Available Multidisciplinary research projects:

Supervisor: Ralph Meulenbroeks

In the Netherlands, students in secondary education choose their general education direction at the age of 14-15 (9th grade). What they choose is a general set of subjects that they will take right up until the final exam. This so-called subject cluster choice (profielkeuze) is a major issue in grade 9. The decision-making process is facilitated by a lesson series on personality, future studies, interest, etc, and it culminates in the actual choice.

Given the attention it gets at schools, it is surprising to find very little actual research on the subject. A pilot study in 2019-20 has focused on the spectrum of motivations (extrinsic-intrinsic) students display when choosing their future direction, in relation to the observed content of the lesson series. The results of the study indicate that students base their initial choice mainly on autonomous motivation types, but is has no information on the last past of the decision-making process, where students interact with parents and peers and may alter their choice.

This project aims to follow students throughout the entire 9th grade (until the final choice is made) and study their motives by qualitative and quantitative means. A master student is very welcome to assist in exploring this almost uncharted territory!

Models play a paramount role in all natural sciences. Whether we are modelling the processes in a cell (biology), the structure of complex molecules (chemistry) or the movement of planets in the solar system (physics/astronomy), the basic idea is the same. Models are created to express our knowledge, our assumptions and hypotheses that can then lead to predictions of how systems will behave, or insights in how to act within a system. The importance of models became very clear recently when specialists had to model the outbreak of the Covid-19 in order to determine the measures to take in order to prevent the uncontrolled spreading of the virus.

For these reasons, modelling is an important topic in the science curriculum. Recent research has focused on the concept of “modelling competency” (Jansen, Knippels, & van Joolingen, 2019; Stiller et al., 2016). This concept has been elaborated quite well in a test for modeling competency, based on the work by Grünkorn and colleagues (Grünkorn, Upmeier zu Belzen, & Kruger, 2014). The goal of the current project is to extend the measurement to chemistry and physics, with as a goal to generate a complete set of test items and examples that can be used for assessing students modeling competency and as a means to evaluate education directed at modelling.

Grünkorn, J., Upmeier zu Belzen, A., & Kruger, D. (2014). Assessing Students’ Understandings of Biological Models and their Use in Science to Evaluate a Theoretical Framework. International Journal of Science Education, 36(10), 1651–1684. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09500693.2013.873155

Jansen, S., Knippels, M.-C. P. J., & van Joolingen, W. R. (2019). Assessing students’ understanding of models of biological processes: a revised framework. International Journal of Science Education, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2019.1582821

Stiller, J., Hartmann, S., Mathesius, S., Straube, P., Tiemann, R., Nordmeier, V., … Belzen, A. U. zu. (2016). Assessing scientific reasoning: a comprehensive evaluation of item features that affect item difficulty. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(5), 721–732. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02602938.2016.1164830

Contact: Ralph Meulenbroeks

Intrinsic motivation is a robust predictor for performance in almost any conceivable field, whether it be sports, work, academia, or arts (Cerasoli, Nicklin, & Ford, 2014). Self-determination theory teaches us that supporting intrinsic motivation works through supporting the basis psychological needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. It can thus be argued that support of these psychological needs should be a prime concern for all educators.

There has been some tantalizing evidence from research in primary education demonstrating that higher intrinsic motivation of the teacher for teaching can actually lead to more psychological need-supportive teaching in class. Several mechanisms have been proposed, including the proposition that intrinsically motivated teachers are more likely to see the value of need-supportive teachers (Roth, Assor, Kanat-Maymon, & Kaplan, 2007).

In order to investigate this, and other, mechanisms in secondary science education, there is room for one or two students. Please contact me if you feel motivated!

Cerasoli, C. P., Nicklin, J. M., & Ford, M. T. (2014). Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic incentives jointly predict performance: A 40-year meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 140(4), 980–1008. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035661

Roth, G., Assor, A., Kanat-Maymon, Y., & Kaplan, H. (2007). Autonomous motivation for teaching: How self-determined teaching may lead to self-determined learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(4), 761–774. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.99.4.761

Contact: Rogier Bos

Instruction and knowledge videos based on dynamical animations have gained enormous popularity with the rise off YouTube. Channels like MinutePhysics and 3Blue1Brown attract millions of views and followers.

Clearly, animated instruction is attractive and manages to popularize science and mathematics. However, research on whether animated video instruction is more effective than static instruction has given mixed results (Berney & Bétrancourt, 2016).

