Environmental Innovation Challenges: Teaching and Learning Science Practices in the Context of Complex Earth Systems

This project will engage teams of students and teachers of grades 7-12 in four competitive Challenges to design innovative strategies for carbon mitigation in areas such as transportation, agriculture or energy use. The project expands the typical boundaries of schools by enabling teams of students in multiple locations to collaborate in model-based reasoning through online discussion forums, using social media, and crowdsourcing ideas to construct possible solutions to environmental challenges. Project research will examine the impacts of the project on student learning and engagement.

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Current priorities in science education include efforts to engage students in scientific reasoning and using the knowledge and practices of science to understand natural phenomena and constructively respond to local and global challenges. This project responds to these priorities by engaging teams of students and teachers of grades 7-12 in four competitive Challenges to design innovative strategies for carbon mitigation in areas such as transportation, agriculture or energy use. The project expands the typical boundaries of schools by enabling teams of students in multiple locations to collaborate in model-based reasoning through online discussion forums, using social media, and crowdsourcing ideas to construct possible solutions to environmental challenges. Project research will examine the impacts of the project on student learning and engagement.

This early stage Design and Development study is guided by the hypothesis that competitive challenges supported by social media and crowdsourcing will engage a diverse array of students in sustained and meaningful scientific inquiry. Over a period of four years, the project will design and refine four Challenges that will engage approximately 1,000 students of ages 13-17. Project research is guided by three overarching questions related to the design of the Challenges, the influence of school contextual factors, and student learning and self-efficacy. The questions are: (1) How do features of the challenge environment support the work of teams, and the participation of students from communities historically underserved in STEM? (2) What structures within the school ecosystem support or raise obstacles to team work? And (3) Does participation in a Challenge result in the intended student outcomes. Intended outcomes include: a) Learning of basic concepts related to the science of the project focus; b) Engagement in learning disciplinary core ideas, cross-cutting concepts and science and engineering practices; c) Persistence in completing a Challenge; and d) self-efficacy in STEM. Students and their teachers will cross disciplinary boundaries as they choose concepts from chemistry, engineering, mathematics, biology, and social science to support their innovations.Teachers, students, staff members and advisors will comment and provide quidance to the teams on a range of issues through crowdsourcing. Design research will be used to examine how features of the Challenge environment supports the work of teachers and teams, and implementation research will focus on participant learning at the individual and team levels. The project will engage at least 25 teams of 3-4 students each, and researchers will track team activity during all phases of the Challenge process. A mixture of qualitative and quantitative analyses will be used to examine outcomes, and data for girls and others from underserved populations will be disaggregated for separate analyses.

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