Category Archives: B. Knowledge Diffusion

Knowledge construction in the real world

Traditionally, educational professionals believed that knowledge in math or science must be constructed by first learning the simple mechanical and fact-based aspects before being able to integrate these fundamentals into real-world problems. While it may make sense to construct a building by first focusing on fundamental pieces such as a foundation and framing, this method may be too simplified to apply to students who are embodied in a world with a plethora of problems to be solved, some of which they may never have experienced before. Carraher et al (1985) looked at math skills in the practical world and discovered that youth with very little formal education developed successful strategies to deal with real life mathematical problems in a market. The youth could successfully solve 95% of problems in the informal market setting while only being able to successfully solve 73% of the problems given to them in a formal test setting. “It seems quite possible that children might have difficulty with routines learned at school and yet at the same time be able to solve the mathematical problems for which these routines were devised in other more effective ways” (Carraher et al, 1985). Thus, as educators it can be useful to use real-life problems in the world to help students gain more applicable and effective knowledge.


Two ways in which students can use real-life experiences to guide their learning is through networked communities such as GLOBE and Exploratorium. In the GLOBE project, scientists are linked with teachers and students to gather data from around the world (Butler & MacGregor, 2003). Students are taught data collection techniques and can visually display their and other’s collected data to analyse and interpret. An example of such is looking at the carbon cycle in different biomes; students collect topsoil data from their region and compare it with data from other students in different parts of the world. With this program, students can directly participate in global knowledge generation on a global scale. Further, Exploratorium presents a virtual museum which allows students to interact and learn with interactive tools, hands-on activities, apps, blogs, and videos to learn about science. “Many innovative educational applications, tools, and experiences are being specifically designed to capture the interests and attention of learners to support everyday learning” (Hsi, 2008). Such tools allow students to generate knowledge in and out of the classroom as the line between formal and informal education becomes blurred. The goal from informal learning is to create a passion for life-long learning in students. If students can self-motivate, knowledge construction can become limitless.



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

Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. British journal of developmental psychology, 3(1), 21-29.

Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 20(9), 891-899.

Constructing Knowledge in Math and Science

How is knowledge relevant to math or science constructed? How is it possibly generated in these networked communities? Provide examples to illustrate your points.

Knowledge and concepts in science rarely manifest themselves in an obvious type of setting, and as such, students require opportunities to engage with physical, practical activities that allow for direct experience and manipulation with objects, both real and virtual. Teachers must provide experiential evidence while making the cultural tools and conventions of the science community available to students. The challenge is how to achieve this successfully within the round of normal classroom life.

According to Driver et al. (1994), scientific concepts are constructs that have been invented and imposed on phenomena in attempts to interpret and explain them, often as results of considerable intellectual struggles. Once scientific knowledge has been constructed and agreed on within the scientific community, it becomes part of the “taken for granted” way of seeing things within that community. These entities, concepts and practices are unlikely to be discovered by individuals through their own observations of the natural world (Driver et al., 1994). From this, scientific knowledge becomes public knowledge that is constructed and communicated through the culture and social institutions of science.

Through group interactions, students are exposed to the stimulus of differing perspectives on science and mathematical topics which then provides opportunities for individual reflection. In this learning environment, the teacher’s role is to provide the physical experiences and encourage student reflection while providing affordances for students to gain an exposure to the ideas and the practice of the scientific community in order to personalize and engage with scientific and mathematical ideas and practices at an individual level.

Referencing student opportunities at the Exploratorium, Hsi (2008) states that technology can be used to provide extended learning opportunities to link a museum learning experience to further learning activity taking place in other settings, and through this, some exhibits make use of feedback systems and video conferencing to enable visitors to discuss in real time with another visitor in a remotely located museum. Hsi (2008) notes the use of technology tools to track and record allow for creative connection between the real world and virtual environments. Within these contexts, technology can be leveraged to encourage inventiveness, creativity and ownership using tools as a medium for constructive activity and learning (Hsi, 2008). Individual learners can access and be apprenticed in authentic science practices through participating in truly global investigations. One example is the Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which permits distributed communities to contribute data and information to be discussed and compiled online.

Regarding off-site learning opportunities, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the perception that virtual reality and virtual field trips are important; however, these activities should not be utilized as a replacement for real field work and traditional field courses (Spicer & Stratford, 2001). Within environments where it is neither possible nor safe to take students, virtual field trips offer an opportunity to engage in activities at locations that would simply not be possible otherwise. As a component of student learning experiences, virtual field trips hold significant potential and value, bearing in mind that these experiences should not be implemented with the intention of discrediting the value of real field activities and opportunities.



Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Scott, P., & Mortimer, E. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational researcher, 23(7), 5-12.

Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 20(9), 891-899.

Spicer, J. & Stratford J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual reality field trip to replace a real field trip. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 345-354.

Students vs the World

Upon closer examination and re-reading certain articles, I do believe that Globe is an example of anchored instruction.  Anchored instruction, also known as instructional design, includes engaging and problem rich environments that allow learners to understand the how, why and when to use different concepts and strategies (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992). Although Globe doesn’t necessarily have an ‘anchor’ or ‘story’ such as in the Jasper series, what Globe does have are tools and learning activities to help solve an anchor in a student’s interest.

What I mean is, is that a student can have an interest in either of the Globes 4 spheres: Atmosphere, Biosphere, Hydrosphere, and Pedosphere (Soil), and thus in turn will produce its own story. For example, let’s take the Hydrosphere. A student could be concerned with the chemicals leaking into his/her nearby river and would like to find the toxins in it and learn how to solve this problem. The ‘anchor’ could be the polluted water and Globe will help with the data collection and necessary tools to use for the student. Another tool for the student to use is the professional help of a scientist. After all, Butler and MacGregor (2003) state that, “An important part of the program is the active participation of scientists as research collaborators with the students” (p. 9). The collection of data is an integral function for Globe to work and succeed and according to Ou and Zang (2006), many teachers complain about the lack of time and skills from integrating databases into their classroom instruction.

With Globe, everything is at your fingertips: learning activities, data collection sources and tools and the help of real life scientists. Does Globe have problem solving videos like Jasper? No. Does Globe foster collaborative inquiry and learning? Yes. The downfall I see with Globe is that its tools are not just tools online, but tools you need to purchase or find in your home. Math and science real-world problems apply here with Globe, and this is one of the characteristics in anchored instruction. Will Globe produce problem solving videos? Maybe, but I think this would stray away from its premise, and that is for students to contribute their own live data and help solve real-world problems.


Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1992). The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development40, 65-80.

Butler, D. M., & MacGregor, I. D. (2003). GLOBE: Science and education. Journal of Geoscience Education51(1), 9-20.

Ou, C., & Zhang, K. (2006). Begin with the Internet. TechTrends50(5), 46-51.

An argument against Globe as anchored instruction

I would like to disagree with the statement that Globe is an example of anchored instruction. If you look at the definition of anchored instruction superficially, one would have to agree that Globe qualifies. However, I believe that on a deeper level Globe does not embody all of the qualities of anchored instruction that the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CGTV) had in mind when they created the Jasper series.

Anchored instruction is where “instruction is situated in engaging, problem-rich environments that allow sustained exploration by students and teachers” (CGTV, 1992, p. 65). Based on this description, Globe certainly seems to meet the requirements. It provides a very engaging, problem-rich environment, and due to its many facets (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, pedosphere), sustained exploration can be attained. In addition, Globe provides an environment that allows communication between experts, students and teachers from diverse backgrounds, and this helps to build collective understanding. This is another important feature of anchored instruction.

Where Globe seems to diverge from anchored instruction is apparent when looking at the goals that CGTV had in mind when creating the Jasper series. CGTV’s aim was to help students learn to become independent thinkers and learners. They wanted students to learn to identify and define issues and problems on their own, in a generative fashion (CGTV, 1992). I would argue that students who participate in Globe, do not achieve this goal. The main activities in Globe centre around collection of data by students using a prescribed protocol that has been established by Globe researchers. This prescribed protocol is necessary to ensure that data collected by students is reliable and can be used by Globe researchers. I also took a look at some learning activities that students can perform. These documents provide teachers with a guide on how to introduce certain topics, gives step by step instructions on how to conduct the lesson, and possible ways to assess students on these activities. There seems to be a great deal of scaffolding in comparison to the Jasper series, which may hinder the notion of generative learning.

Overall, I believe that Globe is a very engaging community and does bring environmental science research close to home for students. I think that it is a very innovative endeavour and certainly has a place in STEM education. However, I cannot agree that it falls within the realm of anchored instruction.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992a). The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 40(1), 65-80

Authentic Learning Experiences with Virtual Field Trips and Interactive Virtual Expeditions

There are abundant opportunities to embed networked communities in STEM education. Especially, both virtual field trips (VFTs) and interactive virtual expeditions (IVEs) offer authentic learning opportunities for students in the classroom. Both technologies are valuable in terms of providing students with real-life experience and engaging learning process. Niemitz et al (2008) reported that “the use of interactive virtual expeditions in classroom learning environments can theoretically be an effective means of engaging learners in understanding science as an inquiry process, infusing current research and relevant science into the classroom, and positively affecting learner attitudes towards science as a process and a career (p. 562).”

