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STEM Research Initiative Brings Together U.S., Finland

Researchers in the United States and Finland are teaming up on a set of projects aimed at improving STEM education at the K-12 and college levels.

The partnership, announced this week by the National Science Foundation, seeks to explore and develop some of the best ideas from researchers in both countries, according to an NSF press release.

The projects together represent a total of $4 million in grant awards from the American and Finnish governments. They include one focused on a MOOC, or massive open online course, for calculus currently offered at the University of Helsinki and Florida State University. The research will analyze calculus learning among undergraduates and high school students who have taken part. Another project seeks to expand and improve STEM teaching and learning through the use of mobile video technology. Designed for middle and high school students, it provides an approach to student modeling of science through which students and teachers can capture, scrutinize, and make sense of STEM-rich phenomena through video, the press release explains.

Another project is targeting the growing field of game-based learning in STEM disciplines.

Finland has taken on a high-profile global reputation as an education leader, thanks in large part to its strong performance on the Program for International Student Achievement, or PISA. That said, Finland's performance is less stellar on TIMSS, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. In math, especially, its scores from data issued in December were not statistically different from the performance of the United States as a whole, and a number of U.S. states outperformed the Nordic nation.

The effort will involve researchers at a variety of U.S. and Finnish institutions, including Michigan State University, Virginia Tech, Stanford University, and Southern Methodist University.

Eric Hamilton, an education professor at Pepperdine University and former NSF division director, is leading the effort on the U.S. side.

Hamilton said the new collaboration represents on the U.S. side the National Science Foundation's recent embrace of SAVI, or Science Across Virtual Institutes, to promote more global partnerships in research.

"In a nutshell, a SAVI takes investigators in the U.S. and they pair up with investigators in other countries," Hamilton said in an interview. "In this case, it starts out on a bilateral basis."

He added, "You bring to the organization existing funding, so you've already gone through the process and have met a threshold of competitiveness and quality. ... As a network, they create a much more synergistic, higher-powered set of strategies."

This is the first SAVI collaboration focused on STEM education, the press release says.

A series of one-hour webinars targeting educators, researchers, and policymakers will begin in April, providing updates on the work of the various U.S.-Finnish projects.

"This SAVI project allows U.S. and international partners to support some important research focused on the engagement of learners in innovative settings," Joan Ferrini-Mundy, the NSF's assistant director in the Education and Human Resources Directorate, said in the press release.

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