This study explored the cognitive resources of five Black female preservice elementary education majors during a fictitious crime scene investigation incorporating Earth science concepts. The Crime Scene Investigation Toolkit (CSIT), formerly called Crime Scene Investigation Technology, was created by the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI). The goal of the NYSCI CSIT was to use technology as a tool to integrate three-dimensional learning that supports the performance expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) – that is, the dimensions of Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas.
The CSIT uses a real-world crime situation to introduce students to claims, evidence, and reasoning about Earth science disciplinary core ideas and mathematics to solve a crime, as they use and learn digital multimedia technology. The name change of the activity reflected NYSCI’s goal to go beyond using technology simply as a substitute for paper; for example using digital portfolios in place of paper portfolios. As an NYSCI project manager stated, “Many students are familiar with Google maps, but they aren’t as familiar with actually exploring map layers or thinking about other uses for maps, [such as] identifying patterns” (M. Labriole, personal communication, February 11, 2019). The need for activities that integrate science with technology and mathematics to engage nonscience majors and promote critical thinking has been echoed by education researchers across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education fields (e.g., Burrows et al., 2017).
In this investigation students engaged in dialogic discourse as they explored Earth science concepts, calculated the slopes of unknown topographical contour maps, and used various multimedia data as evidence to solve a crime – a vandalism of the town archivist office that destroyed town records. Students were tasked with dating torn and unidentified maps.
Flick and Bell (2000) indicated that science should not be an afterthought when integrated with technology. Rather, technology learning should accompany the learning of science, and students should be able to take advantage of technology as they learn science. In the NYSCI CSIT, the digital technology is multimodal, and the tasks allowed students to acquire technology skills as they went back and forth between the various forms of technology to create claims, analyze evidence, and reason. Students had the opportunity to learn technology as they learned science.
Students were required to have their computers to incrementally access guided presentations with electronic emails and other supporting evidence. Digital multimedia technology took on various forms. Textual and visual information were provided in PowerPoint electronic slideshow presentations, which students accessed incrementally. The first presentation provided students with options for online digital portfolios and the option to use their smartphones to capture photos and videos.
Given the time constraints of the course, students were encouraged to fully explore and use one of these options (see http://www.sites.google.com/site/googlioproject/home), with the understanding that Google Sites and a Gmail account worked best for schools. Graphics included known and unknown digital contour maps. Students downloaded Google Earth to explore terrains. They looked at Google maps and Google images to better understand how the visual evidence can be used to understand contour maps and vice versa.
An audio radio broadcast (accessible only to me, the instructor/researcher) was shared with students at the appropriate time. Technology resources were integrated into the learning of Earth science concepts and Earth systems. Students were provided these technology resources prior to the investigation and accessed them as needed during the activity. These included time-lapse video clips and interactive time-lapse showing the formation and changes in various landforms. All of the digital multimedia technology data provided the evidence from which students would carry out discussions and argue claims (NYSCI CSIT).
While some information could have been substituted with nondigital paper formats, such as the digital maps, there were advantages to using technology, as was encouraged by NYSCI CSIT. Kaufman and Flanagan (2016) performed various studies that compared students’ performance on digital versus nondigital platforms. Their findings showed that students’ default construal was low-level thinking for the digital platform and that the nondigital (paper) platform promoted more higher level thinking.
The more frequent correct answers in the paper form compared with more incorrect answers in the digital form support the tendency for students to be oriented toward immediacy and concreteness when using digital platforms. However, their studies also show that this default and incorrect tendencies could be mediated by priming to trigger abstract thinking prior to engaging in a digital platform, as well as by promoting the use of “how” and “why” higher level tasks in the digital mode (Kaufman & Flanagan, 2016).
Thus, the use of digital multimodal technology is more likely to promote talk and arguments among students than is the paper mode. The NYSCI CSIT investigation consists of guiding questions that promote both abstract and concrete concepts. Students are not simply presented with digital multimedia, they are tasked with the goal of solving a crime by generating claims, evidence, and reasons.
Argumentation, one of the scientific practices of the NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013), is supported by the lessons. Argumentation involves the use of data as evidence to construct arguments and assess the weakness of arguments in science (National Research Council [NRC], 2012). Argumentation is advantageous as a student-oriented approach to learning science (Osborne, 2010; Osborne, Erduran, Simon, & Monk, 2001) and has a positive effect on science learning in teacher preparation (Boran & Bag, 2016; McDonald, 2014; Rebello & Rebello, 2012; Zohar & Nemet, 2002).
