Faculty & Staff

Maria Varelas, PhD

Professor

Maria Varelas is professor of science education whose research focuses on classroom-based learning and teaching of science in urban schools that educate predominantly students of color in economically challenged neighborhoods.

She is also an Honors College Faculty Affiliate at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), with degrees in physics and education. Her research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), other foundations, the State of Illinois, professional organizations, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, as she works with urban-school teachers to reform science education aiming at equity and social justice, and to explore possibilities and challenges that emerge in such efforts.

Prof. Varelas is widely published and recognized as a University of Illinois Scholar and Distinguished Researcher of the Year. She has been funded by multi-year and multi-collaborator NSF grants totaling over 9 million dollars, spanning integrated science-literacy enactments in elementary Chicago Public School classrooms, elementary and secondary science teacher preparation, development of science content courses for elementary education majors, and working with graduate students in science, mathematics, and engineering fields involved in K-12 classrooms. Dr. Varelas has held leadership positions in the field of science education that include: associate editor of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching; co-editor of the Learning section of Science Education; elected member of the Board of Directors of NARST: A Worldwide Organization for Improving Teaching and Learning Through Research; Chair of NARST’s Research Committee; Higher Education editor of Spectrum–the official journal of the Illinois Science Teachers Association; consultant to the 2012 US Framework for K-12 Science Education; and member of NSF Committees of Visitors.

Education

1992 - Ph.D., University of Illinois at Chicago, Science Education

1988 - M.S., University of Rochester, Education

1985 - Secondary School Physics Teacher Certification

1985 - B.S., University of Athens, Greece, Physics

 

Research & Teaching Interests

Maria Varelas engages in theoretical and empirical explorations of what it means to learn and teach science using primarily qualitative, interpretive approaches. She studies various interplays that are enacted in science classrooms, namely the interplay between developing theories and collecting and analyzing data, between the individual student and the larger classroom community, between the teacher and the learner, between affective, cognitive, and social dimensions of experience, between reading, writing, drawing, talking, and doing science, between an individual’s construction of meaning and the existing socio-cultural practice of science, between intellectual-thematic and social-organizational aspects of a classroom community, and between content learning and identity construction.

Since 1993, Dr. Varelas has been teaching in UIC’s elementary education programs and Curriculum Studies doctoral program, and has received 6 teaching awards of 3 different types. She is program co-coordinator and co-director of graduate studies of the new PhD program in mathematics and science education, and coordinator of the Masters program in science education.

Selected Publications

Books

  • Varelas, M., & Pappas, C. C.  (2013).  Children’s ways with science and literacy: Integrated multimodal enactments in urban elementary classrooms.  New York: Routledge.
  • Varelas, M. (Ed.)  (2012).  Identity construction and science education research: Learning, teaching, and being in multiple contexts.  Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Selected Journal Articles

