- Peer Review: Web-based Inquiry Science Environment
Web-based Inquiry Science Environment
- Feb 23, 2004 by Teacher Education
WISE is a web-based tool for teachers to create or adapt lessons to help
students gather evidence for and against opposing conceptions of scientific
phenomenon. Students examine
real-world evidence and analyze current scientific controversies. Current
projects in the areas of Biology, Earth Science, Chemistry, Physics, and
Environmental Science are designed to meet standards and complement current
science curriculum. The site allows the instructor to author new curriculum
projects designed to complement their current science curriculum. The projects
are designed to be used with an in-classroom debate.
- Type of Material:
Web-based material that allows the instructor to link instructional materials to
images on the web through hyperlinks. The image shows up on the
instructor-created page without actually copying and pasting the items - thus avoiding
conflict with copyright policies. Text, diagrams and movies found on the Internet can also be assembled by either the instructor or the student.
- Recommended Uses:
The material should be used for faculty development as an example of a
constructivist approach to science instruction. Instructors can modify existing modules or design new curriculum projects to help students learn science content and understand scientific theories. Student involvement may improve attitudes toward science.
- Technical Requirements:
Browser and Internet connection.
- Identify Major Learning Goals:
Students who learn science using WISE engage in social construction of their
knowledge. They become more aware of the role of argument for the progress of
science, and the classroom debate can promote conceptual
change as students review evidence and explain how the evidence supports their
viewpoint. Ideally, they should also gain understanding of the empirical nature
- Target Student Population:
WISE is appropriate for students from middle school through college age. As a
pedagogical strategy, WISE could be useful for science teacher professional
- Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
The instructor who uses WISE must browse the Internet and
use web-based forms. Some knowledge of html is helpful, but not required. For students, a browser and Internet access is all they need to take notes and organize their arguments. Students register by name and a password into classes.
WISE projects have
students exercise the processes of science. An important WISE innovation is the idea of having students select and weigh empirical evidence as they learn why some
ideas have more scientific merit than others. A project allows the instructor to guide students to pre-arranged Internet sites to consider various information to select what is most relevant for retrieval. Sample WISE projects from a project
library are free for faculty to use. Lesson plans provided in the instructor section provide guidance for planning daily instruction. The curriculum content is linked tocontent standards. The -How Far Does Light Go? Debate-
project has been described in research published by Bell and Linn and it shows
how exciting a class can be when the tool is used to investigate core science
Project families currently include Deformed Frogs, Earthquakes, Exotic Species,
Genetically Modified Foods, Heat & Temperature, HIV, Houses in the Desert, How
Far Does Light Go?, Malaria, Organic Foods, Plants in Space, Rainforest
Interactions, Scientific Controversy, Water Quality, and Wolves. The projects
are uneven in quality with regard to the degree to which they develop core
content within the science disciplines. One reviewer has concern about the use
of the term theory to represent the idea that light dies out in the -How Far
Does Light Go? Debate- since theory is a term best reserved for
well-substantiated, overarching explanations of some aspect of the natural world
that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses. For
example, the cell theory states that cells are the basic unit of all living
organisms and that all new cells arise from the division of pre-existing cells.
It would seem a waste of time to have students look for evidence and argue
against a real theory. The approach used might not help students see how the
scientific meaning of the term theory differs from the way that many people use
it in everyday life with reference to a hunch or guess.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
The structure for a WISE project makes it easy to write good learning
assignments using the software. Each learning assignment has students integrate
new explanations of the problem with their prior ideas, and then has them
explore the problem through guided inquiry along with opportunities to
investigate aspects that should be resolved according to the learner
perspective. All WISE Projects guide students toward information competence with two questions: 1 ) Is there a problem with how the evidence was created? 2) Does the evidence come from a reliable source? The students organize evidence using Sensemaker, a scaffolding device, to prepare their notes for the classroom debate. The group work component adds a dimension of social interaction
for justification that serves as a form of ongoing authentic formative
assessment. Assignments can be structured so that learners apply their growing
knowledge to new problems or contexts.
The main obstacle for teaching effectiveness using WISE is the difficulty of
developing a good learning assignment in a context that addresses core curriculum. One
problem we encountered was the failure of our students to distinguish empirical
evidence from models or analogies. A series of revisions should result in
progressively better assignments, but the mechanism for users to provide
feedback to assignment authors is unclear. Students do not respond well when
they know that some are being asked to argue the validity of a scientifically inaccurate position. In fact, work spent arguing for a misconception might
embed a misconception that a learner did not actually have at the start. A
better assignment might be to have students argue for or against a model,
rather than having them tackle actual theories or misconceptions. From the student perspective, they need explicit instructions on how to use Sensemaker to organize the evidence to be debated. Students get frustrated when they do not understand they must drag the evidence into boxes and save the worksheet.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
WISE projects are easy to use by both faculty and students. Beginners can use
projects that are already in the library or they can copy the format or modify existing
projects to create similar projects of their own. Replacing wording in modified projects and inserting new
Internet sites for evidence frames can easily create new modules. An index allows students to move through the project and guides students to go on to the next portion as they complete their work. Hints given by a friendly Panda Bear help students integrate their own knowledge into the conceptual framework. Notes students take for
themselves are available to faculty so they can monitor progress and intervene
when needed during the progress of an assignment. Much flexibility programmed
into the software allows more advanced faculty to personalize many
characteristics of an assignment.
The biggest concern is teaching time and efficiency lost when assignments are not optimized to emphasize core curriculum objective for a particular student population. The problem can be addressed with more faculty sharing
assignments. The WISE team may want to emphasize tools that show individual authors how other users edit
their assignments to promote the sharing of ideas.
- Other Issues and Comments:
WISE is a good way to teach conceptully difficult science content. We look
forward to seeing more assignments that effectively address the core content
that is so hard to teach (osmosis and diffusion, evolution, the particulate
nature of matter, conservation of matter and energy, for example). WISE is powerful tool that can aid students in examining real-world evidence and determining what evidence is reliable and useful in supporting a position during a debate or discussion of a scientific controversy. The
availability of WISE to faculty and student users is deeply appreciated.
- Creative Commons: