The purpose this project is to examine the capabilities of cyber-enabled tangible tools in real educational settings with five teachers (three high schools and two college) and 450 high school and college students. The project evaluates the use of cyber-enabled tangible tools to enhance student's understanding of three difficult topics in molecular biology: (1) protein structure, (2) DNA, and (3) viruses. As core concepts of molecular biology instruction in the U.S., students often have difficulties understanding how molecular interactions result in structures that give rise to function. The intent of this project is to help students understand mappings between structure, function, and emergent properties and processes. Hence, the cyber-enabled tangible tools will test whether technology enhances and improves how difficult subject matter is taught. Additionally, the study provides information about what areas of content can be effectively conveyed with these technologies and for which levels of students (high school or college).
The broader impact of the project are potentially transformative improvements in medicine, pharmacology, agriculture, ecology education. The tools promote computer-human interactions at the atomic, molecular, and organ levels.
Hand-held objects with markers, similar to barcodes, use a web cam to track and illustrate different properties and features on a computer screen. Research shows that as molecular biology grows in prominence, there is greater need for materials and scaffolds that promote deep learning and motivation. To help meet those needs, the project brings together leaders from top research entities, researchers in cognition and student learning, scientists, science educators, teachers, and high school and college students to investigate how cyber-enabled tangibles promote different and improved ways to learn core concepts in molecular biology.