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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Designing Technology-Enhanced Science Inquiry Instruction to Scaffold Student Choice Through Explanation and Reflection

  • Author(s): King Chen, Jennifer
  • Advisor(s): Linn, Marcia F
  • et al.

Science education reform efforts stress the importance of engaging students in authentic inquiry practices to promote the development of self-sufficient and independent learning skills. Independent learners are able to accurately evaluate their own understanding and make informed decisions that can productively advance their learning. The ability to assess one’s own thinking to identify and address weaknesses or gaps in understanding is especially critical for successful learning, during which new information must be integrated with existing prior ideas, experiences and knowledge. The design-based research discussed in this dissertation investigates the impact of an inquiry instructional model that utilizes explanation and reflection as metacognitive learning scaffolds to promote more reflective and self-directed independent learning through choice-making. A choice-based inquiry instructional model allows for more flexible instruction by offering customizable, student-determined inquiry paths that can adapt to and provide support for learners with different starting levels of prior knowledge and experiences.

The dissertation consists of two separate but intersecting components. The first section of the document details my research work on the iterative design, development, pilot testing and refinement of Investigating Seasons, a web-based online inquiry curriculum unit for high school students. Seasons incorporates multiple dynamic visualizations and extensive instructional scaffolding to support students in collecting, evaluating, making sense of and integrating their diverse ideas for explaining seasonal temperature changes. Dynamic visualizations embedded within the curriculum function as critical learning opportunities for students to encounter important normative ideas and test their pre-existing beliefs. Supporting instructional scaffolds promoting explanation and reflection encourage students to monitor, evaluate and refine their changing repertoire of ideas as they proceed through the unit. Carefully designed curricular materials can help to guide students in reconciling their ideas from multiple sources towards formulating a more coherent and normative explanation for seasons. In addition, the use of instructional technologies such as dynamic visualizations (i.e., student-driven scientific models designed for learning) can provide students with interactive opportunities for conducting “hands-on” inquiry investigations that encourage the reflection upon and revision of conceptual understandings.

The second part of the dissertation presents the collective findings from two classroom comparison studies (choice versus no-choice) that I conducted to investigate the effect of a learner-directed, choice-guided model of inquiry on students’ conceptual learning and understanding about the seasons. Both studies were implemented using the iteratively refined Investigating Seasons curriculum unit and visualizations. Study results indicate that the two conditions benefited equally from instruction, regardless of condition. However, a consistent trend was seen of students in the choice group exhibiting possibly greater learning benefits across a number of different outcome measures (this trend was not observed for the no-choice students). These study findings, taken together with the known motivational and affective advantages of choice already documented in the literature, provide a promising indication of the instructional value of choice for supporting students in pursuing reflective, independent and unique inquiry learning trajectories.

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