NSF Awards Candace Walkington and Dallas STEM Walk Partner $2.5 M to Take Math to the Streets with Gamified App

Koshi Dhingra, founder and CEO of talkSTEM, and Candace Walkington, associate professor, SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development

DALLAS (SMU) – To SMU math curriculum researcher Candace Walkington, the best way for students to understand math is to make it part of their lives. She’ll use her recent $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help students see that math is in the angle of a giraffe’s neck at the Dallas Zoo and in the flutter of the leaves of the cottonwood trees at Twelve Hills Nature Center in Oak Cliff.

These are just two of the stops on Dallas STEM walks, guided walks that illustrate how mathematical principles can be found in one’s surroundings. During the five-year grant, Walkington will partner with Dallas STEM walk nonprofit, talkSTEM, to better understand how educators can support math education outside of school and the role out-of-school experiences like these play in enhancing math education. First up: developing an app that turns a cell phone into an interpretive math tool.

“In this research, rather than having kids see math as symbols that exist on a worksheet or on a computer screen, we want them to see it as something that exists in the world all around them – the trees, the buildings, the artwork and the things they use every day,” says Walkington, associate professor of teaching and learning at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. “We want to help them to look at the world through the lens of math.”

Researchers will spend the first year of this grant developing a gamified app called Mathfinder, which is targeted to students in grades four through eight. The app will use augmented reality (AR) to create overlays enabling learners to hold up the camera of their cell phones to see mathematical expressions layered over the real-world objects in their camera feeds, such as the angles and shapes within the architecture of a building. It also will include short videos and directions for STEM walks, Walkington says.

Students also will be able to use Mathfinder to create and share STEM walks in their own neighborhoods, says Elizabeth Stringer, director of academics for SMU’s Guildhall video game design program and a co-investigator on the grant.

“Mathfinder will give feedback to students on the walks they create and provide data to community partners on how much time students spend at each stop,” she says.

STEM walks at nine Dallas learning sites will be featured in the app, including the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Zoo, Frontiers of Flight Museum, the GEMS Camp, the Girl Scouts STEM Center of Excellence, St. Phillips School and Community Center, Twelve Hills Nature Center and Voice of Hope Ministries.

At the Dallas Arboretum, Dustin Miller, director of experience and innovation, says the four-stop Arboretum STEM walk is already popular with visitors.

“At the Arboretum’s Children’s Adventure Garden, the educational intent is very straightforward,” he says. “The main garden’s STEM walk, however, gives people a way to engage with the garden in a way they don’t expect.”

Participating in the research will give the Arboretum an opportunity to collect quantitative data on site, he says. “This research will help us create ways for visitors to experience the gardens in a new and different way.”

For Koshi Dhingra, founder and CEO of talkSTEM, a nonprofit dedicated to the development of future STEM leaders, participating in the research will help her nonprofit understand best practices for creating STEM walks and correcting roadblocks to learning. The creation of the Mathfinder app promises to make STEM walks more engaging and convenient, she says.

Dhingra earned her doctorate in science education and has dedicated her career to STEM education, but has new appreciation for the importance of understanding mathematical concepts as a building block for all sciences.

“When students begin to see that math is all around them, not just in an algebra or calculus textbook, they begin to see themselves as math people,” she says. “They need this competency and confidence to open doors to other STEM fields.”

The NSF grant builds on Walkington’s previous research on math education. An associate professor of teaching and learning at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, Walkington has earned more than $11 million in math education research grants, and in 2019 received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the U.S. Department of Education. Co-principal investigators for the grant include Dhingra; Anthony Petrosino, Simmons associate dean for research and outreach; Cathy Ringstaff, senior research associate, WestEd; and Elizabeth Stringer, director of academics, Guildhall.

 

About SMU

SMU (Southern Methodist University) is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and over 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

About Simmons School of Education & Human Development

The Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU (Southern Methodist University) reflects the University’s vision of serving the most important educational needs of our city, region and nation, graduating students for successful careers in a variety of fields and providing educational opportunities beyond traditional degree programs. Recognized as a unique and transformative leader in education research, practice and policy, the School is committed to rigorous, research-driven programs that promote evidence-based, effective practices in education and human development. 

How To Replace College Admissions Tests? WSJ Looks at Baker’s Research on Admissions Lotteries

Dominique Baker, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Education Policy and Leadership, SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development

Assistant Professor Dominique Baker, Dept. of Education Policy and Leadership, provided her expertise on admissions lotteries for a Wall Street Journal story on ways to replace admissions tests for colleges and universities.

