University of Pittsburgh School of Education


Teaching Writing and Argumentation with AI-supported Diagramming and Peer Review
From the instructor's viewpoint, a class writing assignment is a black box. Until instructors actually read the first or final drafts, they do not have much information about how well the assignment has succeeded as a pedagogical activity, and even then, it is hard to get a complete picture. Computer-supported peer review systems such as Scaffolded Writing and Rewriting in the Discipline (SWoRD)—a scaffolded peer review system that can help students to write higher-quality compositions in classroom assignments—can help in this regard. The goal of this project is to develop and evaluate methods to provide instructors with a comprehensive overview of the progress of a class writing assignment in terms of how well students understand the issues based on structured reviewing rubrics, feedback students provide and receive in the peer review process, and machine learning computational lingustics analysis of the resulting texts. The SWoRD-based peer-review system will present the instructor's overview via a kind of "Teacher-side Dashboard" that will summarize salient information for the class as a whole, cluster students based on common features of their texts, and enable instructors to delve into particular student's writings more effectively in a guided manner.
Funding by National Science Foundation, IIS-1122504 (2008-2014)
LSAP Researchers: Chris Schunn

Center for the Study of Activated Science Learners (Science Learning Activation Lab)
Funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Science Learning Activation Lab project involves the development of measures of new aggregate construct called activation in science. The project focuses on activation in late elementary / early middle school-aged children. We are seeking to create and validate a battery of measures that predict sustained, long-term engagement with science opportunities across in and out-of-school settings. These measures will include the following component constructs (all related to science as a domain): interest, curiosity, motivation, persistence, appreciation of value, capability of engaging in reasoning, responsibility for learning, and identity. This work is done in collaboration with the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley.
Funding by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (2011-2012)
LSAP Researchers: Chris Schunn and Kevin Crowley

The 21st Century Research and Development Center on Cognition and Science Education
Funding by the Institute for Educational Sciences (2008-2013)
LSAP Researchers: Chris Schunn

Advanced Analogical Search with Integrated Function and Form: The Verrocchio Project
Funding by the National Science Foundation (2009-2012)
LSAP Researchers: Chris Schunn

Fostering Innovation through Robotics Exploration

Robotics curricula designed to strengthen algebra and computer science skills in urban middle and high school students.  This work is done collaboratively with Robin Shoop and Ross Hagashi at Carnegie Mellow University’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC).  
Funding by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (2010-2012)
LSAP Researchers: Chris Schunn

Training in Arithmetical Fluency
This work involves a new training approach to help adults learn to quickly and accurately solve multi-digit addition and subtraction problems (e.g., 34 + 29). We will use behavioral measures of skill to demonstrate that the training program improves the ability to solve addition and subtraction problems, and to determine whether the benefits extend to other types of mathematical tasks (e.g., solving an algebra problem, or comparing the magnitude of two numbers). Measures of brain function will be used to test the idea that our training approach leads to adaptive changes in a core brain region involved in "basic number sense."
Funding by the National Science Foundation, EHR-0815945 (2008-2012)
LSAP Researchers: Chris Schunn

Collaborative Research Strategies: The Robot Algebra Project
This collaborative NSF-funded project between Chris Schunn and Mary Kay Stein involves the design of robotics curricular units designed to strengthen pre-algebra and algebra math skills in urban middle and high school students. This work is done collaboratively with Robin Shoop and Ross Hagashi at CMU's NREC, and builds upon an ongoing DARPA funded project called FIRE, that adds collaborations with Vincent Aleven, Albert Corbett, and Ken Koedinger at CMU's HCII.
Funding by the National Science Foundation, DRL-102940 (2010-2013)
LSAP Researchers: Christian Schunn and Mary Kay Stein

CaSe - The 21st Century Research and Development Center on Cognition and Science Education

The 21st Century Research and Development Center on Cognition and Science Education (CaSe) is a five-year, $10 Million Institute of Education Sciences center grant to improve middle school science education. Partner institutions in CaSE include the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Research for Better Schools, and The 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education. Within the University of Pittsburgh, LRDC's Chris Schunn, Tim Nokes, and Kalyani Raghavan will be participating. CaSE will apply recent innovations in the cognitive science of learning to systematically improve two widely used science curricula, one from the family of hands-on science curricula and one from the family of textbook curricula. Modifications will be applied to one module in each of biological sciences, physical sciences, and earth sciences. Small-scale studies will focus on studying the micro-structure of these modifications in classrooms. A large random-control trial involving 180 middle schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware will examine the overall impact of the modifications on student learning.
Funding by the Institute for Educational Sciences, R305C080009 (2008-2013)
LSAP Researchers: Chris Schunn

Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE)
CAISE is a center, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), devoted to advancing and improving the practice of informal science education (ISE) in its many and varied forms — among them, film and broadcast media, science centers and museums, zoos and aquariums, botanical gardens and nature centers, digital media and gaming, and youth, community, and after-school programs. Founded in 2007, CAISE studies issues and trends in informal science education, documents the impact and value of ISE, offers professional development opportunities for those working with and seeking NSF support, and provides a collective voice for the field.
Funding by National Science Foundation (Three-year renewal to May 2015)
LSAP Researchers: Kevin Crowley

Documenting Students' Opportunity for Literate Engagement in an Afterschool Context
Our project investigates students' opportunities for participation in literacy activities while they are participants in the University Prep (UPrep) 6-12 after-school program. Informal cultures of participation, like the afterschool program, that extend students' skills and knowledge about reading, writing, design, and analysis particularly in activities and experiences beyond traditional schooling are becoming more common. Little is understood, however, about the relationship between students' participation in these programs and the development of their literacy skills and dispositions. Our goal is to address this gap in the research and investigate the range of literacy practices available to students in these informal contexts, the degree to which students are engaged by these literacy practices and the impact of their engagement on their sense of efficacy with respect to literacy. Through our research we seek to isolate the characteristics of these activities that students find valuable, and provide information that can further the design of afterschool programs so that they can better support the development of students' literate selves.
LSAP Researchers: Kevin Crowley

How People Make Things, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
Our longest museum research partnership has been with the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. This is a unique relationship that began with intellectual synergy and is now sustained through a series of joint funding initiatives and organizational links — UPCLOSE associate director Karen Knutson is the head of Research and Evaluation at the museum, and graduate student Camellia Sanford is the museum research fellow. Through this research partnership we have been able to explore many different issues. An ethnography of the museum's expansion project focused on leadership and organizational change as the museum worked to design its new "green" building, create a new town square model — with other non-profit organizations moving in under its roof, including a Head Start program and a radio station, and to develop a culture of experimentation, prototyping and data driven decision making in the redesign of exhibits and programs. This large scale project will result in a book for museum professionals. Other projects with the museum have focused more internally, using our research to help the museum develop, among other things, new exhibits, website games, a large NSF-funded traveling exhibition, called How People Make Things. In other work with the museum we've jointly explored the role of parents in interactive experiences, beliefs about art and art practice, creating a program to help support the development of parenting skills, and comparing the outcomes of science-based exhibits and children's museum designed exhibits. The wonderful power and potential of our research partnership with the Children's Museum has been recognized by the field, winning awards from the Association of Children's Museums, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers.
LSAP Researchers: Kevin Crowley

We are building for use by the informal learning community. This website is intended to be a place on the web where researchers, evaluators, and developers can find all that is currently known about how to conceptualize and assess informal learning in science and in other domains. The purpose of the National Science Foundation-funded website,, is to promote and advance the field of informal learning in science and other domains. This site aims to support a community of learners, while being a place to share knowledge of informal science learning standards and practices. Online survey results reveal that has a broad base of users. Respondents represented a variety of professions, including educators, evaluators, designers, administrators, students, producers and writers. Site visitors come from museums, university/independent research groups, and other types of organizations involved in informal learning (e.g., multimedia, design firms, afterschool programs). Since its inception in 2002, the website has provided users with an annotated database of more than 2,500 citations, originally developed as part of the Museum Learning Collaborative. This website features links to information about evaluation practices and professional evaluators, as well as links to professional organizations, conferences, and university training. As of 2004, users are able to post and electronically download front-end and summative evaluation studies. Individuals are also invited to submit new references to the database. The website is currently undergoing a large-scale redesign to better serve the informal learning community. The new will include thematic discussions, interviews with members of the field, active listservs, and electronic access to evaluation resources in informal environments.
Funding by National Science Foundation (2010-2013)
LSAP Researchers: Kevin Crowley

Collaborative Research: Energy, Environment and Society Learning Network (ENERGY NET)

Enhancing opportunities for learning using an Earth system science framework.
Funding by National Science Foundation (2012-2014)
LSAP Researchers: Kevin Crowley

Science Learning Activation Lab
The Science Learning Activation Lab project involves the development of measures of new aggregate construct called activation in science. The project focuses on activation in late elementary / early middle school-aged children. We are seeking to create and validate a battery of measures that predict sustained, long-term engagement with science opportunities across in and out-of-school settings. These measures will include the following component constructs (all related to science as a domain): interest, curiosity, motivation, persistence, appreciation of value, capability of engaging in reasoning, responsibility for learning, and identity. This work is done in collaboration with the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley.
Funding by Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (2011-2012)
LSAP Researchers: Kevin Crowley

