Agency in Sustained Problem-Based Inquiry: Learning Science Through and as Innovation

This research and development project develops and tests in the classroom three fifth-grade and two second-grade science units that combine both socio-cultural and socio-cognitive perspectives in order to more fully engage both students and teachers in authentic inquiry and tests the units in second- and fifth-grade classrooms.

Project Email: 
nancyvye@u.washington.edu
Award Number: 
1019503
Funding Period: 
Sun, 08/15/2010 - Wed, 07/31/2013
Project Evaluator: 
Rockman Et Al
Full Description: 

An ongoing partnership between learning scientists and science educators from the University of Washington and school district leaders from Bellevue School District along with curriculum specialists and teachers is conducting research and development on a new science learning environment. Previously researchers in the College of Education and at the LIFE Center at the University of Washington have developed two fifth grade science modules used in the school district. One takes a socio-cognitive approach, leveraging authentic science practices and questions, student choice, and communication of ideas into a challenge-based design. The other takes a socio-cultural perspective, aiming to bridge informal and formal learning environments by leveraging into formal science curricula students' culturally based repertoires of practice to try out and revise their own ideas based on evidence and discussion. This research and development project develops and tests in the classroom two fifth- grade and two second-grade biological science units that combine both perspectives in order to more fully engage both students and teachers in authentic inquiry and tests the units in second- and fifth- grade classrooms.

The research focuses on how the new learning designs affect learners' a) concepts of science and scientific inquiry; b) ability to collaborate productively; c) engagement, interest and science self efficacy; and d) sense of classroom community. The results are compared to matched control groups using FOSS units in the same subject area. The project also studies the extent to which the design principles and outcomes are generalizable across and within branches of science and are developmentally appropriate. The theoretical frameworks, curriculum resources and embedded professional development opportunities needed for sustainability and continuous improvement are investigated. The external evaluator assesses the quality of the research design and instruments as well as the quality of the science modules developed. An Advisory Committee monitors the work.

This project focuses on several ways of creating learning experiences that provide agency for elementary school students and excite them to pursue STEM pathways. Opportunities are provided to more fully explore the importance of connecting formal and informal learning experiences in ways that greatly boost the potencies of each. The project has the potential to create alternative learning designs to the kit-based science materials that are pervasive in elementary science classrooms.

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