Group photo with Dr. Corey Brady and Postdoctoral Fellow  J. Enrique Hernández-Zavaleta on site at the University of Florida in Gainesville

Empowering Students with Choice through Equitable and Interactive Mathematical Modeling (EIM2)

National Science Foundation (NSF)

PI: Dr. Hyunyi Jung (Univ. of Florida)
Co-PIs: Dr. Corey Brady (SMU); Chonika Coleman-King (Univ. of Florida); Mary Bratsch-Hines (Univ. of Florida)
August 2023 - June 2026

EIM2 (Equitable and Interactive Mathematical Modeling) is an NSF DRK-12 project that positions students to use mathematical modeling to analyze and quantify real-world situations through a lens of equity. The project enables collaborations with seventh grade classrooms and a professional learning community of their mathematics teachers. The EIM2 online platform allows students to easily select socially relevant modeling scenarios based on their interests; experience the scenarios with visuals and animations; and compare, synthesize, and refine their mathematical ideas. SMU received supplemental funding for this project, which will enable DISD and other Dallas area schools to be an implementation site for EIM2.

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Middle school students are working on laptops together, sharing desk.

RAISE+: Rice Algebra Initiative for Equity and Success

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

PI: Dr. Richard G. Baranjuk (Rice University)
Co-PI: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU)
October 2022 - March 2024

This project seeks to enhance readability and motivation in a grades 7-8 online math learning platform produced by Rice University, RAISE+. We will be conducting studies looking at how textual, symbolic, and visual characteristics of mathematics word problems are associated with student performance, and on motivational scaffolds that personalize learning to students’ out-of-school interests.

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Middle schools students working with robotics

Collaborative Research: Research on Integrated STEM Self-Efficacy (RISE): A Study of Elementary Preservice Teachers including Noyce Scholars

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award Number: DUE-2151045
PI: Dr. Jeanna Wieselmann (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Deepika Menon (University of Nebraska, Lincoln), Dr. Sarah Haines (Towson University), Dr. Sumreen Asim (Indiana University Southeast)
June 2022 - May 2027

Research on Integrated STEM Self-Efficacy (RISE) will study the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) integration of elementary teachers who experienced ten different teacher preparation programs across the U.S. The project will investigate links between integrated STEM teaching self-efficacy, teacher preparation and development opportunities, teaching effectiveness, and teacher retention. It will also build a community of elementary teachers focused on improving their STEM teaching and support their ongoing professional learning.

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Screenshot of Enigma The Lost Words of Atlantis mobile literacy app and GeoGebra classroom mathematics-learning environment

Learning Through Gaming: VR and AR Can Address COVID-19 Learning Loss for Underserved Students in DISD and the West Dallas STEM School

U.S. Dept. of Education

PI: Dr. Anthony Cuevas (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU),
Dr. Corey Clark (SMU)
June 2022 - February 2024

SMU's Simmons School of Education and SMU Guildhall have joined together with the Dallas Independent School District to address COVID learning needs in Math and Literacy for underserved students in Dallas with collaborative virtual reality and personalized game-based learning. This initiative will develop and test a model for collaborative virtual learning in the West Dallas STEM School (WDSS) to address learning needs in mathematics and literacy using virtual reality (VR) and game-based learning, with the goal of expanding the program throughout Dallas ISD.

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Collaborative Research Group-Based Cloud Computing for STEM Education Project

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award Number: 1615207
PI: Dr. Anthony Petrosino (SMU)
September 2021 – August 2023

The project takes a design-based research approach to creating and studying technologies and materials that support generative teaching and learning in STEM. Sites associated with a nationally recognized and expanding approach to STEM teacher preparation and certification will serve as incubators and testbeds for the project’s innovation and development efforts. Computational thinking, including agent-based modeling, and simulation across STEM domains as well as geo-spatial reasoning about personally meaningful learner-collected data will provides an important scientific foundation for the project. This will be achieved by developing a highly-interactive and group-optimized, browser- and cloud-based, device-independent and open-source architecture and by integrating and extending leading computational tools including the NSF-funded NetLogo Web agent-based modeling language and environment. The project will also achieve this outcome by publishing its technology-mediated activities and materials in the public domain and by capturing extensive qualitative and quantitative data on the intensity and nature of use of these technologies and materials. Collectively, the project will foster the growth of educational infrastructures to enable the dissemination and effective adoption of generative teaching and learning in STEM.

