Mathematics, 3D Printing, and Computational Thinking Through Work-Based Learning (MPACT): An Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Grant Evaluation

The Mathematics, 3D Printing, and Computational Thinking Through Work-Based Learning (MPACT) program combines teacher professional development, specialized curriculum and materials and STEM industry mentors to provide grade 4–7 students with project-based experiences.

SRI conducted an evaluation of MPACT implementation in the 2021–22 school year in four U.S. states. Despite ongoing difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to only partial implementation, MPACT Fellows’ (teachers who participated in MPACT) perceptions of and efficacy in program concepts increased meaningfully after participating in the program. Also, grade 4 and 5 MPACT students grew considerably in geometry, computational thinking and spatial reasoning over the school year. However, MPACT students’ growth in socioemotional outcomes—such as behavioral engagement in math and math self-efficacy—was not as significant. The evaluation provides limited but suggestive evidence that MPACT could demonstrate improved student outcomes in ideal conditions if examined over a longer time frame or using different impact measures.


In 2018, SRI received an Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support the development of the Mathematics, 3D Printing, and Computational Thinking Through Work-Based Learning (MPACT) program to schools in four U.S. states. MPACT is designed, developed and implemented by TERC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to innovation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

MPACT combines teacher professional development, specialized curriculum and materials and STEM industry mentors to provide grade 4–7 students with project-based experiences. Across three learning modules, MPACT students implement design-and-making projects-including digital fabrication as well as low-tech materials-that help them learn mathematics, computational thinking and spatial reasoning.

In the 2021–22 school year, the first year of full MPACT implementation, SRI researchers examined the extent to which the program was implemented as intended. We also looked at the impact of the program on students’ socioemotional outcomes and teachers’ perceptions of and efficacy in program concepts. We used a cluster quasi-experimental design to compare students in MPACT Fellows’ (teachers who participated in MPACT) classrooms with a similar, matched group of students in comparison teachers’ classrooms. Additionally, we estimated growth on an assessment of grade-level geometry, computational thinking and spatial reasoning for grade 4 and 5 MPACT students.

The first year of MPACT implementation was marked by ongoing difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and teachers, students and families were burdened with challenges to their well-being. While the MPACT professional development was delivered as intended, only 65% of MPACT Fellows used all three modules with all of their classes. Also, MPACT Fellows provided fewer opportunities for students to meet with or learn about STEM industry mentors than intended. As a result, MPACT students in this study did not consistently have the intended level of engagement with the program.

Even so, three of the four factors related to teachers’ perceptions of and efficacy in program concepts were meaningfully higher for MPACT Fellows than for comparison teachers. Responses from a teacher questionnaire indicated that using 3D printers was a challenge for implementation but also a source of student engagement. Grade 4 and 5 MPACT students grew considerably on the assessment of geometry, computational thinking and spatial reasoning. On the other hand, there were no significant differences in students’ socioemotional outcomes—such as their behavioral engagement in math and math self-efficacy—between MPACT students and students in the comparison group.

The considerable growth of MPACT students on the assessment and the program impacts on teachers’ perceptions provide limited but suggestive evidence that MPACT could demonstrate improved student outcomes in ideal conditions, if examined over a longer time frame or using different impact measures.

Associated team members

  • Douglas J. Gagnon

    Douglas J. Gagnon

    Senior Education Researcher, SRI Education

  • Ela Joshi

    Ela Joshi

    Senior Education Researcher, SRI Education

  • Tejaswini Tiruke

    Tejaswini Tiruke

    Scientific Programmer/Analyst, SRI Education

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