Available Multidisciplinary research projects:

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: Ralph Meulenbroeks

Intrinsic motivation is the innate human capability – or inclination even - to immerse oneself in an activity which is its own reward. The concept of intrinsic motivation has been around for about a century and has gained significance in the sense that it is a very robust predictor of success in academia, sports, or work.

Intrinsic motivation is thus very important in students of all ages and supporting it should be a main objective for any teacher. Recently, evidence suggests that the intrinsic motivation of students is correlated with the intrinsic motivation of their teachers. The evidence is only available for primary school environments, however, so I would really like to study this possibly crucial correlation in secondary school science subjects.

Contexts for this research could be your own school, the Ionizing Radiation Practical for secondary education physics students, or an undergraduate course. If this text sparks your intrinsic motivation, please send me an email!

Contact: Liesbeth de Bakker

In this research project we focus on the professional development of informal science educators (museum staff for instance) by helping them to bridge the theory-practice gap through student internships.

In informal science education, as in many fields, linking theory to practice is a challenging endeavor. One way to bridge this gap between theory and practice may be the joint supervision of student research and product development projects by informal science education professionals and university supervisors. In the same way that action research projects in formal education can have an impact on linking theory to practice for current and future teachers, this study investigated the perception and experience of a theory-practice gap in informal science education and to what extent student projects can play a role in bridging that gap. In this preliminary, small scale, quantitative study online questionnaires were distributed among Dutch ISE professionals and students who had carried out internships at their institutions. Initial findings from this study suggest that similar to the formal science education field, students as well as professionals do experience a gap between theory and practice, and that student projects can help bridge that gap by getting professionals in touch with current research findings and by showing students how the theory is being put into practice. Furthermore, student projects provide opportunities for professional development for professionals as well as students in terms of critical analysis, acquiring new knowledge and professional development as coaches and future professionals.Based on these initial findings a need for qualitative research has arisen. So this research project wants to build on the quantitative findings, through follow-up interviews (or new interviews) with some participants of the study focusing more profoundly on the perceptions and experiences of the theory-practice gap, a more detailed description of how the student projects are set up and the supervisors (both academic and museum professional) work together in these projects, and what both students and supervisors alike need in terms of support to overcome the theory-practice gap. Maybe literature focusing on ‘boundary crossing’ may give extra insights for setting up this study.

Vaughan, M., & Burnaford, G. (2016). Action research in graduate teacher education: A review of the literature 2000-2015. Educational Action Research, 24(2), 280-299.

Mills, G.E. (2007). Action research: A guide for the teacher researcher. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Campbell, A., McNamara O., & Gilroy P. (2004). Practitioner research and professional development in Education. London: Paul Chapman Publishing.

Bronkhorst, L. H., & Akkerman, S. F. (2016). At the boundary of school: Continuity and discontinuity in learning across contexts. Educational Research Review, 19, 18-35.

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. Recent curricula across Europe underline the need to implement IBL into the science and mathematics classroom. Several reasons created the need for IBL varying from improving content-learning, fostering motivation to 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 practice. Therefore, recent large scale implementation projects have been initiated by the EU to provide tools and aids for teachers to foster the innovation process and make it more visible and sustainable in actual classroom practice. Two research projects are proposed in close cooperation with these EU projects.

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 redesign of traditional tasks within teacher professional development units will be focused on. 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.

Furthermore, a comparison with results from other European partner countries is within the scope of both projects.


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: Elwin Savelsbergh

Building on a tradition that began with the LOGO programming environment, nowadays there is a wealth of playful drag and drop programming environments, such as Scratch, Lego Mindstorms NXT. Some of these implement rather advanced programming concepts, such as control loops or recursion. Even young children can learn programming with such tools, and it has been claimed that this would provide an effective preparation for programming with ‘adult’ programming languages, such as Java, C, or Python. However, there is little systematic research to support this claim.

This project in the early grades of secondary education will investigate the effects of prior experience with a drag-and-drop programming language on the subsequent learning of a text based programming language, both in terms of motivation/confidence, and in terms of conceptual transfer. Most likely, the research will be carried out in the context of an after school computer club.

Franklin, D., Conrad, P., Boe, B., Nilsen, K., Hill, C., Len, M. & Waite, R. (2013, March). Assessment of computer science learning in a scratch-based outreach program. In Proceeding of the 44th ACM technical symposium on Computer science education (pp. 371-376). ACM.

Meerbaum-Salant, O., Armoni, M., & Ben-Ari, M. (2013). Learning computer science concepts with Scratch. Computer Science Education, 23, 239-264.

