For the past several decades, education research typically meant conducting a study, publishing a paper about what the researcher learned and hoping practitioners would actually put it to use in a school or classroom.

Philip Bell is working toward a future where education research and practice is an intertwined, ongoing partnership. Where researchers and teachers work together improve student learning and solve issues as they arise.

“Research-practice partnerships should be a shared endeavor,” said Bell, the Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences at University of Washington College of Education. “Equitable relationships between researchers and educators are important to building trust and getting significant work done so we can address these emergent problems of practice in education.”

Bell discussed his ongoing work to lead this shift to more equitable research-practice partnerships during a session at the 2016 American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting titled “Reconceptualizing How We Study and Support Research Use.”

In the ongoing Partnership for Science & Engineering Practices (PSEP) project, Bell and UW researchers are collaborating with nearly 200 teachers from the Seattle and Renton school districts to reshape their science and engineering education curricula and help teachers prepare their students for challenging Next Generation Science Standards. Over the past three years, teachers have come together with UW researchers several times a year for 80 annual hours of professional development.

Bell offered three key lessons for productive and equitable research-practice partnerships:

  • Research should overwhelmingly focus on the needs of educational practice and be used to inform unfolding implementation efforts
  • Researchers and practitioners should engage in routines where they collaboratively define, conduct, and leverage the research
  • Research should be conducted at all levels of the implementation work, from the classroom to the professional learning experience, and at the partnership management level

Bell’s PSEP project played a critical role in the development of STEM Teaching Tools, a series of tools designed for practitioners to support implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards at a national scale. Freely available to all educators, the bite-size tools are designed to help practitioners understand a specific problem of educational practice, reflect on it, and access resources and instructional tools that will enable them to teach more effectively.

Learn more about Bell’s work through the National Science Foundation-funded Research+Practice Collaboratory.


Philip Bell, Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences

Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications