Tool-Supported Action Research

May 17, 2024

This resource describes an adapted STEM Teaching tool that can support teachers in learning about Ambitious Science Teaching (AST) tools for action research purposes. Teachers select tools that align with their teaching goals, context, and specific units of study. Using the action research component allows teachers to adopt a researcher’s mindset, analyze their instruction, and reflect on the impact of using AST tools in the field and within authentic settings. Through this process, teachers gain valuable insights into their teaching practices. Most importantly, they can reflect on class participation and think critically regarding AST tool support to facilitate equitable classroom participation. See the stories section for examples.

Written by Dr. Meenakshi Sharma, Tift College of Education, Mercer University, based on STEM Teaching Tool 75 created by: Jeanne Norris, Lead Instructional Specialist, Institute for School Partnership, Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Rachel Ruggirello, Associate Director, Institute for School Partnership, and Sarah Schondelmeyer, Elementary Teacher, Maplewood Richmond Heights School District.


AST tools-supported action research aims to help teachers take a critical stance in their instruction, making connections between the tools they use and their affordances in enacting equitable science instruction. This approach also aims to facilitate the noticing of students’ ideas and the progression of their thinking.

The use of AST tools for action research allows teachers to collect data on their instruction and understand that using an instructional tool with students is a learning curve. Students take time to learn about the tool, use it to make their thinking visible, refine their science ideas over time, and collaborate with their peers to co-construct knowledge. This positions teachers to understand and find ways to necessitate the practice of using the tool to establish an equitable learning environment.


In my STEM endorsement program, which comprises three 8-week online courses, I work with K-12 teachers who are the designated teachers in their schools. Within the program I introduce them to a suite of Ambitious Science Teaching (AST) tools for action research purposes. Initially, teachers are provided with examples of how the AST tools can be used in the classroom. They are then encouraged to select a tool that aligns with their teaching goals, context, and specific unit of study. While the action research component is not overly intensive, it allows teachers to adopt a researcher’s mindset, analyze their instruction, and reflect on the impact of using AST tools in the field and within authentic settings. For the purpose of the course assignment,  I used an adapted version of Plan-do -study- act template, and teachers used this template to articulate the AST tools they will use, what they expect as result of tool usage in their classroom, data they can collect to reflect on the enactment of tools and finally reflect its influence in their ways of teaching science and student participation.

Below are two examples from teachers, one learning about the discussion diamond and another about sticky note feedback.

Figure 1: A section of a teacher’s report on using an AST tool in her classroom and an artifact from her classroom. 


Figure 2: Peer- feedback using sticky note feedback and a teachers’ observational data during student engagement with the AST tools


Teacher Educators & Professional Learning

The assignment aims to

  • Encourage teachers to use instructional tools that facilitate and support their instruction.
  • Use tools over time to assess their impact on student participation.
  •  Help teachers to critically notice students’ ideas as they engage with the tool.
  • Encourage students to use the tool to express their thinking.
  • Support teachers in adapting and improvising the tool to fit their setting.
  • Assist teachers in reflecting and analyzing their instruction in relation to the tool.
  • Encourage reflection on how the tool influenced student learning.

Questions for teacher educators to consider:

  • How can the use of AST tools to support action research involve teachers more deeply in understanding their teaching practices in relation to equity and accessibility?
  • In what ways can action research using these tools help teachers identify and address barriers to equity and accessibility in their classrooms?
  • How might teachers use data from action research to advocate for more equitable and accessible teaching practices?

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This site is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Award #1907471 and #1315995