Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Jake McMullen

University of Turku

Research Focus

Jake McMullen’s research examines the contributors to individual differences in learning and development in school-age children. He is especially focused on the development of widely transferable knowledge and skills.

His research explores how students use their existing mathematical knowledge in new contexts, including everyday life. Working with a multidisciplinary team of educators and researchers, he designs novel learning environments to promote this sort of flexible mathematical knowledge in all students.

My plans for the fellowship period

During my fellowship, I will use a multidisciplinary lens to develop ways to assess and support adaptive expertise in STEM domains. Supporting students in learning to transfer their knowledge to novel contexts requires domain-specific theories of development, measurement instruments, and instructional practices. I will examine what features of learning environments support adaptive expertise in STEM domains, focusing on mathematics as foundational to these. Adaptive expertise in mathematics is crucial for transferring knowledge to future mathematics learning, other domains such as natural sciences, and everyday life. Unfortunately, traditional instruction fails to develop adaptive expertise in mathematics in most students. To combat this, my research aims to understand better instructional design principles and classroom practices that support adaptive expertise in all students.

I will also examine ways to measure adaptive expertise in school-age students with scalable and psychometrically sound instruments. Previous emphasis on more basic, foundational knowledge may be due to a lack of reliable and valid measures of more flexible knowledge. I aim to develop both a theoretical understanding of adaptive expertise across STEM domains as well as provide methodological clarity for measuring it not only embedded within the domain of interest (mathematics), but also in other domains (e.g., physics) and everyday life.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

My research aims to provide value for reform-minded researchers, educators, and practitioners worldwide. All students deserve the opportunity to engage in rich, meaningful learning environments. My fellowship will provide empirically and theoretically founded digital tools that can be easily implemented in classroom and distance learning settings worldwide to foster this goal. It aims to set the foundation for empirical investigations of the effectiveness of novel learning environments to support adaptive expertise across all domains in the form of instructional design principles and effective means to measure adaptive expertise.

The activities and learning environments I design with educators aim to develop children’s ability to use their knowledge in everyday situations and future learning. Expanding mathematics beyond the classroom’s four walls and supporting children’s natural interest in mathematical features of their everyday lives helps all children develop highly valued skills and knowledge.