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How Pathfinder Science
Projects are Designed

The following paper describes the science process framework used by Pathfinder Science. It is intended to assist those teachers who would like to help students engage in and understand the scientific research process utilizing Project Based Learning. This description is intended to assist teachers create their own project-based learning (scientific inquiry) projects and/or better understand the organization of existing projects.

Why is Scientific Inquiry Important?
Background and Beliefs

How do human beings acquire knowledge of the world? Since humans have different and frequently faulty models of the world, securing accurate, meaningful, shared knowledge can be difficult. Scientific research knowledge derives its' value from the contributions it makes to our understanding of the material world. The practice of science supposes the existence of a real and a common world. It assumes that the impact of real, material (matter and energy) world on each individual, who is part of the material world, interacts with it in a way which constitutes personal experience. Scientific inquiry is one way of constructing a personal understanding of the material world and testing the constructed understanding against reality. The result of scientific inquiry is valid and useful knowledge that is verifiable. Experimentation, logical analysis, and evidence-based revision clearly differentiate and separate science from various kinds of nonscientific ways of knowing. Explanations employing supernatural (outside of matter and energy) events are outside the realm of science. "We do not construct the world from our experiences; we are aware of the world in our experiences. Science is a language for talking not about experience but about the world" (Browonski, 1977)

Developing students' skills in science process is an objective of high quality science instruction. Efforts to reform science education in the United States (AAAS, 1993, NRC, 1996) have strongly emphasized the skill of scientific inquiry is an essential component of general scientific literacy. The Standard on Inquiry is specific about the behaviors that students should be engaged in to learn the process of science.
    "Students at all grade levels and in every domain of science should have the opportunity to use scientific inquiry and develop the ability to think and act in ways associated with inquiry, including asking questions, planning and conducting investigations, using appropriate tools and techniques to gather data, thinking critically and logically about relationships between evidence and explanations, constructing and analyzing alternative explanations, and communicating scientific arguments." ((The Inquiry Standard - NRC, 1996)

Beyond the process skills of science, teachers want to develop students' to develop an understanding of the nature of science. In order for the critical thinking objectives to emerge from the process activity, student must reflect on the inquiry process. Instructionally, the National Science Education Standards indicate that scientific inquiry should the primary organizational frame for instruction by stating, "Science as inquiry is basic to science education and a controlling principle in the ultimate organization and selection of students' activities."(NRC, 1996)

One way to achieve this end is Project-Based Learning (PBL). In general, PBL organizes learning around a number of activities that lead to the production of a product. PBL has a long history as an instructional technique. Even in the September, 1918 Teacher College Record in an article title The Project Method", William Kilpatrick describes PBL saying, "the concept is not in fact newly born." Kilpatrick, through his advocacy of the project method, launched one of the most successful implementation efforts. Kilpatrick and his followers proposed starting curriculum development with student interests and then bringing in subject matter instrumentally as it bore on pursing those interests. Therefore, in a typical project, students would decide among themselves what they wanted to do, staging a play, discovering more about their community, and then the traditional subjects of reading, arithmetic, social studies would be studied in the context of accomplishing that purpose. For Kilpatrick (1918), "purposing, the expression of the child's own interest in pursuing some activity, remained the essential first step in the curriculum-making process." Project Based Learning can be an effective educational strategy that engages students in a rich, integrated learning environment. Using PBL can help students reach higher levels of learning and more fully develop an understanding of their world however it has only been recently that research in cognitive psychology and learning coupled with education reform efforts have synergistically supported Kilpatrick's opinions.

In the recent book, "How People Learn" published by the National Research Council (1999) a synthesis of cognitive science research indicates that "The development of a problem-centered approach to learning allows them to operate as a mediator, guide, provocateur, friend and co-learner with their students. These investigations will provide fertile ground where their students can transfer their learning to multiple contexts. Learning that only occurs in a single context will become inert except within that context." Problem-centered learning allows many experiences and prior knowledge to come into play as students develop new constructs." (NRC, 1999) The Northwest Regional Lab (1996) extends this relationship to constructivist learning theory by stating that "Project-based learning engages students in complex, real-world issues and asks them to acquire and apply skills and knowledge in a variety of contexts." The somewhat simple definition for PBL, that a project involves a number of activities resulting in a product, has lead to the criticism of PBL is that is often unclear what exactly constitutes a project. It is clear that in order to engage students in scientific inquiry, projects need to be carefully selected and an organizational structure offering both guidance and scaffolding must be provided to guide students.

