Posted July 14, 2008

Temple’s Center for Spatial Intelligence and Learning to be part of National Center for Cognition and Science Instruction

$10 million federal grant awarded to Pennsylvania consortium for the project

In an effort to bolster and improve learning in the sciences by middle school students, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a five-year, $10 million grant to a Pennsylvania consortium of universities, nonprofit organizations, state agencies and middle schools to create a national center called The 21st Century Center for Cognition and Science Instruction.

Temple University’s Center for Spatial Intelligence and Learning is part of the consortium that will be leading the effort, along with the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and Institute for Research in Cognitive Science; the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center; the Pennsylvania and Delaware Departments of Education; the Pennsylvania Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Initiative; and Research for Better Schools. The new national center will be managed by The 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education, based in Conshohocken, Pa.

The purpose of the national center will be to draw upon the advancements in the field of cognitive science — how the mind receives, processes, stores and retrieves information and knowledge — to develop and evaluate theoretically driven

modifications to existing middle school science curricula to improve student learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Temple, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pennsylvania each have a group of cognitive scientists who are going to be working to modify the existing science curricula in these schools,” said Jennifer Cromley, an assistant professor of psychological studies in education and the principal investigator for Temple’s portion of the grant. “The Temple group will be applying what we know about spatial intelligence to these curriculums.”

Cromley added that the main focus of the Temple group will be the diagrams and other visual representations in the textbooks used by the middle school students in these science curriculums.

“Spatial learning is becoming increasingly important to a technological society as many people work with data and must manipulate images mentally in order to understand the workings of tools and instruments,” she said.

The national center will also work collaboratively with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences to conduct research to inform educators and policymakers, and to provide national leadership to improve current curricula and identify general principles for the design of future science curricula. The center will conduct a systematic series of studies involving up to 180 middle schools to test and refine such strategies.

Current levels of science achievement at the elementary, middle school and secondary levels suggest that the United States is neither preparing the general population with levels of science knowledge necessary for the 21st-century workplace, nor producing an adequate pipeline of future scientists.

“In this rapidly changing, competitive economy it is essential that we continue to grow our work force to provide services in the STEM fields and we prepare our students in these high-skilled areas,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell in announcing the award along with Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak. “This center will make Pennsylvania a continued leader in the area of science education and enable us to ensure that students have better-quality science curriculum.”

Temple’s Center for Spatial Intelligence and Learning was established by Nora Newcombe, the James H. Glackin Distinguished Faculty Fellow and a professor of psychology, through a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation.

Drawing on the expertise of leading researchers working in cognitive science, psychology, computer science, education and neuroscience, as well as the expertise of practicing geoscientists, engineers and teachers in the Chicago public schools, the Temple center’s goals are to understand spatial learning and to use this knowledge to develop programs and technologies that will transform educational practice and support the capability of all children and adolescents to develop the skills required to compete in a global economy.

"We pay a lot of attention to teaching reading and mathematics, but spatial learning is really important in mathematics, science and engineering, especially in technological disciplines,” Newcombe said.