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: Wouter van Joolingen

Back in 1987, a famous educational computer system was the Alternate Reality Kit. The basic idea behind this system was that students could construct and explore alternative worlds to learn about the concept of physical laws and how they predicted behavior. Unfortunately, ARK never left the computer lab as the computing resources needed to run it were way beyond what schools could afford in these times.

Nowadays, the computing technology needed to run ARK and similar systems fits in anyone’s pocket. This justifies a new attempt to create and evaluate simulations of alternate worlds where students can play with the governing laws. For instance, one could create worlds where the speed of light is within reach of normal cars, environments where conservation laws are not valid or where electrical forces between charged bodies are increasing with distance instead of decreasing, to name a few examples.

From a theoretical perspective such worlds are interesting for two reasons. By exploring these worlds students can experience the consequences of laws in extreme situations and in this way develop deeper understanding of the meaning of the laws. And by constructing alternate realities, students get acquainted to the idea of model construction and ideas of parsimony in scientific theories.

Your task is to design tasks for learning with alternate realities in the design process of an alternate reality game. You will collaborate with a game designer (a student in game design) who will co-design and implement the game. The game will be pilot tested and observations of students playing the game will feed the development of new versions. After a few iterations, the game will be delivered and tested using a study using pre-test and post-test to assess student learning with the game.

Smith, R. B. (1987). Experiences with the alternate reality kit: an example of the tension between literalism and magic. ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, 18(4), 61–67. doi:10.1145/29933.30861.

Contact persons: Nathalie van der Wal and Arthur Bakker

Over the past decades, the use of ICT, technology and computer-driven equipment in the workplace has changed the professional practices of engineers. Calculations are performed by computers and therefore mathematics is often hidden (Hoyles, Noss, Kent & Bakker, 2010).

Because of these changes, other skills are necessary. These new skills are named 21st-century skills. Part of these skills are Techno-mathematical Literacies (TmL). They are a combination of mathematical, workplace and ICT knowledge, communicative skills, the ability to interpret abstract data, having a number sense and a sense of error.

Within higher professional education, there is an ongoing discussion on the mathematics curricula, which are mainly theoretical with limited application to practice and use of software. Students have limited motivation for mathematics because of the lack of seeing its relevance. To prepare these future engineers for their workplace tasks, it is imperative that TmL are implemented as learning goals in the mathematics curricula.

This research had yielded an innovative applied mathematics course by the research strategy of Design-Based Research. For the last study of the project, we are going to design and administer pre- and posttests to measure the effectiveness of the new course.

We are looking for a master student in mathematics, chemistry or biology to design, pilot and validate test items. Examples are already available. These test items comprise applied mathematics questions in the field of chemistry and biology. We will need and encourage you to use your creativity!

For further details, please contact Nathalie van der Wal.

Hoyles, C., Noss, R., Kent, P., & Bakker, A. (2010). Improving Mathematics at Work: The Need for Techno-Mathematical Literacies. London: Routledge.

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: Nico Rutten and Wouter van Joolingen

Augmented reality and virtual reality are hot topics in education. These technological possibilities have been embraced by the largest software companies like Google, Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft. AR and VR are fun, no doubt. However, to what extent can these technologies support learning? Nico Rutten has built an augmented reality sandbox to investigate just that. Even though everybody calls this technology ‘augmented reality sandbox’, it specifically concerns ‘mixed reality’. This is because physical reality (the sand) is not only augmented by a projected virtual layer (the river landscape), this virtual layer also responds real-time to changes in the physical sand on which the simulated landscape is projected. The research projects related to the AR sandbox are specified below:

Project Embodied cognition (i.c.w. Arthur Bakker)

Embodied cognition is a relatively new perspective on cognitive psychology. It originated as a counter movement to the inclination of traditional cognitive psychology to conceptualize the human mind as a computer. According to embodied cognition the human mind should be understood as an interplay between the brain, the body, and the environment. Even though this description seems straightforward, embodied cognition is often misunderstood. For example, when an activity is both physical and cognitive, then that doesn’t imply a link with embodied cognition. Conceptual congruency is an absolute necessity: bodily action needs to be in line with conceptual content. This project focuses on how the AR sandbox can support embodied learning. The necessary conceptual congruency can, for example, be found in the link between how one moves the hands to create slopes and reasoning about the steepness of slopes. Possible research questions are: 1) What are possible ways to investigate conceptual congruency between reasoning about slopes and hand movements to change slopes?, 2) To what extent do the discussions between the students (and their teacher) reflect that they’re engaged in an approach to learning that is embodied?, and 3) How can learning gains during learning activities based on the AR sandbox be assessed according the perspective of embodied cognition?