Based on cognitive theory (cognitive load theory, dual channel theory) general design principle for educational videos have been formulated and tested, but domain specific principles are still to be explored. There are many research questions of interest that you could work on in your research project:

  1. Are the video’s from the previously mentioned channels effective? If so, why? What (domain specific) principles do they adhere to?
  2. Can animating formulas and equation in mathematics or science animated videos reduce cognitive load? Does it lead to better reproductive and conceptual understanding?
  3. There is some evidence that instructional videos visualizing human movement are more effective than those visualizing non-human movement (de Koning & Tabbers, 2011; Pouw, van Gog, Zwaan, & Paas, 2016). How can we visualize human movement to support learning mathematics or science (Bos, submitted)? Under what condition are such visualizations effective?

Your research project could be based on existing animation (as in option 1 above), but could also include a design of an animation for which I could provide support.

For more information, email Rogier Bos (r.d.bos@uu.nl).

Berney, S., & Bétrancourt, M. (2016). Does animation enhance learning? A meta-analysis. Computers and Education, 101, 150–167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2016.06.005

de Koning, B. B., & Tabbers, H. K. (2011). Facilitating Understanding of Movements in Dynamic Visualizations: An Embodied Perspective. Educational Psychology Review, 23(4), 501–521. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-011-9173-8

Pouw, W. T. J. L., van Gog, T., Zwaan, R. A., & Paas, F. (2016). Augmenting instructional animations with a body analogy to help children learn about physical systems. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(JUN), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00860

Bos, R., & Renkema, W. (submitted). Animating algebra using embodied metaphors.

Contact: Roald Verhoeff

While in many ways the successes of scientific endeavours have never been more obvious, and the need for them to solve important issues as climate change never greater, public trust in science seems to be wavering. In Europe, a Eurobarometer survey showed that more than half of respondents agreed with the statement that “We can no longer trust scientists to tell the truth about controversial scientific and technological issues because they depend more and more on money from industry.” In addition, more than half of Europeans believe scientists should be doing more to communicate their findings to the public. While much of this scepticism is driven by economic and political forces beyond the academic context, stories of academic fraud and corruption within scientific research practices are frequently reported in the news media.

The topic of research integrity is urgent in many universities. The reported number of retractions, fraudulent researchers, ghost writers and plagiarizing students and researchers has increased hugely over the last decades. If these trends continue, they threaten to undermine the ability of scientists to affect meaningful change in society. In reaction to the increase in reported cases of misconduct, we have seen a tendency to regulate behavior by installing integrity officers, codes of conduct, integrity committees, whistle blower protocols, and so on. For example, the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research (www.vsnu.nl) and the European Code of Conduct (Allea, https://allea.org/code-of-conduct/) aims to stimulate upright behavior amongst researchers in all academic disciplines.

In two European projects we are currently developing innovative educational tools to help and stimulate (future) researchers to become competent in addressing research integrity issues in practice. These projects form the context for three Master SEC projects:

1) Escape Room Responsible Conduct of Science

This project develops an engaging game-based activity (Escape Room) on research integrity for Research Master (RMA) students. The core focus is to empower students by developing their skills for Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) in research integrity (RI) by increasing student awareness and by helping students to reflect on issues they will encounter in practice. The project is a follow-up of the Educate-it Escape Room, which offered a combination of a game experience and a discussion (debrief) afterwards. We want to develop a game that a) aids large groups of students at the same time; b) focuses on a multidisciplinary audience, by paying attention to customary and cultural differences in research practices and c) will be made publicly available using blended techniques. As a master SEC student you will design a theory-based practical game element of the escape room and test it with Master students.      

2) Teaching Responsible Conduct of Science in Secondary Education

Rapid developments in biology and the life sciences, like genomics, synthetic biology or geoengineering offer a lot of promises and potential risks. In their everyday life students get informed about issues around vaccines, renewable energy, healthy diets via news media and ever more often via social media. Linked to the research integrity issues described above, several questions rise to the fore: When forming their opinion, do secondary students still place their trust in scientist or do they question their expertise in favor of alternative societal / local stakeholders or persons perhaps via social media? Do secondary science teachers detect a declined trust in science among their students and how do they deal with it in their classroom practice? (How) do teachers include responsible conduct of science in their teaching practice and what difficulties do they experience in teaching integrity issues? What is the teachers understanding of responsible conduct of research? As a Master SEC student you will address (one or more) of these questions focused on either secondary students or science teachers.

