Dynamic teaching through dynamic visualizations

Dr. Kihyun (Kelly) Ryoo

Dr. Kihyun (Kelly) Ryoo

“The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way.” —Marshall McLuhan

The world of education is deeply tied to the world of technology. As communication theorist Marshall McLuhan predicts in his 1962 work The Gutenberg Galaxy, computers are now used as enhanced tools for conducting research and connecting people all around the world. This has enabled educators worldwide to deliver lessons in new and creative ways. Dr. Kihyun (Kelly) Ryoo, Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, is particularly interested in improving these creative methods and studies ways to make them more efficient.

In a recent article, Can dynamic visualizations improve middle school students’ understanding of energy in photosynthesis? (2012), Dr. Ryoo and co-author Marcia Lynn explain that dynamic visualizations have the potential to make abstract scientific phenomena more accessible and visible to students. The authors also note, however, that these visualizations can also be confusing and difficult to comprehend.  In an effort to show how dynamic visualizations, as compared to static illustrations, can support middle school students in developing an integrated understanding of energy in photosynthesis, Ryoo and Linn studied 200 7th-grade students. These students completed a web-based inquiry unit that encourages students to make connections among energy concepts in photosynthesis.

Static vs. dynamic

When we hear the word static, we often think of a shock between our fingers and a metal object or how our clothes may embarrassingly cling together. However, a simple explanation of static is that which relates to something at rest or not in motion. So, a static illustration could be a picture we might see on a page in a textbook or on a wall in a science classroom. Dynamic, on the other hand, is related to things that are in motion.  So, a dynamic visualization could show what happens from start to finish in a chemical reaction through a computer simulation.

The 200 students Ryoo studied were randomly assigned to either a dynamic or a static web-based inquiry group. Her research found that students in the dynamic group were significantly more successful in articulating the process of energy transformation in the context of chemical reactions during photosynthesis. Students in the dynamic group also demonstrated a more integrated understanding of energy in photosynthesis by linking their ideas about energy transformation to other energy ideas and observable phenomena of photosynthesis than those students in the static condition.

Calling all science educators!

At LEARN NC, we believe that teachers can be researchers and that research should inform teaching. So, here are some ideas from Dr. Ryoo to kick-start your own dynamic visualization study:

  1. Explore an example of a dynamic visualization.
  2. Then, take a look at a static illustration of the same concept.
  3. Give students a pre-test on the material you want them to understand.
  4. Create your own animations (Scratch is a good place to start).
  5. Take screen shots of key concepts; create a static illustration.
  6. Have your students explore your visualizations, then complete a post-test.
  7. Report your results. You have the power!

Researcher bio

Dr. Ryoo received her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences and Technology Design with a specialization in Science Education from Stanford University, where she also earned her M.A. in Learning, Design and Technology. She received a bachelor’s degree in Health Education from Ewha Womans University in Korea. Her research focuses on the intersection of technology design, science education and culturally and linguistically diverse learners. She studies how the use of technology can support science teachers’ practice and scaffold diverse learners’ science learning.

Starting from Scratch: Using gaming to teach social justice

Dr. George Noblit

The School of Education at UNC is dedicated to preparing educational leaders who are committed to values of equity and excellence. George Noblit, who teaches Social Justice in Education, believes that gaming is a tool that can be used to help students engage these issues.

The Social Justice in Education course examines how education can help create more fair and just societies, ultimately contributing to high-performing educational systems internationally. Students explore multiple perspectives on social justice; examine efforts at local, state, national, and global levels; and learn to articulate efforts in classrooms and schools with wider community initiatives. The course offers a thorough examination of the role of social justice in education. As Noblit explains, “Reducing inequalities requires working across sectors of life, and thus technology is now playing a major role in fostering access to knowledge and its interpretation.”

Students in the course develop knowledge of educative technologies as they work on social justice issues with the expectation that they will be able to use this knowledge to promote learning.

A game, you say?

