STEM Learning

Design and Engineering of Scientific Instrumentation in High School Science Classrooms

Jue Wu, Graduate Student, and Grace Hall, Past Research Assistant in the Uttal Lab

  • This project aims to investigate coding and making as a way to make STEM more authentic and engaging for students. We implemented block based Arduino robots into local high school physics classrooms in three steps: an after school program, a summer internship, and traditional classrooms. We seek to understand whether integrating Arduinos into the classroom can help bridge the boundary between traditional science labs and real-life problem solving. Additionally, we examine whether mixing coding into standard science curricula increases interest and engagement in STEM among students who have less technological experience. We also explore whether physics laboratory experiments created by high school students with Arduino-compatible software and hardware as part of the summer internship can be brought to a larger audience and successfully incorporated into standard science curricula in traditional classrooms. 

Go and Math

Yanning Yu, Graduate Student in the Uttal Lab

  • The game of Go is an ancient and still popular board game played by millions of people around the world. The game contains numerous opportunities for various kinds of spatial thinking and math problem solving. In addition, this game is very easy for young kids to learn. However, learners develop increasingly complex strategies and thought processes as they play more and more. We hypothesize that learners will engage in increasingly complex mathematical practices and advance their spatial abilities by playing Go. This study examines an innovative Go curriculum that is designed to highlight the spatial and mathematical features of Go for second and third grade students. The curriculum is implemented across three sites. Pre and post tests on math and spatial thinking skills are being administered. Video data on classroom activities are being collected. The major research questions concern how learners cultivate spatial and math skills in this context and how spatial thinking activities can serve as a mechanism for improving individual’s math skills.

Learning Engineering and Physics Through Building and Play

Naomi Polinsky, Graduate Student in the Uttal Lab

  • This study investigates the way children learn basic science and engineering concepts through playing and building with a variety of toys and materials. We investigate how children learn concepts based on the materials given.

Recent Studies


Spatial Thinking in Collaborative Calculus Problem Solving

Yanning Yu, Graduate Student in the Uttal Lab

  • This project investigated how people use multiple representations to solve calculus problems in a collaborative setting. Numerous research studies have shown that working with multiple representations is critical for math learning. How do people learn to use increasingly abstract forms of representations through solving problems with a more knowledgeable other? In a designed problem solving session, learners were asked to model an everyday phenomenon using graphical and functional representations under three collaboration conditions with people varying in prior knowledge. We used interactional analysis to explore the mechanism in which people use spatial tools (gestures, sketches, etc.) to coordinate the various epistemic resources brought by collaborators into the setting (eg. intuitive knowledge grounded in everyday experience, procedural knowledge of math, etc.). Attending to the social nature of this activity, we also explore how the use of spatial tools support (or hinder) the engagement of the lower-knowledge learner when paired with a higher-knowledge partner.

Spatial Thinking in K-12 Engineering

Kay Ramey, Past Graduate Student in the Uttal Lab

  • This study examined the relation between middle school students’ psychometrically-assessed spatial skill and their performance on engineering learning activities.  From this study, we looked at how spatial skills are used in engineering learning activities, and how specific types of engineering activities might serve to both advance and assess of spatial understanding.