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Project U-Talent (i.c.w. Berenice Michels)

Many high school students visit the Freudenthal Institute, as they participate in educational programs organized by U-Talent. They can be very enthusiastic about new technologies, such as the AR sandbox. That interacting with the AR sandbox is very captivating, is already know. That’s why it is used in many museums worldwide. What is relatively unknown however, is how this technology can support learning. Two approaches are organized to have U-Talent students use the AR sandbox to support learning: 1) Groups of students will write their U-Talent thesis based on learning activities with the technology, and 2) The technology can be integrated with the U-Talent module ‘Hoogwater in de rivier’ [Flood water in the river]. That module contains learning activities in which students investigate how physical water flows through a sandbox. We believe it to be promising to link those activities to investigating how virtual water flows in the AR sandbox. This research project focuses on the present unknowns of using this kind of technology to support learning of high school students, for example: 1) To what extent can the AR sandbox be linked to curricular content?, 2) To what extent can meaningful learning activities be supported that go beyond playful interaction?, and 3) To what extent is it possible to facilitate a deeper kind of learning?

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Project Socio-Scientific Issues (i.c.w. Christine Knippels)

Landscape architecture is often related to socio-scientific issues: decisions on how to change a country’s landscape involve many different stakeholders, who attempt to support their points of view by scientifically-informed arguments. When a discussion between stakeholders is organized, the decision process can be facilitated by using, for example, a physical model or a serious game to see what consequences specific decisions have in different scenarios. The AR sandbox has the potential to fulfill a similar function. A suitable case for setting up such a learning activity is the project ‘Room for the river Waal’: www.ruimtevoordewaal.nl/en/room-for-the-river-waal. Stakeholders related to this case are: the Dutch government, the municipalities of Nijmegen and Lent, the inhabitants, and representatives of nature preservation. By 3D-printing a mold of the initial topographic situation of Nijmegen-Lent, this situation can be re-created in the AR sandbox. In a group of students the roles of the different stakeholders can be allocated. Each of them can set-up scientifically informed scenarios and confront all stakeholders with its consequences, for example by relocation of bridges, dikes, or land. This research project can focus on questions such as: 1) What are the advantages and drawbacks of integrating the AR sandbox in stakeholder discussions?, 2) What role can the AR sandbox fulfill in scenario exploration and decision processes among stakeholders?, and 3) What are the similarities and differences between stakeholder discussions with or without the AR sandbox?

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Project 3D-printing (i.c.w. Susanne Tak)

Besides AR and VR, 3D-printing is another popular technological development. Online databases provide access to large collections of objects, that can be 3D-printed on demand. Tinkering with such tangible objects can of course be a lot of fun, but to what extent can interaction with such objects support learning? A potentially fruitful combination of the AR sandbox and 3D-printing is the ‘Watershed and Flooding Experiment’, of which a diorama can be downloaded here: www.thingiverse.com/thing:1374110. The learning goal for the students is “to construct dikes that [are] able to hold back a sizable amount of water and keep Waterville dry”. The assignment on the website is originally written to be done while using physical water (instead of virtual water, as used in the AR sandbox). Fortunately, UU’s botanical gardens have a sandbox that has been specifically designed to be used with physical water. So, the assignment above can be done by using physical water in the botanical gardens and virtual water in the AR sandbox, both based on the same 3D-printed diorama. Possible research questions are: 1) To what extent can hypothesis testing with virtual water be linked to hypothesis testing with physical water?, 2) To what extent are students able to conceptually bridge what happens virtually and physically?, and 3) What are the benefits and drawbacks of having the students learn from comparing virtual and physical scenarios?, and 4) What is the effectiveness of combining learning from a virtual and a physical perspective?

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Project Assessment (i.c.w. Wouter van Joolingen)

Playing with the AR sandbox is no doubt a lot of fun, so we expect learning activities based on this technology to be associated with increased motivation. But how about learning effects? Can learning activities with this technology be designed in order to have them lead to increased learning outcomes? And how are we supposed to measure such increases in learning outcomes? A learning goal of the high school geography curriculum that could be nicely supported by using the AR sandbox, is to gain insight into the relation between topographic maps and topographic profiles. Students generally learn about this relation by linking fixed maps and fixed profiles, which they both watch on paper/screen. Learning activities based on the AR sandbox could enrich learning about this relation from a hands-on perspective. Students can recreate a given topographical map in the AR sandbox, take a picture of their creation from above, and use the program ArcGIS to transform their topographical map into profiles. This research project can focus on questions such as: 1) How can learning activities based on the AR sandbox be integrated in learning about the relation between topographic maps and profiles?, 2) What is the function of interacting with the AR sandbox, when integrated in such learning activities?, 3) How can learning progresses during such learning activities be assessed?

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