Research Collaborations

The Learning Centers partner with faculty and staff members of various departments to create comprehensive course transformation projects and to write grant proposals in support of such projects.  Our role in this process is to provide expertise in research-based instructional practices and to enhance proposals by including supplemental and in-class methods of instructional support.  Summaries of some of our transformation projects are listed below.

Collaborative Project: Developing Proportional Reasoning in a Physics Context with Invention Tasks

NSF Directorate for Undergraduate Education (DUE) Transforming Undergraduate Educaiton in STEM (TUES) #1045250, 2011-2014, $65,216

PIs and Collaborators

Suzanne Brahmia (Principal Investigator), Rutgers
Kathleen Scott (Co-PI), Rutgers
Eugenia Etkina (Co-PI), Rutgers
Andrew Boudreaux (Collaborator and Co-PI), Western Washington University, #1045227, $67,23
Stephen Kanim (Collaborator and Co-PI), New Mexico State University, #1045231, $66,182


Workers in science and technology-related fields use proportional reasoning extensively when making sense of quantitative data. Mathematics instruction in middle school and high school often places a corresponding emphasis on ratios and proportions, however many students still have difficulty reasoning about product and ratio quantities in introductory physics classes. This project is developing curricular materials to strengthen the ability of students to reason in the context of the topics regularly covered in introductory physics. These materials employ "invention instruction," an approach shown to be effective in facilitating mathematical reasoning. In an invention task, students are given a "job" that they complete by inventing a quantity to characterize a set of physical situations and make meaningful comparisons. The tasks are sequenced so students can start by reasoning about ratios and proportions in a familiar, everyday context, and they progress toward more abstract physical quantities for which physicists commonly use the same type of reasoning. These invention sequences are designed to highlight the similarity of the reasoning required. The project workers are developing invention sequences for use in both high school and introductory college classes and are measuring their effectiveness in developing students' content knowledge and reasoning ability with more abstract quantities. In parallel, they are also conducting basic research into how students are actually using proportions in various settings. This work is contributing to our understanding of how and why students struggle with reasoning about abstract quantities in introductory physics and provides instructional approaches that more efficiently develop reasoning skills for maturing students of science.

Transforming the General Biology Laboratory for Undergraduate Students

NSF Directorate for Undergraduate Education (DUE) Transforming Undergraduate Educaiton in STEM (TUES), #1044699, 2011 - 2013, $170,930.00

PIs and Collaborators

Martha Haviland (Principal Investigator), Rutgers
Gregg Transue (Co-Principal Investigator), Rutgers
Andrew Vershon (Co-Principal Investigator), Rutgers
Melanie Lenahan (Co-Principal Investigator), Rutgers


This project is implementing and assessing an innovative model for transforming the introductory General Biology (GB) sequence at both Rutgers University (RU) and Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC). The new curriculum incorporates the type of educational and research experiences recommended in Bio2010, How People Learn, and the recent AAAS organized Vision and Change conference to include (1) increased opportunities for students to understand the process of science, i.e., how hypotheses are generated, experiments are conducted, how their outcomes are analyzed, and in general, how scientific knowledge advances; (2) instruction enabling students to develop metacognitive skills and effective learning strategies; and (3) class environments and structures that promote active learning. The new courses build upon the established lecture curricula and provide students with new engaging laboratory experiments, field experiences, and a peer-led workshop. The GB courses provide student-centered environments where active learning is emphasized. In the redesigned laboratory, students conduct an integrated series of experiments involving DNA sequence analysis and aquatic ecology that are part of a semester long research project focused on the aquatic plant, duckweed. These experiments enable students to be knowledge producers instead of simply consumers, leading to a deeper understanding of how science is conducted. The experimental structure of the project affords the opportunity to assess the transformed General Biology course by testing hypotheses concerning student achievement, learning, and attitudes at both institutions. Results of this assessment are informing and guiding the full integration of the transformed curriculum at the two participating institutions as well as providing direction to other institutions with very large introductory biology courses.


