Science foundation grant coming to Kent

Daniel Bott

Kent State will receive a grant of nearly $1 million for a proposal that its writers hope will improve the data literacy skills of American middle school students.

Each year the National Science Foundation puts forward a national call for grant proposals, and this year Kent State’s Research Center for Education Technology was awarded one.

“NSF grants are very difficult to get, hugely competitive and not very many are issued – especially not of this amount,” said Karen Swan, Research Center for Educational Technology professor and principle investigator of the proposal.

“Students learn better when, before being formally taught concepts, they are allowed to explore those concepts in a kind of real setting,” Swan said.

Stanton Middle School in Kent and Kimpton Middle School in Stow are among the schools participating in the research center’s program. The other schools haven’t been added yet, but there should be additions before next year.

Using real statistics in their social studies class, the students will have to figure out various ways water could be fairly allocated in the Middle East. Deciphering this information will improve students’ abilities to interpret data, a skill that many are lacking at the moment, Swan said.

After learning various concepts, such as proportionality and scaling, the students would apply this knowledge to other classes.

This proposal is an example of what Swan calls “preparation for future learning.”

Swan said future learning comes from the idea that students learn more effectively if they have real use for concepts and understand why they are learning something before they begin the learning process.

“Material we are going to be developing has to do with data literacy of the class curriculum,” she said, “but the setup is the social studies, then they go to math and learn the formal concepts, then they go to science class and . finally present in an English class.”

Teacher training and the development of materials will take place in the spring and summer of 2007, while in the fall the curriculum will be implemented in schools, Swan said. Later research will analyze how effective the program is at improving students’ data literacy skills.

Teams of these middle school students will also be part of a field study in the AT&T classroom in Moulton Hall.

Swan said she believes data literacy is an important concept that is not being taught in schools.

The data literacy curriculum will be applied to seventh grade students and be divided into four two-week units.

Dale Cook, associate professor and director of the research center, said if the curriculum was a success, it could lead to Kent State receiving more grants and greater recognition across the country.

“It is recognition of our credibility,” Cook said. “It is recognition of the growth of our center.”

Contact technology reporter Daniel Bott at [email protected].