Project Learning with Automated, Networked Supports
PLANS research combines investigation and analytic technologies to guide students’ design projects. PLANS is creating a genre for extensible, progressive, project learning materials that develop students’ abilities to create and test designs for contemporary problems such as climate change or energy conservation. This integration enables PLANS to research strategies for guiding students to gain coherent understanding of the science concepts, practices, and cross-cutting themes called for in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
We are using advanced analytics that draw on logs of students’ actions and scores of their products (e.g., models, graphs, sketches, critiques, and explanations) to monitor progress and provide individualized guidance. PLANS is investigating how analytic tools in a project-based learning environment can help students achieve deeper understanding of science. Check out PLANS projects:
Graphing Research on Inquiry with Data in Science
GRIDS undertakes a comprehensive program to address the need for improved graph comprehension. The project investigates strategies to improve middle school students’ science learning by focusing on student ability to interpret and use graphs, develops supports for teachers to guide students in using graphs to deepen understanding, and to develop agency and identity as science learners. In the GRIDS project, we create, study and disseminate technology-based assessments, technologies that aid graph interpretation, instructional designs, professional development, and learning materials. We provide on-line graphing tools for teachers to teach science and students to learn science.
In middle school math, students typically graph only linear functions. They rarely encounter the features of graphs common in science, such as units, scientific notation, non-integer values, noise, oscillations, and exponentials. Often students are left to learn science without recourse to this key tool for learning and doing science, and better understanding complex topics. GRIDS Research Questions:
- What do middle school students know about constructing and interpreting graphs of science concepts and how does this develop over time?
- How can we design instruction that enables students to link graphing and science disciplinary knowledge and gain lifelong skills for understanding complex scientific phenomena?
- How can Graph-Science Knowledge Integration (KI) in independent student projects promote deeper understanding and student identity as science learners?
Continuous Learning and Automated Scoring in Science
CLASS, in partnership with Educational Testing Services (ETS), investigated how to provide continuous assessment and feedback to guide students’ understanding during science inquiry learning experiences, as well as detailed guidance to teachers and administrators through a technology-enhanced system. Automated assessment activities capture students’ abilities to integrate their ideas and to form coherent scientific arguments. CLASS designed inquiry curricula featuring automated assessments for over 4,000 middle school students and 29 teachers in three diverse Northern California school districts.
We examined how student guidance based on CLASS scores can improve learning outcomes and design professional development resources to help teachers use CLASS scores to improve inquiry instruction as well as help administrators make informed decisions about supports for science learning. The main goals for CLASS were:
- Develop five automated inquiry assessment activities that capture students’ abilities to integrate their ideas and form coherent scientific arguments.
- Customize the WISE learning platform by incorporating automated scores.
- Investigate how students’ systematic feedback based on these scores improve their learning outcomes.
- Design professional development resources to help teachers use scores to improve classroom instruction, and administrators to make better informed decisions about teacher professional development and inquiry instruction.
Visualizing to Integrate Science Understanding for All Learners
VISUAL is a research and development project designed to investigate, compare, and refine promising visualizations and to determine when and how they improve science learning. The project took advantage of cyberlearning by creating new tools in a powerful, open-source learning environment that readily integrated new visualizations, incorporated best practices from research, and supported researchers, designers, and teachers.
The VISUAL project studied how visualizations can transform science instruction by addressing the following research questions: 1. When and how do visualizations improve science learning outcomes?
- How do students with a wide range of disciplinary knowledge, socioeconomic backgrounds, beliefs about science, and spatial experience learn from visualizations?
- What makes some visualizations succeed and others fail?
2. How can visualization-rich curriculum materials enable all students to learn complex science topics?
- What are the best ways to embed visualizations in instruction, combine hands-on, probeware, and visualization experiences, and design assessments to enable all students to succeed?
- How can teachers support students as they engage in these practices?
3. What design practices and cyberlearning tools generalize to new curricula?
- Which principles and patterns work for new topics and visualizations?
- Which cyberlearning features consistently help students and teachers use visualizations successfully?
- How can visualizations connect formal and informal learning?
- How can we communicate our findings in authoring tools, teachers support tools, and curriculum design environments?
Cumulative Learning using Embedded Assessment Results
The CLEAR project took advantage of new technologies and research findings to investigate ways that science assessments can both capture and contribute to cumulative, integrated learning of standards-based concepts in middle school courses. Our research investigated how instructional activities can help middle school students develop a cumulative, integrated understanding of energy – a unifying scientific concept that has been shown to be difficult to learn due to its complexity and abstract nature.
