The distinctive contribution of this project is to support children aged 11-14 in coming to understand themselves and their world through a new approach of scripted inquiry learning. With the aid of software running on both mobile and desktop computers children will be able to investigate issues that affect their lives, across different settings - including the classroom, their homes, and discovery centres - through a scientific process of gathering and assessing evidence, conducting experiments and engaging in informed debate. Their computer toolkit will be designed to enable scripted inquiry learning, where scripts are computer programs, like dynamic lesson plans, that guide and support the learners through an inquiry learning process by providing them with a set of structured activities, data probes, visualisations of data, and means of communication. Their teacher will have a computer system to select, author and modify the scripts and to monitor and guide the student activity.
The activities will be based around topic themes of relevance to Key Stage 3 (Myself, My Environment, My Community) that engage young learners in investigating their bodies, their immediate environment and their wider surroundings. These topics are key elements of the new 21st century science curriculum that requires children to reason about the natural sciences as a complex system and to explore how people relate to the physical world. We hope to engage students in thinking and debate about issues that affect their everyday lives, such as fitness, diet and waste, and we shall emphasise relations between the themes.
One example of a general script for inquiry-based learning might be:
- The teacher poses an open question, of interest to students, to prompt debate e.g. 'How can we reduce waste?'
- Students use their handheld devices linked to a classroom data projector to generate initial responses, which are automatically clustered and displayed along different dimensions, such as 'importance to me', 'effect on the environment', 'can we help change it?'.
- The software selects teams of students whose initial answers differ along the dimensions and then sets them the challenge to move closer in agreement through inquiry and debate.
- Each team chooses one or more methods of inquiry, such as 'debate with expert' or 'run experiments outdoors'.
- Software running on their mobile devices provides tools and curriculum materials to structure their investigations as they move between locations, and to transmit the results to a team website;
- The script-based system guides the students at home and in school to share data, analyse the evidence, and try to reach consensus;
- Their results, and changes in response to the initial question, are presented and compared in the classroom through a discussion mediated by the teacher.
We shall work with a panel of teachers and curators to develop specific scripts related to the topic themes. These will guide the learner in making conceptual links across different activities (e.g. reading, data collection, visualisation, discussion), technologies (e.g. data probes, simulations, weblogs) and contexts (e.g. school, home, field trips).
The project will design and evaluate the teaching and technology in parallel, through a series of focus groups, design workshops, and discussions of prototypes involving educational experts, software designers, curriculum developers, teachers, curators of museums and discovery centres, and school students. The key questions driving the design and evaluation are:
- How can scripted inquiry learning support effective learning across transitions between formal and informal settings?
- How do school students and their teachers adopt the technologies as tools for learning?
- How does the experience of scripted inquiry learning assist and change learning activities?
- How do scripted inquiry learning activities develop children's learning skills?