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“Making” a Difference

The goal of this project is to understand the learning processes during a project-based middle school science curriculum centered around social innovation and engineering. There are several challenges to implementing such a curriculum and we are focused on understanding the factors that influence success.


The project aims to build models of how STEM learning and identity development occurs through project-based experiences, and begin to create a framework to drive future use of such activities, which will be expanded and tested in later projects. By understanding the processes through which students have successful learning experiences, and identifying the types of STEM knowledge and practices that are developed through these projects, we will lay the groundwork for a larger project aimed at designing and studying such activities in a wider range of schools.

Project Team

Emma Mercier (PI)

Barbara Hug (coPI)

Sharlene Denos (coPI)
David Bergandine

Elif Ertekin

Jeffrey Ginger 

Lu Lawrence

Mariana Kersh

Sherry Yi

In the News

June 27, 2017

Uni High 8th Graders Grow Big Idea Projects to Make a Difference in Local Community Gardens

This past semester Sharlene Denos planted the seed of innovation in her University Laboratory High School (Uni High) 8th grade science students. In collaboration with local Champaign-Urbana community gardens, and funded by the Illinois Learning Sciences Design Initiative (ILSDI), her students unearthed problems encountered by managers of the gardens, then, based on science learned in school, as well as via research, got to work on how to effectively solve these problems. While the science aspect of their projects was important, the main focus was really on the design element.

May 23, 2016

Six projects receive seed grants from Illinois Learning Sciences Design Initiative

The Illinois Learning Sciences Design Initiative recently awarded $164,000 in grants to six interdisciplinary research teams on campus.

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This research is funded by the Illinois Learning Science Design Initiative Phase 2 funding program.

Publications & Conferences

Yi, S., Kelly, S., & E., Mercier, (2017, October). “Making” a Difference: Project based approaches to STEM engagement in Middle School. ​LSGS 2017 Conference Proceedings. Workshop presented at the meeting of the Learning Sciences Graduate Students Conference, Bloomington, IN, USA. ​

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