Space colony – a collaborative learning experience

I decided to look at the project “Space Colony! Genetic diversity and survival” (ID 175). In this project, the students are challenged to consider genetic mutations, diversity, and cloning as they decide how to colonize three different planets. I like this lesson as it challenges students to think about a variety to topics as they work through their challenge. Despite the number of topics, I believe it was presented in a very logical manner. What I thought was missing from this lesson was one of the tenets of SKI, which is learning from others (Linn, 2003). This component is something i really liked in some of the other projects that I viewed (such as the one on cystic fibrosis). So I built pages after the open ended questions to have students share their ideas/answers. Then a page on ideas/answers from others that they decided to copy (with explanations on why they wanted to copy them, or what about that idea really appealed to them) and finally a page that allows students to sort their ideas (both their own and from peers) and resubmit their answer to the original open ended question. I also had them reflect on whether or not their ideas changed and if so, for them to justify their changes. I felt that this addition promoted learning from others, as well as reflection on their own thoughts, and would support students as they actively constructed knowledge on these topics.

I felt this WISE project had all the other tenants of SKI (Linn, 2003), which are:
1. making learning accessible
2. making thinking visible
3. promote autonomy/life long learning

In regards to making learning accessible, despite talking about topics at the cellular and genetic level, they always tied to back to something students can relate to, such as siblings, twins, etc. They also brought in real life examples, such as “Dolly”, the first cloned sheep.

Throughout the lesson, they either asked open ended questions or multiple choice questions to gauge student understanding of concepts. This makes learning visible, increasing teacher awareness of students thoughts and diversity. They also incorporated a few simulations and great visuals to help students understand complex phenomena.

Finally, the project is organized in such a way that students learn the process of inquiry, which promotes autonomy in learning. I really liked the logical flow that this project has, and the final wrap up which brings all the concepts back together in the end. As such, I think I would run the project as it is presented, with just the added component of collaboration/learning from peers.

1. Linn MC, Clark D, Slotta JD. WISE design for knowledge integration. Science Education. 2003;87(4):517-538. doi:10.1002/sce.10086.


  1. Hello Momoe,

    I am glad to see that you also picked up on the missing collaboration piece, although I didn’t articulate it as well as you have. In looking at both the Jasper series and the WISE projects, it seems that both of them focus on things other than the effectiveness of social learning. This is surprising. Do you do a lot of group projects? Do you have a favorite way to leverage the affordances of social learning in your classes?


    1. Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of group projects in my course. We have group learning activities like problem based learning, team based learning, anatomy labs etc. Unfortunately, I find the space that I am given, which is a large lecture theatre isn’t really conducive to social learning. I wish we had modular classrooms, but it might be difficult given the large class size. How about you?

      1. Given that we are in a K-12 space, social learning is pretty much at the discretion of the teacher and relatively easy to incorporate. I can see how larger lecture halls are not the place for group work. Does your institution doing blended learning?

  2. Hi Momoe,

    Being such a complex topic, the teaching of genetics definitely requires examples that students can relate to at their own level. Connecting these concepts to examples such as twins, siblings, and “Dolly” provide students with the opportunity to make their understanding real and personally relevant. These topics often come up when teaching about Life Skills, such as multiple births in grades 5/6, and the students are absolutely enthralled by the process of conceiving twins, triplets (or more), even if they don’t have multiples in their own families. Kids love babies, it seems!

    – Allen.

    1. Multiples are always interesting to talk about. It so much more common these days due to in vitro fertilization (IVF). I’m sure IVF would be a really interesting topic for them too. . . thoughts of babies being made in labs!

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