In addition to authentic learning experiences,  virtual field trips and IVEs can take students to locations that are too far away to travel to or too expensive to visit. Virtual field trips can take a student back in time, into outer space, or into the microscopic world, all of which are tours regular physical field trips cannot offer.

The availability of these technologies enables educators to design experiences that some students would otherwise not have access. In so doing, these technologies enhance and extend student learning. For example, having students visit the North Pole via live animal cams or explore volcano sites through Volcano World enables students to experience these natural phenomena and animals in ways they would otherwise be difficult. This brings the student learning process to life. The process can further be enhanced when educators incorporate interactions with networked communities as part of these virtual experiences.

The research has found that students should be able to acquire the same cognitive and qualitative gains if a virtual field trip is planned and conducted in the same meticulous fashion as a real-life field trip. The researchers also reported that virtual field trips can enhance learning (Cox & Su, 2004) and provide a supplement to actual field trips (Spicer & Stratford, 2001).  VFTs can still “offer valuable tools for instructional augmentation and enrichment of actual field trips” (Klemm & Tuthill, 2002, p. 464).   As such, VFTs should not be seen as a replacement for real-world field trips but rather as a supplement to them when real life travel is possible.  

I believe that the success of virtual trips and expeditions depends on the level preparation for the learning experience and the quality of student engagement while on the trip. The trip should be followed by a carefully planned reflection to enhance the learning process (Cox & Su, 2004, p. 120).


Cox, E.S., & Su, T. (2004). Integrating student learning with practitioner experiences via virtual field trips. Journal of Educational Media, 29(2), 113-123.

Niemitz, M., Slough, S., Peart, L., Klaus, A., Leckie, R. M., & St John, K. (2008). Interactive virtual expeditions as a learning tool: The School of Rock Expedition case study. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 17(4), 561-580.

Spicer, J. I., & Stratford, J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual field trip to replace a real field trip.  Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17(4), 345-354.

Tuthill, G., & Klemm, E. B. (2002). Virtual field trips: Alternatives to actual field trips. International Journal of Instructional Media, 29(4), 453-468.



The many quality digital resources were very engaging to explore this week. By connecting student learning to real-world authentic learning environments these networked communities increase engagement and make learning purposeful.

Depending on how educators structure learning, I tend to agree that Globe represents an example of Anchored Instruction. Provided that students actively engage the experience through open-ended problem-solving with the goal of constructing assessible knowledge that can be applied when required.

According to the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, Anchored Instruction is “situated in engaging, problem rich environments that allow sustained exploration by students and teachers” (1992a). Its design immerses students in “meaningful problems for students to solve that capture the intricacies of real-world mathematical problem solving” (Vye et al., 1997). Students experience problems as practitioners in real-life contexts encounter them. They work collaboratively with peers and socially construct knowledge through experience and argumentation. An anchored instruction “activity supports learning opportunities that relate to and extend thinking to other content areas” (Fried, 2005).

GLOBE anchors instruction within the real-world scientific data represented on the website and even involves students in the collection of data for use in actual scientific studies. GLOBE is organized into several separate “investigations,” each focused on a different aspect of the environment (Howland, 2002). The networked community goes beyond the capabilities of the Jasper Project, but both provide an engaging digital context for students to explore through independent investigations and open-ended problem-solving. It facilitates the creation of a shared experience for learners which is then utilized for deeper knowledge construction. Students learn within wide collaborative communities, including Globe scientists, and engage interdisciplinary issues “not just as learners but as scientists themselves” (Penuel, 2004). It facilitates clear connections between math and science topics. Unlike the Japer Series, GLOBE does not contain as an explicit “story, adventure, or situation that includes a problem or issue to be resolved and that is of interest to the students” (Fried, 2005). However, I believe that the experience itself could be framed in a similar way.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992a). The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 40(1), 65-80.

Fried, A., Zannini, K., Wheeler, D., Lee, Y., & Cortez, a. J. (2005). Theory Name: Anchored Instruction. Retrieved from Suny Cortland:

Howland and Becker (2002). GLOBE: The Science behind Launching an International Environmental Education Program. Journal of Science Education and Technology, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Sep., 2002), pp. 199-210

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.

