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Research Projects

Learning by Design is a project-based inquiry approach to science education aimed at the middle school grades - 6th through 8th. Our aim is for students to learn science content deeply and at the same time develop the skills and understanding needed to undertake solution of complex, ill-structured problems. We accomplish this by having students learn science in the context of trying to achieve design challenges. For example, to learn about forces and motion, they design and build miniature vehicles and their propulsion systems, optimizing their performance until they can go over several hills and beyond. Rather than memorizing facts and formulas to be reproduced on tests, students become involved in the scientific concepts being covered and learn them in service to completing the design challenge before them. As they work towards successfully achieving design challenges, they get practice designing and running experiments, analyzing data and drawing conclusions, making informed decisions and justifying them with evidence, collaborating, and communicating. They not only learn facts and formulas; they also learn science practices and scientific reasoning and how to apply the facts and skills they are learning. Some children begin to think about themselves as "student scientists". Evaluation shows that indeed LBD students learn science concepts and scientific practices significantly more deeply than do comparison students in more ordinary inquiry classrooms. Within this project, we have three themes:

DigiQuilt is a manipulative-based design environment for children to explore math and art as they design patchwork quilt blocks. Our goals are to understand how to use craft activity to sustain engagement in math thinking and to encourage mathematizing. We believe this work is leading to the development of a new kind of computational manipulative for math learning.

Becoming a scientist. In this set of projects, we investigate in informal science learning environments the development of scientific reasoning capabilities and scientific understanding of concepts, but more importantly, the development of identity as a scientific reasoner and how we can promote that development. We begin with 5th grade children learning science through baking, and we will add projects to this list over time.
  • Kitchen Science Investigators (KSI) is a research project focused on the creation and implementation of an after school program in which elementary and middle school students learn Science through cooking and software to support this environment. The goals of this project include developing a set of community practices for this community necessary for establishing a Community of Practice, and learning how students form identities as scientists and chefs, as well as what we can do to foster the development of these characteristics in our students. We are also seeking to find out more about the learning that occurs in this after school setting. How well does transfer occur in this setting, and how can we design to facilitate transfer of concepts learned to other settings (both inside and outside of the classroom)? Finally, we seek to learn more about fostering creativity and exploration in this environment.


Project-Based Inquiry Science for Middle School: Together with researchers at University of Michigan, Northwestern University, University of Illinois, and University of Toledo, we are writing and getting ready for publication a comprehensive 3-year project-based inquiry science curriculum for middle school. It includes Learning by Design units and project-based inquiry units developed at those places.

Other Learning Sciences and Technology Research at Georgia Tech

Last modified 22 July 2011 at 5:52 pm by Janet L. Kolodner