One Sample Solution

Alan dances for science


When students are given the opportunity to embrace subjects that they have genuine and authentic interest in, engagement becomes automatic.

Allowing students to participate in the development of the educational process to suit their own unfolding understanding results in learning that is more durable. It is only within the context of a semiotic domain in which we are affiliated that we can really process meaning and make connections. Facts and information, disembodied from the meaning or the matrix of a student’s personal reality, will evaporate as soon as the test is graded.

Knowledge, incorporated actively into a student’s preexisting interests, becomes part of their expanding individuation and process of making meaning of the world and their lives. This of course is the ultimate goal of all education.


The work of Windschitl, Thompson, and Braaten (2008) on model-based inquiry, which describes a learning process that is much more diverse and open ended than traditional scientific method. I found that the tension, as described by Coffey, Elby, Elby, and Daniel (2010), between this more authentic and realistic practice of scientific inquiry and traditional instructivist educational models  was indeed difficult to navigate. As science instruction moves away from the description of an existing model, expecting the students to only generate confirmation of that model, toward allowing them to discover the model on their own, this decreased control that instructor has of the process can lead the students to fallacious, if intermediate, ideas.

Of course this process of guessing, right or wrong, and then testing, is the essence of the process of scientific inquiry. It can be very challenging to allow students to follow their own curiosity and epistemic process of building models to make meaning of their world. The instructor is required to follow rather than lead this process, they are forced to try themselves to more deeply understand the meaning being generated by the students, which requires an attentiveness on the part of the instructor that can be challenging and time consuming, especially when it comes to trying to assess the quality of the student’s work. We found it much harder to see if they were actually developing understanding of the process when they were not completing it in a constrained, step-by-step lesson, and delivering it in a rigid, preconceived format where they just followed the steps we proscribed. Once we opened the process to their curiosity, it went in all sorts of unexpected and challenging directions.

The work done by many non-scientists such as Antonelli (2011) on the role of art and the aesthetic in the process of scientific inquiry was also enlightening and caused a change in the expectations we had about the outcome of the project. The use of music and dance especially, something we had not initially envisioned, but were asked to include, turned out to create connections within our students that enhanced their engagement greatly.


The primary objective of of this pilot process was to better understand the process of scientific inquiry as the kids understood it. We saw the initial concept, that was, at least among those who were willing or able to express it, shared by the whole population that science was a “subject they learned in school” change considerably during the course of the project. Their expectation that only questions such as those about quantum mechanics or string theory would constitute valid scientific inquiry has been completely revised. Helping them find a mundane question and then seeing that we could answer that question, or not, by using a rigorous process of analysis, model-building and then testing was a revelation to them, that they seem to have completely integrated. This objective was divided into the following parts:

  • Ask a question capable of being answered in a classroom environment.
  • Hypothesize about the possible answers.
  • Devise an experiment that could test these hypotheses.
  • Use rigor to record data during the testing.
  • Reflect and evaluate the data.
  • Draw conclusions from the data.
  • Reiterate the process to extend the depth of the question.

We did discover that this population was extremely engaged and excited by the process, and suspect we can extrapolate this in some ways ot a more general audience. Much more work needs to be done surveying the interests of more typical students to better devise the program components.


Sample Solution Progress Report – Phase 2


Our students learned the valuable lesson that any results are useful. They are now redesigning the first phase to make it more effective.

They reluctantly confronted the fact that variables we did not control caused an outcome that was not associated with the variables we did try to control, so that we will redesign the process to control for those variables as well.


Allowing students to be more involved in the selection and implementation improves motivation, in the same way that the interactivity of gaming does. The students who answered the survey both reported that gaming would be their most favored aspect of the program. I intend to create or find games that can help teach the scientific method and problem solving skills.

We also intend to design specific games, available on our website, via Facebook and other social networking sites as well as other mobile platforms that will allow the sudience to interact with the program in a variety of ways, as well as just to play with virtual scientific inquiry.

Sample Game Proposal – Mad Schmience


Scientific inquiry has a huge amount in common with game play. Science, just as most video games, begins with open-ended questions and problems, which the player/scientist must use creative, iterated and persistent exploration and critical thinking to answer or solve.

In the backstory for this game, a virus from under the Antarctic ice kills everyone over 10 years old. The world is run, mostly badly, by kids, most of whom can’t figure out how to operate the technology needed to make a modern world livable, or fun again. Schmientists are needed to figure out how to get stuff working again.

Player/learners are the child protégés that the world is relying on to make the world fun again. They will create a schmientist avatar who can explore and work in various mad labs, power plants, communications centers, server farms and all the rest, cluttered and overflowing with a dizzying array of half-baked experiments and broken and half-built machines.

Schmientists will begin by using their college credits to earn a base set of specialties and degrees that will give them tools to better address particular types of sub games. They can also earn additional credentials by solving problems, and presenting or publishing their results to the Schmience community.

