Research news for Fall 2018 Learning Connections

Research News

Wilkerson, Leko secure $2.5 million grant
to launch special education teacher residency program

UW–Madison’s Kimber Wilkerson and Melinda Leko were awarded a $2.5 million U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Partnership Grant to fund 40 graduate students who will work with students with disabilities in high-need and small, rural school districts across Wisconsin.

Wilkerson is a professor with the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education (RPSE), and the faculty director of the School’s new Teacher Education Center. Leko is an associate professor and the department chair of RPSE.

Wilkerson and Leko“Special educators are sorely needed across Wisconsin — with the need particularly acute in small, rural districts and in schools that serve a high number of families and children who are economically disadvantaged,” says Wilkerson. “We are excited to work with new school district partners in this much-needed effort and look forward to preparing and supporting special educators in this innovative residency model.”

The project is designed to promote improved academic achievement and engagement of Wisconsin students with disabilities by recruiting and preparing 40 special education teacher residents through a 14-month master’s degree program. The project will prepare teachers in four different cohorts over the next four years.

Each graduate student will take part in a 10-month teaching residency in a high-need partner school, gaining knowledge and skills to meet the needs of students with disabilities in these districts. Upon completion, participants will be eligible for a master’s degree in special education and Wisconsin licensure as a special education teacher (cross-categorical, K–12).

In addition, the initiative will provide two years of ongoing support and professional development opportunities to enhance the special education teacher residents’ ability to positively impact outcomes. All residents are eligible for a one-year living stipend. In return, they commit to teach three consecutive years in a high-need school in a partner district.

In addition to connections across the UW–Madison campus, this project will also partner with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and the Wisconsin school districts of Beloit, Cambria- Friesland, Juda, Wonewoc-Union Center, Royall, Seneca Area, Adams-Friendship Area, and Wauzeka-Steuben. Teachers will work in 24 high-need schools within these districts.

• Two other RPSE faculty members, Andrea Ruppar and Bonnie Doren, in September were awarded a grant from the Spencer Foundation to examine ways to help rural school districts better support special education teachers. Leko and Wilkerson are co-investigators on this project, which will identify emergency certified rural special educators’ professional development and support needs, and help researchers learn how teacher educators can support their development as teachers.

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UW-Madison to co-lead $10 million NSF grant
to cultivate more diverse, inclusive STEM faculty

To broaden participation in STEM programs and fields, the National Science Foundation (NSF) in September announced the award of a five-year, $10 million NSF INCLUDES Alliance grant to be co-led by UW–Madison’s Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL), and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

CIRTL is a collaborative network of 39 research universities based in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) within UW–Madison’s School of Education. Funding for this new alliance builds on an earlier NSF INCLUDES pilot project awarded to CIRTL in 2016.

CIRTL logoJoining the lead institutions in the National Alliance for Inclusive and Diverse STEM Faculty are: Iowa State University; the University of California, Los Angeles; University of Georgia; and University of Texas at El Paso. These universities will partner with dozens of other universities, two-year colleges and organizations across the country to scale practices aimed at diversifying the nation’s STEM college educators and grounding them in inclusive teaching practices.

The new alliance seeks to attract and retain more underrepresented students — women, members of minority racial and ethnic groups, persons with disabilities and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds — in STEM college programs, and prepare them to succeed in a modern STEM workforce.

“Despite the importance of a more diverse faculty and the use of more inclusive practices by all faculty to advance learning and student success, improvement efforts have not been as successful as needed, particularly in STEM subjects,” says Robert Matheiu, who co-directs the new alliance and who is the School of Education’s associate dean for research, and director of WCER.

The project’s overarching strategy is to bring about national systemic change for STEM faculty by aligning and reinforcing professional development and hiring practices simultaneously at institutional, regional and national levels. To foster institutional change, the alliance will assist institutions to self-assess and improve their underrepresented group hiring and retention practices, and the inclusive teaching practices of their entire faculty.

More research from around the School ...

Haley Vlach and Percival Matthews in September each received an Understanding Human Cognition Scholar Award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation (JSMF). These awards, of which only 10 were given out this year, each provide $600,000 of funding to be used over the next six years.

Vlach and MatthewsVlach is an associate professor with the No. 1-ranked Department of Educational Psychology and is the director of the Learning, Cognition, and Development Lab. Her project that’s receiving funding via JSMF is titled, “The Development of Higher-Order Cognition: Words, Categories, and Concepts.” Matthews is an assistant professor with the Department of Educational Psychology and he heads the Mathematics Education Learning and Development Lab. Matthews’ project being funded by JSMF is called, “Theoretical and Pedagogical Implications of the Nonsymbolic Ratio Processing System.”

Matthews also is the principal investigator on a new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded in September that’s designed to examine ways to promote equal sign knowledge among school children. The NSF award, for more than $670,000 over the next three years, is for a project titled, “Cultivating Knowledge of Mathematical Equivalence.” This project will examine whether spacing instruction over time can lead to more substantial and long-term gains in equal sign knowledge, and whether such knowledge, in turn, fosters algebraic reasoning.

Susan Miller Smedema was awarded a pilot grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for a project that examines ways to help people with the disease bolster their quality of life. Smedema is an associate professor with the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, and is the director of the rehabilitation counseling master’s degree program. Her research project will investigate if individuals with MS who have specific strengths of character — such as creativity, perseverance, gratitude or hope — may be protected against negative effects of MS.

Brittany Travers this fall secured a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for a research project titled, “Brainstem Contributions to Sensorimotor and Core Symptoms in Children with ASD.” Travers is an assistant professor with the School of Education and the Department of Kinesiology’s occupational therapy program. Earlier this year she was appointed as the Carla and Michael Austin Occupational Therapy Faculty Fellow. She heads the Motor and Brain Development Lab within the university’s Waisman Center, where she is involved with more than a half-dozen research initiatives exploring various aspects of motor and brain development in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

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