Faculty News

Kelly Ryoo wins $674,000 National Science Foundation Grant

Kihyun “Kelly” Ryoo, assistant professor of learning sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Education, has won a prestigious $674,000 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation.

The five-year grant will be used to fund a research project in which Ryoo will work with 8th grade science teachers to improve their instruction for English language learners – or ELLs – through the use of visualization technologies.

“We are very excited that the National Science Foundation has recognized this work being done by Dr. Ryoo,” said Deborah Eaker-Rich, interim dean of the School of Education. “Dr. Ryoo has pioneered the use of new technologies in teaching abstract scientific concepts. We anticipate that this work will continue to evolve, engaging teachers and students in exciting, technologically rich and effective teaching methods in this important area.”

The NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program – known as CAREER – is among the NSF’s most prestigious awards and supports early career-development activities of scholars who work to integrate research and education.

Ryoo’s project builds on her earlier work in using dynamic visualizations, which include animations, simulations, and models and are typically displayed with tablet devices such as iPads. Her work has demonstrated that the visualizations help students better understand complex scientific phenomena and better engage with other students using the language of the science classroom. She has focused her work on using the tools to help English language learners who speak a language other than English at home.

In 2014, Ryoo was chosen from among scholars around the world to be named a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow, one of the most competitive awards in the field of education research.

Ryoo joined the School of Education in 2012. She received her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences and Technology Design with a specialization in Science Education from Stanford University, where she also earned her M.A. in Learning, Design and Technology. She received a bachelor's degree in Health Education from Ewha Womans University in Korea.

Extending previous work on visualizations

Ryoo said the NSF-funded project will help her extend work with improving science education for historically underserved students.

The project will identify design principles for developing visualization technologies and different forms of scaffolding approaches to support English language learners’ science learning with the visualization tools, Ryoo said. Ryoo will work with 8th grade teachers and their students in two North Carolina low-income middle schools.

“With annual professional development workshops, ongoing coaching, and a teacher guide, I will also help broad audiences of science teachers improve their teaching practices to better serve all students, particularly underserved English language learners, when integrating visualization technologies in their classrooms,” she said. “This project will also provide teachers with freely available Next Generation Science Standards-aligned inquiry curricula and visualization technologies.”

Ryoo’s earlier work has demonstrated the power of dynamic visualization technologies that students may manipulate and with which they may interact. The interactive nature of the visualizations had significant advantages over static, unchanging visualizations in helping English language learners understand scientific concepts, Ryoo said.

Ryoo’s project has shown that prompting students to generate their own explanations for life science phenomena, such as how energy and matter are involved in photosynthesis and cellular respiration, while they work with the visualizations gives them more opportunity to engage in the use of their learning and collaborate with other students.

“Building on the findings from these projects, this five-year NSF project will explore the effects of different types of dynamic visualizations for diverse English language learners, compared to non-English language learners, in physical and life sciences,” Ryoo said. “The project will also identify which forms of scaffolding approaches, such as critiquing arguments versus generating arguments, can maximize ELLs’ science learning.”