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IES Grant

Title: Contextualizing Experimental Design Instruction Within Related Inquiry Activities: The ISP Tutor
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Klahr, David Awardee: Carnegie Mellon University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2017 06/30/2020) Award Amount: $1,376,533
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A170176
Description: Co-Principal Investigator: Stephanie Siler

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop and pilot test the Inquiry-based Science Projects (ISP) Tutor, an enhanced version of the computer-based adaptive Tutor for Experimental Design (TED). ISP will provide instructional support to improve students' ability to perform experimental science in extended, engaging, and meaningful contexts. TED, which was developed with prior IES funding (Training in Experimental Design: Developing Scalable and Adaptive Computer-based Science Instruction and Promoting Transfer of the Control of Variables Strategy in Elementary and Middle School Children via Contextual Framing and Abstraction), provides instruction on the control of variables strategy (CVS) through a range of activities involved in formulating and conducting independent inquiry-based science projects. The research team predicts that extending the capabilities of TED to include more supports for students during the scientific inquiry process through (1) the creation of worked example and guided response modes, (2) more opportunities for feedback, and (3) improved cognitive engagement will result in better understanding of the scientific inquiry process.

Project Activities: The ISP tutor is a computer-based adaptive tutor designed to support students' ability to learn inquiry skills and perform experimental science. In Years 1-3, the research team will develop the ISP Tutor iteratively. Each cycle will involve developing tutor components, user-testing those components and making necessary modifications, conducting classroom studies of those components, and using data from the studies to further improve tutor functionality. A the end of Year 3 and extending into Year 4, the research team will conduct a pilot study to test feasibility and promise of using the fully developed ISP Tutor by comparing the learning and affective outcomes of students who learn inquiry skills using the ISP Tutor to those who learn inquiry skills through a control lesson.

Products: Researchers will produce a fully developed ISP Tutor for middle school children and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Research will take place in sixth-grade classrooms within urban and suburban schools in Pennsylvania.

Sample: Approximately 825 sixth-grade students will participate in this research (225 in Year 1, 225 in Year 2, 375 in Year 3). The schools in which this research will be conducted represent a cross-section of students in terms of socioeconomic status and ethnicity.

Intervention: The ISP Tutor will be an enriched, adaptive, web-based tutor that supports student engagement in various scientific inquiry activities and that builds on the already developed TED. TED currently includes: (1) pretests and posttests that assess students' ability to design and evaluate experiments in several problem domains, (2) instructional activities where students must indicate whether each in a series of experimental comparisons is a good way to find out about the effect of the focal variable, why, and whether one could know that the focal variable caused a difference, and (3) incremental remedial instructional pathways (adaptive based on students' performance on pretests and during instruction). The new components that will be added include: (1) the creation of worked example and guided response modes, (2) more opportunities for feedback, and (3) improved cognitive engagement.

Research Design and Methods: In Years 1-3, the research team will develop the ISP Tutor iteratively; each cycle will involve developing tutor components, user-testing those components and making necessary modifications, conducting a classroom study of those components, and using data from the study to further improve tutor functionality. For these studies, the research team will use a within-classroom randomized controlled design with stratified student-level random assignment to condition based on students' pretest scores. At the end of Year 3, the research team will conduct a pilot study using a quasi-experimental design to test feasibility and promise of the ISP Tutor. Classrooms will be stratified based on students' pretest scores and randomly assigned to either the ISP Tutor or to a control lesson on inquiry. Across all studies, students will complete pretests, a lesson (which differs by condition), and immediate and delayed posttests. Additionally, for the pilot study, after completing the lesson students will develop and conduct independent science projects, culminating in the production of posters.

Control Condition: For studies on the tutor components, comparison conditions vary based on the research question. For the pilot study, students in the control classrooms receive a lesson on scientific inquiry that does not rely on the ISP Tutor.

Key Measures: Key measures include researcher-developed control of variables tests, data interpretation tests, and inquiry tests; the modified Attitudes Toward Science Inventory (mATSI) to measure motivation and affect; and ratings of the content and quality of students' independent science project posters, which will be used to assess students' ability to apply their inquiry skills to their own work.

Data Analytic Strategy: For in-class evaluations, the research team will use multivariate analysis of co-variance, covarying for pretest score, to assess main effects of condition as well as identify any aptitude-by-treatment interactions for cognitive or affective/motivational outcome measures. In addition, researchers will record all student actions while interacting with the tutor in computer log files and subsequently analyze evidence of sources of difficulties in order to inform tutor revisions.

Related IES Projects:
From Cognitive Models of Reasoning to Lesson Plans for Inquiry(R305H030229)
Training in Experimental Design: Developing Scalable and Adaptive Computer-based Science Instruction (R305H060034)
Promoting Transfer of the Control of Variables Strategy in Elementary and Middle School Children via Contextual Framing and Abstraction (R305A100404)


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