Basis of VISTA Research

—Information for teachers, administrators, legislators, and education policy makers

Problem based learning (Hmelo-Silver 2004) has been shown to increase student learning by both engaging in finding solutions to real-life problems using science (Sterling and Hargrove 2012), and prompting them to use higher-order thinking skills.  Students who have engaged in problem-based learning experiences such as VISTA have been shown to score more highly on science achievement tests.  As Sterling, Matkins, Frazier, and Logerwell (2010) have shown, not only is problem based learning sound pedagogy; it is also instrumental in providing marginalized students a learning environment that springboards their learning to close achievement gaps in science, technology and mathematics. As sample of introductions to Problem Based Learning have been published by Sterling (2010), Frazier and Sterling (2008), and Sterling (2007).

Inquiry science is engaging the natural world with questions, formulating hypotheses about phenomena, and using scientific instruments to collect data with which students can test their hypotheses. Students engage in scientifically oriented questions, giving priority to evidence, formulate explanations based on evidence, and practices communication of their results.  Inquiry science education has been shown to be a crucial technique for attending to student interest through constructivist lesson design. 

Hands-on science has been shown to bolster student achievement in science, and critical for showing students how, using real science materials, to advance science process skills as well and science content knowledge.  Engaging students in hands-on science at least once a week has been clearly shown to improve student achievement in science.  Some research has shown this to be most helpful in subjects such as biology. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has recently underscored this.

Understanding the nature of science is a critical aspect of science education, with teachers working with students learning to draw distinctions about science as a process with certain epistemological limits.  As Bell, Matkins, and Ganseder have shown, teachers training to teach the nature of science must make this language explicit, with those doing so showing statistically significant advances in understanding, and also gaining the ability to apply their skills to novel teaching situations.

Pilot Study leading to VISTA Research

Sterling, D. R., Matkins, J. J., Frazier, W. M. and Logerwell, M. (2010). Science Camp as a Transformative Experience for Students, Parents, and Teachers in the Urban Setting. School Science and Mathematics. 107 (4), 134–147.

Sterling, D. R. & Frazier, W. M. (2011, November/December). Rethinking Elementary Science Instruction. Principal. Retrieved from

Sterling, D. R. & Frazier, W. M. (2011, April). Setting Up Uncertified Teachers to Succeed. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(7), 40-45.

Sterling, D. R. & Frazier, W. M. (2010, April). Maximizing Uncertified Teachers' Potential. Principal Leadership, 10(8), 48-52.

Sterling, D. R., & Frazier, W. M. (2009) Recommendations for School Leaders. Retrieved November 5, 2009, from George Mason University, Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology Website:

Sterling, D. R., & Frazier, W. M. (2009) Policy Brief, Supporting new science teachers: What school leaders can do. Retrieved August 5, 2009, from George Mason University, Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology Website: