Designing Curriculum Materials to Support Inquiry and Technology Use

Investigating real-world questions has long been touted as a viable educational structure; the roots of this idea go back to John Dewey who is often described as the father of progressive education. Project-based instruction is one example of such learning, where the focus is on students investigating real-world problems that are important and meaningful to them. Because of this focus, project-based learning is sensitive to the needs of a diverse group of students with respect culture, race, or gender (Haberman, 1991; Atwater, 1994). hi-ce Curriculum Materials are designed with this approach in mind, and embrace a number of principles that support this approach to learning, including the following:

Driving Questions
Many of the national and state curriculum standards focus on students exploring solutions to problems (NRC, 1996). Such problem solving usually begins with a question, posed by students, that is important to them, and can be the basis for an in-depth investigation, such as "What is the water like in our river?" Such a question serves to organize and drive activities that take place in a science class. This driving question is the first step in meeting all of the other key features of project-based learning. The question sets the stage for planning and carrying-out investigations.

Students Engage in Investigations
One of the hallmarks of science is that of sustained investigation based on important and meaningful questions. In project-based science, students investigate a question over a longer length of time rather than engage in short term activities or investigations that are out of context from real life situations. Questions such as "What do pets need to stay healthy?" and "Where did the black stuff come from in the bottom of the aquarium?" can provide the basis for long term investigations. These investigations are meaningful to students and therefore keep the students' attention for longer periods of time. In such classrooms, students find solutions to questions by messing about with ideas, asking and refining questions, finding information, planning and designing, building apparatus, collecting data, analyzing data, making conclusions, and communicating findings.

Communities of Learners Collaborating Together
Project-based learning involves students, teachers, and members of society collaborating together to investigate questions. In this manner, the classroom in which project-based learning occurs becomes a community of learners. The use of telecommunication also helps create a collaborative environment by allowing students to access a wider community in which they can communicate with knowledgeable individuals, take advantage of resources others have to offer, communicate with other students in different parts of the world, and share data with other student scientists and content experts.

Use of Technology
Technology can help transform the classroom into an environment in which learners actively construct knowledge. Using technology makes the environment more authentic to students in that they can use computers to access real data on the Internet, expand interactions and collaborations with others via networks (such as e-mail), use tools to gather data (such as light and heat probes that are plugged into computer ports to conduct experiments), employ graphing and visualization tools to analyze data, and produce multi-media artifacts. Hi-CE curriculum materials embed technology use, so that it is not just a "supplemental" activity - it is at the heart of creating understanding and doing thoughtful analysis.

Because artifacts show what students have learned, they can be used as forms of assessment that demonstrate students' deep understanding of content. The creation and sharing of artifacts serves several purposes. First, artifacts are real and motivating. For example, making a display of appropriate habitats for classroom pets is more realistic than taking a test about animal habitats. Just as scientists frequently expose their ideas to public scrutiny through the process of publishing and presenting, students can present an artifact to an audience of peers, professionals, and community members provides a purpose for the investigation and allows students talk with others about their work. Because artifacts are concrete and explicit (e.g., a physical model, report, videotape, or computer program) they are shareable and critique-able. Feedback permits learners to reflect upon and extend their understanding, and revise their artifacts. Finally, artifacts allow students to show what they have learned throughout an investigation. They document broad learning - sometimes over an entire school year. Because artifacts represent learning over time, they show how student understanding develops. For these reasons, artifacts are excellent forms of assessment.

Scientifically Based Research Informs Design

Many schools are grappling with requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, and its focus on incorporating reforms that have shown, through research using scientific methods and procedures, that they can improve student achievement. Because of our research focus, all Hi-CE curriculum materials undergo a thorough pilot testing and revision process, including the use of student and teacher interviews, pre- and post-test evalutaion, classroom observation, teacher feedback, and other various strategies to ensure that we create effective curriculum materials and lessons that support student learning and achievement with respect to the content and standards addressed. For more information on our research programs, or publications, go to our research pages.


hi-ce curriculum materials are not created in a vacuum; they are all the results of collaborative work with teachers and schools that are engaged in curricular reform efforts. Our interdisciplinary group is able to draw upon a variety of resources when it comes to creating curriculum materials, including scientists, teachers, cognitive psychologists, engineers, curriculum coordinators, technology specialists, software engineers, and other specialists. hi-ce also partners with a number of organizations to help create curriculum materials and resources to help bring inquiry-based teaching and technologies to students.