Grant will bring online science lessons to elementary students

First published in Around the O on July 6, 2020.

UO researchers will develop and evaluate a web-based science curriculum for elementary school students to supplement their in-class science learning as part of a project financed by a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Project ESCOLAR, for Effective Scholastic Curriculum for Online Learning and Academic Results, will create and test online, multimedia lessons for grades three through five. The lessons will align with national standards for what upper elementary students are expected to know about science.

“The goal of ESCOLAR is to deliver an online program that students can use to learn and apply science efficiently and effectively,” said Fatima Terrazas Arellanes, a research assistant professor in the UO College of Education. “Our units will be designed for the classroom and for remote learning, with students guided by teachers or parents.”

Project ESCOLAR is guided by principal investigators Terrazas Arellanes and Alejandro Gallard of Southern Georgia University. Their team includes a research methodologist, science curriculum developers, a content editor, programmers, graphic designers and an external evaluator.

The project builds on the research team’s previously successful online science curriculum for middle school students. The ESCOLAR approach offers students more than a digital textbook; it incorporates interactive tools and authentic science projects that have been shown to enhance and support student learning.

“With the new funding, we will be able to adapt, evaluate and refine nine online science units to improve academic achievement of students studying science in upper elementary school, especially those who may struggle, such as English language learners or students with learning disabilities,” Terrazas Arellanes said.

The team’s prior research with middle school students showed that ESCOLAR technology effectively deepens understanding of science.

General education students, on average, improved 20 percentage points on a science knowledge test after learning with the ESCOLAR curriculum, compared to a 7 percent increase in control students who learned with traditional curriculums.

Students with learning disabilities using ESCOLAR performed 5 percent better than control students, and English language learners using ESCOLAR performed 8 percent better than control students.

College of Education researchers expect to see similar improvements for upper elementary school students. If the results are positive, the team will apply for more funding to develop an online science curriculum for high school students.

Terrazas Arellanes has long been interested in using technology to improve instruction. Many online educational resources currently available are stagnant pages from textbooks, and the few existing online instructional programs have not been rigorously tested for effectiveness.

“Technology is a great resource for teachers to prepare and deliver instruction and for students to acquire any subject area skill,” Terrazas Arellanes said. “There is a lot we need to do to provide effective science education that takes advantage of technology tools.”

—By Meghan Mortensen, College of Education