  • Varelas, M., Tucker-Raymond, E., & Richards, K.  (in press).  A structure-agency perspective on young children’s engagement in school science: Carlos’s performance and narrative.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching.
  • Varelas, M., Settlage, J., & Mensah, F. M.  (in press).  Explorations of the structure-agency dialectic as a tool for framing equity in science education.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching.
  • Varelas, M., Pieper, L., Arsenault, A., Pappas, C., & Keblawe-Shamah, N.  (2014).  How science texts and hands-on explorations facilitate meaning making: Learning from Latina/o third graders.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51(10), 1246-1274.
  • Varelas, M., Martin, D. B., & Kane, J. M.  (2012).  Content learning and identity construction: A framework to strengthen African American students’ mathematics and science learning in urban elementary schools.  Human Development, 35, 319-339.
  • Varelas, M., Kane, J. M., & Wylie, C. D.  (2012).  Young Black children and science: Chronotopes of narratives around their science journals.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(5), 568-596.
  • Pappas, C. C., Varelas, M., Kokkino, S., Ye, L., & Ortiz, I.  (2012).  Dialogic strategies in read-alouds of English-language information books in a second-grade bilingual classroom.  Theory Into Practice (Special Issue: Rethinking Language Teaching and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms), 51(4), 263-272.
  • Varelas, M., Kane, J. M., & Wylie, C. D.  (2011).  Young African American children’s representations of self, science, and school: Making sense of difference.  Science Education, 95(5), 824-851.
  • Ye, L., Varelas, M., & Guajardo, R.  (2011).  Subject-matter experts in urban schools: Journeys of enacted identities in science and mathematics classrooms.  Urban Education, 46(4), 845-879.
  • Varelas, M., Pappas, C. C., Tucker-Raymond, E., Kane, J., Hankes, J., Ortiz, I., & Keblawe-Shamah, N.  (2010).  Drama activities as ideational resources for primary-grade children in urban science classrooms.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(3), 302-325.
[Selected for inclusion in the “Research Worth Reading” 2011 list of the National Science Teachers Association.]
  • Varelas, M., & Kane, J. M.  (2009).  Language undertheorized: Conceptual metaphors and conceptual change.  Human Development, Letters to the Editor, May 29, 2009, 3-5.
  • Plotnick, R., Varelas. M., & Fan Q.  (2009).  Physical World: An integrated earth science, astronomy, and physics course for elementary education majors.  Journal of Geoscience Education, 57(2), 152-158.
  • Christodoulou, N., & Varelas, M. with Wenzel, S.  (2009).  Curricular orientations, experiences, and actions: Graduate students in science and mathematics fields work in urban high school classrooms.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(1), 1-26.
  • Pappas, C. C., & Varelas, M, with Gill, S., Ortiz, I., & Keblawe-Shamah, N.  (2009).  Multimodal books in science-literacy units: Language and visual images for meaning making.  Language Arts, 86(3), 201-211.
  • Varelas, M., Plotnick, R., Wink, D., Fan, Q., & Harris, Y.  (2008).  Inquiry and connections in integrated science content courses for elementary education majors.  Journal of College Science Teaching, 37(5), 40-45.
  • Varelas, M., Pappas, C. C., Kokkino, S., & Ortiz, I.  (2008).  Students as authors.  Science & Children, 45(7), 58-62.
  • Varelas, M., Pappas, C. C., Kane, J., & Arsenault, A. with Hankes, J., & Cowan, B. M.  (2008).  Urban primary-grade children think and talk science: Curricular and instructional practices that nurture participation and argumentation.  Science Education, 92(1), 65-95.