Vye, Nancy J.; Goldman, Susan R.; Voss, James F.; Hmelo, Cindy; Williams, Susan (1997). Complex mathematical problem solving by individuals and dyads. Cognition and Instruction, 15(4), 435-450.

Start with Why: The importance of choice


  • How is knowledge relevant to math or science constructed? How is it possibly generated in these networked communities? Provide examples to illustrate your points.


Intrigued by the article entitled “Mathematics in the streets and in schools” by Carraher, Carraher, & Schliemann this week, I couldn’t help but think about some of my previous math students and their infamous question, “Why do we need to know this?” Often the first question to come out of a burgeoning teenager is the inquiry into why a particular subject matter is relevant to their lives. This article revealed that students in Brazil were able to come up with their own strategies in computational thinking when they had no choice but to do so, in order to succeed in their family business.

According to Carraher, “Context-embedded problems were much more easily solved than ones without a context” (1985). When students learn a concept within the correct context, they become engaged and motivated to understand, construct knowledge, and are willing to extend problem solving strategies to tasks they are invested in. This was something I found to be true while leading students through the culminating project of the Exhibition in the PYP. Here students, working collaboratively together in small groups of 3 or 4, spend time exploring a particular subject area that they are personally interested and invested in. For example, one group of students looked into the effects of ocean acidification on marine life in the Pacific Ocean. This is often a topic geared toward senior high school students or university students, but for my Grade 5 students the why was already understood, it was exploring the causes and their role in making a difference that mattered most.

Exploratorium defines itself as “The Exploratorium isn’t just a museum; it’s an ongoing exploration of science, art and human perception—a vast collection of online experiences that feed your curiosity.” This exciting resource provides both teachers and students with the opportunity to access videos, information, and experts with the touch of a button. According to Yoon et al., AR is defined as “virtual objects in the real environment, alignment of real and virtual objects with each other, and their interaction in real time.” AR provides those interested with the access to information that may otherwise be limited due to cost or distance. Yoon et al, note that specific scaffolding helps to enhance learning such as collaboration, prompts, collective cognitive responsibility. Fascinating to me was the point in the article that the observed students failed to read the instructions on the task card, something I have noticed occur in my own classroom. This made me realize the importance of TELEs such as Jasper, where instructions are part of the video.

However, it wasn’t until Hsi’s article that I really began to change my thinking about the importance of information technologies for informal learning. Hsi describes the advantages of information technologies in museums and out-of-school settings by explaining that the learner holds the power in their quest to understand what is important to them. With RSS tools, for example, students can tweet or email interesting facts or ideas to shared communities to continue the conversation with peers. Even more exciting is that the learner can begin to collect data as part of a team, aiding researchers from universities. Hsi sums it up best by saying, “As more IT becomes widely available, research and development will need to view IT not only as a tool for productivity and training in formal settings, but also as a context for designing meaningful informal learning experiences: creating interactions, online social spaces, media-rich representations, interest-driven activities, and communities for learning as bridges to formal schooling and to personal interests and everyday hobbies.” With sites such as Exploratorium, students don’t whine about why they are learning a particular context because they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to learning. Students are constructing knowledge because they were given choice, which is just differentiated learning at its best!



Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. British journal of developmental psychology, 3(1), 21-29.

Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 20(9), 891-899.

Yoon, S. A., Elinich, K., Wang, J., Steinmeier, C., & Tucker, S. (2012). Using augmented reality and knowledge-building scaffolds to improve learning in a science museum. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(4), 519-541.

How knowledge relevant to Math is constructed

  • How is knowledge relevant to math or science constructed? How is it possibly generated in these networked communities? Provide examples to illustrate your points.

Lampert (1990) provided an illuminating account of how she conducted her lesson on exponents to a grade 5 class in order to change the meaning of knowing, and learning Mathematics in her classroom to adhere much more closely to how Mathematicians would argue, and establish Mathematical facts. I believe that her method more closely resembles how knowledge in math is constructed.

Lampert argues that there is a sharp contrast between Mathematical practice and how the subject is perceived in popular culture and in the classroom. In the scientific community, Mathematical ideas are often questioned, with the assumptions frequently evaluated and foundations tested, and as such the subject is open to discussion and the possibility of uncertainty. This is in contrast to how mathematics is discussed in the classroom, as the teacher, and the textbook is believed to hold all the facts and are rarely questioned. It was also believed that the concept of “proof” and the challenging of assumptions are rarely brought into classroom practice.