PUM (Physics and Mathematics) Exploration

NSF Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL) #0733140, 2008-2010; $290,874

PIs and Collaborators

Eugenia Etkina (Principal Investigator), Rutgers
Alan Van Heuvelen (Co-Principal Investigator), Rutgers
Suzanne Brahmia (Co-Principal Investigator), Rutgers
Eva Thanheiser (Former Co-Principal Investigator)


AnswThe PuM project develops and conducts research on a learning continuum for seamless instruction in middle school physical science and high school physics. The project is built on a conceptual framework that uses physical science and physics to strengthen students' concepts in pre-algebra, algebra, algebra 2 and geometry. Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE), an introductory physics curriculum that builds on advances in cognition, is modified to engage students in representing processes and knowledge in multiple ways using real world contexts for students to learn mathematics and physics. The physics Active Learning Guide (ALG) is included as a learning tool. The ultimate goal of the project is to use physics as the context to develop mathematics literacy, particularly with students from underrepresented populations and special needs students. The research component of this R&D project analyzes the effects of the PuM curriculum on students' learning using laboratory exercises, videos and unique experiments and associated equipment while simultaneously investigating teachers' pedagogy content knowledge in a variety of forms. During the period of funding, the project will: (1) develop a middle school and high school curriculum called PhysicsUnionMath (PuM) by adapting the already established curricula from ISLE and ALG for grades 6-12; (2) develop, pilot, and assess five middle school and high school Physics First PuM modules; (3) pilot and assess one full year of the proposed PuM curriculum with honors physics students; (4) design and implement a professional development plan for teachers to learn the program; and (5) study the implementation of this curriculum with the targeted populations.

Publications and Products Resulting from this Research

Bartiromo, T. and Etkina, E.. "Implementing reforms: Teacher Beliefs about curriculum and their students' learning," Proceedings of the 2009 PERC conference, v.1179, 2009, p. 89.

Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE): Science and Cognition Combined

NSF Division of Undergraduate Educaiton (DUE) #0088906, 2001-2003, $495,304

PIs and Collaborators

Alan Van Heuvelen (Principal Investigator), Rutgers
Eugenia Etkina (Co-PI), Rutgers
Suzanne Brahmia (Co-PI), Rutgers
Xueli Zou (Co-PI),  California State University, Chico


Physics (13) This project is developing and testing for large enrollment introductory physics courses a unique multifaceted epistemological learning system-Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) - that replicates systematic discovery methods used by practicing scientists. The goal of this system is to bring "a scientific way of knowing" into the process of learning physics. A complete set of curriculum materials (published innovative textbook, student study guide, and instructor's guide including suggestions for experiments) is being developed for the algebra-based physics course taken primarily by biology majors and pre-medical students. In addition, resource materials, feedback formative assessment instruments, and recommendations on practical implementation of the ISLE are being prepared as supplements for this course and for the calculus-based introductory physics courses in which traditional physics texts are used. ISLE is being tested in algebra-based physics courses, in a bridging course for under prepared engineering students, and in regular and honors calculus-based physics for engineering students. The ISLE is based on research in physics education, cognitive science, and learning-outcome requests from the 21st century workplace. It is being used in several institutions-Ohio State University, Rutgers University, Chico State University and a two-year college. Students can be active learners rather than objects of teaching. Students construct the understanding of physics themselves following the same general pattern for each concept-devising and experimentally testing qualitative and quantitative explanations of the phenomena that they observe. Various proven thinking and learning strategies-multiple exposures, multiple representations, and multimedia-enhanced learning-are used. Students are active participants in all parts of the course, and they solve complex problems and apply their knowledge for practical purposes.

After taking the Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) physics course, students should be better skilled in the techniques of scientific investigation, experienced in designing their own investigations and in decision making, able to construct their understanding of new concepts, and used to working collaboratively in groups to solve complex real life problems. They leave instruction with conceptual knowledge and procedural knowledge structures.

Publications and Products Resulting from this Research

ISLE Website

Etkina, E.; Van Heuvelen, A., (2001) “Investigative Science Learning Environment: Using the process of science and cognitive strategies to learn physics,” Proc. 2001 Phys. Educ. Res. Conf., 17-20.

E. Etkina and A. Van Heuvelen, "Investigative Science Learning Environment - A Science Process Approach to Learning Physics," in Research-Based Reform of University Physics, edited by E. F. Redish and P. J. Cooney (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, MD, 2007), Reviews in PER Vol. 1

A. Van Heuvelen and E. Etkina. "Active Learning Guide", Addison Wesley Longmann: San Francisco, CA., 2005