Crafting Engagement in Science Environments

PIRE: Crafting Engagement in Science Environments is a five-year, $3.6 million research grant funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The researchers and teachers involved are working to boost interest and engagement in science for all students. They are also providing students with the skills and opportunities to pursue science in the future.


Big Ideas


An Overview

The Crafting Engagement in Science Environments project is a collaboration between researchers and teachers in the U.S. and in Finland. Its purpose is to increase student engagement and interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Project partners are developing and implementing a new set of learning materials for high school physics and chemistry classes in both countries. In particular, they want to allow and encourage all students, including underrepresented groups of students, to pursue STEM learning.


Project-Based Learning

This research project is an international effort that introduces new topics with a new approach that focuses on the importance of project-based learning (PBL). PBL is a teaching method that allows students time to explore and investigate a complex and engaging question or challenge.


Both the United States and Finland are focused on new science standards that challenge conventional teaching techniques in an effort to increase interest in and engagement with STEM. Declines in student interest in STEM fields makes it important to uncover the ways PBL can give young learners the resources and support they need to pursue science.


New Technology

The researchers are using smartphone technology to gather feedback in real time on how engaged students are and how they feel about science.  This technology will allow the team to compare information about student engagement, feelings about science, and knowledge of the course material before and after units.  It will also let them measure differences between student reactions to the project-based curriculum  and those of similar students in classes taught with a traditional approach.



Specifically, the Crafting Engagement in Science Environments project will:

  • investigate the effects of implementing project-based learning that aligns with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),

  • measure the academic, social and emotional learning of students taking part in the classes,

  • compare the PBL technique to that of conventional science teaching techniques and topics, in terms of student growth, and

  • create an exchange program between the United States and Finland that promotes the improvement of science education across borders


Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning, alongside academic learning, are also notably important to this research. Students who feel positive emotions (happiness, confidence, enjoyment, fulfillment, etc.) while engaged in learning will be more likely to seek out similar learning experiences. In other words, if they feel good learning science, they are going to want to keep learning science. An increased number of students having frequent positive experiences while learning STEM will ideally lead to an increased number of students pursuing STEM majors and careers. This project will also open doors for underrepresented student groups who have historically turned away from these subjects.

An International Effort

One key aspect of this project is the collaboration with Finland. Finland’s students rank at or near the top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scientific literacy exams, much higher than rankings of U.S. students. However, Finland, too, faces the dilemma that many of its students are not engaged enough in science to want to pursue it as a career. For this reason, both Finland and the U.S. can benefit from researching how to encourage students to immerse themselves in learning STEM, and how to cultivate curiosity and the desire to learn more science.


In the News

Read news releases about the project here.


Project Partners


The Research Team

The Crafting Engagement in Science Environments project is an international effort with an international team. The project’s principal investigator from the United States is Dr. Barbara Schneider, a John A. Hannah Chair and University Distinguished Professor in the College of Education and Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. Joining her from the U.S. as a co-principal investigator is Dr. Joe Krajcik, a Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education and director of the CREATE for STEM Institute. The U.S. team also includes science education expert Deborah Peek-Brown, postdoctoral researchers Dr. Tom Bielik and Dr. Brianne Mohl, and research assistants Chris Klager and Jason Burns. Co-principal investigators from Finland include Dr. Jari Lavonen, University Professor of Physics and Chemistry Education in the Department of Teacher Education, and Dr. Katariina Salmela-Aro, University Professor in the Department of Psychology, both at the University of Helsinki. Also included on the Finnish team are Dr. Kalle Juuti and research assistant Janna Inkinen.


Design Principles


Central to this project’s design is the creation of innovative project-based learning units that promote student engagement. Equally important is the data collected on resulting student engagement and attitude, as well as how and by whom it is analyzed.



Below are some specific design principles that make the project possible:

  • Participating students answer short questions on an individual basis about their learning experiences in regards to social, emotional and academic growth, using special smartphone technology.

  • Prompted questions follow a randomized schedule to allow for sufficient coverage of a student’s moods and growth.

  • Students receive a survey at the beginning of each year to provide information about their goals, potential career paths, and interest in STEM.

  • Teachers complete post-lesson surveys to help researchers understand how teaching the units with a PBL approach affects their decision making.

  • Data collected is being analyzed by a team of developmental psychologists who are versed in studying responses to these types of electronic response methods.


International Exchange

Another of the project’s integral design details is an international exchange program between the participating countries. A series of seminars in which the U.S. team travels to Finland, and vice versa, is strengthening the collaboration between the teachers and research teams and allows for valuable professional development. These seminars provide a medium for large group workshops, presentations, and school visits. In addition, this part of the project promotes the exchange of research expertise between professionals.


Projected Milestones and Timeline


The First Three Years

In the first year of the project, the team worked with five schools in each country. During year two of the study, the research is expanding to working in eight schools per country, and then to ten schools in year three. Each year includes two teaching periods and two curricular revision periods, enabling the team to improve the units over time.


Years Four and Five

After the first three years of testing the curricula in larger and larger groups, the team anticipates being able to broaden the scale of their study to be working with twenty schools each in years four and five. This will include adding U.S. schools outside of Michigan, and additional schools throughout Finland.


Throughout the Project

Throughout the study, the team plans to publish their findings  and give presentations meant to make their research accessible to the general public. A team of qualified and experienced evaluators is in place to examine and assess the team’s research during the entirety of the project. This allows for the release of reliable, objective information that can be used as a resource for teaching others and reporting results and lessons learned.