Sinatra co-edits special issue of Educational Psychologist on student engagement in science

Science is a field of precision, but how do you measure student engagement in science in the classroom?

That is the question posed in a special issue of Educational Psychologist, titled “Engagement in the Context of Science Learning” (vol. 50, issue 1), co-edited by Gale Sinatra, professor of psychology and education at USC Rossier, and Doug Lombardi, assistant professor of education at Temple University.

Gale Sinatra

Gale Sinatra

The co-authored introduction written by the editors, in collaboration with Rossier alum Benjamin Heddy PhD ’14 of University of Oklahoma, is entitled “The Challenges of Defining and Measuring Student Engagement in Science.”

As summarized in the abstract of the introduction:

“Engagement is one of the hottest research topics in the field of educational psychology. Research shows that multifarious benefits occur when students are engaged in their own learning, including increased motivation and benefits. However, there is little agreement on a concrete definition and effective measurement of student engagement.”

The editors summarize what they call the “grain sizes” of measuring student engagement, that is, “the level of which engagement is conceptualized, observed and measured.” After putting forward four qualitative and categorical dimensions of engagement—behavioral, cognitive, emotional and agentic—the editors then propose domain-specific methods that can illuminate a discussion of student engagement in science.

For example, how might these four categories of engagement play out in a 10th grade classroom during a discussion of climate change?

“A cognitive dimension,” the editors offer, “could include thinking about how the greenhouse effect could be enhanced by human activity, the emotional component could be experiencing anxiety about the impacts of the sea level rise, and the behavioral component could be searching the Internet to look for more information on costal communities’ preparedness for withstanding storm surges.”

Sinatra is an internationally recognized expert on climate science education, evolution education, conceptual change learning and the public understanding of science. Specifically, Sinatra focuses on the role of motivation and emotion in teaching and learning about controversial topics, such as biological evolution and climate change.

Recently, she received a grant from Jobs for the Future (JFF) as part of the College Employer Collaborative Project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A prior contribution for Educational Psychologist, “Addressing Challenges to Public Understanding of Science: Epistemic Cognition, Motivated Reasoning, and Conceptual Change,” was named by the journal as the “most-read” article of 2014.