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Mathfinder Mobile Application - Seeing the World through a Mathematical Lens: A Place-Based App for Creating Math Walks

Seeing the World through a Mathematical Lens

National Science Foundation, Advancing Informal STEM Learning

Award Number: DRL 2115393
PI: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU)
Co-Pis: Dr. Anthony Petrosino (SMU), Dr. Koshi Dhingra (WalkSTEM); Dr. Cathy Ringstaff (WestEd), Elizabeth Stringer (SMU)
August 2021 - July 2026

This 5-year project draws on research on informal math learning, problem-posing, and culturally sustaining pedagogies to conduct cycles of participatory design-based research on technology-supported math walks. Dr. Candace Walkington serves as PI and leads the project team that is conducting research on a location-based mobile app for informal mathematics learning. This research takes place at 9 informal learning sites and involves iteratively designing an app (Mathfinder App) in which learners can view and contribute to an interactive map of math walk “stops” at these sites (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). Learners will be able to select locations and watch short videos or view pictures with text that describe how mathematical principles are present in their surroundings. For example, learners could use the app to discover how a painting by a local Latino artist uses ratio and scale, or how a ramp in downtown was designed with a specific slope to accommodate wheelchairs. Research studies will also examine the impact of having learners create their own math walk stops at local informal learning sites, uploading pictures, descriptions, and linking audio they narrate, where they make observations about how math appears in their surroundings and pose interesting questions about STEM ideas and connections they wonder about.

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Chalkboard with beaker and textbook

Science Teachers Experiences Learning about African American English

The Spencer Foundation

PI: Dr. Quentin Sedlacek (SMU)
July 2021 - December 2024

Racial discrimination is illegal in the United States. However, linguistic discrimination is not similarly prohibited, even though some common beliefs about language are deeply rooted in racism. In recent decades, scholarship that critically examines the relationships between language, race, and racism has had transformative effects on language arts education. However, comparatively little work has explored the effects that critical linguistics can have in science education. This study, funded by a grant from the Spencer Foundation, will explore the influence of critical linguistics in science education by investigating the sensemaking of current and prospective K-12 science teachers as they learn about African American English (AAE) in their teacher education coursework. AAE is a well-documented language variety historically associated with African American communities in the United States. Research on AAE has played a central role in the development of sociolinguistics, and many universities now offer courses which assign readings about AAE. These texts sometimes employ strategic essentialism to debunk racist stereotypes and raise awareness of the ways in which language ideologies reproduce systemic racism. However, some scholars have expressed concerns about strategic essentialism; while it may help to foster critical language awareness, it may also inadvertently reinforce problematic beliefs about racial identity. Essentialist beliefs about race are already a topic of considerable concern in science education. It is therefore crucial to understand how science educators make sense of information about AAE in their teacher education coursework. This study will use repeated-measures surveys and interviews to investigate science teachers’ sensemaking and racial ideologies. Findings will provide practical and theoretical insights to help science teacher educators reap the benefits of critical linguistics while avoiding the pitfall of reifying essentialist ideologies of race.

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The Enigma Lost Words of Atlantis game logo and splash screen.

Using Pre-Assessment to Customize Adult Literacy Game-Based Learning

Dollar General Family Literacy Foundation

PI: Dr. Corey Clark (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Anthony Cuevas (SMU), Dr. Diane Gifford (SMU)
January 2021 - December 2026

In 2015, SMU joined with Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) to participate in the Barbara Bush Adult Literacy XPRIZE and develop a game-based mobile application that would change the way low literate adults would learn to read. In 2019, our team of literacy experts, instructional designers, artists, programmers, and game designers won the XPRIZE Grand Prize and Achievement Prize for having the highest gains in literacy among English Language Learners (ELL) from the 109 teams from 15 different countries that participated. Our team developed Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis, a game where the learner is a great adventurer traveling around the world experiencing new cultures and history while uncovering the secrets of Atlantis. The player finds artifacts and relics and then decodes the cryptic Atlantean language into English. The game is an interactive and engaging story that is fun, while grounded in learning science. We built the game to meet the core concerns and requests that were identified by our focus group. Three focal concepts were integrated into the game: (1) Increase the learner’s knowledge about the world while learning to read, (2) Provide a sense of accomplishment throughout the learning experience, and (3) Help remove the self-consciousness learners often feel when engaging with adult literacy curriculum. In the end, Codex was able to produce over a year’s worth of learning within 9 months through a phone-based video game that utilized adaptive cognitive load theory and difficulty analysis to transform an existing literacy curriculum into game-based learning activities that increased players' engagement and learning.

