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Thesis Defense - Rader

ECOT 831

Using Students' Expressive Models to Facilitate Conceptual Development
Computer Science PhD Candidate

In an increasingly technological society, science literacy is becoming more important. Science literacy includes understanding key concepts and "big ideas" of science (e.g., energy, systems and interactions, etc.) and having the ability to think scientifically. Traditional methods of teaching science, however, often encourage students to just memorize facts. As an alternative approach, a number of researchers, including the Science Theater/Teatro de Ciencias (sTc) team at the University of Colorado, have studied the use of models to encourage deeper understanding of science concepts.

The two primary questions for my study reflect the concerns and experience of the sTc project:

  • What are the factors that affect children's ability to build computer models of science phenomena?

  • What is the potential for learning about science while children are engaged in this model-building process?

To address these questions, I will present an analysis of EcoWorlds, a life sciences unit we developed and pilot tested in a combined 4th/5th grade class. The unit addresses two major content areas as defined by the national science standards: structure and function in living systems and populations in ecosystems. EcoWorlds extends the Agentsheets visual programming environment by providing simulated environments (Arctic, desert, etc.) and templates which allow children to create their own fictional plants and animals which can survive in those environments. EcoWorlds is a collaborative task in which small groups of students first determine the food web for their environment, then program their model animals and use the simulation capabilities of Agentsheets to test their models.

My analysis of the EcoWorlds pilot identified three factors related to both children's ability to build and potential to learn from building models: the modeling process itself, social interactions which occurred during model building, and the software environment.

Committee: Clayton Lewis, Professor (Chair)
Michael Eisenberg, Associate Professor
Gerhard Fischer, Professor
Mitchell Nathan, School of Education
Alexander Repenning, Research Assistant Professor

See also:
Department of Computer Science
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
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May 5, 2012 (13:40)