Discovering New Lands!

To investigate WISE projects more closely, I selected “Plate Tectonics with Automated Essay Guidance” (ID: 18449) to view.  The project leads students through a lesson on plate tectonics, the forces that drive their movement, and the results geological features that they produce.  I felt that the lessons two main teaching objectives (visualizing and understanding the convection currents in the mantle that drive plate tectonics, and the geographical features that the plate interactions produce), were well suited to both WISE and SKI principles.

WISE, as described by Linn, Clark, and Slotta (2002), aims to “making thinking visible, making Science accessible, helping students learn from each other, and promoting lifelong learning.”  As such, this particular WISE project starts by connecting students to their prior knowledge by reflecting on various US geological features such as mountains and volcanoes.  It then guides students into exploring the concept of plate boundaries and provides them a scaffolded, inquiry-based path to understanding how plates move and ways plates can interact with each other, using animations and formative assessments along the way.  It then concludes with putting the ideas together and having students explain convection currents and plate movements, and even provides an extension “Challenge” lesson that encourages students to consider geological events in other parts of the world as well as other activities such as building a model or identifying mystery locations.  This last section helps to foster lifelong learning by having students apply their knowledge to other parts of the world they may not have seen before.

For my modification, I focused on the “Graphing Challenge” component that asked students to graph the changing density of the wax blob in a lava lamp over time.  Instead of the graphing, I replaced it with a “Discovering New Land” component that was similar to an analysis activity I did a few years prior with my Science 10 class.  In the modification of the WISE project, the students are provided with a fantasy map of an island with various Earth-like features such as mountain ranges, valleys, volcanoes, and shoreline similarities between landmasses and islands.  The students are asked, in a response box, to list the features that they can identify, using reflection notes to record their reasoning.  The section after supplies students with a transparent map of the fantasy world’s tectonic plates, overlaid on top of the original map.  Using the “label” function, the students are tasked with deducing the direction of each plate’s movement based on the geological features being produced.  Finally, students are given response boxes to justify their choices of plate direction as a means of assessing their understanding.

While my students had completed this activity using pen, paper, and a few sets of the maps, the WISE project allows for a more interactive, individually-paced method of presenting the same assignment.  The ability to dynamically add labels and keep reflection notes along the way ensures that students can mark up the maps as they consider the problem at hand, whereas the pen and paper method was more limited due to the fact that the master maps had been laminated to preserve them and other logistical factors.  Overall, this WISE method would provide greater freedom for students to explore their learning compared to more traditional methods.



Linn, M., Clark, D., & Slotta, J. (2003. Wise design for knowledge integration. Science Education, 87(4), 516-538


  1. Hi Lawrence,

    I like how you chose a project/topic you have previously taught with students and then modified it to individualize/accommodate for diverse learners. It makes the project easier to manage because you can focus more on the modified portion. I think it would be interesting to see how your students do using digital methods without the pen and paper! Would new challenges arise for some students? Would there be surprise successes from other students? It’s interesting how WISE can have students reflect on more “traditional” methods like you referenced!

    1. Hi Gloria,

      I certainly think there will be new challenges but also new benefits. For example, I always feel that the ease of adding and removing add-ons (such as labels or tags) to digital files or images helps to reduce the anxiety of perhaps making an error. Students would be free to add as many notes as they wish and, if it is not to their liking, remove it just as easily. With pen and paper, there would be a certain permanence to writing on top of the map and some students may not feel confident enough to do so.

  2. Hi Lawrence,

    I am wondering if you could share the reasons the graphing and density component was selected to be modified in terms of your teaching? Also, I like how the affordances of the digital technology are raised in your post, for example: “Using the “label” function, the students are tasked with deducing the direction of each plate’s movement based on the geological features being produced. Finally, students are given response boxes to justify their choices of plate direction as a means of assessing their understanding.” In thinking about your students, what for you are the cognitive affordances of the inquiry map function that might support student learning? Also, in what ways might the activities or scaffolds presented by Janice Gobert’s work on plate tectonics with WISE be integrated in your lesson? Thank you for your insights into Earth Science 10 and your thoughts on how to teach this topic with technology like WISE, Samia

    1. Hi Samia,

      The main reason why I chose to replace the graphing and density component was because, to me, the overall goal of the lesson was for students to understand what geological features result from tectonic plate movement. Certainly understanding how convection and density changes is important to understanding why the mantle cycles, but I felt a summary activity relating to the introduction lesson (identifying volcanoes and mountain ranges) was a better way to wrap up the topic. The density graphing could actually be moved to be part of the convection current lesson, if it were to be kept.