3) Young Researchers Perceptions and Needs for Responsible Conduct of Science 

As part of the European project called INTEGRITY, in which we will develop innovative educational tools on research integrity for undergraduate students and early career researchers, we are currently inquiring into the existing knowledge and needs of these students themselves. Gaining this knowledge is necessary to develop more tailor-made tools for them in different study phases and disciplines. What are we aiming for when we teach research integrity is: how to survive in a world that is complex and difficult, how to deal with questionable behavior, and how still to enjoy research? An unsolved underlying issue here is the view that we should take of current scientific practices. Is the current science system deficient and is it easy to take a wrong turn and misbehave, against which empowerment should help to protect yourself, or is empowerment focused on setting positive standards for responsible research rather than on the possibility that bad things may happen? As a master SEC student you will elaborate on prior knowledge and ideas of undergraduate students or young researchers as starting point for designing a pedagogy founded on three core values – Transparency, Honesty, and Responsibility.

Supervisor: Ralph Meulenbroeks

In the Netherlands, students in secondary education choose their general education direction at the age of 14-15 (9th grade). What they choose is a general set of subjects that they will take right up until the final exam. This so-called subject cluster choice (profielkeuze) is a major issue in grade 9. The decision-making process is facilitated by a lesson series on personality, future studies, interest, etc, and it culminates in the actual choice.

Given the attention it gets at schools, it is surprising to find very little actual research on the subject. A pilot study in 2019-20 has focused on the spectrum of motivations (extrinsic-intrinsic) students display when choosing their future direction, in relation to the observed content of the lesson series. The results of the study indicate that students base their initial choice mainly on autonomous motivation types, but is has no information on the last past of the decision-making process, where students interact with parents and peers and may alter their choice.

This project aims to follow students throughout the entire 9th grade (until the final choice is made) and study their motives by qualitative and quantitative means. A master student is very welcome to assist in exploring this almost uncharted territory!

Contact: Ralph Meulenbroeks

The Ionizing Radiation Practical is a physics practical that is performed every year by thousands of students in the final stages of secondary education. It has been offered to schools throughout the Netherlands since the early 70’s. Recently, however, a new approach to this practical has been implemented, based on inquiry based learning (IBL). Very recent research has revealed tantalizing clues for a significant improvement in intrinsic motivation among students when comparing the new IBL approach to the original, “cook book” variant. Since intrinsic motivation has been shown to be a robust predictor of academic and other achievement, the implications of this research may be far-reaching. I am looking for an intrinsically motivated student to further this research by a mixed-method approach of conducting interviews, questionnaires, and (very promising) measuring behavioral changes. Write me a short e-mail if you are interested, and we’ll have a chat on this!

Contact: Christine Knippels

Education through an inquiry approach in science and technology prepares young citizens to participate in socio-scientific debate. For this purpose, students need to have an understanding of the process and products of science and technology and to appreciate them as human endeavour. In addition, students need to exercise informed decision-making, i.e.  considering and balancing relevant facts, interests, values, costs and benefits.

The PARRISE project, which involves 18 European partners, aims at introducing the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation in science and mathematics education to contribute to a scientifically literate society (21st century skills). It does so by combining socio-scientific issues (SSI) and inquiry-based learning (IBL) to foster citizenship (CE) in science education; The SSIBL-approach.

Implementing the SSIBL-approach in science classrooms and teacher training programs is challenging. Many aspects still have to be investigated and analysed in order to make proper education trajectories and materials. Last year our teacher educators implemented activities in their teacher training programme and we have data available that can be used to evaluate these sessions. Moreover, based  on the experiences of the first round of try-outs new learning and teaching activities can be developed and tested.

Contact: Michiel Doorman 

Inquiry-based learning (IBL) has been advocated by science and mathematics educators as a means to make students be actively engaged in content-related problem solving processes and in reflecting on the nature of science. Several reasons created the need for IBL varying from improving content-learning, fostering motivation, creating opportunities for learning 21st century skills like creativity, critical thinking and working collaboratively. However, a discrepancy can be found between the need to make IBL accessible to students and teachers’ current classroom practices. Three research projects are proposed in close cooperation with these running projects on this issue.

The first research project accompanies the implementation process of IBL by selected teachers within a case study design. The teachers will be guided in this process and data is retrieved on their beliefs and implementation strategies (e.g., necessary aids and evaluation tools), classroom implementation is observed and students’ responses during and after the implemented unit are considered (e.g., creativity and levels of inquiry). A sample collection of students’ responses is available for an initial explorative study.

In the second project, the central focus is on the redesign of traditional tasks within teacher professional development units. Teachers will be supported and observed during the process of redesigning a closed textbook task into an IBL-oriented task and interviewed afterwards. The aim is to extract the determinants for successful redesigning processes to be able to enhance a research-based tool kit containing redesigning aids to guarantee successful implementation of tasks. The tasks can be selected from subjects within the science or mathematics domain.