SMUs team will use this newest grant to continue the development of the application and launch its newest iteration of the game-based curriculum, Enigma. This game will push literacy skills past Codex’s 1st & 2nd and incorporate a pre-assessment tool to customize the learner’s education path in the game. The assessment will allow for identification of literacy gaps for each learner, thus allowing the game to adapt each learners’ specific needs. The incorporation of pre-assessment and customizable gameplay will allow learners to quickly move past areas where they currently have mastery and thus help keep a high engagement within the game. As part of this study, a user reporting and visualization interface will be created to help track and show participants engagement and literacy gains throughout their game play.

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Exploring Collaborative Embodiment for Learning (EXCEL): Understanding Geometry through Multiple Modalities

Exploring Collaborative Embodiment for Learning (EXCEL): Understanding Geometry through Multiple Modalities

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU)
August 2020 - July 2024

This project explores collaborative embodiment in the domain of geometric reasoning, leveraging Augmented Reality (AR) technology. AR is a technology that allows the layering of virtual components onto the physical world, such as projecting a three-dimensional hologram of a cylinder atop a real-world desk. Embodiment encompasses the idea that students can learn mathematics using physical motions, gestures, and their perceptions of objects and shapes. Theories of collaborative embodiment, i.e., theories that account for multiple people working together in an embodied way, are needed that take into account the multi-learner nature of mathematics classrooms, and how learners can jointly embody mathematical ideas using different tools and representations. Recent advances in multi-user instructional technology, namely shared holographic AR or shAR, allow for new and important hypotheses about collaborative embodiment to be tested. ShAR is AR technology where multiple learners can view and manipulate the same holograms together at the same time – in our case, holograms of different geometric shapes and solids. We hypothesize that different modalities for math learning (like a hologram, a set of physical manipulatives, a dynamic geometry system (DGS) on a tablet, or a piece of paper) have different affordances, including the degree to which they can represent dynamic transformations, can represent objects and operations in 3 dimensions, can support joint attention, and can provide situational feedback. This project is developing an experimental platform modeled after the Flatland novella, a piece of mathematical fiction from the 1800s about an imaginary world run by geometric shapes, to test our hypotheses. This platform will facilitate data collection from students, situate experimental tasks in an engaging narrative story, and allow for researchers to control key experimental variables. Our overarching research questions are: How do different modalities for collaborative embodiment, particularly shAR, impact student understanding of geometric principles? How are these effects mediated by gesture, language, and actions, and how are they moderated by student and task characteristics? This project is a collaboration between the Department of Teaching and Learning at SMU, the Guildhall at SMU, the Department of Educational Psychology at UW Madison, and a software company GeoGebra who will create the AR geometry environment.

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Project Intensity

Examining the Efficacy of Friends on the Block: An Intensive Early Literacy Intervention for Elementary Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disability (Project Intensity)

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Jill Allor (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba (SMU)
July 2020 - June 2025

The purpose of Project Intensity is to conduct a randomized control trial (RCT) in schools in Alabama and Texas to evaluate the initial efficacy of Friends On The Block ( a comprehensive text‐based early literacy intervention written by professors Dr. Jill Allor, Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba, and Dr. Jennifer Cheatham, to enhance the reading and language outcomes of participating students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Specifically, 240 students with IDD will be randomly assigned to a literacy intervention treatment condition (Friends on the Block (FOTB)) or a business‐as‐usual (BAU) control condition. Students in the treatment condition will receive the intervention from Project Teachers across two academic years. In addition to examining treatment effects on reading and language outcomes, we will explore moderators (e.g., IQ, SES) of the treatment. Friends on the Block is a comprehensive early literacy intervention designed to be inclusive and address the specific challenges and strengths of students with IDD; it includes a range of customizable and motivating materials comprised of: (1) a researcher‐developed book series, (2) explicit lessons that provide extensive opportunities for students to integrate skills and apply them in a meaningful context, and (3) multiple learning games to support practice and review. The books include narrative stories about the main character, Sam, and his friends on the block and related expository texts. The FOTB program is flexible and customizable, so teachers can adjust the pacing and instructional activities to meet the needs of various learners, particularly those with intensive needs, such as students with IDD.

Primary Research Questions

1. Do students who participate in FOTB demonstrate greater reading outcomes compared to students who participate in BAU reading instruction?

2. Do students who participate in FOTB demonstrate greater language outcomes compared to students who participate in BAU reading instruction?

For any questions please contact Dr. Miriam Ortiz the coordinator for Project Intensity.

Dr. Jill Allor and Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba acknowledge a financial interest in the Friends on the Block books and curriculum. Any inquiries should be directed to the Office of Research Compliance at Southern Methodist University.