Baker, who has run lottery simulations with Michael Bastedo at the University of Michigan, says lotteries don’t necessarily create more diverse classes. Read the article here.

 

 

Big Drop in Math Scores Lead Walkington and Wilhelm to Call for New Ways of Teaching Math

Associate Professor Candace Walkington, Simmons School

Mathematics education professors Candace Walkington and Annie Wilhelm weigh in on the substantial drop in math STAAR scores during the pandemic. Both point out that the loss of math knowledge creates an opportunity to teach mathematics in new ways –and it has to be a systemic change.

Wilhelm tells The Dallas Morning News that prioritizing what students learn is key, explaining that educators should focus on the lessons that students must understand to be successful in their next grade level and future careers so they can “dig deep” rather than cover everything superficially.”

Walkington says that having students in virtual instruction makes it harder for teachers to engage with them.“That really points to a problem with mathematics instruction itself and the way we’re teaching it, not with the kids and not with the teachers.” Read more.

 

For a CBS11 broadcast story with Associate Professor Annie Wilhelm, click here.

Associate Professor Annie Wilhelm, Simmons School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NCII Honors Alain Mota for Data-based Individualization Work in Project STAIR

Alain Mota, Research in Mathematics Education (RME), SMU Simmons

The National Center for Intensive Intervention (NCII) names Research in Mathematics Education’s Alain Mota this year’s Data-based Individualization Champion for his contributions to Project STAIR, a shared effort with the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Missouri, and SMU. The work supports algebra readiness in middle school for students with learning disabilities and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.

Mota is the STEM development and implementation coordinator for RME. In his Project STAIR role, he has co-facilitated webinars, collected data, and coauthored reports and guides based on the “virtual year” of implementation. Researchers at the University of Missouri nominated him for the recognition.

He was honored recently during NCII’s ten-year anniversary celebration. Congratulations to him!

 

Upcoming West Dallas STEM School Uses Virtual Space to Break Ground

As classes in the Dallas Independent School District conclude June 18, a new school in West Dallas gets ready to start. The Pre-K to 8 STEM School breaks ground virtually to celebrate its opening in mid-August.

In this video, the convener is Principal Marion Jackson, who highlights what students and their families can expect. The first group of students to study at the school will be seventh and eighth-graders.

The West Dallas STEM School, a Dallas ISD Transformation and Innovation School, is the result of more than three years of collaboration between the District, the Toyota USA Foundation, SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, and the West Dallas community.

 

 

NSF-funded STEM Projects By Simmons Researchers Win Recognition in 2021 STEM For All Video Showcase

Several Simmons researchers and their co-investigators at other universities were recognized for their STEM projects by the 2021 STEM For All Video Showcase, funded by National Science Foundation.

Associate Professor Annie Wilhelm, Beth Adams, STEM evaluation researcher, Tiffini Pruitt Britton, math education researcher (co-principal investigators), and their team received a Presenter’s Choice award for their video, Supporting Equitable Participation and Access.   Led by Principal Investigator Jonee Wilson, assistant professor at North Carolina State, the video shows that aiming for equity involves identifying and outlining specific practices that support and empower students who have historically been underserved specifically in mathematics classrooms. This video also was noted for being one of the projects that registered the most discussion.

Associate Professor Candace Walker and her team received a Facilitators’ Choice award for their video, Stories of Algebra for the Workplace. The project examines how practitioners in STEM and STEM-related careers use algebra to do their jobs and then uses this information to build classroom activities for students enrolled in algebra courses.  The team includes Simmons Ph.D. students Brooke Istas, Jonathan Hunnuicut, and Min Wang, and fellow researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill, Worcester Polytechnic University, and Texas A&M created

The 2021 National Science Foundation (NSF) STEM for All Video Showcase is an annual online event. Each year, it hosts between 100-200 three-minute video presentations from federally funded projects that aim to improve STEM (Science, Math, Engineering, and Mathematics) and computer science education. During the seven days of this online event, Principal Investigators, practitioners, administrators, researchers, policymakers, industry, and the public at large are encouraged to participate.

