Learning Sciences projects

Chandan Dasgupta

Improvable Models as Priming Artifacts in Student Engineering Design Activities 

Dissertation advisor: Dr. Thomas (Tom) Moher
Committee members:  Dr. Maria Varelas, Dr. Donald (Don) Wink, Dr. Leilah Lyons and Dr. Chris Quintana

Within the last decade, there has been an increased emphasis on making engineering education accessible to K-12 students and focus on making students engineering enabled. Research in this area is in its early stages and further work is needed to advance our understanding of what it means to productively engage with the engineering design process and how we can support students in achieving that. In this research, I explored the use of Improvable Models—models that can be iteratively redesigned and optimized by students—as priming artifacts for supporting productive engagement with the engineering design process. I used two types of Improvable Models – Suboptimal System model and Optimal Component model. Suboptimal System model presents a complete solution but is suboptimal at the system level. Optimal Component model presents an incomplete solution but is optimal at the component level. The following questions guided this research study - (a) How do students use Improvable Models? How does the use of Improvable Models as priming artifacts influence students’ design of engineering solutions? (b) What type of scaffolds and instructions support students’ appropriation of the Improvable Models?

Findings indicate that students used the Improvable Models for engaging with five disciplinary practices – (a) attending to either the input or the outcome parameters, (b) making explicit or implicit connection between an input and a single outcome parameter, (c) reasoning with multiple interconnected input and outcome parameters and making tradeoff decisions, (d) weighing outcome parameters and making tradeoffs, and (e) forming design heuristics informed by implicit or explicit rationale. The visual representation of counterexample scaffolded the formation of design heuristics. Improvable Models helped decompose a complex problem into parts and make the problem accessible. Teams using the Optimal Component seed model displayed three types of design fixation – (a) delayed fixation, (b) immediate fixation, and (c) implicit fixation. Three kinds of verbal and written prompts—procedural, reflection, and disciplinary prompts—along with resources like a software simulator scaffolded engagement with the disciplinary practices by problematizing the quality of a system, problematizing design decisions, giving students authority, maintaining accountability, and providing resources.

Research: Download dissertation PDF

For teachers: Lesson plans and supporting resources (including simulation software) are available under the 'Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International' license.

Using Deficient Models as Scaffolds for Learning Engineering Concepts of Tradeoffs and Optimization  

There is a need to teach core engineering concepts to elementary grade students. We present a novel approach using ‘deficient model’ i.e. a sub-optimal solution, to help students attend to design optimization and associated tradeoffs required to improve an engineering system. In this Design Based Research study, we draw upon our findings from previous two iterations and try to understand how these deficient models can be used effectively in classrooms.

Dasgupta, C. & Moher, T. (2014). Using Deficient Models as Scaffolds for Learning Engineering Concepts of Tradeoffs and Optimization.
Proceedings of the 11th International Conference of the Learning Sciences, 2014. Boulder, CO.    

Download Poster 

Promoting Productive Disciplinary Engagement in Instrumented Investigations 

Researchers have highlighted the importance of having a classroom environment that fosters a culture of inquiry that is uncommon in the traditional science classroom practices (Lee & Songer, 2003; Metz, 2004). Inquiry learning asks students to find solutions to real problems by asking and refining questions, designing and conducting investigations, gathering and analyzing information and data, making interpretations, creating explanations and drawing conclusions (Marx et al., 2004; Krajcik et al., 2000; Linn, Clark, & Slotta, 2003). Inquiry-learning centric activities essentially consist of a question generation phase, investigation phase and conclusion/reflection phase. The use of scientific instrumentation (e.g., wrist sensors, probes, temperature sensors, etc.) is also a critical part of inquiry and learners have used them in prior research (e.g., Lee & Songer, 2003). Learners need to have structured opportunities to work with scientific instruments iteratively and experience both success and failure during learning activities (Resnick, Berg & Eisenberg, 2000) in order to develop an understanding of the capabilities of the instruments and the ways in which device affordances and constraints impact the scientific questions they can ask and the investigations that they can conduct. 

This paper describes our experiences with the use of one such instrument, the motion- detecting field camera ("camera trap"). Camera traps are attractive because they allow for authentic study of local animal species (e.g., rabbits and squirrels) and because they are increasingly inexpensive (modern camera traps can be purchased for under $100 today). They also support a type of data collection—unattended and automatic—that would expose young learners to different ways of doing science. We see camera traps as a member of an emergent class of inexpensive sensors that learners can use to instrument their environments, using data collected from those sensors as their object of inquiry.

