This project will investigate the roles of representations and language in learning complex science through technology-based activities. Researchers will conduct a series of design and classroom studies in which students will use representations and language to support the learning of scientific inquiry and complex concepts in genetics.
This research will study how technology can support learning in three ways: (1) providing students with simulations in which they can conduct investigations of scientific phenomena, (2) showing multiple representations which students can use to understand the underlying entities and mechanisms that account for these phenomena, and (3) providing structure that scaffolds their explanation of these underlying entities and mechanisms. This technology support will come from integrating two independently developed software programs into an environment called GenTalk. GenTalk will combine features of BioLogica simulations and ExplanationConstructor explanation support to generate an environment rich both in representations and in scaffolding for students' explanations and discourse about their investigations.
Researchers will collaborate with the designers of these software packages and with high school biology teachers to implement a controlled classroom experiment and look at the impact of these software packages, separately and in combination, on the investigation practices, language use, and science understanding of a range of high school students. They will investigate questions such as: What representational features support student discourse? What rhetorical prompts and software supports increase student talk? How do representations and rhetorical prompts work together to influence student discourse? Methods: This project is a two-year plan of research to investigate the relationship between representations and discourse in technology environments, and the resulting student understanding of scientific causal mechanisms in genetics. The first year will be used for a design of the technology environment and curriculum for genetics up to and including the population level, and the second year will be for implementation of, and research on, the prototype in several classrooms. Potential Impact: This project is a program of fundamental research on the cognitive and social processes of learning science that will have direct implications for the classroom use of technology in the service of curriculum reform and student achievement.