Bridging the COVID Learning Gaps: DMN Shows How Quick Testing Methods Used by Simmons Can Help

 

Kindergarten teacher Michelle Davis gives a fist bump to Angelique Luciano, 6, after administering a quick literacy diagnostic test to her at F.P. Caillet Elementary in Dallas on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. These bimonthly, quick diagnostic assessments give her the info she needs to plot out how to get her students on track amid the pandemic. (Lynda M. González/The Dallas Morning News)(Lynda M. González / Staff Photographer)

The Dallas Morning News gives a thorough look at how a teacher can administer quick literacy tests to assess how students are progressing, as they build up their knowledge after staying at home during the pandemic.

Featured is Kindergarten teacher Michelle Davis, who is getting a graduate degree in education from the Simmons School. One of her professors, Diane Gifford, Ph.D., explains why this approach is effective in getting students up to speed. For a full version of the story, read more.

Gándara Becomes a William T. Grant Scholar and Pursues Five-year Research on Free-college Programs

Denisa Gándara, assistant professor of higher education, is a faculty member in the Dept. of Education Policy and Leadership, Simmons School.

Assistant Profesor of Higher Education Denisa Gándara is one of  five early-career researchers selected by the William T. Grant Foundation to receive $350,000 “to execute rigorous five-year research plans that stretch their skills and knowledge into new disciplines, content areas, or methods.”

Gándara will examine how the administrative burdens of free-college programs, such as eligibility criteria and application processes, impact college enrollment and degree completion for racially or ethnically minoritized students. She aims to provide a more complete understanding of how administrative burdens affect students from different racial or ethnic groups, and, ultimately, to inform program design in ways that help reduce gaps in program take-up and degree attainment.

“By supporting their research agendas and professional development, the William T. Grant Scholars Program seeks to contribute to a bright new generation of scholars who will bring rigorous research to youth policies, programs, and practices in the U.S.,” said the Grant Foundation’s Senior Vice President Vivian Tseng.

Dallas Innovates Offers Insights from Five Simmons Professors on Closing Learning Gaps Caused by Pandemic

To combat classroom learning losses stemming from the pandemic, five SMU Simmons professors reflect on their own research to advise Pre-K-12 school leaders on how to build up students’ knowledge.

Drs. Jill Allor, Diane Gifford, Leanne Ketterlin Geller, Candace Walkington, and Annie Wilhelm jump in with ideas published in Dallas Innovate. 

Reading experts Allor and Gifford emphasize basic skills. As Gifford says, “Students should learn the foundational skills necessary to read by the end of second grade. When students have gaps in their learning, they are likely to struggle until those gaps are filled. Even before COVID-19, 65 percent of fourth-graders in 2019 were reading below grade level.”

Allor says phonics is essential for reading comprehension. “Children who have difficulty reading most often have trouble with the ability to understand how letters relate to sounds,” she says.  “Research shows that students who struggle most often need more systematic and explicit phonics instruction. Some very popular reading programs are not consistent with research. If schools use these programs for intervention, many students will continue to struggle.”

Math researcher Leanne Ketterlin Geller believes math requires more dedicated time. “If students miss a concept—addition, for example—it will hinder them from understanding concepts they’ll learn later, like multiplication,”  she says. “Students will need more math instruction than the standard time allotment if they are to catch up.”

Annie Wilhelm adds that it is time to teach math in a new way, “The current model of teaching math as a series of disjointed topics limits students’ development of conceptual understanding. Instead of being taught a new set of procedures to master, students need to wrestle with how new ideas might fit with things they already understand.”

Using technology helps appeal to students’ personal interests, and that is important, says Candace Walkington. “Research shows that the most effective math instruction is relevant to students’ lives and interests and based in real-world problems.”In-person teaching can use technology to re-ignite students’ interest by using augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and game-based learning to simulate real life in math problems”

Michael Harris Weighs In on Legislature’s Proposed Bills to Restrict Faculty Tenure

Professor Michael Harris, Dept. of Education Policy and Leadership, Simmons School.

The Texas Tribune cited Professor Michael Harris’s observations on a bill proposing to revoke faculty tenure should professors file a civil lawsuit against students. Harris, whose primary research centers on the organization and governance of higher education, is interim chair of the Department of Education Policy and Leadership in Simmons and directs the Center for Teaching Excellence at SMU.

At issue is a UT Austin professor who sued some students for libel after they accused him of promoting pedophilia in his research. “This is legislative micromanagement that will have little impact on improving faculty work, teaching, research, service, the student experience,” Harris said.“This is more about scoring political points than anything having to do with what’s actually happening in the classroom.” Read the full article here.