This research project headed up by investigators from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, analyzes, evaluates, and compares small group work on inquiry-based tasks and engineering design tasks in high school science classes. The research based recommendations for the reform of science education stress the teaching and learning of scientific and engineering practices in order for students to understand and experience how scientists and engineers work, and how scientific knowledge is produced and engineering solutions are developed. Yet, fundamental differences that have been noted in the professional practices of scientists compared to engineers, so it follows that the nature of productive group work in high school science should vary depending on whether the task involves scientific inquiry or engineering design. The investigators look at the cognitive, social, and affective resources individual bring to various problem solving tasks.
Gauging what social, psychological and cognitive resources students need for inquiry and engineering design activities will strengthen professional development for science teachers about providing better scaffolding for group work. Furthermore, results of this research may be used to create valid diagnostic tools to evaluate students' varying strengths and weaknesses and to use these profiles to assemble students in small groups that are optimal for science learning. It should also help teachers to monitor on-going group process, which will guide themas they decide how and when to intervene to support groups in differentially structured inquiry-based and engineering design tasks.