The third project concerns a textbook analysis in one or more science domains. You will analyze to what extent textbooks provide opportunities for inquiry-based learning and opportunities for experiencing how scientists think and work. This textbook analysis can be performed in close collaboration with a PhD student who investigates similarities and differences between China and the Netherlands on this issue in lower secondary mathematics education.


Capps, D. K., & Crawford, B. A. (2013). Inquiry-based instruction and teaching about nature of science: Are they happening?. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 24(3), 497-526.

Minner, D. D., Levy, A. J., & Century, J. (2010). Inquiry‐based science instruction—what is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002. Journal of research in science teaching, 47(4), 474-496.

Swan, M., Pead, D., Doorman, L.M. & Mooldijk, A.H. (2013). Designing and using professional development resources for inquiry based learning. ZDM - International Journal on Mathematics Education, 45 (7), (pp. 945-957) (13 p.).

Master Theses from previous students in the project:

Nur Rahmah Sangkala (2018). The influence of inquiry based learning on Indonesian students’ attitude towards science.

Lysanne Smit (2016). A better understanding of 21st century skills in mathematics education and a view on these skills in current practice.

Contact: Wouter van Joolingen

In the new knowledge base for grade 7-8 science education the concepts of models and modelling are central. Models play a crucial role in scientific reasoning. Often they are seen as simplifications of reality, but more importantly they play a role as reasoning tool for understanding reality. Therefore constructing models is an important part of science education. For the lower grades (grade 7-9, 12-15 yr old) constructing models cannot involve extensive mathematics and hinges on the use of visual representation. For this reason modelling tools such as SimSketch (see modeldrawing.eu) allow young students to create scientific models based on drawings. In their drawings, students indicate the behaviour of the elements of the drawing. The tool can then simulate this behaviour, turning the drawing into an animation.

In this research project you will design a modelling task related to your school subject, observe students carrying out this task and analyse the interaction, using the framework of “Epistemic Games” (Tuminaro & Redish, 2007). In this way you will trace the developments in scientific reasoning in the interaction with the modelling task.

Tuminaro, J., & Redish, E. (2007). Elements of a cognitive model of physics problem solving: Epistemic games. Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research, 3(2), 020101. doi:10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.3.020101

Bollen, L. & van Joolingen, W. (2013). SimSketch: Multi-Agent Simulations Based on Learner-Created Sketches for Early Science Education. IEEE Transaction on Learning Technologies, 6(3), 208–216. doi:10.1109/TLT.2013.9

Contact: Joke Daemen and Michiel van Harskamp

Why do bachelor students from the fields of science, mathematics and technology refrain from choosing a career in teaching? What are their reasons for not wanting to become a teacher? And is it possible to influence their opinion by designing interventions through which students come into contact with inspiring and experimental educational settings?

Teacher shortage in mainly the areas of science, mathematics and technology is a growing global problem. In this research project you will try to answer the questions above in a scientifically sound manner. This will be done by using questionnaires, interviews and other qualitative and quantitative methods.

Fokkens-Bruinsma, M. & Canrinus, E. T. (2012). The Factors Influencing Teaching (FIT)-Choice scale in a Dutch teacher education program. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 40(3), 249-269.

Heinz, M. (2015). Why choose teaching? An international review of empirical studies exploring student teachers’ career motivations and levels of commitment to teaching. Educational Research and Evaluation, 21(3), 258-297.

OECD TALIS Initial Teacher Preparation Study. Country Background Report - The Netherlands (2016). Brouwer, P., Klaeijsen, A., Bijman, D., Admiraal, W., Geerdink, G., Helms-Lorenz, M.

Contact: Wouter van Joolingen (first supervisor), and Yuri Matteman (Naturalis)

In science education, focus is on the construction of scientific practices. The idea of this is that students get in touch with real science, and engage in authentic scientific work. In such a way, students get engaged in the scientific reasoning encounter the creative and constructive aspects of science. 

In this project you will design a scientific practice around a topic of study that is found in Naturalis, the centre for biodiversity in Leiden. In collaboration with a researcher you will set up teaching material and use proper ICT tools, such as modeling tools to create tasks that constitute a scientific practice. Topic will be chosen in collaboration with Naturalis and can be the evolution of snails, the spreading of diseases though parasites, or the dynamics of populations.

