National Science Foundation Study

In 2006 the Regents' Center for Early Developmental Education was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop an approach to physical science curriculum for young children (prek-grade 2) that would result in improved science achievement, particularly among minority children and children from lower-income backgrounds.

Evidence for Success

Two Overarching Research Goals of the Ramps and Pathways project:

  1. To develop an age-appropriate physical science curriculum based on the movement of objects along ramps and pathways, and
  2. To design and implement professional development materials for early childhood educators to best support young children’s learning about physical science relationships and scientific inquiry within the context of R&P.


  • Conducted in Alabama, Idaho, and Texas during the third year of the project.
  • A series of assessments were completed with both children and adult participants to evaluate the extent to which the project achieved theses goals.
  • Preliminary results related to teacher outcomes are based on 42 teacher participants in the pilot study (in Iowa) and field-testing.

Science Teaching Environment Rating Scale (STERS) (Chalufour, Worth, & Clark-Chiarelli, 2003)

  • The STERS uses a four-point scale (1 = inadequate, 2 = partial, 3 = adequate, and 4 = exemplary)
  • Evaluated whether teacher participants at the three geographical field sites:
    • Creates a creative learning environment in the classroom
    • Facilitates direct experiences to promote conceptual learning
    • Promotes the use of scientific inquiry
    • Plans in-depth investigations.
    • Reliability and validity of the STERS is being studied at this time by the developers at the Education Development Center.
    • All of the classrooms in the pilot study (N = 19) and a sample of the classrooms in the field test (18 out of 23) were observed by the external evaluator.


Results indicate that teachers were able to implement R&P successfully (see Table 1).

Table 1: Science Teaching Environment Rating Scale (STERS) Results

STERS subscale Inadequate (1) Partial (2) Adequate (3) Exemplary (4) Mean
Environment -- 8% (3) 51% (19) 41% (15) 3.36
Facilitates -- 22% (8) 32% (12) 46% (17) 3.21
Facilitates -- 22% (8) 32% (12) 46% (17) 3.21
Promotes -- 24% (9) 41% (15) 35% (13) 3.06
Plans -- 16% (6) 32% (12) 51% (19) 3.31

Ramps & Pathways Implementation Checklist (developed by the evaluator in consultation with the project staff)

  • In consultation with the project staff, the evaluator developed a checklist of observable characteristics that the R&P developers considered to be particularly important to R&P implementation.
  • This checklist was developed specifically for the study, and that no reliability or validity data are available for it.
  • Items were rated Yes (present) or No (not present).

Table 2:

Checklist Item % Yes Pilot (n = 19) % Yes Field (n = 23)
Provides materials as described in the R&P curriculum (variation in R&P materials) 100% (19) 100% (23)
Schedule accommodates curriculum 100% (19) 96% (22)
Arranges furniture so children have adequate room to work 100% (19) 96% (22)
Models curiosity, play behavior, and uses of different tools 47% (9) 83% (19)
Encourages inquiry 21% (4) 87% (20)
Documents observations during R&P time 21% (4) 65% (15)
Uses documentation for discussion 11% (2) 61% (14)


  • Results indicate that the teachers were able to implement the aspects of the project reflected on these 8 items (see Table 2).
  • Most of the items were found in most of the classrooms, suggesting that the professional development successfully prepared the teachers to implement the R&P activities.
  • Some of the teachers struggled with some aspects of the project, at least among the teachers in the pilot study.
  • Items that over half of the pilot teachers failed to demonstrate include modeling curiosity and documenting observations.
  • Results indicate that the teachers in the field study did not have these difficulties, suggesting that perhaps revisions to the professional development that were made between the pilot and field studies addressed some of these issues.

Physics Ranking Task (adapted from O’Kuma, Maloney, & Heggelke, 2004)

This ranking task was administered to the pilot study teachers on three separate occasions:

  1. Prior to participation in the study,
  2. After participation in the weeklong training workshop, and
  3. In May when participation in the study ended.


  • Teacher responses to line drawings of objects moving down ramps revealed teachers’ correct rankings increased from 35 correct rankings prior to participation to 64 correct rankings after their participation ended in the study.
  • On a scale of 1 (guessed) to a score of 10 (very sure), teachers’ overall confidence in their answers on the Physics Ranking Task increased from an average confidence score of 4.3 prior to participation in the study to 6.8 at the end of participation.

Ramps Interviews with Children

  • Individually administered, semi-structured interview was designed by the project staff to assess young children’s understanding of how spheres move on inclines.
  • A total of 86 children in the pilot test and 56 children in the field test were assessed at the beginning of the year (pre-test) and at the end of the year (post-test).
  • The interview consisted of 6 questions that children could answer correctly or incorrectly.
  • Correctness of answers was coded from both verbal and nonverbal behavior by trained coders who established inter-rater reliability prior to coding.


  • Results showed that children answered 32% of the questions correctly in the pre-test, and 60% correctly on the post-test.
  • A t-test indicates that this difference is statistically significant (p < .0001). Differences between the percentage of questions answered correctly on the pre-test and on the post-test were in the expected direction and were significant at all 5 age levels (3s, 4s, kdg., 1st, and 2nd grade) (p < .001 for first grade; all other age levels p < .0001).
  • As well as for both boys and girls (p < .0001).

Ramps and Pathways Inquiry Checklist

  • Designed by the project team to assess children’s ability to engage in scientific inquiry with R&P materials.
  • The 14 items on the checklist corresponded to the expected learning outcomes for children.
  • For each item on the checklist, teachers were instructed to answer not yet, sometimes, or consistently.
  • For example, an item targeting children’s ability to engage in an investigation states, “When an object does not move as expected, [child] changes something and tries again.”
  • Another item targeting communication states, “[child] Shows or tells another person what to do to make an object move as desired.”
  • Finally, an item targeting children’s attitudes states, “When unsuccessful in making an object move as desired, [child] persists in seeking a solution to the problem; that is, pursues purpose in the face of ‘failure.’”
  • Teachers received instruction on how to complete the checklist, and were instructed to base their ratings on their observations of children engaged in the R&P activities throughout the year.
  • Teachers were asked to complete the checklist for each child in his or her classroom three times during the year (late November, early March, and at the end of the year).
  • Complete sets of checklists (all three collection points) were collected for 264 children in the pilot test and 345 children in the field test.


  • Results show that the percent of items marked Not Yet decreased significantly, from 35% at the first trimester to only 7% at the end of the year (p < .0001).
  • The percentage of items marked Consistently increased significantly, from 21% at the first trimester to 62% at the end of the year (p < .0001).
  • These results suggest that children became more proficient at engaging in scientific inquiry across the course of the school year. Whether or not this is directly attributable to the R&P activities is yet to be determined.
  • An experimental design study is in the planning states at this time. However, these results are encouraging, and warrant further study.