The purpose of this project is to improve the problem-solving skills of third-grade students by engaging them in interactive digital learning environments to explore the basic structure, function and integration of the body's organ systems. These experiences will be presented in the context of obesity-related diabetes, a disease that affects more than 25 million children and adults, and will tie directly to their mathematics and English and language arts lessons. Through these experiences, researchers hope to promote the development of higher-order thinking skills and encourage students to consider careers in science and healthcare.
For the US to compete globally in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, dramatic improvements must be made in the problem-solving and higher order thinking skills of our youth, and more under-represented minority students must be encouraged to pursue careers in these fields. This project addresses those issues at the beginning of the student pipeline, elementary school, by testing the following hypothesis: Scientific literacy and development of higher order thinking skills will increase in third grade students taught basic biological concepts using immersive, inquiry-based digital learning environments that integrate mathematics and English & language arts learning objectives. This will be achieved by creating, field-testing, refining and evaluating interactive, inquiry-based digital learning environments in which students explore the basic structure, function and integration of the body's systems in health and disease. To engage the students in the learning process, a combination of 3D models, animations and embedded assessment items will be incorporated into these learning environments, in which the students will explore the organ systems of a healthy cat and then an obese cat with diabetes. In doing so, the students will be exposed not only to normal components of the body, but also will have the opportunity to see first-hand the deleterious effects of obesity and diabetes. As these environments are developed, our team will work with the teacher partners to create curricular materials that can be applied to the students' mathematics and English & language arts lessons. To determine whether this approach significantly improves student performance, self-efficacy and attitudes towards science, we will compare the results obtained with those from an equal number of students taught using traditional methods.
During the first three years of this project, when the learning environments are being created and field-tested, we will involve approximately 150 undergraduate science students at the University of Georgia who are participating in a well-established science outreach partnership program in which they work with elementary school teachers in schools having high proportions of under-represented minority students. Our ethos for developing these learning environments is as follows: problem solving is a skill, skills can be honed through practice, and the keys to solving problems and developing higher order thinking skills are scientific practices.
Over this five-year project, 1,830 third grade students and 27 third grade teachers will participate, and the use of a logic model in the design of this project will ensure appropriate, measurable outcomes that will add significantly to the paucity of information currently available regarding the effects of technology on achievement in science, mathematics, and English & language arts in elementary schools.