This community will be composed of other players of the game, who will be able to form various types of partnerships and alliances, and who will be able to interact and share information at Schmience Conferences.

1. Pacing – Game play will be ongoing, and can be played at will for any period of time, spent selecting challenges, building a research team, publishing results or working on problems. The time required to solve any whole problem will increase as Schmientists gain credentials, but should begin at about 30 min.

2. Instructions – Mutated talking animals and other kids gone feral, are running amok and hiding in the labs and facilities, and will be available to provide hints. Each problem will have various tools and labels that when manipulated, will reveal their functions and relationships. No initiating narrative will explain the design space of the game. Instead, Schmientists will wander around the deteriorating city and into labs and facilities where they can discover subsequent levels of the complex and new game design paradigms.

3. Controls – Various apparatuses and device controls will operate the level protocols. They will be able to access a hacked together mainframe to enter data, do calculations, and search for prior art. They will move animals, inject drugs, set dials, transfer chemicals, run accelerators, and transmogrify various gadgets and gillhickies.

4. Knowledge – Schmientists will need to know how to start the game, and be familiar with the most general milieu of science, but the process of inquiry is intended to be discovered even by stumbling exploration of the project areas, with various challenges of scaled depth arrayed in numerous loci. They will use a process of discovery to come to understand how the scientific method works and can be modified to solve particular problems. They should, after some threshold of play, be able to comprehend the way scientific inquiry involves building and refining models to create theories that describe and predict observations.

5. Achievements – Initially, just finding things in the facilities will create little wins, then success in decoding the operation and functions of the devices or the structures of the experiments will represent the next step of success, which will be rewarded with various honors and certificates. Finally, arriving at the conclusion of projects will allow the results to be presented at the wild parties of schmientific conferences held in decadent resorts, resulting in the awarding of additional credentials and strings of arcane initials behind player’s names.

6. Story – The zany and chaotic design space of the game will be self-revelatory so that the back story of the world of the game can be discovered by the player/learner as they move around the city. Clues to and bits of the story will be contained within various objects and area elements, so as game play continues, more and more about the back story will be able to be understood by the player/learners, in pace with their increasing understanding of the process of scientific inquiry. Also each project within the game will have its own arc of story development.

7. Endgame – There will be no terminal endgame. Each project or problem should have enough elements that it can be solved in a wide variety of ways, and with entropy and the degraded nature of the world, these solutions will unwind automatically and at random so that will need to be solved again in an ongoing maintenance of the world. Each solution will have its own resolution where something will start running again or some problem or obstacle will be removed, culminating in the opening of additional game space where the problems will become more and more sophisticated, requiring increasingly sophisticated understanding of the scientific process.

8. Assessments – The solutions to the challenges will form a self-regulating intrinsic assessment. Which areas have been restored, and which problems solved as well as which areas become available and which problems are pending, will form a matrix of success that will be able to be monitored by the players and the teachers.

9. Timing – The game is intended to be ongoing, where even if players have uncovered all the areas and addressed all the problems, they can return to try to find other solutions to problems they have already solved, and which have re-surrendered to entropy. Choosing complex or simple problems will allow players to control how long they will play before being able to open to another level, and just the act of exploring the space will result in smaller rewards, so that even play for just a few minutes may result in positive outcomes.

10. Fun and Motivation – Kids actually love to learn; they are wired for it. So the understanding and revelation of scientific theories and process should provide considerable intrinsic motivation. Numerous extrinsic motivators will also be present, in the form of achievements like additional honors and degrees, the opening of additional levels, and inter-player competition. Additional intrinsic motivation will arise in achievement of success in resolving problems and seeing infrastructure begin to work again. Also, design elements and story structure that include humor and whimsical elements should make the game more fun. Bartle’s Explorers will find the game most motivating, followed by Achievers, then Socializers. Killers will be the least motivated. (Bartle, 1996,

Maslow's Hierarchy
             wikimedia commons under creative commons share alike license

In Maslow’s hierarchy, ( it is predominantly the upper levels, i.e. Belonging, Esteem and Self-actualization that will be satisfied by play, and in fact, apprehension of the process of scientific inquiry may satisfy the highest levels of need-hierarchies described by Frankl as Self-transcendence.

Sample Solution Data Reflection

I did some pilot work with the student target audience in a taste test experiment. The nature of the population caused some interesting challenges, as did the temperature controls in the ovens we used, so the actual the scientific results were not so useful.

We discovered that the exact cooking time, the position on the cookie sheet and shelf in the oven all had such a significant effect on the texture and flavor of the cookies, that the small range of variation between the different brands and types of cookies was overwhelmed by the range of variation generated by these cooking factors.

