3.2 Case Study 1: Caswell's cockroaches
The setting is a class of nine- and ten-year-olds in Toronto, Canada. The curriculum focus is biology. The classroom has been carefully organised to mirror the way in which a real adult scientific research community operates at the University of Toronto's zoological department, local to the school. Over a ten-week period, the young students are given the opportunity to become immersed in a culture of ‘scientific inquiry’ by their teacher, Beverley Caswell, who has chosen to make the Madagascan Hissing Roach the focus of research. She had already used sustained investigations of this roach with previous classes as a way of developing scientific thinking. Her experiences confirm those of other teachers: showing the species to be ancient in adaptation and evolution is ‘interesting and awe inspiring’ for young students. See for example http://www.uen.org/utahlink/activities/view_activity.cgi?activity_id=2027.
As the weeks unfold, the students take care of and study the roaches in their own classroom community. Caswell starts with an introductory lesson to inspect the live animals, hear some facts about them, as well as taking turns to hold and sketch them. Each child is given its own research journal, which Caswell tells them is what scientists at the Zoological Department use for observation questions, research notes and experimental designs. Each student also learns to use the CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environment) Knowledge Forum technology as an integral tool for working.
The CSILE Knowledge Forum is a computer software programme which creates ‘a multimedia community knowledge space’. In the form of ‘Notes’, users can contribute theories, working models, plans, evidence, reference material and so forth to this shared space. The software provides knowledge-building ‘supports’, both in the creation of these notes and in the ways they are displayed, linked and made objects of further work. ‘Revisions, elaborations and reorganisations over time provide a record of group advances, just like the accumulation of research advances in a scholarly discipline’ (Scardamalia).
Read this account, linked below, of how the young science community develops:
(PDF, 4 pages, 0.4MB)
This bustling classroom with its whole-group debates, visits to the zoological department and ongoing use of the Knowledge Forum software reflects a ‘mutual community’ which Bruner suggests:
Typically … models ways of doing and knowing, provides opportunities for emulation, offers running commentary, provides ‘scaffolding’ for novices, and even provides a good context for teaching deliberately. It even makes possible that form of job-related division of labour one finds in effective work groups … the point is for those in the group to help each other get the lay of the land and the hang of the job.
(Bruner, 1996, p. 21.)
Case study 1 has emphasised the way in which ICT (Knowledge Forum and the use of a video camera) can help:
to make thinking explicit and reflective;
to support collaborative thinking;
to enable such thinking to move in new and unpredictable directions.
The next section is a case study in English: the uses of digital cameras to support collaborative thinking in the exploration of poetry.