Using Antecedent Models as Scaffolds for Learning Science and Engineering Practices

Within the last decade, there has been an increased focus on expanding engineering and science education in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the U.S. Recent reports from the National Research Council (NRC) on engineering and science education highlight this focus and stress on the need to develop student interest and aptitude in subjects directly relevant to the nation’s capacity for research and innovation.  My proposed research focuses on teaching science and engineering practices using physical models to elementary grade students. In particular, I focus on the use of ‘multiple physical models’ of the same phenomena for the purposes of comparison and critique. We have designed an activity that facilitates student interaction with Antecedent models – models intended to represent plausible prior points on their learning trajectories - before they construct their own Informed model. 

Paper and Poster presented at 2013 Annual meeting of American Education Research Association -  
Paper: Investigating the Influence of Antecedent Models on Learning Science and Engineering Skills (PDF)

EcoCollage: Assessing Paper-To-Parameters Method of Input for Stimulations

Recent redesign of Advanced Placement tests and Environmental Science standards include a much stronger emphasis on "systems thinking" than has been seen in the past. We believe that Agent-Based Models (ABMs), which are used more frequently in Environmental Science than in any other field, could help students better understand the complex interactions of human-natural systems. A limitation of educational ABMs, however, has always been sufficient access to computers. With our project, we are investigating the viability of a paper-based Tangible User Interface ("Paper-to-Parameters") that, in addition to requiring only a computer, webcam, and projector to support whole-class learning activities, may also provide unique benefits for understanding the spatial and scalar relationships between simulation elements. The project will develop an assessment tool to obtain a picture of prior understandings and attitudes held by learners in different populations (high school, undergraduate, and graduate students and experts); it will conduct an exploratory trial of the Agent-Based learning intervention to investigate the impacts on learners; and it will investigate how selected user interface features facilitate specific spatial and scalar understandings.

Related paper - 
Slattery, B., Dasgupta, C., Shelley, T., Lyons, L., Minor, E., & Zellner, M. (2012). Understanding How Learners Grapple with Wicked Problems in Environmental Science. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS'12).

Animal Stories: Using technologies to engage learners in the scientific practices of investigating rich behavioral and ecological questions

It is challenging but essential for elementary grade students to formulate answerable research questions while learning about animal behavior in their neighborhood.  In this project, we seek to investigate the design of classroom instructional units that help children study the behavior of animals in their neighborhood by designing and conducting their own experiments using technologies like camera-traps. We will analyze the type and nature of questions generated by students at different points in time.

Library of High School Mathematics Teaching and Learning Videocases

Preservice mathematics coursework often fails to adequately prepare preservice teachers for the work of teaching, as such courses focus solely on the learning of content with limited attention given to how such knowledge is used in actual teaching practice. In this project our goal is to develop professional teaching cases to be used in elementary mathematics preservice courses and to conduct an exploratory study of the extent to which these cases enhance preservice teachers’ learning of the mathematics knowledge needed for teaching. We wish to understand how professional teaching cases and accompanying facilitator guides can be designed to support preservice teachers’ learning of the mathematical knowledge needed for teaching.

Designing a learning environment to teach history of geometry in a Mathematics Teaching course

Recent research in mathematics education has re-focused the attention on pre-service teachers’ mathematical and pedagogical knowledge, with an emphasis on creating suitable learning environments that will support the type of learning needed for developing deep mathematical content knowledge, procedural and pedagogical knowledge needed for teaching. Learning the history of geometry can be useful for pre-service teachers not only for their future teaching, but also because it might help them understand the origins of geometrical concepts, theories, processes and allow them to understand and conceptualize the development of geometry over time and space. This might then help them structure their class in a way that facilitates the use of historical information in conjunction with the domain knowledge of a particular concept. Thus the proposed project aims at helping pre-service teachers associate geometry concepts with related historical information, learn how these concepts gradually developed over a long time and were influenced by various historical events and people, and think about ways these kinds of information can be integrated in the math courses when they start teaching.

Enhancing Stakeholder Participation in Environmental Planning with Visualization Tools that Support Complex Systems Learning and Spatial Thinking

In this project, I conducted field observations of meetings at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and interviewed urban planners to understand their attitude towards planning models. The research team then generated software design guidelines for a new model that was more “trustworthy” and helped the planners predict the outcome of their policy decisions.

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