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Promoting Productive Disciplinary Engagement and Learning with Open Problems and "Just-in-Time" Supports in Middle School Mathematics

Principal Investigators

  • Elizabeth Phillips (Michigan State University),
  • AJ Edson (Michigan State University),
  • Kristen Bieda (Michigan State University), 
  • Joseph Krajcik (Michigan State University), 
  • Chad Dorsey (Concord Consortium), and
  • Nathan Kimball (Concord Consortium).

Funding Source: National Science Foundation

Award Number:  DRL-1660926

Dates: April 2017 - March 2022 (estimated)

Amount: $1.5 million

Advisory Board:

  • Jinfa Cai (University of Delaware),
  • Jeffrey Choppin (University of Rochester), 
  • Susan Friel (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill), 
  • Valerie Mills (Oakland Schools, MI), and
  • Margaret Smith (University of Pittsburgh).

Project Partners: Concord Consortium

The study will contribute knowledge about how to support students' learning and engagement in mathematics using a digital curriculum platform. 

The goal of the project is to study how the use of open-ended problems and "just-in-time" supports in a digital platform can promote inquiry-based mathematics learning.

Increasing numbers of schools are using digital curriculum for mathematics.  "Just-in-time" supports will give the students options for seeking help as they are working on an open problem or give teachers the opportunity to generate prompts for students working in small groups as needed. The digital environment provides an opportunity for small groups of students to work on challenging tasks and decide when they need help.

The project is building on a widely adopted middle school mathematics curriculum and tasks that are being used in a range of settings.

The project will examine middle school students' mathematics learning and productive disciplinary engagement as well as teachers' role in the classroom environment. This project is supported by NSF's EHR Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field.


The research will investigate three questions.

  1. How can productive disciplinary engagement be fostered in digital learning environments with open problems and "just-in-time" supports? How can student learning of mathematics be enhanced?
  2. What is the nature of productive disciplinary engagement and student learning of mathematics at key development points in a connected sequence of problems and lesson goals?
  3. What information do teachers draw upon when they use open problems and "just-in-time" supports? How do teachers adapt the supports for specific problems?

It is situated in a design-based research framework for research relying on multiple qualitative and quantitative sources of data. The project will go through three cycles of design:

  • prototype testing with students to investigate productive disciplinary engagement as a construct,
  • classroom-based pilot testing to understand the teacher's role, and
  • broader field testing to extend knowledge of how students' use open problems and "just-in-time" supports

The analysis of students' data will document how they problematize mathematics situations, how ideas are developed in a small group via students' positioning themselves in the conversation, and how students use disciplinary norms and arguments for their ideas.

Students' interactions with the tool, particularly the "just-in-time" supports will be incorporated to understand how ideas develop. Assessments will be used to document students' learning of the mathematics. The teachers' role will be analyzed via classroom video, interviews, and other artifacts of instruction.

More Information


NSF LogoThis work was supported by the National Science Foundation grant DRL-1660926. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.