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Original Research

VISTA is innovating science education – check out our latest accomplishments!

VISTA’s investigators are currently researching what elements best support teachers in helping students learn. At the elementary, middle and high school levels, the VISTA evaluation team explores how the instructional practices of VISTA teachers impact student achievement as measured by students’ end-of-course Standards of Learning assessments. For science coordinators and science education faculty, the VISTA evaluation team uses descriptive case studies and interviews to evaluate and characterize the program’s impact on building infrastructure for science education in Virginia.  

Other topics we explore include changes in instructional practices and changes in beliefs about science instruction. Review a list of our published research here.

We ask questions like:

  • Is VISTA coaching working and how can we improve it?
  • Why do secondary science teachers enter their chosen profession and what type of career path can they expect?
  • How do science division leaders and science education faculty plan to improve science education in schools?
  • To what extent are school principals actively engaged in and supportive of science education?

The VISTA Research Team

VISTA is a multi-year scale-up program to validate prior research on elementary, secondary, and programmatic supports for science education (Sterling and Frazier 2010; Frazier and Sterling 2009). Funded by a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation grant, VISTA works with K-12 teachers to make problem and inquiry based, hands-on, student centered science learning the norm in schools. VISTA also works to increase teacher and student understanding of the nature of science. VISTA’s efforts are directly in line with best practices of the Next Generation Science Standards

In addition to work in schools, VISTA works to create social and structural supports across institutions and organizations working to strengthen state-level science education communication and community. With Oregon State University and the University of Virginia conducting an outside evaluation of the program, the Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology has recently formed a VISTA research group to advance critical science education research within VISTA.

VISTA will build upon and expand prior research and active learning programs conducted within George Mason University’s Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology (CREST). Read about prior research in the full grant narrative at the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

Click here for more information on our research team.

Pilot Studies leading to VISTA Research 

VISTA is an expanding multi-year STEM program that builds on prior research on hands-on, problem-based learning and teaching. One of the pilot studies analyzed for six years the effectiveness of student-centered inquiry-based teaching methods, which were developed and tested among more than 10,000 secondary school students in three Virginia school districts. Results from the pilot study revealed that students of teachers in the treatment group were statistically more likely to pass their end-of course SOL (Standards of Learning) science tests than students of teachers in the control group, even when controlling for socio-economic status, gender, disability status, and ethnicity. Another pilot study lasting 13 years was based on elementary teachers planning and implementing a student-centered problem-based learning summer camp for students in grades 4-6. At the camp students investigated real science problems like “real world” scientists. The award-winning camp significantly improved the science achievement of the teachers’ students. 

See below for pilot study 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:

Logerwell, M.G. (2009). The effects of a summer science camp teaching experience on preservice elementary teachers’ science teaching efficacy, science content knowledge, and understanding of the nature of science. Unpublished dissertation (UMI No. 3367054).