Improving Science Learning in Inquiry-based Programs (Collaborative Research: Ward)

This project improves science learning by students who are not achieving their potential in high quality inquiry-based programs. The project aims to achieve its goal by developing a computer program, My Science Tutor, which students will use immediately following classroom science investigations to reinforce and extend concepts embedded in the investigations. The program uses a lifelike animated character to engage students in guided learning activities and conversational tutorial dialogs that stimulate scientific reasoning.

Full Description: 

 The main goal of the project is to improve science learning by students who are not achieving their potential in high quality inquiry-based programs.  While programs like FOSS, STC and Insights have proven effective in improving science achievement within and across school districts, many children, especially underrepresented minorities and English language learners, fail to demonstrate proficiency on standardized tests of science achievement. The project aims to achieve its goal by developing a computer program, My Science Tutor, which students use following classroom science investigations to reinforce and extend concepts embedded in the investigations. The program uses a lifelike animated character to engage students in scaffolded guided learning activities and tutorial dialogs that stimulate scientific reasoning. Tutorial dialogs are based on a proven technique, Questioning the Author, that challenges students to learn and integrate new concepts with prior knowledge to construct enriched mental models that can be used to explain and predict scientific phenomena. The work aims to produce and demonstrate the effectiveness of tutorial dialogs produced by human experts trained to use the Questioning the Author method. To evaluate the intervention, we will compare learning gains on standardized tests of science achievement by fourth and fifth grade students randomly assigned to three groups: the computer treatment, human tutoring or business-as-usual classroom instruction. 

This study will contribute new knowledge about the influence and impact of well-designed learning tools that are designed to improve concept formation and critical thinking by elementary school students who are not achieving their potential in high quality inquiry-based science programs.  The assessments should provide detailed insights about how learning tools designed to teach concepts through scaffolded learning and narrated animations, and to teach scientific reasoning through tutorial dialogs, influence the learning and achievement of elementary students.  The program will also contribute new knowledge to science about the effectiveness of tutorial dialogs incorporating advanced language technologies to emulate the learning strategies of expert tutors and the learning gains of their students.

Successful outcomes of the project will include a program that is effective in improving science learning and achievement of elementary school students. The program will provide an effective supplement to FOSS, a high quality science program that is already used by over two million students and one hundred thousand teachers in the U.S. A potentially profound advantage of the project arises from providing viable and accessible resources to help teachers implement high quality curricula in a much more individualized manner.  In effect, curricula such as FOSS have fared well despite the difficulties that teachers have in helping to map its rigorous content to individual leaner cognition and in providing routine and high quantity feedback to each individual mastering a challenging domain.  This project seeks to address this difficult problem by making such curricula more accessible, engaging and effective for each individual learner.

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