Logo: University of Southern California

STEM K-12 Research Projects

NSF - USC Advanced Content in Computational Engineering and Science Standards for Teachers (ACCESS 4 Teachers RET 2014 - 2017)
In the second Research Experience for Teachers (RET) collaboration between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the focus on advanced computational engineering provides the basis of professional development for inner city middle school STEM teachers (find link here http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1407371&HistoricalAwards=false). A cohort of teachers from Los Angeles Unified School District and other urban schools is paired each summer with USC Viterbi faculty and graduate students for research immersion that teachers will tie over those five weeks to developing new curriculum for their next school year. Using the successful lesson study model, the STEM teachers will gain experience planning, designing, piloting, and implementing engineering driven 6-12th grade curricula in the LAUSD classrooms and beyond, with significant student achievement impact. The broader goal of USC Viterbi's RET programs is to improve STEM education in the schools that most need research-enriched, project-based curricula aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and CCM standards.
Topics include:
* Research Lab #1: Socially Assistive Robotics for Health and Education
* Research Lab #2: Quantitative Evaluation and Design (QED) Lab
* Research Lab #3: TEAMCORE
* Research Lab #4: Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC)
* Research Lab #5: Biomimetic Phase Interfaces Lab
* Research Lab #6: Internet and Cybersecurity Lab
* Research Lab #7: Biomedical Microsystems Laboratory
* Research Lab #8: Wireless Communication Lab
Funding Agency: National Science Foundation
USC Affiliation: Maja Mataric, Pricipal Investigator
                             Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator
Computer Science Mentorship and Achievement with Relevance for Teachers and Students (CSMARTS)
 CSMARTS aims to improve middle school student achievement and teacher quality in computer science by developing and testing effective culturally and societally relevant computer science and engineering design curriculum and pedagogy. Targeting urban students in grades 6 - 8, especially girls from African American and Latino backgrounds, CSMARTS is an intervention program in partnership with Los Angeles area charter middle schools. It is affiliated with the Institute for Engineering Cross-cultural Competence (IEC3) and the part of USC Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher (VAST) program.

USC Affiliation: Gisele Ragusa 
Socially Assistive Robots (SAR)
Socially assistive robots are poised to become a ubiquitous and essential tool in promoting the education and health of a wide range of populations and in the everyday care of individuals with special needs and disabilities.  The need for this technology, which provides assistance through social rather than physical interaction with the user, is driven by critical societal problems including overcrowded schools and rapidly increasing diagnosis rates of developmental disorders.  While the range of applications for this technology is broad, this NSF Expeditions project focuses on new ways of characterizing, modeling, enabling, and assessing human-robot interactions necessary for enabling robots to teach cognitive and social skills to preschool-aged children, including those with cognitive or social deficits.  This ambitious proposal requires an Expedition-scale, integrated, longitudinal, and multi-disciplinary effort among researchers in the fields of computer science, robotics, educational theory, and developmental psychology.
This Expedition is a collaboration between Yale University, University of Southern California, Stanford and Massachusettes Institute of Technology. It has the potential to substantially impact the effectiveness of education and healthcare, and to improve the care and treatment of children with social and cognitive disabilities. The technological tools developed will serve as the basis for enhancing the lives of children and other groups that require specialized support and intervention.  The research is tied to a comprehensive student training program, bringing a compelling, engaging, and grounded STEM experience to K-12 students through in-school and after-school programs.  It also establishes an annual training summit to provide undergraduates with the multi-disciplinary background to engage in this promising research area in graduate school.  Finally, by establishing a brand name for socially assistive robotics, this effort will create a central authority for the distribution of high-quality, peer-reviewed information, providing a coherent focal point for enhancing outreach and education.
Funding Agency: National Science Foundation
USC Affiliation: Maja Mataric, Pricipal Investigator

                             Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator
                             Fei Sha, Co-Principal Investigator
                             Donna Spruijt-Metz, Co-Principal Investigator
Virtual Sprouts                          
The First Lady’s Organic Garden at the White House has been used to help teach children about a wide variety of topics, such as how to make healthy food choices and prevent obesity. The use of gardening as a teaching tool has tremendous potential to influence the diets of American families, and ultimately to prevent childhood obesity. Our highly experienced, multi-disciplinary team of experts in childhood obesity, interactive media, visualization and virtual reality at the University of Southern California (USC) proposes to create Virtual Sprouts: Web-Based Gardening Games, an interactive and simulated version of the First Lady’s Organic Garden in a game-based environment.
Our program targets subjects from low income, minority populations in Los Angeles, including children ages 8 to 11, their parents, other family members, teachers and the community. Virtual Sprouts serves as a highly engaging and innovative research education program to improve PreK-12 research career opportunities and the community's understanding of the health science advances in obesity and nutrition that are supported by NIH-funded clinical and basic research. Our program has the potential to revolutionize STEM education on obesity, promote healthy food choices and decrease obesity rates, especially in minority youth at high risk of obesity and related disorders.
Specific aims of the program are: (1) Develop a web-based, interactive Virtual Sprouts: Web-Based Gardening Games and web dissemination portal. (2)  Disseminate the Virtual Sprouts Web-Based Gardening Games. We will disseminate our game to audiences in three local settings:Public Schools, Community Clinics & via The California Science Center community outreach program.  All of our dissemination partners have national collaborations and partnerships with peer organizations (e.g., CTSAs, unified school districts, community clinic organizations), through which they will work with us to disseminate our innovative program across the nation. (3) Evaluate the Virtual Web-Based Gardening Games. Dr. Gisele Ragusa, Director of USC’s STEM Research Group, will utilize a mixed design with both quantitative and qualitative approaches to evaluate the effectiveness of our education efforts.
Funding Agency: National Institute of Health
USC Affiliation: Donna
Spruijt-Metz, Principal Investigator
                           Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator
                           Chad Lane, Co-Principal Investigator
                           Jaimie Davis, Co-Investigator
                           Michael Goran, Co-Investigator
                           Marientina Gotsis, Co-Investigator
College Access Games
´╗┐Collegeology is a collaboration between the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis and the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. For the past three years, the Collegeology team has been developing concepts and activities that capitalize on the power of games to improve college knowledge and college going strategies for underserved youth. The overarching goal of the project is to increase the number of low income and/or historically underrepresented students who enroll in and complete college.
Our first project addressed the complexities of the college application process by creating a game in which players take on the role of a college applicant, make choices, and guide their character through a fun, abstracted version of the application process. Pathfinder players have demonstrated an increase in college literacy, awareness of college processes and collaborative problem solving around college issues. The Pathfinder game, which began as card game prototype, has now being developed as a Facebook application. Both versions of the game provide important learning opportunities for high school students in the realm of college knowledge, including vocabulary and basic concepts as well as key college preparation strategies.
Mission: Admission is a Facebook game designed to help high school students understand the strategies and skills needed to apply to college. The game was launched in 2012. Application Crunch is a card game for 3-4 players. Each player takes on the role of a high school student and college applicant. Players juggle their time between academics, extracurricular activities, work, and service while competing for college applications and scholarships.

Collegeology Website >>

Funding Agency: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gilbert Foundation, IES (Institute of Education Sciences)
USC Affiliation: William Tierney, Principal Investigator
                           Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator
                           Tracy Fullerton, Co-Principal Investigator
                           Zoe Corwin, Co-Principal Investigator