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Dr. Al Otaiba and Dr. Rivas Research Photo

Project GROW: Growing Vocabulary Knowledge to Support Comprehension Development through a Kindergarten Dialogic Read-Aloud Intervention

U.S. Dept. of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Brenna Rivas (SMU)
July 2020 – June 2024

Simmons faculty members Stephanie Al Otaiba, Ph.D. and Brenna Rivas, Ph.D. received a development grant from the Institute for Education Sciences ($1,399,721). The purpose of the grant is to design a read-aloud intervention to improve kindergartners’ social and emotional vocabulary and their listening comprehension. The team will develop and field test 16 book units featuring multi-cultural characters and settings. They plan a mixed methods approach to ascertain the feasibility and promise of the intervention for kindergarteners in low-income schools. 

Al Otaiba holds the Patsy and Ray Caldwell Centennial Chair in Teaching and Learning. She and Rivas have collaborated over the past eight years on several projects related to literacy interventions and response to intervention funded by IES and the National Institutes of Health. They are joined by post-doctoral researcher Jennifer Stewart, Ph.D., a recent Simmons graduate, to support the project.

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Middles school teacher sitting with group of kids doing math work.

The Noyce Scholars Program, Dallas

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award #1950246
PI: Dr. Scott Norris (SMU Dedman College)
Co-PIs: Dr. Annie Wilhelm, Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU Simmons School)
July 2020 - June 2026

The Dallas Noyce Scholars Program is a partnership between Southern Methodist University (SMU) and the Dallas College School of Education to create a community-focused pathway for mathematics teacher preparation in the Dallas community. The intent of this program is to allow qualified students with a sincere desire to teach in high-need schools to benefit from an exceptional learning opportunity at SMU with $30,000 in scholarship funding from the National Science Foundation, and possible additional scholarship funding from SMU. While the primary thrust of the grant is scholarship funding, we are simultaneously studying how different features of the program impact teacher preparation and retention.

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Minecraft landscape

POLYMATH: Polycraft Multi-user Anthropomorphic Testbed for Hybrid Systems

U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)

PI: Dr. Eric Kildebeck (University of Texas at Dallas)
Co-PIs: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU), Dr. Eric Bing (SMU), Dr. Anthony Cuevas (SMU)
November 2019 - May 2023

This grant will examine using Polycraft World – a Minecraft mod - to create geometry puzzles. Puzzles will incorporate spatial reasoning tasks where students or agents arrange and manipulate blocks, fencing, and other objects to solve problems about geometric principles like area, volume, perimeter, reflection, and rotation. Data will be collected where students work cooperatively in teams to solve these puzzles either on a laptop in the digital Polycraft World, or in a live-action, full-sized “arena” where they manipulate actual foam bricks and pieces of fencing to discover problem solutions. Students’ actions when solving the tasks will be analyzed and coded, and gestures, speech, and actions on objects will be carefully extracted from video footage. We will also use physiological sensors to continuously detect learner states as they engage in problem solving. Later stages of the grant will involve using videos of learners solving the geometry puzzles to train an artificial intelligence agent to solve the same problems, and then will introduce different kinds of novelty into Polycraft World to disrupt problem-solving processes and foster creative thinking.

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Dr. Amy Richardson and Dr. Jeanna Wieselmann

Raising Texas Teachers Inside Strong Communities

The Charles Butt Foundation

PI: Dr. Amy Richardson (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Annie Wilhelm (SMU)
September 2017 – December 2024

This grant will provide scholarships of $8,000 to 10,000 to a unique cohort of up to 10 pre-service teachers undergraduate and graduate teacher preparation programs in the Department of Teaching and Learning each year for a four-year period. As part of the grant, the graduate students (pre-service teachers) and program director in the department will participate in all of the working group meetings sponsored (and underwritten) by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Teachers will be recruited into this program from the SMU undergraduate community and from the Dallas area. The project is aligned with the vision and mission of the department in strengthening its teacher preparation pipeline and in building a state-wide network for SMU Simmons among other Institutes of Higher Education.

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Research participant conducting usability testing with surgery similator while wearing VR headset.

Comparison of Traditional vs. Virtual Simulation-enhanced Training for Scaling the Cervical Cancer Surgery in Zambia

King’s College London, Medical Research Council

PI: Dr. Eric Bing (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Tony Cuevas (SMU)
April 2017 - Ongoing

The Virtual Reality Surgery Simulator project aims to reduce the time and cost required to train surgeons by using an innovative virtual reality simulation designed to run on off-the-shelf video gaming equipment. The immersive surgery simulator is designed to help trainees acquire the psychomotor skills, sensory acuity, and cognitive planning required to perform complex surgical tasks. When combined with clinical training, this technology has the potential to significantly reduce the time and cost of achieving surgical proficiency in resource-constrained settings.

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