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Integrating handheld computers in a project-based science inquiry curriculum

For my Master's Project I am working with Dr. Janet Kolodner to design, implement, and evaluate handheld software primarily for use in Learning By DesignTM classrooms (although hopefully extendable to project-based inquiry classrooms in general). Much of my work is closely tied to a software project named SMILE. SMILE is a web-based application which helps to structure the inquiry process for students, kind of serving as a lab notebook where students record their plans, predictions, results, and analysis. Students typically use SMILE using a desktop or laptop computer while seated at their desks in the classroom. When students are ready to perform experiments, however, they usually leave the desks and may go into the hallway outside the classroom or perhaps even somewhere outside the school itself. The goal of this project is to provide students with the help they need when they are performing their experiments. As laptop and desktop computers are not very portable in such situations, the use of handheld computers (commonly referred to as PDAs) was decided on as a platform for providing this help.

We began the design process by determining the help that students needed most while "in the field." We gathered input from a middle-school science teacher familiar with the Learning By Design process as well as from people who had experience working with teachers to implement LBD in the classroom. There were 2 principle types of help that arose from this:
  1. Results collection (creating data table and entering data, performing basic calculations, viewing data in a graphical format).
  2. Reminders of the experiment / test procedure.
With the goal of achieving these design ideas, an initial version of the software was developed. Two formative evaluations have been run so far, with changes being made to the software after each evaluation. We are currently in the process of an extended third evaluation at an after-school program at a local school.

If you are interested in a more detailed look at the software, visit here for a walkthrough of the software.

If you are interested in our current 10-week evaluation in an after-school science club, go here.

Poster in PowerPoint [~500kB]

Last modified 18 March 2005 at 9:55 am by Jason Williams