Wired for Learning: Supporting Thinking Skills in the K-2 Classroom (2018-2019)


Wired for Learning is a project designed to support young children in kindergarten through second grade who are at risk of falling behind or struggling academically in school. The premise is to target the development of those thinking skills and dispositions that are known to enhance student success in school while also enhancing educators’ understanding of brain science and the relationship to teaching and learning.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project involves professional development for teachers, field-testing of a thinking skills curriculum, parent programming and the collection of data to evaluate program impact on both K-2 students and their teachers.

Specifically, the project team will develop and field-test a K-2 curriculum that intentionally integrates those learning dispositions and thinking skills that have proven to be critical to the cognitive development and academic success of young students. The team will provide professional development and support for teachers on thinking skills, learning dispositions and brain science as they relate to K-2 learning and development.

Team members will also design and deliver parent workshops on at-home methods for helping their children be successful in school, and conduct research on program effectiveness in supporting future academic success of participating children and in enhancing teaching practices over time. Finally, the team will disseminate results on impact and advocate for comprehensive K-2 nurturing programs that address thinking skills, dispositions for learning and brain science.

Anticipated Outcomes

Advocacy publication (white paper) with analysis of project data; data to inform future research and support grant proposals

Student Opportunities

Students will analyze and evaluate components of an existing K-2 nurturing program (Bright Idea), including the rich longitudinal data collected in previous implementations with over 10,000 students, to determine those areas that have been successful in achieving project goals and those that may need revision to increase impact. In addition to secondary data analysis, students will be also trained on the use of an observational tool and engage in primary data collection within public school classrooms.

Students can expect to gain a deeper understanding of teaching and learning from educators’ and neuroscientists’ perspectives; design assessment instruments and collect and analyze K-2 classroom data; increase engagement with the Durham community—and specifically Durham Public Schools; increase familiarity with the K-2 curriculum and the process for developing instructional strategies aligned with this curriculum; and expand knowledge of effective advocacy tools. 

For graduate students, the opportunity to conduct a mixed method study will further refine their quantitative and qualitative research skills. Additional opportunities to coauthor articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals will also be available. A graduate research assistant (either a Ph.D. or master’s/professional student) will serve as project manager.

The ideal team would include 6-12 students of varying levels. Since education is an issue central to all citizens, a variety of majors should be represented; however, those students with interests in education, public policy, psychology, neuroscience and economics may find the problem most relevant to their studies. Skills that will be useful to the project include general research skills, data collection and analysis, written and oral communication, creative and critical thinking, problem-solving and leadership. Graduate students will be encouraged to mentor undergraduates in those skill areas for which they have more experience.

The project team will meet 2-3 times per month. At least one meeting per month will be devoted to gaining additional knowledge/expertise around the issue. Guest speakers will be invited to these meetings to share their insight. Former team members will provide insights. Other meetings will be devoted to active problem-solving and product work. In addition to team meetings, students will spend at least one hour per week in a K-2 classroom making observations and/or collecting data for the project.

Students will receive a grade for their participation. They will be assessed through participation in team meetings, written reflections, assigned benchmark tasks and contribution to the culminating product.


Fall 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Fall 2018: Team-building; reading and research, guest speakers, classroom visits, focus groups with K-2 teachers; plan of action detailing major tasks, responsibilities and target completion dates
  • Spring 2019: Continued reading and research, guest speakers, secondary data analysis, observation protocol training, classroom visits, focus groups with teachers and parents, preliminary primary source data collection and analysis; professional development for K-2 teachers, parent education sessions, final analysis of primary source data collection; designing of deliverables that communicate project outcomes


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Margaret Gayle, Social Science Research Institute; American Association for Gifted Children*
Kristen Stephens, Arts & Sciences-Program in Education*
Daniel Turner, Social Science Research Institute*

Graduate Team Members

Celli Horstman, Public Policy Studies-MPP

Undergraduate Team Members

Caleb Cooke
Anna Dombrovskaya
Karina Heaton
Connor Henderson, Public Policy Studies (AB)
Nathan Liang, Psychology (AB), Statistical Science (BS2)
Kya Locklear
Yilu Lu
Raisa Reed, Psychology (AB)
Reagan Sanders
Nicole Shoichet

Community Team Members

Beth Cross, Durham Public Schools
Laura Parrott, Durham Public Schools

* denotes team leader


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