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Michael D. Eisner College of Education

California Science Project

What is Computer Supported Collaborative Science?

gearsCSCS is an instructional model for teaching science that takes advantage of cutting edge collaborative web-based tools.  CSCS is based on the idea of computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) in which the computer enables new types of collaboration among students (Stahl, Koshman, & Suthers, 2006).  A number of models for CSCL have emerged including discussion boards, collaborative writing (wikis), virtual jigsaws and the use of online learning spaces (Jeong, Hmelo-Silver, 2010).  Our model of CSCS uses widely available tools to enable collaboration for science labs (real and virtual).  Students will use cloud-computing tools such as Google Docs to share information and data during the lab itself.  This creates a shared digital workspace for the analysis and interpretation of data.  These tools can be used to transform science labs into authentic exploration and student-centered inquiry.   Collaboration provides scaffolding for students as they do scientific inquiry and interpret data and draw conclusions. Figure 1 describes how a classic laboratory exercise is enhanced by CSCS.

The CSCS model has several key features that create a more authentic science experience: student input into methodology, data collection, analysis of data and drawing conclusions.  Students work collaboratively just as scientists so that they can talk through and write thoughtfully about their conclusions.  Using the CSCS model in the academic year can also allow data to be shared with other lab sections from the same school and with lab sections from neighboring schools (teachers that are part of the PLC).  This will help reinforce many aspects of the scientific process including data analysis, sample size, variables etc.  If a teacher runs out of time, all the data is still there and the next day's class can start where they left off, looking at the data (not worrying about lost sheets of paper or erased chalkboards), reflecting on the results and applying this to their explanations. This data can be referred to days later when talking about other concepts, thereby building on students' knowledge base while reinforcing past lessons.

The authentic science activities (e.g. Figure 1) will not only help students learn science but help them develop their understanding of the NOS.  We will build on these experiences with explicit instruction on the nature of science as both process and content (Driver, Leach, Millar, & Scott, 1996).  More specifically, the NOS will be taught through the lens provided in chapter 1 of Science for All Americans (1990, pp. 25-31). In this document, the NOS had five tenets: 1) Scientific knowledge, because it is derived from evidence and current understanding, is durable but tentative, 2) Effective and innovative scientific activity is not an isolated endeavor and requires both being logical/systematic and creative/imaginative, 3) Because of social, historical, and cultural influences, science can be subjective and have bias, 4) There are realms of understanding, knowing, and belief that fall outside the scientific domain and thus science and its methods cannot answer all questions, and 5) Because of the influence of imagination, creativity, circumstance, and experience there is no such thing as a single scientific method.

The CSCS professional development model.  Like the CSCS approach to science research, the CSCS professional development will be a collaboration enhanced by technology. During the summer institutes teachers will collaborate with peers in their PLC to construct lesson plans and resources using the same online tools that students use.

Summer CSCS institute and clinical teaching. American science teachers tend to work in relative isolation from one another.  The individualistic nature of education in the United States may hamper professional growth and reform.  Stigler and Hiebert (1999) argue that a more collaborative model of teaching is needed if we are to see greater success with educational reforms.  In Japan, teachers participate in “lesson study” (jugyou kenkyuu): ongoing, collaborative, incremental, and continuous professional development in which groups of teachers observe each other and meet regularly to work on the design, implementation, and assessment of specific lessons. 
There are many barriers to the implementation of PLC and a “lesson study” approach to PD in America, not the least of which is the difficulty of scheduling a time for observation and meeting for reflection and discussion.  While teachers have very little time during the school year, they often have time to reflect and discuss in the summer.  Our experiences with the SFV Science Project (Simila, Vandergon & Herr, 2010), CSUN Science Teacher Retention Initiative, and SCALE Project (SCALE, 2008; Keyantash, 2008; Nagy-Shadman, 2007) have demonstrated that summer institutes can be instrumental in providing such time for establishing PLCs and developing a culture of reflective practice.  One drawback of our previous efforts was that summer activities are separated in time from the actual teaching.  The CSCS project will incorporate teaching as part of the PD during summer when teachers have time to engage in the collaborative reflection and planning similar to lesson study.  The addition of the collaborative technology tools to support the process will result in a more effective PD.

A small group of teachers (N=12 in the first year) will start with a one week “bootcamp” to learn about CSCS instruction and the technology tools and to plan their own lessons.  Teams of teachers will take over SAEP classes for a week at a time, teaching science lessons using collaborative technology and reflecting on the process every day.  Other teachers will observe the instruction, provide feedback and prepare lessons for the following week.  With several ongoing science classes, the SAEP offers teachers a chance to teach their lesson to different students on different weeks.  This provides an ideal setting to practice and refine teaching techniques in an intense but constructive environment.  At the end of the summer program, teachers plan how they will adapt their lesson (and others) to their regular classes.


Figure 1: Example of Computer Supported Collaborative Science (CSCS) in action: 

Mr. Arias's SAEP Hands-on Biology Class.
            Students are exploring enzymes by performing a classical hands-on lab using liver (which contains catalase) and hydrogen peroxide. The lab is conducted before enzymes are fully explained, providing an opportunity to explore the characteristics of enzymes. 

            On the first day, students use laptops to electronically post their ideas of what to vary in the reaction with the catalase.  Class members use instant online survey tools to rank the suggestions and decide what variables to change (e.g. temperature, pH, volume, etc.).  As a group they engage in a discussion of the best procedure for each measurement and the groups decide which three variables to investigate.  The procedures are posted to the class wiki so each group can follow them. Lab teams enter their predictions concerning the variables likely to effect enzyme activity on an online survey form that the teacher has prepared.  As they conduct the experiment, each group records their data into an associated online spreadsheet.
            On the second day, each group examines their findings in light of class results and posts questions and suggestions on the wiki-based reports of their colleagues.  Mr. Arias then plots and displays class data using a collaborative web-based graphing tool and leads a class discussion to examine outliers. The class speculates about causes for variations in the class data and students record their ideas in a threaded discussion. Following the discussion, each lab team writes a lab report that explains their data with reference to mean data from the class, and generates conclusions about enzyme activity.  Mr. Arias reminds the how scientific findings are driven by evidence as he shows how their contributions on the class wiki have allowed them to evaluate a larger data set.

            The third day’s quiz (another online form) asks students questions about the function of enzymes taken from their reports. Mr. Arias then goes on to explain how enzymes work and enhance his explanation with a few short video demonstrations of how certain variables such as temperature affect the breakdown of catabolites such as hydrogen peroxides. He directs students to an online simulation of catalase activity to see how different variables affect the reaction.  In the following two days the class looks at the action of specific enzymes such as Rubisco. 

Clinical Teaching Reflection/Planning Meeting

            Following a week of instruction, Mr. Arias meets with other CSCS biology teachers and CSUN biologist Dr. Vandergon to debrief and study videos of the lesson that are posted on a secure website. The team reviews assessments, student work and a video of the class. The team collaborates to plan the next day's lesson, working simultaneously to create and edit a shared document on the collaborative instructional website.  Based on the discussion Arias revises the lessons.  He will have one more chance to teach the lesson this summer before using it with his students in the fall.