      The cognitive affordances I feel that the map activity has is that, especially with the labels, allows a dynamic and individual way for students to mark down their thoughts as they think through the activity. However, better than simply marking with pen and paper, the WISE label adds an unobstrusive point to the diagram that still lets students write more than a few words. Doing so on paper would either require writing all over the map or limit students to as few words as possible.

      With regards to Gobert’s WISE project, I do like the model building component. The activity that I had added in was made as a way to challenge students to examine a decidedly “non-Earth” map and still apply their knowledge of plate movements to it. Gobert’s model would fit nicely as a preview to that activity by having the students think critically of Earth’s features before transferring those skills to non-Earth ones.

  3. Hi Darren,
    As Gloria pointed modifying a unit to include something you have done before allows you to not only have a deeper understanding of why the lesson is important but also how it can be changed to include more of the TPACK model. I was wondering why you chose to replace the wax lava lamp graphing component with the mapping activity rather than adding the mapping activity as a different activity that reinforces the overall concept?
    I have to agree with you that using technology in mapping assignments such as this is so helpful compared to the old paper and pencil models using laminated cards. I have made the switch to on line when teaching my grade six to eights about latitude and longitude. It is much easier for them to correct their errors and actually see how they made the mistake in the first place. The nice part about the beginning digital activity is that the program does not allow them to put the wrong answer on the map. They need to figure out what they are doing wrong and correct it immediately, which has really helped fix the errors and avoid misconceptions from forming or continuing.

    1. Hi Catherine,

      As I mentioned above, I chose to replace the lava lamp graphing activity because I felt it did not tie in well with the introduction which focused on what students saw in the world around them. Certainly understanding convection and density changes are important, but I felt that removing the activity (and the associated graphing of the rise and fall of the wax) gained me at least a lesson or two to focus on the plate tectonic activity, which I felt extended student thinking further than graphing as well as tying up the entire topic more neatly. Of course, extend the unit would allow for both activities to be run so the option is definitely there to do both.

  4. Hi Lawrence,

    For this specific activity, I can see benefits to both the online aspect as well as the traditional method with paper and pencil. For certain concepts like these, I wonder if it would be beneficial for students to experience both the traditional and as well as modern methods. It would allow students to perhaps experience both methods and as Gloria alluded to – it would be interesting to see the difference in performance between students.

  5. Hi Lawrence,
    I really enjoyed reading your response and ideas on how to adapt the existing WISE project, “Plate Tectonics with Automated Essay Guidance” (ID: 18449). One aspect I felt was missing in many of the projects I viewed was the activation of prior knowledge piece, so it is great to see how you have identified prior knowledge in this project. Perhaps I was looking too specifically for concrete and exact examples of prior knowledge access (like a “what do we already know” activity), rather than recognizing that prior knowledge does not have to be quite so specific, but will be present within the projects in the fact that students will have prior knowledge about many of the topics discussed. I wonder if you would be doing any targeted prior knowledge or misconception work before delving too far into the project? Are there any specific misconceptions that you have noticed at the grade level you teach related to plate tectonics?
    One of the things I enjoyed most about the WISE projects was the clear scaffolding provided throughout, as you have also identified, which allows students of all learning abilities to have a more independent learning experience. I appreciate your attention to the integration of lifelong learning through the application of learning to other parts of our world. This is such a wonderful way for students to consider our world, and potentially increases awareness and interest as “students apply their knowledge to other parts of the world they may not have seen before.” Given the current political climates, I believe it is increasingly important to expose students in as many ways possible (across the curriculum) to other countries and features of our world.
    Your “Discovering New Land” modification of the existing WISE project sounds like an engaging and interactive way for students to show both their learned knowledge as well as their creativity which is a terrific combination. I have always loved fantasy maps, which is probably part of the reason that I am so drawn to this idea. In my experience, students also tend to love fantasy maps as it has the ability to appeal to the imagination and “child” in learners of all ages and from all walks of life. It is an assignment that I believe is accessible to all learners, regardless of their lived experiences, home environments, or academic abilities, making it an inclusive activity for the diverse learners in our classrooms of today. I also really like the fact that you would have students not just identify features, but also consider plate movement based on the geological features of their map – a neat application of learning that will encourage critical thinking and collaboration. The addition of response boxes is a great way for students to share their knowledge with you based on their own creative representation of learning, as well as providing you as the teacher with an individual assessment of learning.
    I hope this project goes well for you! It sounds like it will be a much more engaging way to learn plate tectonics than when we were growing up!

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