According to Noblit, “Educational gaming involves both mastery learning and constructivist learning. Students will be asked to use a theory of how social justice-related knowledge, perspectives, dispositions, competencies and/or actions develop. These theories will become the basis of educational games that teams of students create.” Students will also develop games to teach specific content in P-12 curricula using Common Core Standards for use with future students.

The platform for game design is Scratch, a programming language that makes it easy to create interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art. Scratch is a product of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab and receives financial support from the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Intel Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Google, Iomega and MIT Media Lab research consortia.

Why use Scratch?
Like Dr. Noblit, you can use Scratch to enhance learning in your classroom. Here are some key features that make it ideal for educational use:

  1. The Scratch platform does not require extensive programming knowledge, so teachers do not have to worry about a steep learning curve. Scratch users include both elementary and doctoral students along with many students who fall in between.
  2. Students who create games to teach content are more likely to retain the content themselves.
  3. Teachers and students can connect educational content from internet sources by inserting links into games they create.
  4. Over 2.8 million Scratch projects have been created to date, so users can browse through other projects to get ideas that promote learning. Design tutorials are also available to get new users started.
  5. Scratch is free and available to the public. Users can download the platform (on both PC and Mac operating systems) at scratch.mit.edu.

The Social Justice in Education course will culminate in a gaming evening where the games are played by others and assessed on the effectiveness of the game in teaching the content. Also, LEARN NC staff will review the games for possible inclusion as resources for parent, student, and teacher use.

Researcher bio:

Dr. George W. Noblit is the Joseph R. Neikirk Distinguished Professor of Sociology of Education. Since 1995 Dr. Noblit has been the series editor for Understanding Social Justice, Education and Policy (Hampton Press). He studies the various ways knowledge is constructed and how the competition over which knowledge counts constructs powers and difference. Through a study of school desegregation, he began a program of research on the social construction of race, using ethnographic research to study schools and other educational scenes. Dr. Noblit is intrigued with how knowledge—often taken as good in its own right—is implicated in creating the very problems it is asked to solve. He is coeditor of Late to Class: Social Class and Schooling in the New Economy (SUNY Press).

A full biography can be found on the UNC School of Education website.

A breath of FreshAiR: Educating through augmented reality

Dr. Matt Dunleavy

According to Matt Dunleavy, assistant professor of instructional technology at Radford University, augmented reality is the future of education. Augmented reality refers to an experience in which a live, physical environment is enhanced by computer-generated content. Company co-founder Daniel Burgess explains, “FreshAir is a web-based editing platform we developed for users to be able to take their smartphones, walk into an environment, and have a totally new experience.”

The team at LEARN NC recently took the technology for a test drive. Equipped with seven smartphones—both Android and iOS models—Dunleavy and Burgess led LEARN NC staff to McCorkle Place for a live demonstration. The sample program highlights three UNC-Chapel Hill landmarks: Davie Poplar, Silent Sam, and the Unsung Founders Memorial. At present, FreshAir relies on GPS navigation systems and Google Maps integration to identify where a user is located. As users approach the first stop on the virtual tour, the phones vibrate to signal an area in which an augmented reality experience is available.

Daniel Burgess

Information about all three preloaded sites is informative and enriching. For example, a user can stand in front of Davie Poplar while using FreshAir to view a picture of the historic tree as it stood in 1900. Users also learn about the complex and controversial histories of Silent Sam and the Unsung Founders Memorial through videos and recorded narration.  Teachers and professors can add content for an unlimited number of sites world-wide.

Using FreshAiR with your students

  1. Students can tour their school/campus guided by teacher-loaded content.
  2. Students can create their own content for use within the app.
  3. The platform promotes kinesthetic learning and engages students.
  4. Teachers can assess students’ acquired knowledge through in-app quizzes.
  5. Advanced gaming features using conditions and logic allow for more complicated tasks and scaffolding.

Developed at Radford University, funding for the FreshAiR platform was provided through a research and development program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The platform has been tested as far away as China and will be available as a downloadable app on Google Play and App Store markets in the coming weeks.

