EXP: Using Technologies to Engage Learners in the Scientific Practices of Investigating Rich Behavioral and Ecological Questions

PIs: Thomas Moher, Tanya Berger-Wolf, Leilah Lyons, Joel Brown, Brian Reiser
University of Illinois at Chicago
Award Details

This exploratory project, involving The University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University, investigates the use of sensor-based technologies and general engineering approaches by fourth and fifth grade elementary students, and the effects of that use on how the students formulate research questions in environmental science and biological science and develop domain specific knowledge and concepts.

Teachers, students, and researchers are partnering with the research team to contribute to an iterative process that ensures a diversity of inputs to the approach and design, as they explore opportunities and challenges of using the sensing technologies while learning science. Several research questions are considered in this process and include: Which scientific characteristics are appropriate for elementary school students to grapple with, and which do they struggle with on a conceptual level? Which concepts or processes are more motivating for students? How can an already rich bounty of software technologies for gathering, storing, visualizing, and working with data in instrumented investigations of animal behavior be leveraged? What kinds of new tools are needed to extend those capabilities? How can activities be structured by educators to engage student interest and connect classroom work to field investigations? How can educators and technologists design instruction, materials, and learning technologies in ways that foster students’ abilities to formulate scientific questions, choose measures, and plan effective investigations? What pragmatic and content area concerns need to be addressed for teachers to support engineering-enhanced ecological research? The research questions and analysis include observations of small group and classroom discourse, student work products, and reflective grounded interviews to investigate aspects of practice, operationalization of research questions, and examination of research designs, evidence-based argumentation, and explanatory processes.

For sensing technologies and their impact on learning to be fully understood, there are design factors that must be considered. This research is providing the field of learning sciences with some much needed information on design factors that involve sensor-based technologies and domain-based knowledge on scientific practices and engineering approaches to student learning. This interdisciplinary project makes contributions to the fields of learning technologies, engineering education, and biological sciences.

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