Current Projects

Current Projects

At ILT, we take a grounded and embodied cognition approach to mental models. This approach says that students reason about systems by being able to visualize and mentally animate entities that interact and affect each other. We see these mental models as representing a deeper level of understanding than we usually get from students. We are currently conducting a series of research projects that examine the learning, understanding, and motivational effectiveness of various ways of providing this grounding/embodiment, using different combinations of technologies.

Action to Abstraction

Gesture is a powerful tool for thinking and learning. It not only reflects learners’ state of knowledge, but can also serve an engine that promotes learning forward actively. Previous research has found that to include gesture into instruction has lasting and positive impact on learning.

This project has three aims: (1) to document how individuals on their own use gestures differently to learn about visual representations. (2) to investigate how those gestures and techniques could be translated into gesture design on mobile devices and classroom instruction (3) to investigate a possible mechanism how those gestures and movements promote students learning and understanding of abstract representation in science. The first phase is to investigate how using of gesture promotes learning of 3-D molecule structure in college level stereochemistry.

Researchers: Jing Zhao, Yaoli Mao

Persistence Through Play (PTP)

This project seeks to answer questions about students’ motivations as they move through and learn from games, especially when students are met with challenging situations, or fail states. In school settings failure is perceived as a strongly negative experience, whereas in a game context failure is seen as an acceptable outcome. We hope to dissect and understand the specific cognitive and motivational constructs that are found in game play in order to design learning environments that encourage students to see failure as an opportunity for learning, rather than a marker of limited ability.

Principal Investigator: Catherine Chase

Researchers: Laura Malkiewich, Alison Lee, Sharmeen Islam, Samar Shahid, Ahram Choi, Nirmaliz Colon-Acosta

Building to Learn

IMG_1554The advent of maker spaces and other constructionist learning environments has made hands on, design based learning more and more popular in communities and schools. But how do students learn science content from these activities that seem to be so suited for grounding science knowledge? This project seeks to understand how students transfer knowledge from discovery based, hands on engineering activities to science content assessments. Specifically, we apply prior work on the use of contrasting cases and feature noticing to engineering design activities. The aim is to discover how reflection, activity construction, and direct instruction for these activities helps students both learn science content, and construct more sophisticated physical structures.

Principal Investigator: Catherine Chase

Researcher: Laura Malkiewich, Aakash Kumar

Computational Thinking and STEM in Public Elementary Schools

BeeBot slideshowThe ILT STEM after-school program at TCCS focuses on promoting critical thinking skills for STEM-related domains using plugged and unplugged activities for grades K-5. Starting in Fall 2014, the group examined activities designed to improve computational thinking and math knowledge. In 2015-2016, programming applications (Scratch Jr., Hopscotch), and Lego WeDo were used to help students learn to code and to develop computational thinking skills. For 2016-2017, we will teach robotics and computational thinking concepts to 2nd and 3rd graders.

Principal Investigator: John Black

Researchers: Woonhee Sung, Jung-Hyun Ahn, Yaoli Mao

Motivation: Struggling Scientists

Many students lack the motivation to pursue STEM oriented courses or careers. Their beliefs about the relations between effort and learning outcomes become barriers to their STEM learning. Thus, when students struggle in STEM classes, they perceive this as a sign that they are not smart enough to be good in STEM and will never succeed at it. We tackle these beliefs and attitudes by exposing high school students to scientists’ struggling stories, reminding students that even the greatest scientists experience struggle and difficulty. Our ongoing work investigates how different types of scientists’ struggling stories affect students’ beliefs about their own STEM learning ability and students’ actual STEM performance.

Principal Investigator: Xiaodong Lin

Postdoctoral Project Manager: Kristen Elmore

Researchers: Marianna Lamnina, Danfei Hu, Fu-Fen Fang, Shuzi Meng, Zhong Qi Shi, Yaena Song, John Park, Kendra Whitfield, Hyojin Kim, Myra Luna-Lucero

To Understand is to Forgive

The project goal is to investigate whether developing a more robust, complete, accurate, and grounded (i.e. taught by means of concrete illustrations of human behavior) mental model of the human emotion system leads to enhancements in social emotional skills in middle-school-aged children.

Researchers: Ilya Lyashevsky, Melissa Cesarano

Invention Coach

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 2.49.28 PMWe are currently developing a computer-based Invention Coach to guide students through the challenging and messy process of Invention. Invention is an open-ended problem-solving task, where students invent their own equations for scientific concepts. Rather than give explicit right/wrong or explanatory feedback, the Invention Coach problematizes students’ solutions, encouraging them to identify their own errors. This work will take us one step closer to scaling up a successful instructional technique, with the ultimate goal of enhancing deep learning and transfer in STEM domains, for both high and low-achieving student populations. The research will identify effective forms of support for Invention tasks and expand our understanding of the Invention process itself. More generally, findings may inform the field’s understanding of how to scaffold open-ended problem-solving.

Principal Investigator: Catherine Chase

Researchers: Helena Connolly, Marianna Lamnina, Jenna Marks

Failing for Future Learning

Failure is often discussed as a critical part of the pathway to success, but little is actually known about what must happen in the moment of failure to make it productive. Furthermore, failure might afford opportunities to glean information about one’s own performance, about the task at hand, and about the underlying system that governs the problem, but to take advantage of these opportunities require additional effort and skill. Games provide a safe space for failure that permits for a variety of actions and strategies to be taken in response to failure, that could lead to later success. This study draws from various theories of learning, metacognition, motivation, and games research to put forth a theoretical framework for asking: what kinds of responses to failure are most effective for later learning?

Researchers: Alison Lee


GeoGames is a set of digital activities for elementary school students that are based on research into children’s conceptions of the world and are designed to help with geography concepts and mapping skills. In playing GeoGames, students build a globe, layer by layer, in an online environment. They first build Planet Earth, adding the North and South poles, continents, mountains and rivers. They can then add political entities’ ountries and their major cities. And finally, they can map journeys. These components can be used separately or together, and in any order, depending on the teacher’s goals and the students’ needs. The built globe also appears, and can be printed, as a flat map, helping students understand map projections. GeoGames is being developed in collaboration with Reach the World, a not-for-profit foundation that offers professional development to teachers in New York City public schools. Funded by a grant from the National Geographic Education Fund Project.

Director: Susan Lowes