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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

FOCUS ON: Kihyun “Kelly” Ryoo

Kelly Ryoo

In the School of Education, associate professor Kihyun “Kelly” Ryoo is developing tools to help eighth-grade students in North Carolina, including students who speak English as a second language, to learn about science with simulations and visualizations. When the materials are complete, Ryoo’s team will share them online for teachers to download for free to use in the classroom.

Ryoo was the valedictorian of her undergraduate college class in South Korea, where she majored in public health and health education. When she was a student teacher for a high school class, she saw the teaching power of video. 

At that time, we didn’t have YouTube or great internet access, so we had to edit all the video to help them better understand. That made me realize that it would be great to use technology for education.

At Stanford University, Ryoo earned a master’s degree in learning design and technology and a doctorate in learning sciences and technology design with a specialization in science education. In 2012, she joined the Carolina faculty and developed a project to teach science in public schools in low-income areas with high teacher turnover and students who speak English as a second language.

They are the fastest growing population in the United States, but it has been a challenging for teachers to support them in mainstream classrooms because they are such a diverse group. Research has shown that they can struggle with the academic language of science. 

Ryoo’s team works with eighth-grade science teachers at four Title I middle schools, all within 50 miles of Chapel Hill, that serve a large number of students who speak English as their second language and who receive free or reduced lunch. This is the third year of the five-year project, funded by the National Science Foundation.

The researchers help the teachers to design, test and revise visualization technology and inquiry projects to use in their classrooms. 

The goal is to help the students talk to each other about science, develop hypotheses and have fun coming up with solutions. 

I think North Carolina public schools are not quite ready to support all these diverse learners in mainstream classrooms. So I think that teachers need more resources and the strategies to better help all students, including English learners, succeed in science. 

Each unit is about a week or two weeks long. The students use models, simulations and animation to visualize the experiments. These visualization technologies help the students grasp difficult scientific concepts and allow English learners to communicate about science without relying on language to articulate their ideas.

The technologies can help students engage in science practices like a scientist would. They can see the results with their experiment in multiple forms, so they have different ways of understanding these abstract and complex scientific concepts. 

Every day, Carolina faculty members engage in groundbreaking research, innovative teaching and public service that impacts in our community and the state, nation and the world.

Tune in to Focus Carolina during morning, noon and evening drive times and on the weekends to hear their stories and find out what ignites their passion for their work. You can listen to WCHL at 97.9 FM or 1360 AM. The interviews will also be available anytime online at under the Focus Carolina tab.

Focus Carolina is an exclusive program on WCHL, sponsored by the University.



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