Knowledge Construction in STEM

Student engagement is an ongoing concern for most educators as disengaged students are passive, not actively engaged in constructing new knowledge. Students become engaged when the activity, not only captures their imagination, but also has relevance for them. Inquiry is one way of igniting the spark of interest in students which is essential to science learning.  Educationally effective programs are those in which products are not emphasized, inquiry is sparked, open-ended questions are generated, and students actively participate and appear involved (Gutwill and Allen). The ultimate engagement is to put the learner in charge of learning, and inquiry learning does just that.

However, the learning needs to be anchored to something that is relevant to the learner in order for new knowledge to be constructed and retained for future retrieval. GLOBE researchers have suggested that GLOBE is an example of anchored instruction, and although this appears to be the case in that it is conducted in a realistic setting to respond to a realistic inquiry, the students themselves are only collecting and submitting the data, not analyzing it, looking for trends, or making conclusions about the significance of the data they are collecting.  Penuel and Means (2004) note that “students are not just collecting data as part of an isolated laboratory experience but as contributors to actual scientific studies” (p. 296). I agree that the students are an integral part of the data collection but I disagree that the students are doing “real science investigations” (295) as they are not involved in using the data to discover its significance and do not take part in the actual scientific studies. Scientists use the student collected data in their own investigations (Penuel and Means, 296).

A key assumption is that students can collect scientifically useful data, however it must be collected in accordance with specific protocols and be reported consistently over time. (Penuel and Means, 296). This can be somewhat onerous for the students and some of the participants find submitting the data repetitive. Because the students are not involved with using the data, the relevance of the collection becomes remote, and the students lose interest because it becomes a chore, rather than an exciting inquiry into science.  Students in these schools are not getting the realistic picture of the nature of scientific investigation that the authentic data collection is intended to provide (Penuel and Means, 309).

The GLOBE program provides learning activities that can be implemented by the teacher at the same time as the students are doing the data collection. The GLOBE philosophy is one of providing resources but leaving the decisions concerning curriculum and pedagogy up to the teachers because the teacher’s choices are not threats to the program’s scientific and educational goals (Penuel and Means. 297). This means that the learning material is disconnected from the actual scientific inquiry. Students and teachers could use the learning materials and the subsequent data collection to pose their own questions, collect their own data, analyze it, and formulate explanations, but this would be outside of the inquiry being done by the GLOBE scientists. If this were the case, then the program would be anchored instruction, but as it stands now, it is just a small part of a larger scientific inquiry being completed outside of the program.


Butler, D.M., & MacGregor, I.D. (2003). GLOBE: Science and education. Journal of Geoscience Education, 51(1), 9-20.

Kountoupes, Dina L., Oberhauser, Karen S., Citizen science and youth audiences: Educational outcomes of the monarch larva monitoring project. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, Vol 1, 1

Penuel, W.R., & Means, B. (2004). Implementation variation and fidelity in an inquiry science program: Analysis of GLOBE data reporting patterns. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(3), 294-315.


  1. I agree with your point that students collecting data for GLOBE researchers are not doing real science investigations in the sense that they are not following the entire process from beginning to end. I do, however, still believe that being part of the scientific process is an authentic experience for students. With the support of additional GLOBE resources, I think the data collection opens the door for teachers to implement analysis and reflection activities with students based on their data. These activities would enable them to move through further steps in the process, regardless of if they align with the specific analysis of the adult researchers or not. I feel that although a disconnect will exist between the formal analysis and the classroom activities, the teacher having the freedom to select and design subsequent activities appropriate to their class and class goals can also support students in authentic applications to their local contexts, depending on the specific data being collected.

    1. I think that the students being able to follow the process from the beginning to the end is an important key to this type of investigation. Data collection is a key part of the scientific process, and one that students need to become familiar with in order to conduct a scientific inquiry. I agree that if students have their own inquiry questions to pursue which are supported by the type of data collection they are doing, will give them a unique and authentic experience. I think that data collection on its own does not make it a complete and authentic experience.

  2. Anne, your post explores the assumptions, “that students can collect scientifically useful data”, especially with regards to scientific projects online. There is a good discussion emerging here on both what encompasses scientific inquiry, and the extent to which we (should) engage in or approximate practices associated with scientific work in our classrooms.

    In terms of math, I wished to ask our math educators whether they thought their math curriculum espouses the practices of mathmeticians in the same way that science education curricula reflects inquiry and the practices of science.

    Looking forward to your thoughts,


    1. In terms of my own math teaching, I do not think it does at all. I think that we are all too impatient to allow students to explore mathematics in the way we would allow them to explore science concepts. Even the students have been taught from an early age that math is finite with only one answer, and usually a prescribed way of getting to that answer. With the constraints of the provincial curriculum documents and expectations, there is not enough time to allow students to fully explore math concepts without any formal instruction. I have set aside some class time each week for the students to explore math and science concepts without any formal instruction, however, this only amounts to an hour a week, which is definitely not enough time for students to really delve into the topics and find the intricacies in the relationships of the numbers. They do enjoy it when they do it, but many of them are still looking for the definitive answer instead of marveling in the magic of mathematics.

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