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A Visuo-spatial Learning Ecosystem Enhances Adaptive Expertise with Preparation for Future Learning 

Alternate Title

Elwha Dam Project 




University of Washington 


Timothy Kieran O'Mahony, Tom Baer, Jenny Quynn 




University of Washington 


College of Education, LIFE Center 


Seattle, Washington 


Education processes in our classrooms too often fail to engage children's interests, and instead come across as boring or irrelevant. Both of these challenges are harvested in an educational experiment that involves the largest dam removal project in US history. The driving question revolves around a shaping of learning experiences for children with the aid of an advanced graphing calculator in an informal environment. This study investigates how learning is triggered by an event that deeply engages learners, offering affordances that are typically missing from inert sequences of learning in everyday classrooms. We studied sixteen teenagers who undertook scientific investigations in STEM-related comprehension, in the watershed and drainage basin of the Elwha River System. This research project establishes a baseline that foreshadows a longitudinal study addressing the learning outcomes that occur (i) before, (ii) during, and (iii) after the dams come down. A mixed methods approach was used. Empirical data was collected in pre- and post-tests, that involved student exercises in STEM and social studies. Qualitative data were established in thick descriptive ethnographical record derived from extensive field notes and teacher and student documentation, and a network of educator roles as participant observers. Findings highlight three important considerations: (i) all participants showed a positive gain in knowledge, both in procedural and, more importantly, in conceptually connected knowledge; (ii) participants who had access to graphing calculators learned with understanding and appeared to be better able to draw inferences that connected inert knowledge with observed and grounded phenomena; and, (iii) low-achieving participants who had access to graphing calculators seemed to show the highest gains. Directions are proposed for future research that outlines how teachers, might effectively conceptualize, frame and develop learning environments around the advanced graphing calculator family of tools that foster collaboration and cultivate a preparation for future learning




learning sciences, informal learning, advanced graphical calculator, adaptive expertise, preparation for future learning, metacognition, TI-Nspire, Science, Geography, STEM 

Document Content

A Visuo-spatial Learning Ecosysem Enhances Expertise - O'Mahoney 2008.pdf    
Created at 10/1/2010 8:44 AM  by SP017\rfoshay 
Last modified at 10/1/2010 8:44 AM  by SP017\rfoshay