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Projects:

Learning Science by Design

Kafai, Y. B., & Ching, C. C. (2001). Affordances of collaborative software design planning for elementary students’ science talk. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(3), 323-363.
While educational research and practice have found many benefits of long-term and complex design activities, an issue of growing concern is that students might lose sight of science learning while diverting their attention to design aesthetics, collaborative management, and technology. A question is whether or not science is actually separate from these aspects; it may be that science permeates the design environment and is thus contexted within these other activities. To investigate this possibility we followed a classroom of 33 students, divided into seven teams, doing simulation design, and we examined their science discussions during planning and what conversational contexts gave rise to science talk. These planning sessions provided a rich context for problematizing; however, the more students focused on the fine-grained details of the simulation itself, the more sophisticated their science talk was. Experienced student designers played a crucial role in shaping their team contexts for science talk. We discuss the implications for how design tasks might be structured to facilitate fruitful science discourse.


Ching, C. C., Kafai, Y. B., & Marshall, S. (2000). Spaces for change: Gender and technology access in collaborative software design projects. Journal for Science Education and Technology, 9
(1), 45–56.
Equitable computer collaborations in mixed gender teams have been a pressing issue for many years. While some have argued for creating single-gender teams or girls-only computer activities, our approach was different. The current study examines a three-month software design activity in which mixed teams of girls and boys (10-12 year olds) designed and implemented multimedia astronomy resources for younger students. In this context we assessed gender differences in students' levels of access to technology and how these participation patterns changed throughout the project duration. We found through our qualitative analyses that the configuration of social, physical and cognitive "spaces" in the project environment contributed to a positive change in girls' levels of access. We discuss the implications of these results in regard to issues surrounding the development and maintenance of gender equity in computer use and further research.


Ching, C. C. (2000). Apprenticeship, Learning and Technology: Children as Oldtimers and Newcomers in the Culture of Learning through Design
. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of California, Los Angles, CA.
This study deals with the construct of apprenticeship, a well-documented phenomena in anthropological and cultural studies, but which is treated here in unique ways. Whereas most existing work examines apprenticeship among adults in traditional vocational settings, this research is situated among a community of fourth and fifth grade schoolchildren with different levels of previous experience "learning through design" and programming science simulations, thus making them relative oldtimers and newcomers to the culture and practices of design. This work examines teams of children as they create computer simulations, and documents the practices that characterize their apprenticeship to one another. This research also describes how children conceptualize their own roles as newcomers or oldtimers to design. Finally, this study investigates how cognitive benefits realized in an apprenticeship environment are distinctive from that in non-apprenticeship classroom communities, due to the addition of a comparison group of fourth and fifth grade students all engaged in learning through design for the first time. Results reveal that design apprenticeship among schoolchildren shares some crucial characteristics with vocational apprenticeships. Oldtimers initially break down tasks into component parts for newcomers to perform, newcomers move from peripheral to fuller participation in the design process as the project progresses, and tacit pedagogical interactions initiated by oldtimers are intimately tied to the immediate design context on a day-to-day basis. Oldtimers are also more reflective about their interactions with other designers, and they have a more differentiated view of the design process as a whole, than newcomers or comparison first-time designers. The learning benefits realized in an apprenticeship environment are characterized not by a significant difference over the comparison class in the amount of science content or programming code students mastered, but rather in the extent to which students in the apprenticeship classroom are better able to use the context of design to help them represent science knowledge in a systemic manner. The results of this study have implications for broadening the accepted definitions of "apprenticeship" in the literature, curriculum design and implementation of design-based learning, and pedagogy and policy for the technology-infused classroom.


Marshall, S. (2000). Planning in Context
. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of California, Los Angeles, CA.
While a growing body of work in project-based design activities has looked at students' developing science understanding, less attention has been paid to long-term design projects as a rich context for exploring students' developing practices of planning and project management. Taking a sociocultural approach, this study looked at how student teams negotiated a shared framework of the practices necessary to manage their software design task. Using data from three successive team planning meetings, the study sought to: a) characterize and look for similarities and differences in the components of teams' planning frameworks over time and b) examine factors that supported the negotiation of a planning framework. Results indicate that team's planning frameworks included a common set of project management components, but that different components were emphasized by different teams at different points in time, in response to changing project demands. Two factors played a role in supporting the construction of shared team frameworks for planning: the conversational strategies and experience brought to bear by oldtimer members of the team, and the use of planning tools to represent team plans. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications for classroom practice and identifiable characteristics of more and less successful planning collaborations.


Evard, M. (1998). Twenty Heads Are Better Than One: Communities of Children as Virtual Experts
. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. MIT Media Laboratory, Cambridge, MA.
Teachers have traditionally been considered the primary source of knowledge for students. Consequently, one of the central issues in educational practice has been information flow from teachers to students. Current educational reform has led to learner-centered models in which students are allowed to seek out information when they need it for their individual activities. Classroom arrangements such as peer collaboration have distributed some responsibilities to students, but most school schedules make it difficult to extend and support alternative models of information sharing over long periods. In this thesis I describe the online system I designed to allow students to consult one another about their individual projects. I observed a class of fifth-grade students using my online environment during five months, while they were designing and implementing educational computer games in Logo. The students were indeed able to use it to obtain assistance, provide help, and share information, but much more happened. The students' online interactions helped them form a community in which typical patterns of classroom behavior were modified. Their interactions crossed typical barriers such as gender and circles of friendship; most significantly, students who were perceived to have low skills could assist their classmates. In addition to obtaining information from one another, the students learned about how to seek and offer help. My term "Virtual Expert" theorizes the transformation of a group of students from a collection of individuals into an entity that serves as a resident expert for the group. This perspective makes connections with those themes in recent educational theory that deal with the expert's role in a novice's development. It extends the scope of constructionist theory: as students construct a group expert in the learning environment, they have the opportunity to construct views of themselves as experts. The concept of a Virtual Expert guides thinking on a more pragmatic level by addressing educational, social, and technological issues that are critical for the design of any learning environment. In particular, I address how the teacher's role in the classroom can and should be modified when students are learning from one another.

 

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