We also had a chance to do some teaching on scientific inquiry, and discovered that most of these students indeed do not really understand the fundamental process quality of science, initially not being able to understand how cookie taste test could be science at all.

I have published and requested responses from my target audiences of two surveys: the Colleague Prep survey, and the Student Prep survey. Sadly, the response rate has been very low. I have gotten some excellent data from some of the responses, likely enough to proceed soon with the focused discussion with a subset of these target groups to do reevaluation of the design and structure of the program. The report from preliminary results is posted at the end of the Phase One Data page

I have decided to do the results discussion with the colleague audience virtually, as the best responses have come from people in distant cities. I will begin try to use this blog’s comment feature, as well as a Face book page to begin a dialog, but expect that an email distribution list may turn out to be the most effective way to carry on such an asynchronous dialog.

I will meet my students group again in the G3 classroom, and perhaps at a neighborhood restaurant where I will review the results of my surveys a get their reactions on the various project elements we are proposing as well as trying to elaborate on the question suggestion received in their surveys.

I continue to be concerned that the rigid content requirements for this blog are not well suited to what I am attempting to do here. As I have continued to add required elements, I am finding the redundancy and required inclusion of many elements make this site less and less useful. I am actually concerned that my inclusion of the link to this site in my survey requests may have been a disincentive to my potential collaborators.

I took a big idea that I care deeply about, science literacy, and challenged myself to develop a program to address it. I have come to realize that this CBR project was not designed as a challenge based learning experience for us, but more an adaptation of the existing action research component, more intended to try and add a challenge based curriculum element to that project.

This Schmience program as I have envisioned it, is intended to be very challenge based, but not according to the specific guidelines being used here. I had reordered the pages to putting my best foot forward and arc the presentation of the project, but was told to rename and reorder the page and to include specific element s that I do not judge to be effective for what I am trying to do. After this last experience with my survey responses, I am abandoning my attempts use this blog in my program. Oh well.

Challenge Based Learning – How Science Works

Using the Challenge-Based learning model, the Big idea here is to improve science literacy among elementary students. The essential questions are what is science, how should it be taught, and how can this be achieved in a open, non-classroom setting.

Understanding Science

My specific challenge is the design of a program to accomplish this. My particular research objectives are to determine an optimal structure for such a program and to develop specific components, or at least detailed plans and rationales for those components.

My target audience is in two groups. One is a set of educators, scientists and media professionals with whom I plan to arrive at the overall structure and organization of the program. The other is a set of middle school students who I plan to collaborate with on the specific roles of young people in the program as well as doing a pre-test of the types of questions we might get as well as their responses to the program design.

My initial concept was that we needed only to shift the focus to the process of the scientific method as opposed to the body natural history facts. But in the course of my literary review, I realized that the misunderstanding of the scientific process was actually deeper and more complex, and so have significantly shifted the initial program goals to include more about the scientific community and the more a global concept of theoretical models used to understand the function of the universe.

I prepared a pre survey and post survey for the students, and had planned to deploy them first, as that target audience is somewhat more defined and accessible to me. But as I was discussing the implementation of this phase of the project I realized I had put the cart before the horse, and that I should poll my set of colleagues before the set of students, as the results of that poll are more likely to alter the macro-organization of the project which may cause me to want to make changes in what information I need to get from the students.

So I have deployed a pre-survey to the key members of my colleague set, who are evaluating its construction, and once finalized, who will start a chain of distribution within their communities.

Once I have results, I will reevaluate the program structure, reiterate specifics and then survey the student population, and quickly thereafter, do focus group work with them. I will then synthesize the data from those three inquiries, and present the results to the core collaborators among my colleagues, at which point we will finalize the program design, and begin design implementation with the students.

I am doing this organizing via email, distributing surveys online, and will meet with, and video the focus groups in person. Because many in the colleague population are dispersed, some of that interaction will likely take place in an online forum or email list. Social networks may be useful, and I had planned to use Google Plus, but a certain level of saturation with such technologies needs to exist for them to be useful. Facebook may be a better alternative, although I have not yet managed to find way to do substantive work in that environment which I find so dominated by chit chat.

Model-Based Inquiry

Schmience Evolving

My readings have given me some great insight into how to structure the program. I recall Beakman reading “why is the sky blue” sorts of questions from his viewers, and as much as I recoil from the revelation from authority and lack of any discovery process in that format, it still was somehow resident in my conceptualization.

Paul Zaloom as Beakman

I wanted to seek questions from the community. But looking at some of the critiques of the scientific method (TSM) and TSM teaching espeicllay, and at the movement toward a model-based scientific inquiry model, I realized that more of what I want to do is to ask the audience about their models, ask them to look for holes in their concepts and understandings of how the world works, not just share moments of curiosity.

