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The Concept Mapped Project-based Activity Scaffolding System (CoMPASS) project integrates two modes of learning science: digital linked text in a hypertext system, CoMPASS, and accompanying design challenges.

CoMPASS includes the projects: NGLC, IES, CAREER, NSDL, and IERI.

Several CoMPASS units have been developed covering a range of topics in mechanics and enable students to learn about key concepts such as work, energy, force, acceleration, mechanical advantage etc. The principle guiding the design of CoMPASS materials is to enable students to see relationships between concepts and principles. Concept maps that change dynamically based on the concepts selected by students, supplementing the text in the CoMPASS system, help students to see these relationships. The design challenges provide students with a context for their hands-on science investigations, and enable them to see the interconnections between the concepts (e.g., force and distance).


Enhancing Literacy in Science Through Digital Text, Simulations, and Design Challenges

The goal of this project is to enhance digital and science literacy and deep understanding of science content, using a technology-rich interactive learning environment consisting of multiple modes and representations. Drawing from research in cognitive and learning sciences and science education, and based on the overarching framework of learning science through solving design challenges, our materials consist of two modules, Work & Energy, and Forces & Motion, each lasting about 6–8 weeks, and consisting of the following components.

  1. A hypertext system, CoMPASS-Physics, consisting of two representations, a navigable concept map that shows students how science ideas are related, and text descriptions of science principles and phenomena.
  2. Design challenges that provide a motivating context to guide students’ research on CoMPASS-Physics, and their physical and virtual investigations to understand science phenomena.
  3. Simulations that allow students to conduct virtual investigations to test variables that inform their design challenges.
  4. Experiments using physical materials (ramps, pulleys, etc.) to help students understand testing variables in the complexity of the real world, such as the effects of friction and measurement error.
  5. Scientists’ journals where students record notes and data, write predictions, formulate justifications, and develop evidence-based explanations.
  6. Small group and whole class discussions where students to work collaboratively throughout the modules. In addition, our implementations include several whole-class discussions led by a teacher to help students generate questions, report data, and explain their results.

The two modules that we will implement, Work & Energy and Forces & Motion, will focus on physical science content in Grades 6–8. Our materials address all of the Grade 6–8 common core standards in reading for science literacy, and 8 of the 10 standards in writing in science literacy for Grades 6–8. They provide numerous opportunities for students to read texts and gather evidence, write procedures and explanations, use scientific and technical language, understand relationships between concepts, provide summaries, and use quantitative information in text.

Teachers will use formative and summative assessments, many of which are embedded in the activities that students engage in, to inform instruction. Our assessments address both the common core standards and deep learning of content. They consist of (a) log files of students’ navigation in CoMPASS-Physics and simulations, (b) concept maps, (c) performance assessments in the form of designed artifacts, (d) pretests and posttests of science content, process and motivation, and (e) classroom observations to understand how students build their understanding.

Partner school districts include the Milwaukee Public School District, Monona Grove School District and Waunakee Community School District. Approximately 1,200 sixth through eighth grade students will be using the CoMPASS materials


Scaffolding Students’ Use of Multiple Representations for Science Learning

Funded by Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) $1.45 million

The central premise of this project is that a careful integration of multiple representations within an instructional unit, and the design of scaffolding that enables translation between representations, will lead to a deeper conceptual understanding. Our main objective therefore is to develop and evaluate a novel approach to science instruction that engages multiple representations – text, hands-on experimentation and interactive computer simulations, which incorporates scaffolding both by the teacher and the computer, in order to immerse middle school students in these practices of science.

Specific goals of the research are to:

  1. Promote deeper conceptual learning by integrating multiple representations and activities that engage students in scientific practices,
  2. Investigate how scaffolding built into (a) instructional materials and (b) the design of representations will lead to deeper science understanding and representational competence, and
  3. Explore how teacher facilitation can help students connect and translate between representations.


Designing Hypertext Materials for Science Classrooms: Understanding Students’ Changing Cognitive Representations

Funded by National Science Foundation / Early CAREER Award $416,000

CoMPASS (Concept Mapped Project – Based Activity Scaffolding System) is a hypertext system that uses external, graphical representations in the form of concept maps alongside text descriptions, to help students learn science. The maps are dynamic, zoom in and out in a fisheye view, and are constructed dynamically as a function of the strength of the relations between the concepts by retrieving the concepts from a database. The concept maps in CoMPASS mirror the conceptual structure of the domain by making the relations between concepts transparent. CoMPASS also supports alternative views of concepts, which help students study science concepts and phenomena in depth by visiting them in multiple contexts. CoMPASS is implemented in JAVA and can be accessed using a web browser.

The CoMPASS hypertext system is being used in conjunction with inquiry-based curriculum units in sixth and eighth grade science classes. To date, CoMPASS has been used by over 1000 students in sixth and eighth grades.


CoMPASS-DL: Design and Use of a Concept Map Interface for helping Middle School Students Navigate Digital Libraries

Funded by National Science and technology Digital Library (NSDL) $435,000

Co-Pl: Hübscher, R., Bentley College

The National Science Education Standards recommend that middle and high school students be able to access scientific information from resources and evaluate and interpret it as part of scientific inquiry. Digital libraries such as the National Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Digital Library (NSDL) can therefore be an integral part of scientific inquiry in K-12 settings. The aim of the proposed project is to use a concept map interface that shows the conceptual links between documents to make the wealth of information in Digital Libraries easily accessible to middle school students and thereby enhance students’ navigation skills and learning. The CoMPASS-DL system, based on the CoMPASS hypertext environment, aims to serve as a portal to access NSDL collections. The maps show students the most related concepts to the one that they have chosen. By providing the learner with a cognitive map of related concepts, the CoMPASS-DL system aims to reduce some of the cognitive load that learners face while accessing digital collections, because they will have easy access to digital collections. The conceptual representation is designed to aid learning and support navigation by graphically showing conceptually related documents.

This project aims to (1) provide an interface with navigable concept maps that helps students to select resources based on the relatedness of the documents to each other as well as to students’ goals; and (2) through empirical work in the classrooms, enable the NSDL community designing resources for K-12 students to understand better how digital resources can be integrated in inquiry-based science classes.


CoMPASS: Integrating Digital Text in Design-based Science Classrooms

Funded by National Science and technology Digital Library (NSDL) $435,000

PI: Sadhana Puntambekar, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Co-PIs: Roland Hübscher, Bentley College, and Sanjay Rebello, Kansas State University.

This project has two major goals. First is aim to further the understanding of integrating the conceptual learning from informational text with the experimental and hands-on activities in design-based classes. Second is the aim to understand students’ changing representations as they use multiple texts in their science explorations. Hands-on activities in which students experience and manipulate scientific phenomena are an integral part of current project-based and design-based approaches to science learning. However, a concern raised about the focus on hands-on activities is that students can concentrate on the construction activities, and build a working solution by trial and error, without understanding the underlying deep science principles and phenomena.

Research has pointed out the important role of language in science, emphasizing that reading, writing, and communicating are essential aspects of helping students construct science understanding. However, informational text is seldom used to complement the rich and interactive nature of hands-on activities.