University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE)
UPCLOSE conceptualizes, develops, and studies informal learning environments. Our work explores what it means to learn and change as a result of experiences in everyday contexts such as museums, community settings, on the web, and at home. We connect academic theory and real world practice. Our research focuses on relationships between learners, mediators, environments, and experiences. Because of the nature of informal learning, our laboratory exists in the world. We work in partnership with informal learning organizations to develop and use new models of learning. Our work often initially connects with our partners through their need for evaluation research, but it rarely ends with simple evaluation. We are most interested in work that contributes to our basic understandings of what it means to learn and change as a result of informal educational experiences. We believe that new theories of learning are best developed, tested, and revised when they are embedded in the design of novel learning environments. This comes about as a result of interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers, designers, educators, content specialists, and the learners themselves. UPCLOSE actively works on professional development and policy issues in the field of informal education. One of our ongoing projects,, is the field’s primary web site for collecting, sharing, and using research and evaluation work in informal science. As a Co-PI for the new Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE), we will be working field-wide to directly connect the lessons of research to policy and practice in informal learning.
LSAP Researchers: Kevin Crowley

Roles, Tools and Practices of Teachers within Inclusive Schools
The education of students with disabilities in general education classrooms, often referred to as inclusion, is an increasingly popular way to organize special education programs. Yet meeting the needs of learners in heterogeneous classrooms is a challenge for educators. As schools increasingly place students in more inclusive settings, teachers’ roles and responsibilities are often ambiguous and undefined. This project aims to explore the roles, tools and practices employed by teachers in inclusive educational settings, and the role formal and informal organizational structures and policies play in supporting inclusive practices. Guided by community of practice and activity system theories we will study patterns of interaction in inclusive schools and classrooms. In studying activity systems lodged within formal organizational structures and subject to external policy pressure, we will also draw on and contribute to an emerging theoretical framework that seeks to integrate socio-cultural theories of learning with institutional theories of organizations. Our study will proceed in two stages. During phase one, we will conduct comparative embedded case studies of inclusive classrooms in two secondary schools implementing inclusion programs: one school with a mature inclusion program and the other in the process of transitioning from traditional self-contained special education classes to a nascent inclusion model. In phase two, we will employ a design-based approach to support the implementation of effective practices (derived from phase one) at a local secondary school.
LSAP Researchers: Jennifer Russell, James Greeno

Evaluation of Algebra Professional Development in Pittsburgh Public Schools
We will study the effects of intensive and ongoing professional development of secondary mathematics teachers on: (1) changes in teacher classroom practices, (2) changes in teacher content knowledge, and (3) changes in student achievement using PSSA results. The results of this project and study will be of interest to the research community as well as to education practitioners and policymakers who are engaged in efforts to reform and strengthen mathematics instruction and improve student achievement in secondary mathematics. This work is intended not only to advance research on measuring instruction but to provide timely and useful information and tools for practitioners and other decision makers.
Funding by National Science Foundation – Math and Science Partnership (2010-2012).
LSAP Researchers: Richard Correnti

Assessing Instructional Content and Interactions ‘At-Scale’

Funding by Spencer and W.T. Grant Foundations (2008-2019)
LSAP Researchers: Lindsay Clare Matsumura, Richard Correnti

Collaborative Professional Development Settings for Teachers: Links to Improving the Quality of Instruction and Student Learning
Funding by Spencer Foundation Grant (1999-2017)
LSAP Researchers: Lindsay Clare Matsumura

Documenting Students’ Opportunities for Literacy Engagement in an After-School Program
Funding by Learning Research and Development Center (2010-2012)
LSAP Researchers: Lindsay Clare Matsumura, Kevin Crowley

Modeling Engineered Levers for the 21st Century Teaching of STEM
BLOOM (Biology Levers Out Of Mathematics) is an NSF funded project that will bring mathematics as a thinking and learning tool into high school biology instruction through the use of engineering-based modules focused on core biology topics. The modules will be developed by a collaborative team involving learning science, mathematics education, and biology expertise. The modules are designed for large-scale urban settings and we will study the ways in which teacher materials and various web-based tools can support high quality implementation at scale.
Funding by National Science Foundation, DRL-102762, (2010-2014)
LSAP Researchers: Christian Schunn and Mary Kay Stein