Below are some of the practices that Lampert used in her class:

  1. In starting a new unit, Lampert gave students wide open problems that encouraged participation, and discussion. For example, students were asked to find a way to determine the last digit in the expressions 6^4 and 7^4 without multiplying.  Problems like these could be solve through a variety of strategies, and was open to student hypothesis and discussion. Lampert was not only looking for the strategy to solve the problem, but also the actual solution. This trains students in the act of forming hypotheses, and discussing their ideas. I also believe that this closely resembles how Mathematical knowledge is created: Mathematicians observe a problem in the real world, and conjectures are made about how to determine the solution to the problem.
  2. Lampert wrote down student solutions on the board, along with their names. When students asserted that certain answers needed to be removed from the board because they were incorrect, the students were asked to provide reasoning as to why the answer is incorrect, and why the person who gave the answer thought the way they did. I thought this practice resembled academic discourse, as Mathematical proofs are often placed in the public eye, argued, and agreed upon before acceptance as fact.
  3. Lampert followed, and engaged in the mathematical argument with the students in order to show students what it means to know Mathematics. Lampert made explicit the knowledge that she carried with her, and how she used that knowledge to carry an argument about the legitimacy of their proofs. The analogy Lampert used was one of navigating “cross country mathematics”. The teacher uses their knowledge to move along the path traveled by students on the mathematical terrain, and to help students move along. Instead of directing students along a carefully laid out path, Lampert suggests that teachers should show what it means to have mathematical expertise, and that it is more than being able to navigate down a straight and clean path, but rather the ability to navigate through sometimes rugged terrain.

Networked communities help generate mathematical knowledge by allowing information to be collected from a large population at once. One feature of the GLOBE library for example, is for students to contribute data to scientific studies (Penuel, 2004). Numerical data can be collected from a variety of sources, and analysed for patterns and possible relationships. I believe networked communities are a big frontier in mathematics. Many self driving car trials and experiments for example, is a result of data collected by a a large fleet of semi-autonomous vehicles.

Lampert, M. (1990). When the problem is not the question and the solution is not the answer: Mathematical knowing and teaching. American educational research journal27(1), 29-63.

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 Teaching41(3), 294-315.

Contribute to the Greater Good – Business Education

Providing our students with the expertise to critically sort through the enormous amount of information that is available to them is one of the most important skills we, as educators, can help them develop.  With the rapid developments we have seen in technology over the past two decades, our students have the opportunity to engage in the curriculum and interact with environments that otherwise would have been very difficult to do.  Driver et. al. (1994) reiterate a commonly accepted principle that knowledge must be constructed by the learner and not simply transmitted; what we define as constructivism.  In this module we are introduced to the concept of knowledge diffusion and how students can work together to collectively create learning experiences and construct knowledge.

Veletsianos & Kleanthous (2009) explore the idea of adventure learning and define it as “an approach to the design of online and hybrid education that provides students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative learning environments” (para. 7).  The authors found that in order to fully understand such complex learning environments, more research is required in empirically grounding both the process of learning and the means to support that process.  Although this is a math and science based class, as a business education teacher, I see enormous potential with this technology.  In order to bring authenticity to my lessons, I attempt to discuss business cases of companies that students are interested in and may think they know a lot about; exploring these same companies using the foundations of business education theory helps them construct knowledge in deeper ways.  Using technologies such as Google Expeditions to virtually tour an Amazon distribution centre or to be able to experience different corporate office environments to understand how business is done differently in other countries can be invaluable experiences to my students (last I checked, Google Expeditions doesn’t offer corporate tours).

In my Financial Accounting 12 class I tasked my students with creating a lesson that would serve as a study tool to others in the course.  There are no business prerequisites for this course and so students arrive with a varied level of understanding and previous knowledge.  The purpose of the assignment was to help those with no experience with accounting to understand a basic level so as to have as many students on the same page as possible.  Those students who had taken Accounting 11 were tasked with more complex issues while those who had no accounting experience were given more basic principles to explain.  In hindsight, I wish I had created an online database of these lessons so future students could access and learn as well.

Do you think this contribution of knowledge is similar to the data collection and collaboration we saw in tools such as Globe?


Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., & Mortimer, E. (10/01/1994). Educational researcher: Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom American Educational Research Association. doi:10.2307/1176933

Veletsianos, G., & Kleanthous, I. (2009). A review of adventure learning.International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(6) Retrieved from

Yoon, S. A., Elinich, K., Wang, J., Steinmeier, C., & Tucker, S. (2012). Using augmented reality and knowledge-building scaffolds to improve learning in a science museum. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(4), 519-541

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.