CLEAR’s three main goals: 1. Improve the cumulative learning of students in the topic area of energy.
Traditionally, there has seldom been the expectation of students applying concepts learned in prior units to the next topic or course. To remedy this situation, we explored ways to ensure that science learning is cumulative. Cumulative learning involves retaining instructed material and building on it.
Delving into this question raised many issues such as: What sorts of ideas should be retained? What sort of understanding do we desire of students after several years of instruction? How can instruction enable students to appreciate the ubiquitous role of fundamental science concepts like energy? How can we help students understand the dependencies and connections across science topics and disciplines? What are key features of cumulative learning? What is the trajectory of a cumulative learner?
2. Design and customize technology-enhanced instructional materials, consistent with California standards, to foster cumulative understanding of energy. From our prior work on knowledge integration, we know that students come to science class with a repertoire of disconnected and often contradictory ideas. We wanted to spur students to develop more coherent ideas and enable them to integrate their ideas and promote the most fruitful, generative, and useful ideas. We aimed to help students distinguish new ideas from existing ideas and reconcile discrepancies with scientific evidence. We expect that cumulative learners would test and refine their ideas by applying them in situations they encounter in their lives. Ideally cumulative learners would continue to expand, refine, and integrate their understanding all during their lives. Our curriculum materials and professional development implemented the patterns and principles developed to support knowledge integration. We worked to develop criteria for effective instructional materials. Questions included: What sorts of learning activities and topic sequences contribute to cumulative learning? What role can inquiry with visualizations and virtual experiments and connections to everyday experiences play? How can teachers support cumulative learning? How can regular use of a technology-enhanced learning environment that tracks student progress support cumulative learning? 3. Design and implement a suite of assessments that monitor progress of participants and also serve as learning events Knowledge integration assessments require generation of explanations. They have acceptable psychometric properties and can be distinguished from typical multiple-choice items used in international tests. Embedded assessments in WISE also serve as learning activities. Typically, pairs of students perform these activities. They require generation of ideas, a valuable learning activity. To take advantage of recent technological advances, we can now track student activities. For example, we can record the experiments that students conduct and reliably capture inquiry activities. And we can determine the conditions under which students return to a visualization or evidence page. For CLEAR, we developed two new item types called Energy Stories and MySystem. These items are intended to capture longer sequences of reasoning. Energy Stories overlap with some of the knowledge integration items we have used in the past. MySystem is intended to enable students to visually represent connections between energy sources, energy transfer, and energy transformations. It was inspired by modeling environments such as STELLA or Model-It but is much less sophisticated.
Scaffolding Understanding by Redesigning Games for Education
The SURGE project focused on the development of video games to support students’ articulation and connection of their evolving tacit, intuitive understandings into larger, explicit formalized structures to allow knowledge transfer and application across broader contexts relevant to Newtonian mechanics. Research efforts centered on developing and assessing design principles and learning environments that integrate research on conceptual change, cognitive processing-based design, and socio-cognitive scripting.
SURGE’s three main goals: 1. Increase 8th grade students’ understanding of Newtonian mechanics including core elements from the high school curriculum. 2. Retain the strong motivational components of current commercial game design. 3. Close achievement, motivation, and self-efficacy gaps among students with low prior success in science. To achieve the core research goals, SURGE created a physics curriculum centered on the use of a simulation-based computer game designed to teach students basic physics concepts. The focus of the game is to help students learn and apply basic principles of Newtonian mechanics and other associated principles of non-relativistic motion. Students learned by interacting with the SURGE environment and then transferring this knowledge to the real world. SURGE research operated at three interacting levels of scaffolding to address the learning goals. The first level focused on highlighting the salience of core physics concepts and interactions in underlying game design and mechanics. The second level focused on game interface design, in terms of structuring and linking interface representations based on cognitive processing principles that support students in distinguishing, understanding, and articulating core physics concepts. The third level examined structuring social scaffoldes to facilitate articulation and evaluation of the core physics concepts being learned.
Logging Opportunities in Online Programs for Science
LOOPS collected data on student progress, student responses to questions, and scores on various assessment items and presented key indicators (in real-time) of inquiry skills in a format that teachers could use – putting teachers in a feedback loop of data to help inform their choices of assessments, actions, and curriculum customizations. The LOOPS project was headed by the Concord Consortium, in a partnership effort with WISE Community members at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Toronto.
