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Drawn into Science through Mystery and Awe
by Janet L Kolodner

Visiting Professor and Special Projects,Lynch School of Education, Boston College
Regents’ Professor Emerita, Computing and Cognitive Science, GA Institute of Technology
Editor-in-Chief Emerita, The Journal of the Learning Sciences
October 22, 4:00-5:30 at the Kaput Center



In 2016, colleagues and I set out to begin to understand how to design project challenges and the immersive worlds (virtual or real) in which they are addressed in ways that would encourage knowledge integration across projects students were working on, different topical areas in science they were encountering, and even different scientific disciplines. Informed by what is known about knowledge integration and remembering, we sought to understand the influences on the richness of learners’ memories of what they were experiencing. Our context was 6thgraders learning about pond ecosystems using Harvard’s EcoMUVE. We observed students during their two weeks using EcoMUVE and then interviewed them 2 and 3 weeks later to understand what they remembered that would allow such connection making and the circumstances during an interview when they would refer back to what they had learned. We learned a lot about both and discovered, too, that the combination of mystery, agency to explore, opportunities for experiencing awe, and responsiveness to the curiosity of learners was quite powerful in helping students connect science to their own lives, giving them a sense that they could, indeed, successfully do science, and leading some to think about how they would put to use the scientific practices they were learning.

Janet Kolodner’s research career has focused the processes involved in learning from experience and how to foster such learning. Since the 1990’s, she has been designing middle school science curriculum and learning technologies that immerse middle schoolers in scaffolded science learning experiences. A result of that research, Learning by Design (LBD), is a design-driven and inquiry-oriented project-based approach to science learning that has children learn science from engineering design experiences. Her most recent work is focused on Harvard’s EcoMUVE for middle-school classrooms to understand how to design virtual worlds that support deep learning, motivation, and sustained engagement. Kolodner was Founding Director of Georgia Tech’s EduTech Institute (1993-1996). She is founding Editor in Chief of The Journal of the Learning Sciences (1989-2008), was a founder of the International Society for the Learning Sciences (ISLS), and served as ISLS’s first Executive Officer (2003-2005). From 2010-2014, Kolodner was a program officer at the National Science Foundation and led efforts to establish the Cyberlearning Program.


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