KU News Service

$2.5M grant will support online tool that helps students grasp science concepts

Thu, 03/26/2020

LAWRENCE — Researchers at the University of Kansas and CAST, a nonprofit and founders of the universal design for learning framework, have won a grant to improve a tool that has proven effective at helping students, especially those with disabilities, grasp science concepts by making it more teacher-friendly and sustainable to use in classrooms.

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, selected KU and CAST for a five-year, $2.5 million grant to implement CORGI 2020, which will boost student academic outcomes in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) fields.

“This new iteration — which we’re calling CORGI 2020 — has the potential to improve student outcomes in middle school science,” said James Basham, principal investigator, associate professor of special education and CAST senior director of learning and innovation. “Working closely with learners and teachers will enable us to create a truly scalable tool for tomorrow’s classrooms. What we’re doing with this project is extending the research that has been done to help all students, but especially those with disabilities. We’re supporting them in STEAM subjects, helping them more fully understand scientific concepts and moving toward higher-order thinking.”

CORGI, named for “Co-Organize Your Learning,” is a digital tool that works in a Google App environment. The tool uses graphic organizers to help students understand scientific concepts. Graphic organizers, developed at KU’s Center for Research on Learning, part of the Life Span Institute, help students visualize and explore ways of reasoning, such as comparing and contrasting, as they analyze concepts or issues. It guides students through assessing what is known about a concept, how it compares and contrasts to others, prompts discussion, questions and deeper knowledge of concepts in a collaborative environment. Previous peer-reviewed research has shown CORGI is effective as students have shown significant gains in learning science and American history using the tool. Students with disabilities were also found to make substantial improvements.

Janis Bulgren, co-principal investigator and research professor in KU’s Center for Research on Learning, developed the graphic organizers, which were interactively developed by students and teachers on paper, then used with instructional procedures called content enhancement routines. The routines used in this project focus on higher-order reasoning such as causation and comparison. This latest project will not only help improve the digital version for students but will make it more effective for the teachers deploying it in their classrooms.

“As researchers, we can say ‘this works,’ but when you have teachers in the room and they can say to their fellow teachers ‘this is how I used it, how it worked for me and how it can work for you,’ that is even more powerful,” Bulgren said. “I’m very pleased to be working with CAST to help students, especially those with disabilities, to better understand and learn about higher-order reasoning in sciences. Working with CAST allows us to take decades of research on and development of content enhancement instruction and materials and procedures into the next generation.”

CORGI 2020 will enhance the tool by adding new features such as talk-to-text for students who have difficulty with writing, dictionary function and teacher support, among others. The support for teachers will include professional development, instructional coaching, testimonials from educators who have used the tool, teacher guides, lesson plans and methods to collaborate online with fellow teachers using CORGI. The improvements have been based on feedback from teachers who have used CORGI and will help schools implement it and train new teachers on its use.

“CORGI is a great example of effective co-design and design-based research, where we work directly with end users (in this case, teachers and students) to enhance the relevance and effectiveness of their classroom resources,” said Linda Gerstle, CAST CEO.

CORGI is available online for public use at The latest round of funding will help researchers and educators make an enhanced version available to even more students.

“This sustained funding of CORGI has allowed us to build around what we’re learning are the needs in the field,” Basham said. “We’re truly working in partnership with schools to see not only what has scientific rigor, but to effectively design tools that work for today’s classrooms. CORGI 2020 is looking at what we know has shown to work and scale it in a way that can be self-sustaining.”

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