The scientific practice will involve preparatory work at school as well as a visit by the school to Naturalis, in which the students will collect data. For the students the practice should result in a scientific product, such as a model or a research report. Apart from the design, you will study the learning processes of the students by recording and observing their actions and assessing their final products.

Osborne, J. (2014). Teaching scientific practices: Meeting the challenge of change. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 25(2), 177–196. doi:10.1007/s10972-014-9384-1

Dillon, J. (2011). Teaching Science Outside the Classroom. In R. Toplis, How Science Works (pp. 134–147). Abingdon: Routledge.

Contact: Gerard Dummer (Hogeschool Utrecht) & Elwin Savelsbergh (UU and Hogeschool Utrecht)

In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by programmed systems and devices such as traffic light controls, climate control systems and elevators. From both consumer, citizenship, and employability perspectives, it is desirable that pupils gain some insight in the functioning of such programmed systems. In the current practice of primary education in the Netherlands, however, this insight is hardly addressed, and little is known about effective teaching approaches. Therefore, in his PhD-research, Gerard Dummer aims to develop a learning trajectory in which students gain insight in programmed systems.

Although people encounter programmed systems on daily basis, they will view these systems from a user perspective, and they only have a vague notion of the role of the computer in such systems (Dummer, Savelsbergh & Drijvers, in preparation; Koski & De Vries, 2016). In order to gain insight in the inner workings of such systems, people will need to make a switch to view the systems from the ‘computer perspective’. Therefore, a lesson has been developed where participants roleplay the entrance of a car park. In this ‘unplugged’ activity each participant has a specific role: the driver who wants to enter the car park, the entrance button, the car park computer, the barrier and a sensor. The idea is that participants experience in a step-by-step way the instructions that are carried out by the computer as a concrete frame of reference that can be used in the programming lessons.

The activity was found effective with pupils in primary education. In this student research project, we would like to explore the effectiveness of the activity in primary teacher education, where students also need to make the switch to from the user to the computer perspective. The main research question will be: In how far does the unplugged activity help students to reason from the computer perspective? Basing on available instruments from previous research among pupils, you will develop instruments to assess students’ prior understanding, and learning outcomes, and you will use these instruments to evaluate student learning.

Dummer, G., Savelsbergh, E.R. & Drijvers, P. (in preparation). Entering the car park - Primary students' understanding of programmed systems in real world situations.

Koski, M. I., & de Vries, M. (2013). An exploratory study on how primary pupils approach systems. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 23(4), 835-848.

Contact: Michiel van Harskamp

Sustainability is a core theme in the Dutch science curriculum. Many students wonder how they can act in a sustainable manner and what is really happening related to sustainability. Other students do not believe sustainability issues are really all that important, or think the problems are exaggerated or boring. Furthermore, sustainability issues are abstract and complex, and involve scientific, social and personal themes, without clear-cut solutions or answers.

To open up these difficult issues for discussion in the classroom, teachers can use future scenarios. These could for instance be short videos or texts that describe a possible future situation, thus stimulating students to think about sustainability on a deeper level, and making them ask questions about the issue. But what do these future scenarios have to look like? And which themes are interesting for students?

This research project is taking place in the context of my PhD project, which revolves around sustainability thinking in lower secondary science education. Because this project focusses on young students of all levels (vmbo, havo and vwo), mastery of the Dutch language is required.

Men and women are regularly treated as unequal in society, but also in science. Sometimes this is not a problem but quite often the presence of gender-bias in science and society hampers people to become who and what they want to be.

So in this project students interested in gender-issues and gender-bias in the natural sciences (STEM / Science and Technology) can study a variety of related aspects.

Depending on interest in theme / practice / target audience the influence of communication or education (interventions) on gender-issues or gender-bias will be studied. An approach suitable for the issue under investigation will be selected: the study may be descriptive or may use a design based approach (production of an intervention) in combination with qualitative interviews with target audience of choice.

Some  ideas that can be studied:

  • Target audience research: stereotypes present in a certain discipline (‘jongensvakken’ versus ‘meisjesvakken’)
  • Analysis of school books / popular science texts: how gender-biased are school book / popular science texts for a particular discipline
  • Perception and experience of target audience of (gender-biased) science texts
  • Study in an intervention whether two (or three) different versions of a text make a difference in the target audience 
  • Is there gender-bias in reporting about integrity / misconduct in science?

Staal, M. (2019) Reducing Gender Bias in Popular Science Writing, master thesis UU.

Heilman, M.E. (2012) ‘Gender stereotypes and workplace bias’. Research in Organizational Behavior. Elsevier Ltd, 32, pp. 113-135. Doi:10.1016/j.riob.2012.11.003.