  • Tucker-Raymond, E., Varelas, M., & Pappas, C. C. with Korzh, A. & Wentland, A.  (2007).  “They probably aren’t named Rachel:” Young children’s emergent multimodal narratives of scientist identities.  Cultural Studies in Science Education, 1(3), 559-592.
  • Moje, E. B., Tucker-Raymond, E., Varelas, M., & Pappas, C.C.  (2007).  Giving oneself over to science: Exploring the role of subjectivities and identities in learning science.  Cultural Studies of Science Education, 1(3), 593-601.
  • Varelas, M., & Pappas, C. C., with Rife, A.  (2006).  Exploring the role of intertextuality in concept construction: Urban second-graders make sense of evaporation, boiling, and condensation.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(7), 637-666.  (Joint lead authorship of the first two authors.)
  • Varelas, M., & Pappas, C. C.  (2006).  Intertextuality in read-alouds of integrated science-literacy units in primary classrooms: Opportunities for the development of thought and language.  Cognition and Instruction, 24(2), 211-259.  (Fully co-authored.)
  • Varelas, M., House, R., & Wenzel, S. (2005).  Beginning teachers immersed into science: Scientist and science teacher identities.  Science Education, 89, 492-516.
  • Varelas, M., & Benhart, J.  (2004).  Welcome to Rock Day.  Science and Children, 42(1), 40-45.
  • Pappas, C. C., Varelas, M., Barry, A., & Rife, A.  (2003).  Dialogic inquiry around information texts: The role of intertextuality in constructing scientific understandings in urban primary classrooms.  Linguistics and Education, 13(4), 435-482.  (Joint lead authorship of the first two authors; see also version as invited book chapter below.)
  • Varelas, M., Becker, J., Luster, B., & Wenzel, S.  (2002).  When genres meet: Inquiry into a sixth-grade urban science class.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(7), 579-605.
  • Varelas, M., Pappas, C. C., Barry, A., & O'Neill, A.  (2001).  Examining language to capture scientific understandings: The case of the water cycle.  Science and Children, 38(7), 26-29.
  • Becker, J., & Varelas, M.  (2001).  Piaget’s early theory of the role of language in intellectual development: A response to DeVries’ Piaget’s social theory.  Educational Researcher, 30(6), 22-23.
  • Varelas, M., Luster, B., & Wenzel, S.  (1999).  Meaning making in a community of learners: Struggles and possibilities in an urban science class.  Research in Science Education, 29(2), 227-245.
  • Varelas, M., & Pineda, E.  (1999).  Intermingling and bumpiness: Exploring meaning making in the discourse of a science classroom.  Research in Science Education, 29(1), 25-49.
  • Varelas, M.  (1997).  Third and fourth graders’ conceptions of repeated trials and best representatives in science experiments.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34(9), 853-872.
  • Varelas, M., & Becker, J.  (1997).  Children’s developing understanding of place value: Semiotic aspects.  Cognition and Instruction, 15(2), 265-286.
  • Varelas, M.  (1996).  Between theory and data in a 7th grade science class.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 33(3), 229-263.
  • Becker, J., & Varelas, M.  (1993).  Semiotic aspects of cognitive development: Illustrations from early mathematical cognition.  Psychological Review, 100, 420-431. (Fully co-authored.)
  • Becker, J., Knight, E. Q., & Varelas, M.  (1993).  Meaning, love, and self in the classroom.  Teaching and Learning: The Journal of Natural Inquiry, 8(1), 11-15.
  • Sosniak, L. A., Ethington, C. A., & Varelas, M.  (1991).  Teaching mathematics without a coherent point of view: Findings of the Second International Mathematics Study.  Journal of Curriculum Studies, 23, 119-131.

