Materials available to assist science teachers in developing significant inquiry instruction for the numerous science standards and contexts are in short supply. Although most science standards and expectations require students to use inquiry based learning, many science classes are continuing to follow a more traditional step by step experiment based curriculum, where the outcomes are generally already known and very little discovery occurs.
WISE (Web-based Inquiry Science Environment) was developed to provide a way for teachers to promote more inquiry based learning into the classroom and integrate modern technologies and scientific concepts into an inquiry based activities that help students develop a more cohesive, coherent, and thoughtful account of scientific phenomena. It was developed specifically to provide a technologically enhanced learning environment for a wide community of science teachers and educational researchers. WISE bases its projects on the framework of scaffolded knowledge integration (SKI) consisting of four major tenets: 1) make thinking visible, 2) make science accessible, 3) students learn from each other, and 4) promote lifelong learning. The WISE software allows curriculum designers to create inquiry projects using its technology features and curriculum design patterns based on the SKI framework. These patterns can be incorporated into new curriculum designs, or existing WISE projects can be modified for specific topic areas. Once the project design is completed, it is tested in a classroom context and observed by the design team. Once it has been tested successfully, the project is eligible to become part of the WISE library of projects. Classroom teachers can customize these projects to suit the conditions in their own classrooms to meet specific student needs and classroom contexts.
This design process is different from the Jasper series in that each project is developed in a series of scaffolded steps to support the students’ learning as new concepts are introduced. These steps build upon information already known by the student or recently introduced through the project. Specific prompts are used throughout the project to aid students in linking and connecting ideas, critiquing their own progress, analyzing their own knowledge, and reflecting upon their own ideas. The Jasper series provides all the information required to solve a specific problem, but leaves the students to figure out the steps on their own or in small groups, with some guidance from a teacher. WISE promotes student collaboration using discussion prompts and partners, which is similar to the collaboration of small groups used in the Jasper series to solve the problems.
There are many ways to use the WISE projects within a school or classroom setting, and many that are specific to science curriculum expectations in Ontario. One way to use the project is as an introduction to the science concept and the inquiry process by allowing the students to work through the project at their own pace, using the scaffolding resources and teacher guidance. This would allow the students to make scientific discoveries independently, while limiting any misconceptions.
As the few WISE projects that I perused fit quite neatly into the science curriculum expectations for my grade, there is little that I would need to customize. However, many of the resources are specific to the project, such as the heat probes, which are not available in my school. These are connected to some of the data tables and graphs set up within the project and would be inaccessible to my students without the special equipment. I would have to change this part of the project to reflect the equipment available to me (thermometers) and consequently change the data collection method used for this part of the project. Unfortunately, some of the research states that this form of data collection where the student can see the changes in the graph as they hold the probe, solidifies the understanding for the student as it is in real time as opposed to students physically recording the data, creating the graph, and trying to interpret the results.
This is one of the drawbacks of the program in that there is an assumption or expectation that these tools are available or can be obtained for the project.