Learning Policy Center
In 2007, the University of Pittsburgh established a Learning Policy Center (LPC) and a Learning Science and Policy (LSAP) Ph.D. program to advance ideas that lay at the intersection of policy and learning. The LPC utilizes the rich talent pool of the School of Education, the Learning Research and Development Center, the Institute For Learning and other regional assets to connect learning research with education policy decision-makers. The mission of the Learning Policy Center is to foster high quality learning environments for both students and professionals in public schools. Toward that end, we aim to infuse into policy decisions high quality, timely research on effective teaching and learning and on the school, district, and policy conditions that support their improvement. The LPC is a unique voice advising on the design, implementation, and impact of policies that aim to influence what teachers and students are expected to learn and that shape their opportunities to learn. The LPC investigates learning by conducting rigorous academic research on critical policy issues, informs policymakers of learning research findings, influences policy decisions by actively engaging in policy work, and involves education stakeholders including researchers, policymakers, and practitioners in discussions of education reform challenges and solutions.
Director: Mary Kay Stein

Preparing to Assess the Influence of Classroom Practices on Student Outcomes in 'Traditional' vs 'Reform' Approaches to Mathematics Instruction
Debates about how mathematics is learned and how it should be taught in schools have been ongoing for the better part of a century. But it was in the mid- to late-1990s, after the publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics first Standards document and the development and implementation of a number of National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded 'reform' textbook series, that the "math wars" began to rage. Although it is not being waged with such fervor as at the beginning of the 21st century, the debate remains unresolved. This project will propose a list of activities that to prepare the way for soliciting a large federal grant to conduct a randomized controlled trial to compare the effects of reform mathematics instruction with those of traditional instruction. To date, such research has been framed primarily as a comparison of textbook series. In 2004, the National Research Council concluded that, across all such studies, insufficient evidence existed for declaring any one program effective. Since then, a few researchers have attempted to contribute stronger evidence.
Funding by Learning Research and Development Center (2011-2013)
LSAP Researchers: Mary Kay Stein

Collaborative, Technology-Enhanced Lesson Planning as an Organizational Routine for Continuous, School-Wide Instructional Improvement
This project aims to develop and document the feasibility of a school-wide instructional improvement model focused on planning for rigorous instruction in a secondary school. The model includes the design, deployment and refinement of a set of organizational routines including use of an electronic tool for submission, exchange, and review of teachers' lesson plans and social practices that support teachers' planning practice including discipline-based meetings and regular observation of teachers' instruction.
LSAP Researchers: Mary Kay Stein and Jennifer Russell
Funding by Institute of Education Sciences (IES), R305A090252 (2009-2013).

Understanding the State "Policy Pipeline": An Exploratory Comparison of States’ Approaches to the Top Reforms
The federal Race to the Top (RttT) initiative contains no legislation or policy mandates for states to follow, but the program is nevertheless likely to drive all major state education reform efforts for the next decade. RttT is a competitive federal grant program that will award $4.35 billion over the next year to states that are proposing ambitious plans for four “core education reform areas”: Standards and Assessments; Data Systems to Support Instruction; Great Teachers and Leaders; and Turning Around the Lowest‐Achieving Schools. In order to be competitive to receive RttT grants, multiple states have already taken potentially systems‐changing actions such as eliminating state charter school caps and committing to make student achievement count for 50% or more of teacher and leader evaluations. Such drastic actions foreshadow the historic education reform that is likely to occur in those states that receive RttT awards. However, we do not know with any certainty whether the diverse education reform proposals will be enacted in ways that actually translate to real change in the “core of educational practice” (that is, in the teaching and learning that occurs within classrooms). We are engaging in an exploratory study of this timely issue examining three questions: (1) What are the theories of action implicit in successful RttT applications?; (2) To what extent is the improvement of teaching and learning central to the theories of action laid out in states’ approaches to RttT reforms? and (3) What aspects of states’ RttT reform initiatives are likely to be implemented in ways that positively influence teaching and learning? In the first phase of our study (Year 1), we systematically review the research literature on the relationship between state policy and school practice to develop a guiding conceptual framework and conduct preliminary analysis of all successful state RttT grant applications. We will use the conceptual framework and preliminary analysis to choose four states that will form our sample for a more in‐depth study of RttT policy enactment in Year 2. Our conceptual framework and analysis of state policy enactment will seed the development of a proposal for a larger, externally‐funded study of the RttT policy enactment and implementation process, taking into consideration how state context and policy enactment impact local policy implementation in districts and schools.
Funding by Learning Research and Development Center (2009-2012).
Researchers: Mary Kay Stein and Jennifer Russell