Selected Book Chapters

  • Varelas, M.  (2012).  Introduction: Identity research as a tool for developing a feeling for the learner.  In M. Varelas (Ed.), Identity construction and science education research: Learning, teaching, and being in multiple contexts (pp. 1-6).  Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
  • Tucker-Raymond, E., Varelas, M., Pappas, C. C., & Keblawe-Shamah, N.  (2012).  Young children’s multimodal identity stories about being scientists.  In M. Varelas (Ed.), Identity construction and science education research: Learning, teaching, and being in multiple contexts (pp. 79-95).  Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
  • Varelas, M., Kane, J. M., Tucker-Raymond, E., & Pappas, C. C.  (2012).  Science learning in urban elementary school classrooms: Liberatory education and issues of access, participation, and achievement.  In B. J. Fraser, K. Tobin, & C. McRobbie (Eds.), Second international handbook of science education (pp. 91-103).  Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer-Kluwer.
  • Varelas, M., Kane, J. M., & Pappas, C. C.  (2010).  Concept development in urban classroom spaces: Dialectical relationships, power, and identity.  In W.-M. Roth (Ed.), Re/Structuring science education: ReUniting psychological and sociological perspectives  (pp. 275-297).  Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer-Kluwer.
  • Pappas, C. C., Varelas, M., Ciesla, T., & Tucker-Raymond, E. (2009).  Journal and book writing in integrated science-literacy units: Insights from urban primary-grade classrooms.  In K. Richardson Bruna & K. Gomez (Eds.), The work of language in multicultural classrooms: Talking science, writing science (pp. 13-47).  New York: Routledge.
  • Varelas, M., Pappas, C. C., Tucker-Raymond, E., Arsenault, A., Kane, J., Kokkino, S., & Siuda, J. E.  (2007).  Identity in activities: Young children and science.  In W.-M. Roth & K. Tobin (Eds.), Science, learning, and identity: Sociocultural and cultural-historical perspectives (pp. 203-242).  Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
  • Roth, W.-M., Varelas, M., Hwang, S., & Tobin, K.  (2007).  Activity, agency, passivity.  In W.-M. Roth & K. Tobin (Eds.), Science, learning, and identity: Sociocultural and cultural-historical perspectives (pp. 243-256).  Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
  • Varelas, M.  (2007).  Collaborations, multiple voices, tensions, dialectics, and fervor: The social construction of a science education career.  In K. Tobin & W.-M. Roth (Eds.), The culture of science education: Its history in person (pp. 263-274).  Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
  • Varelas, M., Pappas, C. C., & the ISLE Team.  (2006).  Young children’s own illustrated information books: Making sense in science through words and pictures.  In R. Douglas, M. Klentschy, & K. Worth (Eds.), Linking science and literacy in the K-8 classroom (pp. 95-116).  Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association Press.  (Joint lead authorship of the first two authors.)
  • Varelas, M., Pappas, C. C., & Rife, A.  (2004).  Dialogic inquiry in an urban 2nd grade classroom: How intertextuality shapes and is shaped by social interactions and conceptual understandings.  In R. Yerrick & W-M. Roth (Eds.), Establishing scientific classroom discourse communities: Multiple voices of research on teaching and learning (pp. 139-168).  Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Bowen, M., Varelas, M., Roth, W-M., & Yerrick, R.  (2004).  Metalogue: Lifeworld language, scientific literacy, and intertextuality.  In R. Yerrick & W-M. Roth (Eds.), Establishing scientific classroom discourse communities: Multiple voices of research on teaching and learning (pp. 169-174).  Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Varelas, M., Gallego, M., Yerrick, R., & Roth, W-M.  (2004).  Metalogue: Scientific vs. spontaneous concepts at work in student learning.  In R. Yerrick & W-M. Roth (Eds.), Establishing scientific classroom discourse communities: Multiple voices of research on teaching and learning (pp. 315-320).  Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Pappas, C. C., Varelas, M., with Barry, A., & Rife, A.  (2004).  Promoting dialogic inquiry in information book read-alouds: Young urban children’s ways of making sense in science.  In W. Saul (Ed.), Crossing borders in literacy and science instruction: Perspectives on theory and practice (pp. 161-189).  Newark, NJ: International Reading Association.

Honors & Awards

2013 - Silver Circle Award for Excellence in Teaching, University of Illinois at Chicago

2012 -  Distinguished Researcher–Social Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago

2008 - University Scholar, University of Illinois at Chicago

2008 - WOW Award, University of Illinois at Chicago

2006 - Award for Excellence in Teaching, University of Illinois at Chicago



2003 - Teaching Recognition Program Award, University of Illinois at Chicago



2003 - Silver Circle Award for Excellence in Teaching, University of Illinois at Chicago



2000 - Silver Circle Award for Excellence in Teaching, University of Illinois at Chicago



1997 - Teaching Recognition Program Award, University of Illinois at Chicago



1993 - Outstanding Dissertation Award, American Educational Research Association, Division B: Curriculum Studies



1987 - May Eddy Butler Walker Scholar, Promising Educator Award, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY



1981-1985 - National Scholarship for Outstanding Performance, Department of Physics, University of Athens, Athens, Greece, awarded separately for university entrance examination and for each of the four student years 

Selected Grants

2014-2020, Equal PIs: M. Varelas, C. Mitchener, & Daniel Morales-Doyle, Co-PIs: Aixa Alfonso, & Chandra James, Science Education for Excellence and Equity in Chicago (SEEEC). National Science Foundation (Award #: DUE-1439761).  $2,999,757.

