PI: Brigid Barron
This research project is investigating how networked technologies can generate excitement and expertise development among middle school students learning to become citizen scientists. The investigators are partnering with “Vital Signs,” a citizen science networked system located in the State of Maine, linked statewide to schools and accessible not only to the focal participants (teachers and students in seventh and eighth grade classrooms), but to anyone who wants to learn and contribute. Outcomes of this project include 1) a set of case studies of learners and teachers that that represent pathways of engagement that utilize cyberlearning enabled resources; 2) a set of recommendations about new learning resources and tools that can advance personalized learning for students, teachers, and other learners; and 3) a set of ideas about ways to automate the assessment of uploaded data from learners that can be linked to recommendations about resources that can advance learning.
“Vital Signs” has high potential to generate excitement, interest, and a desire to learn about the natural world by engaging learners directly in observing, documenting, and sharing information about real world phenomena, specifically participating in learning activities designed around scientific issues in their local communities using authentic tools and collaborating with scientists. The Vital Signs program engages teachers and students in seventh and eighth grade science classrooms in inquiry-based science education around activities designed to study and intervene in habitat invasion by non-native species. The STEM content they focus on includes understanding of ecologies, processes of species proliferation, and strategies for intervening in damaged ecosystems. The state of Maine serves a diverse group of learners. Across the state, though average indicators of socio-economic status (home income, poverty level, school lunch qualification, English as a second language, and level of adult education) are close to national averages, there are regional differences. The highest poverty rates in Maine are routinely found in the counties on the west, north, and east borders of the state, where in 2008 rates of child poverty ranged from 24-28%, while in more affluent counties, they were less than half of that. Because all middle school students are involved in the laptop program, this research is able to compare cyberlearning processes and outcomes in relation to economic profiles of communities. Further, the statewide laptop program is unique in the United States and it creates a powerful opportunity to understand how communities who vary in their economic profile, sources of livelihood and technological immersion choose to engage in cyberlearning and what barriers they face.