NSF CAREER grant seeks to improve graph literacy in middle school students

Featured Faculty

Jayme Blaschke | March 20, 2023

middle school student looking at notebook paper with graph on it

Hwa Young Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics at Texas State University, has been awarded the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) grant.

The five-year, $1 million award, which will support her research, "CAREER: Reframing Students' Graph Literacy with a Focus on Students' Thinking," is funded by the NSF’s Division of Research on Learning (DRL).

The CAREER program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.

Graph literacy—or the ability to comprehend, interpret and use graphical representations—is critical for students to learn mathematics and to succeed in STEM coursework and careers. Educators, researchers and curricular developers share the important task of understanding and supporting students’ development of graph literacy. Studies have documented secondary school students’ difficulties with graphical representations, yet there is a need for theories focused on students’ mathematical thinking that can be used by math teachers, teacher educators and researchers to better support the development of students’ graph literacy in various domains of mathematics such as algebra, statistics and geometry.

Lee’s project examines middle school students’ graph literacy from an asset-based perspective, documenting the ways in which students think about graphs and the ways in which instruction can build upon that thinking to support the development of improved graph literacy. From there, the program will develop a holistic theoretical framework that can inform mathematics instruction in multiple content areas. The framework will model the strategies and insights students build upon when reading and writing graphs, and map how students’ graph literacy changes and develops across the middle grades.

The project will also design, test and refine a set of empirically-tested graphing tasks for use by both teachers and researchers; a library of videos illustrating student thinking as they engage in graphing tasks; and publications and curricular materials for teachers and teacher educators.

“Through my work with a focus on students’ thinking, I hope to contribute a better understanding of students’ continued development of graph literacy and support effective and equitable teaching and curriculum design,” Lee said.

DRL invests in projects to improve the effectiveness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning for people of all ages. Its mission includes promoting innovative research, development, and evaluation of learning and teaching across all STEM disciplines by advancing cutting-edge knowledge and practices in both formal and informal learning settings. DRL also promotes the broadening and deepening of capacity and impact in the educational sciences by encouraging the participation of scientists, engineers and educators from the range of disciplines represented at NSF.

For more information on the NSF CAREER grant, visit

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922