It is the National Standards vision of student scientific inquiry that is foundational to the development of Pathfinder Science projects. Pathfinder Science projects must be designed to allow students to make meaningful, authentic contributions to their communities, where students both gain and contribute to the social aspects of learning. Students are viewed as active and important members of the community, contributing to the knowledge and development of their community. In the past, far too much instructional time has involved students in preparing for life, instead of expecting them to take part in life as they learn. The function of school should not just be to prepare the student for the next step in school, or in life. Instead, education can be and should be used to live life immediately, to the educational benefit of the individual and to the immediate benefit of the community. They make these meaningful contributions while learning how to use tools that allow them to continue making meaningful contributions throughout their lives.

The Vee Diagram
Clear organization of science process is necessary to guide student's work, to facilitate communication among participants, and to allow students and teachers a conceptual frame for the reflection and discussion of research process. The organizing scaffold for student scientific inquiry within a Pathfinder Science project is a modified Vee diagram (Figure 1). The extended Vee graphic below effectively scaffolds student learning. The Vee heuristic was originally developed to help students and instructors clarify the nature and purpose of laboratory work in science (Novak and Gowin, 1984) and was first introduced to college students as a useful tool for improving laboratory instruction (Chen, 1980). The modified double Vee diagram (Figure 1) is an adapted organizational structure that serves as an overall guide to a process of scientific inquiry.

The Vee Process Model is intended to serve as a useful graphical guide to the process of science. It also assists communication among the research partners. Using the graphic above creates a point of communication that allows a scaffold for student learning that gives direction and support to novice researchers. Students can understand where they are in the process and how to continue to make progress. For teachers, the Vee Process Model is serves as a graphical guide for explicit instruction about the research process. The graphic provides a structure to point at and discuss process, a focal point for communication, and a useful organization structure.

Work within this process models begins at the Research Focus in the center of the left Vee diagram, Creating the Context. The process moves from the center, down the left side of the Vee, around the point (Research Methodology) and up the right side of the Vee. The Creating the Context Vee reflects the view that good research questions emerge from a rich context of understanding. The activities and experiences organized around the Creating the Context Vee diagram develop a deeper level of understanding about the research focus area. Many students find it difficult to ask good research questions: questions that go to the heart of what they want to know. Questions emerge from the experiences, activities, and observations of the Creating the Context Vee help create a context for asking focused research questions. The Research Vee, on the right, represents the research process driven by these questions and is a more familiar experimental process of science. The Vee-diagram is general enough to span a wide variety of research areas, offering guidance and direction to science process without being overly prescriptive. The design helps teachers facilitate student work and also provides a tool for the explicit teaching of the nature of science. It is within this curriculum design that Pathfinder Science research projects are developed.

Creating the Context
The Creating the Context Vee diagram, the left of the two Vee diagrams, reflects the view that good research questions emerges from a rich context of understanding. It is very difficult for students to formulate and ask good research questions: questions that go to the heart of what they want to know. The activities and experiences organized around that the Creating the Context Vee diagram are a set of very deep, very rich, experiences that bring a much greater depth of understanding about the research focus area. The activities of Creating the Context begin in the center of the Vee with the research focus. The activity then proceeds around the Vee from What We Know to What We Do leading to What We Learned. These activities include engaging background information, standardized methods of measurement, active experience in gathering and analyzing data and discussion about what is known and not known on a specific research area. These activities help focus the research area but are not a research project; instead they are the skills, activities, and some of the content of science within the context of the research area. Based on their measurements, students look for patterns in the large, collaboratively generated data sets. This data pattern seeking frequently uses Geographic Information Systems to visualize the network wide data. It is important to note that current understandings of science are introduced as a part of this work. It is here that the curriculum concepts can be introduced as a contextualized broader understanding of the natural world.

The research focus creates the context from which the research question emerges. This work is often done by many groups of students and many different classrooms as collaborative data collection project. It is the collaborative work and interaction in the research community that environment from which good research questions emerge. It is the development of good research questions that drive scientific research in the Pathfinder Science research model.

Research Focus Page The research focus, in the middle of the Creating the Context Vee diagram, are questions that begin and focus the research activity. The questions should be broad general questions about the research area. These questions are not intended to be limiting, like a good research question, but instead they are intended to draw the students' attention to the area but remain vague enough to encompass many areas of potential interest.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Research Focus
Lichen Research Focus
Spot Project Research Focus

Background Information Page
Moving down the left side of the Creating the Context Vee-diagram, students begin creating context with what is already known about the research area. This page is not intended to be a resource to everything known. Instead it is intended to engage the students in some basic information and help them understand why this area might be important to them. This is the place to firmly establish the real world connection. It is also helpful to include some links that point students to additional information. Ask yourself, "What do students really need to know so that they understand why this work is meaningful?"
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Background Information
Lichen Background Information
Spot Project Background Information

Research Methodology Page
Students then move on to specific activity, usually a standardized research protocol, that will help them measure the variables within this research area. This is the specific activity (steps) that students will engage in. A sequence of very specific steps should be presented so that every classroom doing this work, does it exactly the same way. This way the data collected is comparable. It is also a good idea to have a data collection chart as a part of the protocol. This will help make it absolutely clear what data to collect and what units to collect it in. The protocol must be a series of specific, clearly written steps that let the students know what data to collect and how to collect it.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Research Methodology
Lichen Research Methodology
Spot Project Research Methodology

Data Submission Form
This page will take you through a three step process that will create the online data submission form, the Oracle table that the data will be stored in and will begin the process of creating the Results of the Study form. The form should be as simple as possible and only collect the data that everyone on the network will need access to. Data can be kept locally and asked for by email if needed by another school. It may help to create your data table on paper so you can see what data you want the students to collect and the form that data might take. The actual steps of creating this form are on the development pages.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Data Submission
Lichen Data Submission
Spot Project Data Submission

Results of Study Form
This request form will be generated by the data submission form HOWEVER it is very important that you click on the link and publish this page. The page will not be created until you do. Even if you do not want to add any text to this page, you must go into this page and click the publish button at the bottom of the page.

Data Analysis Page
The methods and number of steps used in developing scientific knowledge may vary from one investigator to the next, but scientific methods usually involve the alternation of two types of activities, the observational and the explanatory. The point of the Creating the Context is to increase the observation power of the students by helping see patterns in the data they have collected. The work they have done so far has allowed us to make observations about it often leads to large sets of data that are difficult for students to work with. Patterns in the data drive the questions about "why is it like that" and allow student to enter the in the explanatory part of science. Pathfinder Science uses many tools to help students with the analysis. Basic counting, averaging and graphing are important tools for the students to learn. What type of graph would work best to illustrate your data and specific instruction on how to create this type of graph belong on this page. It is best to give students a range of options on working with data and allow them to experiment with what is going to work for them. KaCRN uses Geographic Information Systems, Stella modeling program, descriptive statistics, and basic math to look for these patterns in data. Feel Free to draw from the existing examples if they will work for your project.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Data Analysis
Lichen Data Analysis
Spot Project Data Analysis

Seeking Patterns in Data - Creating Testable a Hypotheses.
In his book, the Common Sense of Science, Bronowski says, "To my mind, philosophers put the cart before the horse when they say that science constructs a world by sorting out what the experiences of different people have in common. On the contrary, the practice of science supposes the existence of a real and a common world, and assumes that its impact on each individual who is part of it is modified by him in a way which constitutes his personal experience. We do not construct the world from our experiences; we are aware of the world in our experiences. Science is a language for talking not about experience but about the world. Science is a way of ordering events; its search is for laws on which to base the single predictions. Science is systematic in method because it seeks a system of prediction. The aim of science is to order the particular example by articulating it on a skeleton of general law." Students are not ready to draw good conclusions at this point. The work so far has been to create a rich context from which good research questions will emerge. This is a good page to point out how data collection is not the only activity of science and that now they are ready to go on to more research oriented work. The focus questions of their work were not research questions, which direct the explanatory side of science. Instead, they are designed to help create a context, a deeper understanding, from which research questions can emerge. The questions and the testable answers proposed (hypotheses) are made based on the student work should answer the focus questions posed by the research area but more important, are a ticket to the explanatory part of science.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Background Information
Lichen Background Information
Spot Project Background Information

Further Research Page
The conclusions of science depend on experiments. Experiments are constant attempts to establish the correctness or fallacy of thoughts and ideas. Thus, experimentation is the way science attempts to settle controversy. When well-designed experiments are performed and analyzed, the controversy may be settled. But the new knowledge derived from well-run experiments also engenders new controversy, and this becomes a part of the creative growth of science. This page should push students into doing more research. A list of "hot" areas of ongoing interest in the research area with a brief explanation are a good use of this page. Again this page can be used to connect student work to the real world.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Background Information
Lichen Background Information
Spot Project Background Information

The Guided Research Vee Diagram

The Vee diagram on the right, the Guided Research, represents the research process that is driven by questions that come up during the activities of Creating the Context. In the early stages of the Pathfinder Science project we did not offer Guided Research on our projects. We felt that it would be better if students generated their own questions and developed their own research. We felt this would be the most meaningful way for the students to engage in research, to ask and answer their own questions.

The problem with this idea was that most students, and frankly many teachers, had not engaged in scientific research. The task of creating a good research project seemed to large and daunting. It is the very same problem that many graduate students face. The Guided Research Area is provided as an authentic, meaningful research project that allows students to engage in research without the need to develop the entire process themselves. It is designed to be a tutorial that takes students through a research project and asks them to stop, reflect on and discuss each aspect of research as they progress. Each step of the guided research is interactive and asks students to contribute the new information they have developed as they proceed. When they are done, they will have gone through all parts of a research project and will have gained some experience with the process.

Guided Research Question
A good research question should be the focus as a student goes through the research process. It is in the center of the Vee diagram so that during each step of the process, the student will revisit the question. This will focus the work, but it will also help you evaluate whether the question goes to the heart of what you want to know. The ideal question is one that will yield the most relevant and reliable information with the least expense and effort. To avoid designing experiments around uncertain or vague research questions, continue to gather as much information as possible. You may want to develop additional background information before trying to write the research question. In the guided research, students are provided with the research questions that drive the other steps of the research. At the beginning of the page, the question is asked clearly and in general explores the relationship between two variables. The Guided Research, Research Question is provided followed by a discussion of how to develop a good research question. Students are then asked to build a collection of research ideas, other possible research areas. At the bottom of this page the research question is formalized into a "If….Then…." statement. If something is true then we should see some result. The question becomes a predictive statement for the research.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Research Question
Lichen Research Question

Guided Background Information
Moving down the left side of the Guided Research Vee diagram, students begin with what is already known about the research area. They have already been exposed to background information in Creating the Context and already know something about the research area. As research questions emerge the learner is lead to the Background Information of the Guided Research. This is not just additional information, but a guide to getting additional information. The students need to find and contribute new information they discover to the community database through the Guided Background Information web page. This is the page to direct students to primary source material or the places where they might find additional content information. It is very important that the students develop any "new" information on this page. This is not a page where we dispense more information to them, instead students are active participants in building and expanding the background information through library type research.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Background Information
Lichen Background Information

Guided Research Methodology
Students then move on to specific activity, usually the application of the standardized research protocol, that will help them compare the variables within this research area. This is the specific activity (steps) that students will engage in. A sequence of very specific steps should be presented so that protocol will collect data that is specific to the research question. The protocol must be a series of very specific, clearly written steps that let the students know what data to collect and how to collect it. Using a data collection table to help students clarify what data they need to record is very helpful.
This is also the page that you might want to introduce a hypothesis, depending on the intended grade level of the project. A hypothesis is merely a tentative explanation proposed to account for the observed phenomena. You want the student to speculating on how natural events will turn out, based on what you know. "Science is systematic in method because it seeks a system of prediction." That prediction is the hypothesis. Any hypothesis selected or formulated must be testable. Experiments generally test hypotheses by testing the validity of the predictions or conclusions derived from them. The primary purpose of designing scientific experiments is to test the proposed hypotheses. It is important to remind students that hypotheses are never proven - they are either supported or not supported by the data from the experimental results. Borrowing from statistics, two types of hypotheses are used simultaneously: null (H0) and alternative (H1). H0 states that events will not change, not differ and H1 states that events will change, differ, from some baseline standard or control conditions. This change (dependent variable) predicted by H1 will be due to the occurrence of an experimentally controlled variable (independent variable). If included on this page, both the Null and the Alternative hypothesis should be clearly stated.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Research Methodology
Lichen Research Methodology

Guided Data Submission
This page will take you through a three step process that will create the online data submission form, the Oracle table that the data will be stored in and will begin the process of creating the Results of the Study form. The form should be as simple as possible and only collect the data that everyone on the network will need access to. Data can be kept locally and asked for by email if needed by another school. It may help to create your data table on paper so you can see what data you want the students to collect and the form that data might take. The actual steps of creating this form are on the development pages.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Data Submission
Lichen Data Submission

Guided Results of Study
This request form will be generated by the data submission form HOWEVER it is very important that you click on the link and publish this page. The page will not be created until you do. Even if you do not want to add any text to this page, you must go into this page and click the publish button at the bottom of the page.

