A Washington State University research team has been awarded a three-year, $515,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to improve teacher ability to support student success across all life sciences.

The team is led by assistant educational psychology professor Chad Gotch and is part of the NSF’s Discovery Research PreK-12 program, meant to support STEM education research and innovations.

In this case, the research involves supporting students’ use of “crosscutting concepts,” or ideas that link the different domains of science: patterns; cause and effect; scale, proportion, and quantity; systems and system models; energy and matter; structure and function; and stability and change.

“Some people say these concepts are ways of seeing and making sense of the world,” Gotch said. “These concepts show up, no matter what kind of science you’re doing.”

The grant is focused on life sciences such as biology, zoology, toxicology, and microbiology.

Collaborative learning requires collaborative research

Crosscutting concepts are one part of what science educators call “Three-Dimensional Learning.” The other two parts are disciplinary core ideas (i.e., things scientists know), and practices (i.e., things scientists do).

Gotch said teachers have a lot of guidance for the core ideas and practices.

“They haven’t been given as much support for teaching or assessing the crosscutting concepts,” he said. “We’re providing that support.”

That’s where his research cohort comes in.

Jointly with co-PIs Kira Carbonneau, associate educational psychology professor, and Sarah Fick, assistant professor of science education, the research team acts as experts in formative assessment and instructional strategies.