A $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences will allow more than 8,000 Connecticut and Illinois middle schoolers to experience the same kind of significant improvements in writing abilities, critical and scientific thinking, leadership, and problem solving that the 5,000 students who’ve already participated in UConn’s GlobalEd2 (GE2) program have achieved.
“We’re thrilled because one of the many results of the pilot program was the elimination of the academic gap that, at the start, existed between African-American and Latino students from low-income, urban schools and their Caucasian, suburban counterparts,” said Scott Brown, Ph.D., professor of Educational Psychology at UConn’s Neag School of Education, who co-facilitates GE2 in partnership with Kimberly Lawless, Ph.D. A graduate of the Neag School’s Educational Psychology doctoral program, Lawless teaches and serves as chair of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois – Chicago. “If we have the same kind of amazing response during this next phase, there’s a real possibility we can take GE2 nationwide.
Using technology available in most schools, GE2 is a computerized, interdisciplinary, problem-based social studies game that requires classrooms to represent assigned countries and—via secure online simulations, monitored emails and other internet-based interactions—work with other “countries” to find solutions for water shortages, climate change, the spread of dangerous and contagious illnesses and other contemporary, real-world science-based problems.
Monitored by Neag doctoral students experienced in international relations, GE2 students are assigned writing tasks, questions and problems designed to educate them about their country’s geography, government, economics, culture, health challenges and human rights issues. They then need to not just come up with a solution for the science-based crisis they’ve been assigned, but develop a multi-national agreement.
“One of the best parts is that most of the kids want to do it because it’s fun,” Brown added. “In many respects, it’s like video gaming—and when you’re able to come up with a hard-to-find solution or negotiate a deal with another country, it’s exciting. For educators, it’s an empowering and innovative way to transfer knowledge, engage students in meaningful learning, and meet demands for improved literacy, math and science skills.”
Funds from the federal grant will be used to conduct an efficacy study over the next four years to track the academic growth of seventh- and eighth-graders who take part in the 14-week GE2 program, versus those taught in a more traditional classroom setting. In early July, 20 Connecticut and Illinois teachers took part in the online training required for classrooms to participate in GE2. Next year, 36 more will do the same. Over the next four years, more than 6,000 students from Connecticut and Illinois will participate in GE2 simulations.
“The electronics and technology available today mean that we don’t need more than a handful of people to keep GE2 up and running for 56 classrooms or even more,” Brown said. “All the content is created in advance with the help of UConn and U of Illinois faculty, so students are making real decisions based on real data, and all our communications with them are virtual.”
Since its creation by Brown and UConn Political Science head Mark Boyer, Ph.D., in 1998, GE2 has been used by public school teachers in 14 states, two foreign countries and 35 Connecticut towns. Results from pre- and post-program evaluations of students include not just improved critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, but:
- Increased interest in science and global issues
- Greater ability to work collaboratively
- Improved oral communications
- Better understanding of technology for educational purposes
Perhaps most significant, Brown said, was the notable improvement of students’ “scientific literacy” and persuasive writing skills. Writing quality and self-efficacy scores of low-income, urban student participants in many cases doubled because they wrote for GE2 every week.
“The difference GlobalEd2 can make in writing is huge,” Brown said. “In most instances, by the end of the program, we can no longer use writing scores to tell which students are from low-income urban schools, and which are from affluent suburban ones, because we’ve closed the achievement gap, and their writing abilities are nearly the same. That’s pretty incredible and one of the many things we’re excited about.”
Also significant, Brown said, is that as students use GE2 to become decision makers, negotiators, researchers, inventors and community leaders, they learn about real countries, real governments and “some of the very real problems our world faces today.”
“We know that not all students will leave the program with an interest in science,” Brown continued. “But all of them will leave as better global citizens than they entered. Hopefully they’ll realize that and learn from GE2 the importance of being a good citizen. Issues like climate change and the need for alternative fuel sources don’t just affect some people, but all people, including them.”