Guided Data Analysis The methods and number of steps used in developing scientific knowledge may vary from one investigator to the next, but scientific methods usually involve the alternation of two types of activities, the observational and the explanatory. It is best to give students a range of options on working with data and allow them to experiment with what is going to work for them. Pathfinder Science uses basic graphing, Geographic Information Systems, Stella modeling program, descriptive statistics, and basic math to look for these patterns in data. Feel Free to draw from the existing examples if they will work for your project. This page should provide students with specific suggestions and examples of how they might work with the data of this project to look for patterns. It is the data analysis that will guide them in drawing conclusions about their projects.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Data Analysis
Lichen Data Analysis

Guided Conclusion
Students are asked to contribute their understandings and conclusions through this page. Since every student working through the Guided Research is working on the same project, this page is intended to stimulate discussion. After students submit their conclusions they should discuss why the conclusion are not all exactly the same? This page should help students to differentiate the description in Creating the Context from their explanation of the relationship between the variable in the Guided Research. Is there a causes and effect that they can determine? Can they convince others of this relationship, based on evidence they have developed and on logical argument? They should think critically about evidence and decide what evidence should be used in this argument, while accounting for anything unusual. The more lines of evidence they have to support their conclusion, the stronger their case is. This guided experiment was set up to test a hypothesis. Students should be guided in to what they can say about these two alternative explanations (hypothesizes) of what they observed in the natural world? Did they test them? What else can you include to support your interpretations of their experiment?
This page should be designed to guide students through critical thinking, which can make it a difficult page to develop.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Conclusion
Lichen Conclusion

Guided Further Research
As student work progresses, additional question will come up. This page should encourage students to continue and/or extend their work. Refer them back to the student suggestions on the Guided Research Question page. You might also want to list several "hot topics" in the area of this research. This again connects students to the real world and may stimulate them to continue their work.
Examples: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Further Research
Lichen Further Research

Research Value
This page is designed to connect a science problem solving model with a social science problem solving model. It is the philosophy of Pathfinder Science that a decision-maker collects information, analyzes that information and then develops an action plan based on that information. This becomes an ongoing cycle that the science problem solving cycle drives the social problem-solving cycle. Each cycle in turn, continues to drive the other. Decisions are based on knowledge. If we believe research has produced something of significance, something that has social value, students should report their value claims as well as our knowledge. We should, of course, be explicit in making a distinction between the two cycles. You may use the existing pages for this process if you like.
Example: (After viewing the examples, click the back button on your browser to return to this page.)
Ozone Research Value

Student Research Support and Publication
All students will not need the support of the Guided Research necessary. Those that are comfortable with research and want pursue their own questions are supported by the, On My Own area of the web site. The Vee diagram is again used to help organize and guide the students as they develop their own research. When a student completes their own work, it is communicated through the Publication Area. The Publication area is interactive, allowing students to seek feedback and evaluation from teachers and mentors as their work proceeds. When the work has reached a conclusion, it is published to the research database.

Communication is critical to building the research community and to the construction of knowledge (Vogotsosky, 1979). Sharing student generated, new knowledge is also a critical part of the scientific process as defined by the National Science Education Standards. The Pathfinder Science communities' work is coordinated through the website, http://pathfinderscience.net and involves project coordination, guidance on data gathering, sharing, and analysis, publication of results, all with significant interaction between peers and interaction with community-based mentors. Within this virtual environment, we have been working to find simple research techniques that have wide application to understanding the natural world. Techniques that are engaging in relation to the natural world, so the context will stimulate the kind of student inquiry envisioned by the standards. In this environment and using this model, students become active researchers, collaborating with others, using the skills of scientific inquiry to conduct original research. This is the final outcome goal of student work in Pathfinder Science.

© 1997-2007 PathFinder Science