I had this vivid recollection of Jerry Macfay, an amazing kid with autism I used to work with, who was trying to make sense of why he was the only kid who never caught a fish during our week at summer camp. The model he eventually constructed to make meaning of this, was that the fish had weirdness radar and could detect that he was weird and so avoided him. With a kid like Jerry, there was no point in trying to use this to scaffold some sort of understanding of the scientific process, but I was able to understand that the question, “how come I never catch any fish when the other kids do?” which might be interesting enough to try and answer, was just the tip of the iceberg of inquiry. The real grist for this mill was the model he had constructed that was a portal into his narrow and socially difficult world. We might devise all sorts of experiments around how to catch a fish from his question: what bait, what tackle and so on, but if we were to address the model he had constructed instead, I realize that this could allow him to see the universe in a much more realistic and comprehensive way. This model-based approach would lead us to much more interesting questions like: do fish care about who fishes for them? What do fish know? Is weirdness repulsive? These questions would be vastly more helpful to Jerry in developing a rich and successfully predictive model of his world, and even more so, of finding meaning in that world. So my approach to Schmience has shifted radically and profoundly, as I work to re-imagine the project from this model-based inquiry perspective.

The other way my notions of all this have been challenged is in my relationship to content types. I have been frustrated from the beginning of this program with the emphasis on video and “rich media content.” As an advanced learner, and what else should we expect in an MS program, I have been frustrated with the linear nature of most of this content. I have wanted to tear my hair out more than once trying review a Wimba session where I   I was told that I could find some missed detail of a particular assignment. I felt I had wasted hours finding something that I could have found in seconds from a bulleted list in the syllabus. I have sat through too many videos whose content could be distilled into a short paragraph, but that was instead buried in 5 minutes of gosh and golly images and music. But I finally got it, or at least got what it could be, when I got a simple bit of spam from  Survey Gizmo. They sent me a “question of the week” off of someone’s survey, and it was: how would you prefer educational content delivered: 1. Text, 2. Text and images 3. Video  4. Video and images or  5. Video and text.

The results were something like 60% for video and images and 25% for video and text. I realized that the point was engagement. I can hand a card with clear and well-written instructions to someone, but if they are not motivated to read it, it might as well be blank. Video on the other hand is inherently engaging for most modern folk, it requires almost zero effort to take in, and lends itself to story structure with set ups payoffs and climaxes, as well as being sensory diverse and so may form more durable memories. As frustrating as this cluttering of essential content may be for someone like myself, the ability of rich media to reach out and capture someone who may not even be interested in learning, is powerful.

So for my program the text only site I built when I started this, is almost completely useless for the actual target audience of the program, although I made that site to solicit support from science and education colleagues. So I am now working on way to poll my audience, not about their questions, but about their models of how things work, and not via polls but via cartoons. I am thinking of going back to all the animation tools I looked at, like Xtranormal, Goanimate, Animoto, Doink and all the rest, and making a whole series of videos that demonstrate various models of the world that may have some holes in them, and asking my audience to poke at the holes. This poking may unearth much better material for us to tackle in the TV show, as well as making for a much richer and more engaging web dialogue.

In my third revelation this month, at least regarding this project, came after my nephew suggested I watch the first episode of a new BBC America series called “The Hours”, about the formation of a breakthough investigative journalism TV show in the late 50’s in London.

While not completely obvious or literal, the connections to what I want to do here, are compelling for a number of reasons I won’t enumerate. But my biggest take away from that show, was that I need a team. However sweeping my own insights might seem, however creative or innovative I may think the project is, I am just me. Often trapped in loops of my own reflections and certainly not nearly as smart as 3 or 4 much less smart people are when joined together, I know that despite my social ineptitude and weirdness, which is not that unlike that of my little friend Jerry Macfay, the key will be to find a group of collaborators. It was Carl’s single comment to this blog about inquiry that set me off into that rich vein, and that is just the tip of that iceberg.

Target Audience

I have decided to address two separate populations, first my sister’s middle school class for 6th to 8th graders with high functioning autism. Second my peers:  friends and colleagues who are educators and scientists.

The middle schoolers will be asked to function as a test audience, being challenged to find questions and problems they would like to have solved, and to examine how they might functions as members of the onscreen team who will help other children solve their problems. In general, open as well as structured interactions with this population will be used to help narrow the focus on the composition and design of components that will make up the Schmience program.

The peer population will be addressed for essentially the same function, i.e. open and structured interactions to help define the project, but in the specifics of conceptual, technological, pedagogical and scientific parameters of the project development. I also expect this population to help direct me to resources to enhance my literature review process.

I will begin interacting with the student population in mid October, completing that research before thanksgiving. I am currently amassing my contacts for the peer population and expect to begin structured communications with them by the end of September.

The subtopics I am addressing in the literary research are:
1. The nature and dimension of scientific inquiry.
2. Science education pedagogy.
3. Use of TV and new media in education and especially in higher order thinking skills