Embedded Networks: The International Boiling Point Project

“Speculate on how such networked communities could be embedded in the design of authentic learning experiences in a math or science classroom setting or at home. Elaborate with an illustrative example of an activity, taking care to consider the off-line activities as well.”

I chose to explore GLOBE as an example of networked communities. It is a fascinating and extensive resource and instantly called to mind a very similar networked learning project that I would like to share: The International Boiling Point Project.  Every year, schools from across the globe collaborate to answer the simple question—what factors control how water boils? Each school team contributes their results to a common data base. From a teaching perspective, this allows students to explore the effects of altitude, local air pressure, water types, and methodology in a way that would not be possible in isolation. The magic of this experiment touches on two main issues from this lesson:

1) Students socially construct knowledge
2) Communities of knowledge have normative practices

When students first post their data, there is invariable confusion. Do we use Celsius, Kelvin, or Fahrenheit? Why did that group not include altitude data? That group has a boiling point of over 100! The networking requires that students agree on normative language and practices in a very real way. By interacting with and critiquing other groups, they are forced to look more carefully at their own practice in way that is difficult to motivate in a normal “lab” activity. The paper by Driver et al. speaks to the importance of providing these social constructions in the classroom:

“Science classrooms are being recognized as forming communities that are characterized by distinct discursive practices…researchers are experimenting with ways of organizing classrooms so as to reflect particular forms of collaborative enquiry that can support students in gradually mastering some of the norms and practices that are deemed to be characteristic of scientific communities” (Driver, 1994, p. 9)

One thing I have noticed in these collaborations is that some students who are very active in informal learning environments do not contribute when in the formal learning environment. It’s almost as though they feel that since it is “official” it is not safe to contribute. How do we encourage meaningful participation in a formal learning environment?  Also, Driver (1994) suggests that communities of practice have very specific language and symbols.  Is combining subjects in a STEM environment problematic in this regard?  That is, does mixing the symbols and practices of mathematics, science, and technology come with problems?

Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Scott, P., & Mortimer, E. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational researcher, 23(7), 5-12.
Means, B. & Coleman, E. (2000). Technology supports for student participation in science investigations. In M.J. Jacobson & R. B. Kozma (Eds.), Innovations in science and mathematics education: Advanced designs for technologies of learning (pp. 287-320). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Peneul, 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. Michael

    I like the fact that you shared an example of networked communities: http://www.k12science.org/curriculum/boilproj/

    I wonder if there is a list of “communities” teacher can view. How would they decide which one they would like their students to participate in?

    A good next step might be to come up with a list of questions which teachers can use to help them determine if the community is for them or not.

    To keep the conversation going — make sure to respond to at least two other learners as well respond to all learners that respond to your own post. When responding to other learners, please use references to support your ideas/thesis/concepts etc.


  2. HI Michael,

    It seems like your example addresses the challenge of trying to prepare students for real data! I find in my accounting class (and many other subject areas are similar in this regard) many of the textbook problems provide students with all of the information they need and nothing they do not. I will often pull up an income statement of a publicly traded company just to show them that everything is not going to line up in simple headings – there is an organic nature and level of complexity that exists in practice.

    Its great that students experience the lack of data from some groups as they can begin to experience first hand why comprehensive data collection is so important. In regards to your question of combining courses, I think one of the problems that exist is that students have been conditioned to think about all of these subject areas as discrete and when we try to bring them together to show they are actually inter-related, students want to continue to compartmentalize.

    Great post Michael!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *