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Embodied and Mediated K-12 Learning in SMALLab


Members of the K-12 Embodied and Mediated Learning group have expanded our investigation of embodied teaching and learning. Our work continues to focus on the design and delivery of a mixed-reality learning environment called SMALLab. This year we launched two more SMALLab installations in schools in Arizona and New York City. This has afforded the opportunity to conduct research across three sites simultaneously.

We are addressing questions of how student-learning gains are impacted by an embodied approach to learning and how teachers are impacted by the introduction of this new technology in the classroom. We collaborate with teachers at each site to create new content and to frame an evidence-based approach to assessment. We deliver innovative STEM learning experiences and this year we have initiated a new program using interactive robotics for Special Education.

We recently created a chemistry learning scenario in SMALLab and conducted a waitlist control study on its efficacy. We wanted to compare student-learning gains from an embodied learning experience in SMALLab vs. regular hands-on instruction in the science classroom. The study design replicated our prior research in an Earth Science classroom, but here we worked with new content and different students and teachers. We implemented a learning scenario where students simulate the process of Titration while interacting with the system at a molecular level. Fifty-three 10th and 11th graders were divided into two groups. Group 1 received 3 days of regular instruction regarding titration, followed by 3 days of the SMALLab treatment. Simultaneously, Group 2 received 3 days of the SMALLab treatment, followed by 3 days of regular classroom instruction. To measure student achievement, we used an invariant concept test with items derived from our teacher’s existing instructional materials.

We administered this test at pre-, mid- and post- treatment times for both groups. Analysis of mean scores shows that both groups were matched at pretest. Group 1 made significant gains from pre-test to mid-test (Lecture), but highly significant gains from mid-test to post-test (SMALLab). Group 2 made highly significant gains from pre-test to mid-test (SMALLab) and a non-significant change from mid-test to post-test (Lecture). This supports our hypothesis that SMALLab learning can lead to significantly better learning gains than traditional classroom instruction. It validates our prior work and offers compelling evidence for the efficacy of our approach.

One of our IGERT trainees, Lisa Tolentino, has also led a group of university researchers and K-12 teachers to investigate the efficacy of SMALLab learning for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Their focus is to build social interaction skills and to support effective help seeking behaviors among students. SMALLab is a compelling environment for working with this population given its intuitive form of interaction and the highly multimodal types of feedback it provides. Lisa has led the group in designing a set of game-based learning experiences that use interactive robotics. In a pilot study, we conducted a set of baseline observations of students’ verbal and physical help seeking behaviors in their regular classroom. We then observed their behavior during a similar learning scenario in SMALLab before collecting a third set of observations in their regular classroom. We coded the degree to which they were able to seek help from a teacher when new information or materials were required to complete a task.

We found clear evidence that students were more effective in SMALLab than in their regular classroom and that there is data to suggest that there were meaningful carry over effects when they returned to the regular classroom. We hypothesize that this is due to an increase in motivation and engagement in SMALLab combined with a strong affinity for their robotic learning companions.

Members of our group also helped to lead a successful NSF grant titled Innovation through Institutional Integration (I3): The Modeling Institute. The $1.3 million award supports a synergistic effort with our IGERT programs and will provide new opportunities for trainees and faculty to impact the practice of STEM teaching and learning at the middle school level. We also received exemplary reviews from our industry sponsors at Intel Research. Our grant was renewed for a 2nd year with increased funding. We received funding from a private foundation to support a new SMALLab installation at a second Arizona K-12 school. We also chaired a convening of national experts in the area of Data Visualization for K-12 Learning that was jointly sponsored by the MacArthur, Woodrow Wilson, and Carnegie Foundations. We were invited to demonstrate our work in the IPON Expo in Utrecht, Netherlands this spring. This exhibition provided international visibility for our work and led to possible new European partnerships.

In total, our school-based programs have reached approximately 600 students and 25 teachers in classrooms in Arizona and New York this year. These programs are spread across multiple content areas including Earth Science, Physics, Chemistry, Special Education, Wellness, and English Language Learning. We are currently in conversation with several additional school sites in Arizona, California, and the Netherlands and plan for our network of partners to continue to expand next year. Stemming from these efforts, our research has been disseminated via several journal articles (International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations; Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning; Attention, Perception and Psychophysics) and conference proceedings (American Educational Research Association; National Association of Research in Science Teaching; Games Learning and Society). In addition, our work has received major media attention with television coverage in the Frontline special, Digital Nation.

Address Goals

Learning: The K-12 Embodied and Mediated Learning group is working to cultivate a 21st Century workforce among today’s youth, and at the same time train a cohort of teacher-mentors. Our work is primarily conducted across three K-12 schools sites that are geographically and demographically diverse.

One site is a large Title 1 high school where we are reaching a diverse population of underserved and at-risk students. Another is a K-12 private institution in the desert Southwest, and the other is an urban middle school located in Manhattan, NY. Although many of the students we reach often struggle to succeed with traditional modes of classroom instruction, we have documented that these same students can achieve significant gains in Earth Science, Physics, and Chemistry when exposed to SMALLab learning. Moreover, we have demonstrated that this trend holds true for academically struggling, regular, and honors students. Beyond their mastery of a set of content-area concepts, we are working to ensure that these students emerge with a set of digital literacies and an ability to think at a systems-level that will prepare them to enter the workforce of tomorrow.

We are also contributing to the professional development of teachers by hosting a number of onsite Professional Learning Communities [PLC]. These PLC’s bring together classroom teachers, digital media experts, and curriculum specialists to design, implement, and assess new mixed-reality learning scenarios. This is a capacity-building effort that will yield a cohort of tech-savvy teachers who can serve as mentors for their colleagues in our region and beyond. Discovery: Our team is conducting fundamental research that draws together emerging work in the Learning Sciences and Human-Computer Interaction.

We are developing and assessing new models for teaching and learning that integrate embodied, multimodal, and collaborative learning in new ways. As such, our work is contributing basic research from a trans-disciplinary perspective that will have a transformative effect in shaping the learning environments of the future. We are disseminating this research through international journals, conferences, and exhibitions. Ultimately, this will enable our efforts to achieve a broad and lasting impact.