educational psychology and applied statistics in education research.

Roslyn Mickelson is a Professor of Sociology, Public Policy, Information Technology, and Women’s Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She taught social studies in an urban high school for nine years before earning a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1984. Mickelson has published widely on minority educational issues, desegregation, social science and the law, gender and education, the education of homeless children, and educational policy. With funding from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, Mickelson has investigated school reform in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools from 1989 to 2008, chronicling the consequences of the district’s transformation from a desegregated to a resegregated school system. With Kathryn Borman, she co-edited three Teachers College Record special issues about the effects of school racial and socioeconomic composition on educational outcomes. The first of the three issues (Vol. 112, No.4, 2010) concerns mathematics and science outcomes. Currently, Mickelson is writing a book synthesizing social science research on the effects of school diversity on educational outcomes.