Zydeco: A Mobile "Nomadic Inquiry" System to Support and Bridge Science Inquiry Between Classroom and Museum Contexts

This project will explore how new mobile and web-based technologies can support content-rich nomadic inquiry; that is, science inquiry that takes place on-the-go, across integrated K-12 formal and informal settings. Students will begin the inquiry process in the classroom using curricular activities and the Zydeco web software developed in the project to help define goals and questions and to design data collection strategies and categories for use on a field trip to an informal setting.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020027
Funding Period: 
Sunday, August 1, 2010 to Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Project Evaluator: 
The Learning Partnership
Full Description: 

Although students may engage in scientific inquiry in their classrooms, it is also essential for them to practice scientific inquiry in real-world settings outside the classroom context to build enduring skills and deep, meaningful understanding of core science content ideas. The goal of the Zydeco project is to explore how new mobile and web-based technologies can support content-rich nomadic inquiry; that is, science inquiry that takes place on-the-go, across integrated K-12 formal and informal settings. Students will begin the inquiry process in the classroom using curricular activities and the Zydeco web software developed in the project to help define goals and questions and to design data collection strategies and categories for use on a field trip to an informal setting. With a mobile device and the Zydeco mobile software populated with the students' preparatory work, students will continue their inquiry in the museum, collecting relevant data and information in an organized, scaffolded manner, in the form of tagged, captioned, and voice-annotated photographs, video, and text. The Zydeco system will store the students' collected data on a web server, which students can access upon their return to the classroom. Thus students can access, sort, and analyze their collected data, using curricular and web-based scaffolds to help evaluate and explain their findings to complete the inquiry process.

The project will involve middle school teachers and students from the Ypsilanti and Detroit Public Schools; educators, researchers, and scientists at the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum of Natural History and the Detroit Science Center; and researchers from the University of Michigan School of Education and Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The science content will be tailored to both the museum partners' foci and the teachers' curricula: biology, earth science, and physical science.

The Zydeco project explores three major research questions:

(1) How can mobile and web technologies coordinate with school curricula to scaffold nomadic inquiry and enhance student learning?

(2) How can scaffolded mobile technologies support teachers and students to connect classroom and museum experiences more closely in order to enhance science inquiry and content learning?

(3) What impacts do scaffolded nomadic inquiry experiences have on classroom-based science inquiry and science learning?

The collaborative team will use an iterative, learner-centered approach to develop the Zydeco web and mobile systems and the associated student activities. For each iteration, the researchers will videotape and audio-tape students' discussions and activities, and collect artifacts and logs of student work as they engage with the curriculum the web and mobile systems in the classroom and museum. This data will be analyzed using rubrics designed to gauge the quality and variety of students' inquiry, the scientific content of their discussions and work, and their engagement throughout the process. In addition, pre-and post-program assessment tasks will be used to gauge the program's short-term and long-term impacts on targeted inquiry skills and content understanding. Student and teacher interviews will be administered to gather feedback about the program content and usability. Technology evaluation rubrics will be used to evaluate the different scaffolding features in the Zydeco mobile and web systems to gauge how well those systems help students overcome the complexities of scientific inquiry in multiple settings.

The products of this research will include a web-based software application that will support pre-visit and post-visit inquiry activities and applications for the mobile device to support student inquiry on their visit to an informal learning environment. The project will produce documentation to enable teachers and museum educators to use the developed nomadic inquiry system. Research papers about scaffolding nomadic inquiry, developing adaptable technologies to help teachers connect classroom curricula and field trip experiences, curriculum design for learning across formal and informal settings, and developing technologies to enhance learning and inquiry in informal settings will be written.