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Helping young people to understand the world

University of Nottingham researchers have won £1.1m to develop innovative technology that will boost young people’s understanding of the world, as part of a joint project with Open University researchers.

They will help 11-14-year-old children to take advantage of the very latest in hand-held computer technology — both in the classroom and at home.

The project brings together University of Nottingham and Open University experts in the fields of education, educational technology, psychology and computer science in a bid to make learning more effective. The ultimate aim is to help pupils learn the skills of modern science, taking in subjects such as the environment, natural sciences and the physical world around them.

Over the next three years, researchers will be exploring how to make the best use of new technology to help personalise the way children learn, making it more accessible and more effective.

They are exploring a new approach called ‘scripted inquiry learning’, in which pupils investigate a topic with classmates, by carrying out explorations in their homes and outside, guided by their personal computer. ‘Scripted inquiry learning’ helps pupils to get more personally involved in the learning process — aiding their understanding of the subject.

The project, a collaboration with the Open University, is funded with a grant of £1,187,891 from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Funding was awarded as part of an initiative called ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’ as part of the national Teaching and Learning Research Programme.

The project will be led by Professor Mike Sharples, Director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI) in the School of Education, University of Nottingham, and Professor Eileen Scanlon of the Open University.

Professor Sharples said: “We now have the opportunity to guide children in doing 21st century science beyond the classroom.

“They will be able to explore issues that matter to them, such as how to understand their bodies and keep fit, by carrying out explorations in their homes and discovery centres. Their mobile computers will coordinate the activities and help them to debate with their peers and experts.”

Co-investigators at The University of Nottingham are Professor Claire O’Malley and Dr Shaaron Ainsworth in the School of Psychology, Professor Steve Benford in the School of Computer Science & Information Technology and Dr Charles Crook in the School of Education. Other partners include Hadden Park High School in Bilborough, Nottingham, and ScienceScope, a company that develops sensing and data logging equipment.

The project aims to link classroom, home and community with the aid of software running on both pupils’ mobile and desktop computers. ‘Scripted inquiry learning’ will help them to understand themselves and the world in which they live, through a scientific process of gathering and assessing evidence, conducting experiments and engaging in informed debate.

The technology will guide pupils through dynamic projects — which can change depending on the profile and input of each individual taking part — monitored and supported by the teacher.

The activities will be based around topic themes of relevance to Key Stage 3 (Myself, My Environment, My Community) that engage young learners in investigating their bodies, their immediate environment and their wider surroundings. These topics are key elements of the new 21st century science curriculum that requires children to reason about the natural sciences as a complex system and to explore how people relate to the physical world.

Members of the project team will work with a panel of teachers and curators to develop specific scripts related to the topic themes. These will guide the learner in making links across different activities – for example reading, data collection and discussion — different technologies, and different settings in which to learn, for example home, the classroom and on school field trips.

Emma Thorne | alfa
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