INDP: InquirySpace: Technologies in Support of Student Experimentation

PIs: Chad Dorsey, William Finzer, Robert Tinker, Uri Wilensky
Concord Consortium and Northwestern University
Award Details

It is widely recognized that much of science can more effectively be learned if students learn science in ways similar to the ways scientists build new knowledge. Yet classroom implementations of scientific inquiry often convey an inaccurate understanding of the ways scientists learn, as they often fail to give students opportunities to connect data they’ve collected as evidence to science theory. In addition, a major barrier to effective student inquiry has been inherent difficulties in interpreting data, e.g., finding patterns in data from series of experiments performed under varying conditions. The platform to be developed in this project, called InquirySpace, addresses both of those issues. It integrates three proven technologies that together have capabilities for supporting both authentic scientific inquiry and pattern finding in data — the versatile modeling environments of NetLogo and the Molecular Workbench, real-time data collection from probes and sensors, and the powerful visual data exploration capabilities of Fathom and TinkerPlots. They are being integrated into a coherent, Web-based environment enabling rich, collaborative scientific inquiry. By adapting the software tools to execute inside browsers, InquirySpace is designed to function in schools where firewalls and inflexible technology setups are often insurmountable barriers, to run on most computer platforms used in schools, and to be extensible to mobile platforms following the project’s end, removing major barriers to the use of inquiry across grades and not only in high-performing schools, but also in under-resourced schools in which students often are performing below grade and for whom text-based instruction is decontextualized and difficult. Research will investigate pedagogical practices for integrating software functions in ways that allow students to have the experiences of scientists without being overwhelmed by the proliferation of tools needed to carry out an investigation as well as technological needs in integrating such tools. Products will include a set of design and use principles for creating and integrating technology in support of scientific inquiry.

The InquirySpace project provides insight into one of the most difficult problems in science instruction — supporting authentic scientific inquiry in a way that both promotes deep science learning and conveys an accurate understanding of the practices of science. This project will show how to integrate sophisticated software functions that support science inquiry in ways that allow middle and high school students to have scientific inquiry experiences that have a sophistication similar to the experiences of scientists but without being overwhelmed by the multitude of tools, and resources, and representations available to support their work. Findings from this project have the potential to deepen our understanding of how to help students learn science concepts and scientific inquiry through inquiry activities, and draw attention to the importance of computational tools in supporting this learning.

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