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Research: Cultural Civic Computing

Science Through Technology Enhanced Play (STEP)

UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, UCLA REMAP, UCLA Lab School and Indiana University Bloomington, 2013-present. Supported by the National Science Foundation.

STEP is investigating how embodied play among elementary school students can be used to help them understand scientific phenomena (e.g., the working of forces, complex behaviors of bees). The project is instrumenting elementary school classrooms with advanced tracking, in order to build upon the ways that young children engage in socio-dramatic play. Through role play, children explore and reflect upon the complex rules that govern the world, and in this project, they are asked to play roles in a natural system (e.g., bees in a beehive) and identify the rules that would make their role play match the workings of the natural system. Motion capture technology is used to record their interactions, and they reflect together as a class after role-playing experiences. Research focuses on the qualities of reflection and subsequent learning afforded by two aspects of such play: 1) When children interact to plan their role play (equivalent to modeling); 2) When they act out the system or phenomenon (equivalent to simulation) and then have a chance to examine their interactions. To understand the affordances and importance of embodied play, reflection and learning outcomes are also compared across conditions of acting out a system or phenomenon (1st person embodied simulation) and running a computer simulation of that same system or phenomenon (3rd person virtual simulation). 

There is currently little understanding of how to teach science productively in early elementary school. STEP explores how to take best advantage of the kinds of role playing children naturally engage in at this age. Much of the discussion involves coming up with the rules of the role play, i.e., the equivalent of creating a model. Thus, this research is developing a model of how to involve kids in learning science through modeling and, in addition, focusing on the the kinds of reflection on that play that result in learning and how to affect such reflection and subsequent learning with the help of technology.

STEP is an early adopter of the open source software OpenPTrack, and is being implemented with first and second graders at UCLA Lab School. Building on this work, iSTEP is incorporating control by gesturing, posing, and manipulating props.

Video: STEP BEES 2016.

Ampersand article.

National Science Foundation Awards 1323767 (STEP Principal Investigator Noel Enyedy) and 1628918 (iSTEP Principal Investigator Joshua Danish).