The LOOPS project was based on the idea that accurate and timely data about student learning can help teachers make adaptations to their teaching that will increase student learning. We explored this idea in the context of what we believe is already an excellent, research-based learning environment: guided explorations that use computer-based models and probes. In all of our curriculum development, we emphasized “loops” – i.e., feedback, reporting, and actions. We focused our research on four kinds of feedback loops:
- Flagged student work that teachers could share with the class and discuss.
- Polling of the class where the teacher pushed multiple-choice, multimedia questions to studenta dn received summarized responses that could be projected or sent to student computers for discussion.
- Inquiry indicators from activities that returned data about how systematic students were in exploring a model or using a probe.
- Smart graphs that automatically identified features such as inflection points, monotonic regions, maxima and minima, etc.
LOOPS made innovative use of technology to create timely, valid, and actionable reports to teachers by analyzing assessments and logs of student actions generated in the course of using online inquiry curriculum units. The reports helped teachers to make data-based decisions about alternative teaching strategies.
Mentored and On-line Development of Educational Leaders for Science
MODELS was a Teacher Professional Continuum funded project that enabled middle and high schools to design and sustain school-based professional development. This professional development supported teachers as they integrated technology-enhanced science curricula into existing programs. We studied how school-based professional development improves teacher practice and student science learning.
Our school-based program built on a university-based professional development approach and focused on evidence-based planning and curricular customization. To ensure broad impact, we partnered with diverse school districts, tracked the performance of at-risk and underrepresented groups, enabled teachers to use evidence of student progress to customize curricula, and aggregated immediate and longitudinal results of student learning. We used our findings to design a flexible professional development model that improves teacher practice and student understanding. Our studies: 1. Designed and tested methods for preparing school-based leaders to mentor local teachers. 2. Compared the impact of university-based and school-based programs on teaching practices and science learning. 3. Designed and refined a technology-enhanced support system. To ensure broad impact, we partnered with diverse school districts. We tracked the performance of at-risk and underrepresented groups, enabled teachers to use evidence of student progress to customize curricula, and aggregated immediate and longitudinal results of student learning. We used findings to design a flexible professional development model that improves teacher practice and student understanding.
Technology Enhanced Learning in Science
The TELS project was established by the National Science Foundation as a national Center for Learning and Teaching in 2003. Our research investigated how to improve learning and instruction in science classes for students in grades 6-12, with a focus on the role that information technology can play. TELS reached more than 20,000 students and 300 teachers in over 30 diverse schools. Our research documented that students in every TELS classroom make gains in understanding complex scientific concepts, such as chemical reactions, mitosis, kinematics, and geological processes.
Students grapple with multiple, conflicting, often confusing ideas about science. Research by TELS Director Marcia C. Linn and others has shown that instruction is most effective when teachers use students’ views as a starting point for investigating scientific phenomena – guiding learners as they articulate their repertoire of ideas, add new ideas, sort out these ideas in a variety of contexts, make connections among ideas at multiple levels of analysis, develop more nuanced criteria for evaluating ideas, and, ultimately, formulate a linked set of views about the phenomena. This approach to helping students articulate their perceptions about science and reflect upon these perceptions in light of new information – which Linn characterizes as Knowledge Integration (KI) – was the basis for TELS curricular projects and assessments. TELS participants identified four research themes for exploring our overall research question: What impact do scientific simulations embedded in inquiry projects have on science learning? The design and investigation activities associated with these themes involved the collaboration of multiple universities, school districts, and research organizations.
|Research Theme||Design Activities||Investigation|
|Curriculum Design: Designing and implementing inquiry projects with embedded, high quality simulations||TELS curriculum design process; KI patterns||Test KI inquiry projects in every TELS classroom; Investigate alternative designs for projects|
|Teacher Learning: Designing and implementing programs for teachers||TELS mentored professional development model; TELS leadership model||Test professional development in every TELS school; Evaluate programs for TELS principals, superintendents, and school boards|
|Assessment: Designing and interpreting assessments||KI items, benchmark tests; KI embedded assessments||Study student performance on KI benchmarks and learning on KI pre- and post-tests; Examine impacts of projects using embedded assessments|
|TELS Technologies: Designing and implementing open source information technology and building communities of designers||WISE architecture; TELS authoring system for simulations, inquiry projects, and communities; Design Principles Database||Test efficacy of software in educational design community; Expand TELS partnerships to other projects involved in technology-enhanced learning|