Sensing Science

Young children learn by exploring their immediate world through everyday activities, developing intuitive understandings of phenomena that surround them. These intuitive understandings are long lasting and generally incorrect. Sensing Science will test the hypothesis that representations, data collection and student reflection integrated into creative exploration can make learning about temperature and heat accessible to early elementary students.

Concepts involving temperature and heat are among the phenomena children experience most frequently, yet they are all but ignored in early elementary education because of their abstract and invisible nature. Sensing Science will use existing surface temperature sensors in conjunction with a computer, enabling K-2 students to interact with their assumptions, record and replay their actions and reflect on their archived data. Using sensors, models, drawings, and other representations will make it possible for children to explore their world, investigating the widest possible range of scenarios throughout the classroom, on the playground and elsewhere.

The project will:

  • Research student preconceptions of temperature and heat, then develop and iteratively refine early elementary explorations to address these preconceptions.
  • Utilize technology for visualizing the digital data collected by temperature sensors and Infrared cameras in a variety of ways in order to support temperature and heat science explorations and facilitate formative assessment of our understanding student assumptions.
  • Disseminate research findings, materials, and project technologies, which will be available as open-source technology, ensuring that others can contribute to and build on this work.

Principal Investigators

Carolyn Staudt
George Forman

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1222892. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

We propose formative research process for the two years of this project. School and parental consent will be mandatory for participation and secured prior to classroom implementation due to videotaping of student work.

We aim to answer the following research questions:

  • How can visualizations, data collection linked to everyday experiences and student reflection integrated into creative exploration address student preconceptions and promote K-2 student understanding of temperature and heat?
  • How can the use of replay of video and reflection aid in addressing K-2 student preconceptions and improve student understanding of heat and temperature?
  • Can the use of visualizations and data collection via digital sensing technology advance K-2 students past the goals of the K-2 science frameworks?

We will closely observe students' actions and actively elicit spontaneous ideas in order to test and revise assumptions about common preconceptions regarding temperature and heat. We will determine the optimal design of visualizations and explorations. Initial iterative design tests will take place in Littleton Public Schools (MA) during the first year. We will test the materials with two classrooms in each grade K-2 during the first year. In addition to the Littleton Public Schools pilot teachers, during the second year, selected K-2 teachers will also participate from Cambridge Public Schools (MA) will also participate.

Immediately after finishing an activity, students will complete a short assessment before moving on to the next activity. These assessments will be situated in the context of a challenge, video or story different from that of the just-completed activity, and will vary in form depending on the content taught. Assessments will be tailored to the content of each curriculum level. All assessments will be developed and piloted with the Littleton Public School District during the first year of the project and revised during the second year for use in the both Littleton and Cambridge Public Schools.

Expected Research Theory Outcomes: By listening to children attempt to explain the data from the probes and encouraging them to reflect on their representations of their own thinking, we should have a much better idea of how to collect children's theories in terms of their complexity. We will then generalize our findings into a theory of progressive differentiation of student theories of temperature and heat. Our goal will be to identify fundamental ways of thinking about thermal events that explain the order and prevalence of this progression.

Expected Research Practice Outcomes: With this knowledge we can develop a semi-structured protocol that teachers can use to have better dialogue with their students and to ask better questions that support students' reconstruction of their initial assumptions. We do not expect that young children will develop a complete theory of temperature or heat, but we do expect that teachers can help children formulate more plausible stories.

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