Uri Wilensky Wins New Grants for Science Learning Technology Projects

Uri Wilensky Wins New Grants for Science Learning Technology Projects

Uri Wilensky

Professor Uri Wilensky has received National Science Foundation grants for two major new projects aimed at helping students learn science better with cutting-edge technologies.

One project, called InquirySpace, will develop a web-based platform for middle and high school students to experience scientific inquiry in a deep and authentic way. A second project, with assistant professor Mike Horn, will design and study computer models for high school students to learn evolutionary biology and computational thinking.

Web-based tools for scientific inquiry
InquirySpace will address challenges in science instruction by supporting authentic scientific inquiry in a way that both promotes deep science learning and conveys an accurate understanding of the practices of science. “Findings from this project have the potential to deepen our understanding of how to help students learn science concepts and scientific inquiry through inquiry activities, and draw attention to the importance of computational tools in supporting this learning,” the investigators say.

Students learn science effectively by learning in the same way that scientists build new knowledge. Students also need to be able to find patterns in data from series of experiments performed under varying conditions. These two capabilities — authentic scientific inquiry and pattern finding in data — are often missing from K-12 science instruction.

The project will show how to integrate software so that students can have scientific inquiry experiences at the sophisticated level of scientists without being overwhelmed by complicated functions. The new platform will combine three types of software: computer modeling environments including NetLogo, which was developed by Wilensky; real-time data collection from probes and sensors; and visual data exploration tools. Their web platform will provide wide access to the learning tools.

The three-year InquirySpace project received a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation and Concord Consortium.

Learning evolutionary biology through computer modeling
In the Learning Evolution through Model-Based Inquiry project, Wilensky and Horn will focus on a concept that is difficult to learn: the relationship between evolutionary change at the organism, or micro-evolution, level and the population, or macro-evolution, level. “The use of NetLogo is well-suited toward this end, given that it can depict how changes at the individual level relate to shifts in the population of the organism as a whole,” Wilensky says.

This research project will examine learning and student interest, and it will compare the impact when students work alone, in pairs and in groups. The study participants will be inner-city students in grades 9 to 11.

If the approach is successful, it will show the value of learning technology for making significant changes in science learning. “In addition, the project expects to contribute to the theory and practice of learning using instructional technologies, agent-based models and computational models,” the researchers say. A National Science Foundation grant of $687,000 will support the three-year project.

Wilensky, who is a mathematician, educator, learning technologist and computer scientist, founded the Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling, which he directs at Northwestern University. Through his many projects, he is involved in designing, deploying and researching learning technologies — especially for mathematics and science education. Most recently much of his work has focused on the design of computer-based modeling and simulation languages, including networked collaborative simulations.

Wilensky has received numerous grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Department of Education. In 1996 he received a Career Award from the National Science Foundation and in 1999 a Spencer/NAE fellowship. He is a founder and an executive editor of the International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 10/1/13