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Using a Design-Based-Research (DBR) framework to transform early science instruction in public schools: Lessons from the Modeling in Primary Grades (MPG) project

Event Date: September 28, 2017
Time: 3:30 - 4:20 PM
Location: ARMS B071
Priority: No
School or Program: Engineering Education
College Calendar: Show
Ala Samarapungavan
Dr. Ala Samarapungavan
The September 28, 2017 ENE Research Seminar is presented by Dr. Ala Samarapungavan, Professor, Education Psychology and Research Methodology, Purdue University.

Design based research provides a framework for cross-disciplinary educational research teams to engage collaboratively with school partners in the evidence-based (re)design of learning environments to promote effective student engagement in learning. Examples from a recently concluded NSF funded project, the Modeling in Primary Grades (MPG) project (Samarapungavan, Bryan, & Hirsch), will be drawn to illustrate how DBR principles were used to engage with school partners in the redesign of science instruction in the early grades and to provide evidence for the efficacy of the redesign efforts in sustaining powerful student learning.

The MPG project engaged 2nd grade students in learning from extended model-based physical science inquiry units on the nature of matter. Typically, students do not learn to think about the material world in terms of the (sub)microscopic composition and behavior of material particles until the 5th or 6th grade.

Using a DBR framework, the MPG project team collaborated with elementary teachers to design and use innovative learning activities and provide instructional scaffolding to support 2nd grade students use of simple particle models to explain observable or macroscopic differences in states of matter and phase transitions. Using multiple sources of data on the implementation of instruction and student learning, the MPG team engaged with teachers in three design and implementation cycles to improve learning design and provide evidence of student learning.


Ala Samarapungavan is a Professor of Educational Psychology in the Department of Educational Studies within the College of Education at Purdue University. Her research interests focus on cognition, learning, and reasoning. Her work explores how classroom variables, such as teacher-student or peer interactions, task or activity structures and material supports, influence students' engagement in STEM learning, reasoning, and epistemic cognition.

Recent publications:

  • Samarapungavan, A. (in press). Construing scientific evidence: The role of disciplinary knowledge in reasoning with and about evidence in scientific practice.  In F. Fischer, K. Englemann, J. Osborne, & C. A. Chinn, (Eds.), Interplay of domain-specific and domain general aspects of scientific reasoning and argumentation Skills. Taylor and Francis.

  • Samarapungavan, A., Bryan, L. and Wills, J. (2017), Second graders' emerging particle models of matter in the context of learning through model-based inquiry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. doi:10.1002/tea.21394

  • Samarapungavan, A., Wills, J., & Bryan, L.A. (in press). Exploring the scope and boundaries of inquiry strategies: What do young learners generalize from inquiry-based science learning? In E. Manalo, Y. Uesaka, & C. A. Chinn (Eds.). Promoting spontaneous use of learning and reasoning strategies: Theory, research, and practice. Singapore: Routledge.

Current grants:

  • Exploring Biological Evidence (EBE): Helping Students Understand the Richness and Complexity of Evidentiary Constructs in Biology: (2017-2020). Agency: NSF (CORE), Award # 1,270,155.00. PI: Samarapungavan, A. Co-PIs: Pelaez, N., Gardner, S., Clase, K.

  • Sensing Science through Modeling Matter: Kindergarten Students' Development of Understanding of Matter and Its Changes (2016-2020). Agency: NSF (DRK12), Award # 1621299. Amount: $2,641,415.00. PI: Staudt, C., Concord Consortium. Co-PIs: Bryan, L.A., & Samarapungavan, A.