Ben Loh, Josh Radinsky, Brian J. Reiser, Louis M. Gomez, Daniel C. Edelson, Eric Russell
Scientific inquiry in complex data-rich environments is a goal of much educational reform, but students require supports to manage the complexity of such investigations. We propose an approach to providing this support by making the processes and products of an investigation into explicit objects for reflection. We describe design research exploring ways to promote reflective inquiry among middle-school and high-school science students. We outline obstacles facing students in conducting investigations and give an overview of the design principles for our inquiry-support software environment, the Progress Portfolio. The specific tools provided by the Progress Portfolio for capturing, annotating, organizing, and presenting data are described in detail. We conclude with a discussion of pilot studies conducted with middle-school and high-school students.
Keywords -- design and interface issues, instructional strategies and approaches, tools for open-ended learning
Much current research in science education focuses on engaging students in collaborative scientific inquiry projects: working in small groups to formulate researchable questions, design investigations, gather and interpret data, and communicate results to groupmates, classmates and teachers ( Linn, Songer, & Eylon, 1996). To provide opportunities for authentic classroom science investigations, curriculum and technology developers have designed a variety of software and learning activities which immerse students in data-rich environments and provide them with complex tools. These new roles and technological tools for students are a focus of reform efforts in science education ( NRC, 1996), yet this vision of project work remains unachieved for many students ( O'Sullivan, Reese, & Mazzeo, 1997). There are two sets of problems students face: coordinating inquiry processes, and managing complex information.
The complexity of open-ended investigations poses difficulties for groups of students who must continually negotiate plans and share understandings throughout an investigation. Students differ greatly in their ability to be planful and organized in working through a complex space ( Shute, Glaser, & Raghavan, 1989). Classroom investigations are often plagued by unnecessary repetition, prolonged tangents, and incomplete results ( Kuhn, Schauble, & Garcia-Mila, 1992; Schauble, 1990)
Individual students often have difficulty communicating results of their exploration to groupmates. Students have difficulty differentiating between hypotheses and evidence, and coordinating the two in interpreting investigation results ( Kuhn, 1989). As students explore they lose their place in the inquiry, failing to realize possible connections and leaving important questions unresolved. Students may need to look back at earlier data to make sense of a current analysis or realize its significance. They may generate many analyses, which may be unwieldy to keep in mind or reconstruct. Yet students are unlikely to note or store data whose immediate relevance is not clear, or to have recorded how they generated analyses or what they found important about results.
The introduction of information-rich computer environments presents additional problems.