2012-2014, Equal PIs: M. Varelas, D. Martin, & J. Kane, Co-PI: G. Karabatsos, Content Learning and Identity Construction (CLIC): Science and Mathematics Learning among African American Students in Urban Elementary Schools. UIC Vice Chancellor for Research: Areas of Excellence Award.  $179,94.

2008-2011, PI: M. Varelas, Co-PI: C. Pappas, Integrated Science-Literacy Enactments (ISLE) in Chicago Public School (CPS) Early Elementary Grades.  Polk Bros. Foundation.  $300,000.

2004-2008, PI: M. Varelas, Co-PI: Pappas, Integrated Science-Literacy in Urban Early Elementary Classrooms: Exploring Scientific Understandings and Discourse Genres.  National Science Foundation (Award #: REC-0411593).  $1,054,088.

2004-2009, Equal PIs: D. Wink, M. Varelas, T. Moher, M. Nishimura, & S. Wenzel, Scientists, Kids, and Teachers (SKIT): A GK-12 partnership with the Chicago Public Schools.  National Science Foundation (Award #: DGE-0338328).  $2,027,287.

2004-2006, PI: J. Baldwin, Co-PIs: D. Wink & M. Varelas, UIC Initiative for Teacher Content Education.  Illinois Board of Higher Education.  $468,000.

2003-2006, PI: M. Varelas, Co-PIs: D. Wink, J. Ellefson-Kuehn, Y. Harris, & D. Lehman, Integrated Science Courses for Elementary Education and Non-Science Majors.  National Science Foundation (Award #: DUE-0311624).  $128,638.

2000-2003, Equal PIs: D. Wink, M. Varelas, W. Freeman, T. Moher, P. Wagreich, University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate Fellows in K-12 Education.  National Science Foundation (Award #: DGE-9979537).  $1,317,220. 

1999-2003, Equal PIs: P. Wagreich, M. Varelas, D. Wink, S. Wenzel, & D. Fisher, University of Illinois at Chicago—Community College Collaborative for Excellence in Teacher Preparation.  National Science Foundation (Award #: DUE-9852167).  $1,553,117.

Professional Affiliations & Activities

  • Co-chair/Chair of the Research Committee of NARST: A Worldwide Organization for Improving Science Teaching and Learning Through Research (2012-2015)
  • Elected Member, Executive Board of NARST: A Worldwide Organization for Improving Science Teaching and Learning Through Research (2012-2015)
  • Guest Editor (with J. Settlage and F.M. Mensah) of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) special issue "Explorations of the Structure-Agency Dialectic as a Tool for Framing Equity in Science Education" (2014-2015)
  • Associate Editor of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) (2013-2014)
  • Co-Editor of the Learning section of Science Education (2006-present)
  • Higher Education Editor of the journal of the Illinois Science Teachers Association (ISTA), Spectrum (2004-present)
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Science Education (2002-present)
  • Co-Chair of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Early Career Research Award Selection Committee (2011-present)
  • Consultant to the National Research Council (NRC) project “Conceptual Framework to Guide the Development of Next Generation Standards for K-12 Science Education” (2010)
  • Member of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Early Career Research Award Selection Committee (2010-2011)
  • Member of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) Award Selection Committee (2010-2011)
  • Member of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Committee of Visitors (COV) for REESE and DRK-12 programs (2009)
  • Member of the Advisory Board of the National Science Resources Center of the National Academies and the Smithsonian Institution, and Scientific & Educational Contributor to K-2 books for the Science and Technology Concepts (STC) curriculum, a research-based, inquiry-centered science program for students (2008-2010)
  • Member of the planning committee for the 2005 National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Regional Convention, Chicago, IL (2004-2005)
  • Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (1999-2002)
  • Member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Practitioner Research, National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) (2000-2008)
  • Co-Chair of the Science Work Group, Chicago Teacher Pipeline Project (CTPP), a four-university Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education focusing on elementary school teacher preparation (2009-2014)