Read the article “Montgomery County students seek to ‘augment’ reality” to see an example of how teachers use FreshAir to enhance student learning.

Visit www.playfreshair.com or email the FreshAiR team at contact@playfreshair.com for more updates as they become available.

No feathers necessary: Technology integration in an American Indian boarding school

Researcher bio

Trey Adcock is a Ph.D. candidate in the Culture, Curriculum, and Change program at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education. Prior to attending UNC Chapel Hill, Mr. Adcock taught high school social studies in Savannah, GA. Since beginning his graduate work, he has focused on the integration of technology in social studies education and has been under the advisement of Dr. Cheryl Mason Bolick. Mr. Adcock’s dissertation committee is comprised of Dr. Cheryl Mason Bolick, Associate Professor and Director of Research and Professional Development for Outreach at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education; Dr. George Noblit, the Joseph R. Neikirk Distinguished Professor of Sociology of Education at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education; Dr. Jim Trier, Associate Professor at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education; Dr. John K. Lee, Associate Professor of Social Studies and Middle Grades Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at North Carolina State University; and Dr. Bill McDiarmid, Dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor of Education at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education. Mr. Adcock is currently scheduled to defend his dissertation in April 2012.


Trey Adcock (0:12)
I am Trey Adcock. I am hopefully in my final year of the Ph.D. in the Triple Cs.  Basically, my dissertation is focusing on the technology integration at an American Indian boarding school. The title, as it stands now, is  No Feathers Necessary: Technology integration in an American Indian boarding school. And there is a multitude of things going on in that.

I am using a methodology of portraiture to document the everyday struggle to integrate technology into the classroom. I think that what makes it unique is that it is an American Indian boarding school. And that legacy, in terms of American Indian education and the fact that it’s a boarding school, is very problematic.

I think you would find a lot of people in American Indian education that would say that schools were a tool of the state to assimilate. You had The Plain Wars going on during the 19th century. I am a Cherokee citizen; my family was forced to migrate out of Georgia and north Alabama to Indian territory, which is now Oklahoma. So that is where my Indian connection comes comes.

This is all going on in the 19th century: the removal of the Cherokee and the other southeastern tribes, The Plains Wars, and then you have these nations like the Cherokee moving to Oklahoma and rebuilding. So education is a tool of assimilation for the dominant group, and then it is also a nation building exercise for the Cherokee Nation. That spirit is what it continues today.

I think what is interesting about my project, and obviously I’m geeking out over it because it’s my project, is that in a lot of ways they infuse technology at every level of teaching and learning. They have a one-to-one initiative. Every 7th and 8th grader now has an iPad 2. They have MacBooks and SmartBoards; they are fully integrated. But the struggle is to do it effectively.

What’s really cool is that they have turned the notion of American Indian boarding school on its head. From one of assimilation and representing a really problematic history to one of innovation, of hope, and of success. The school that I am working at has had 44 Gate’s Scholars in the last 7 years. They are producing kids into the Ivy League schools throughout the country. Technology is playing a key role in that. That is really what my dissertation is about on one hand.

The other part of it that I really find interesting is combating a lot of stereotypes of Indians that have been constructed through school curriculum and media. By detailing the everyday lives of these teachers, in some ways, I am combating notion that Indians are a-historical and are without technology. I hope the reader, after they read my dissertation, really take away the experience that they really see Indians different. That they see us as participants in the 21st century, as struggling like everyone else to do what’s best for their students. That’s just a little bit of a foundation of where my work’s gone.

Just really quickly to end, I just recently did a presentation at the North Carolina Social Studies Conference on the American Indian curriculum guide that has been produced by the American Indian Center on campus in conjunction with LEARN NC. It was really great. We had educators, Indian and non-Indian, come and explore the curriculum guide with us. It’s really cool because it is really the first time that tribes have written their own history. I’m sure you know this, most often, curricular materials in schools are written by the dominant group about the other. This is a really cool project because the tribes have taken ownership and written their histories, they have chosen what materials to include, and they are challenging those stereotypes. It’s a really meaningful project.