The Astor Fund Partnerships is a three year project funded by the Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education in The New York Community Trust. This program aimed to support teachers in implementing this groundbreaking digital platform in middle and high school classrooms and learn the most effective ways teachers can use it to improve the STEM knowledge and skills of their students.

Research Context is a vision-making application to improve the nature of New York City. Developed by WCS (Eric W. Sanderson, lead scientist; Kim Fisher, lead developer), Visionmaker allows the public to develop and share climate-resilient and sustainable designs for Manhattan based on rapid model estimates of the water cycle, carbon cycle, biodiversity and population. And ultimately it will allow teachers to create unprecedented learning experiences for their students, consistent with current and emerging NY State Mathematics, Science, and Technology (MST), and Common Core standards.

New York City needs people skilled in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to be economically productive and to face the environmental challenges of our time, from climate change to urban design to wildlife conservation. As a New York City cultural institution and a global conservation organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society has developed an online platform to enable New Yorkers to see the nature of their city, discover new configurations of their environment, and share their ideas about the future. delivers rapid, comprehensible, scientifically obtained metrics of environmental performance for New Yorkers and provides mechanisms for New Yorkers to share their personalized visons for the future.

Research Questions

  • How does the use of the expanded and associated curricula enhance formal STEM learning with respect to relevant standards?
  • How does the use of the expanded and associated curricula increase student and teacher interest and excitement in STEM materials?
  • How does the use of the expanded increase knowledge of the environment of New York City?


The research and evaluation of the program used a mixed-methods approach, soliciting both qualitative and quantitative data from participating teachers. The following instruments and data collection methods were used by external evaluators from Peer Associates to gather data from teachers.

  • Teacher Concept Maps: Content concept maps were collected before and after professional development to monitor change in teacher concept knowledge.
  • Teacher Focus Groups: Performed in the fall and spring these semi-structured small groups allowed teachers to report on all research questions.
  • Visionmaker Classroom Use Reporting Form: Designed to collect teacher lesson plans and student work to evaluate reported student learning outcomes from classroom activities using
  • Teachers Outcome Survey: Aimed to collect teacher attitudes around STEM and Visionmaker at the end of each school year.

Major Findings

On the teacher survey, both Middle School Teachers and High School Teachers reported agreement that they are able to describe NYC as a functioning ecosystem more accurately because of their participation in this program. High School Teachers reported stronger agreement with this statement (4.6) than Middle School Teachers (4.1).

Both Middle School Teachers and High School Teachers reported agreement on possessing the skills and confidence to use VM along four constructs in the teacher survey. Overall, High School Teachers reported stronger agreement (ranging from 4.3 - 4.5) than Middle School Teachers (3.7 - 3.8).

Both Middle School Teachers and High School Teachers reported agreement that their students can describe human impacts on these three dimensions because of participation in Visionmaker, with High School Teachers reporting stronger agreement (4.4 - 4.8) than Middle School Teachers (3.5 - 4.0).

Both Middle School Teachers and High School Teachers reported stronger agreement for biodiversity than the water and carbon cycles.

The content of coaching evolved. Early coaching visits focused on logistical aspects of using the platform, almost as an extension of the initial PD days. Later coaching session focused more on embedding VM into the curriculum and modeling how to use VM in the classroom.

Key Staff

  • Dr. Eric Sanderson, Co-Principal Investigator
  • Amanda Lindell, Co-Principal Investigator
  • David Johnston
  • Kim Fisher
  • Mario Giampieri
  • Chris Giamarino
  • Chris Spagnoli
  • Ester Crowles

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