This study also addressed the need for a framework for analysis that would provide insights into students’ cognitive resources. It was important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of current methods of analysis that reduce students’ dialogues to numbers and codes (Nielsen, 2013; Tippett, 2009) based on the number of rebuttals and counterarguments.
The need for a framework that enables comparison across studies was also echoed by 42 science education researchers in argumentation at a recent annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (Henderson, McNeill, Gonzalez-Howard, Close, & Evans, 2018). Therefore, this study explored schema theory as an explanatory and exploratory framework for understanding the cognitive resources within students’ dialogic discourse and dialogic argumentation.
The idea of a schema and oversimplification of the use of the word schema to mean “patterns” have long been debated (Bartlett 1932; Krasny, Sadoski, & Paivio, 2007; Marshall, 1995; McVee, Gavelek, & Dunsmore, 2007). However, Marshall’s (1995) amalgamation of the various perspectives of a schema and its application to explain problem solving in mathematics still holds promise for an operational use of schema theory as a holistic approach to understanding and explaining learning across domains. Marshall argued that the word schema in cognitive science defines five levels of schema abstractions that range from examining the microfeatures, or smallest element of a type of knowledge, to an individual schema component or knowledge type, to the level of schema knowledge that looks at all the schema components.
Schema abstractions include examination of domain knowledge, and the most general form of schemas look at knowledge in long-term memory without looking at a particular domain. This study looked at schema components within a subject domain, Earth science, during an authentic crime scene investigation using digital multimedia resources.
For the purposes of this study the definition of a schema is abstracted from Bartlett’s (1932) theory of remembering:
‘Schema’ refers to an active organisation of past reactions, or of past experiences, which must always be supposed to be operating in any well-adapted organic response. That is, whenever there is any order or regularity of behavior, a particular response is possible only because it is related to other similar responses which have been serially organized, yet which operate, not simply as individual members coming one after another, but as a unitary mass. Determination by schemata is the most fundamental of all the ways in which we can be influenced by reactions and experiences which occurred sometime in the past. (Bartlett, 1932, p. 201; also cited in Marshall, 1995, p. 12)
According to Bartlett (1932), all of an individual’s “experiences are connected by a common interest” (p. 201) that is built upon by past experiences. Even as these new experiences are organized unconsciously, the connection to an individual’s past is important. Bartlett noted that there is no reason to consider each new experience as isolated and emphasized the notion of belongingness to the individual. Therefore, appropriating new experiences is an “active organization of past reactions” and requires appropriation, whether consciously or unconsciously, because information isolated from the individual is easily forgotten, such as when science is taught as isolated facts. This reductionist approach to science that isolates it from the individual can be equated to the use of algorithms in math, which Marshall (1995) noted do not carry over from one situation to another.
Marshall’s Knowledge Types as Schema Components
Marshall’s (1995) knowledge types were derived from exploring the problem solving and strategies used by students in mathematics. Marshall found that individuals solving math problems displayed four types of knowledge: Identification Knowledge (IDK), Elaboration Knowledge (ELK), Planning Knowledge (PLK), and Execution Knowledge (EXK).
IDK usually occurs briefly and is consistent with a search for a schema or schema activation or recognition, which can take on various forms. ELK is the individual’s attempt to fit the details of the current experience or situation into a schema template. PLK is more indicative of the development of a working schema and “refers to the way in which the schema can be used to make plans, create expectations, and set up goals and subgoals” (p. 41). Finally, EXK is “knowledge that allows the individual to carry out the steps of the plans. It consists of techniques that lead to action, such as performing a skill or following an algorithm” (p. 41).
Schema Theory as an Analytic and Explanatory Framework
The schema theory framework allows researchers to ask questions about what develops and why. Moreover, one can ask to what extent the nature of the task was congruent with the nature of students’ knowledge. To what extent were the expectations of task outcomes reasonable? For example, in Kuhn and Udell’s (2003) study of thirty-four 13- and 14-year-old students (14 Hispanics, 19 African-American, and one Ethiopian) from an inner city, the author noted that the goal was to develop argument skills or argument schema using a topic toward which students were not oriented. Using schema theory as a guide supports Kuhn and Udell’s (2003) suggestion that the topic was of no interest to the students, and therefore, the development of argument skills could not be attributed to interest.
While the intervention was scaffolded to make sure that students attended to the other side’s opposing arguments, assessment of the development of argument skills was noted by increased generation of counterarguments and rebuttals and by whether or not the argument was functional or nonjustificatory, for example. Using schema theory to explain this study, one can conclude that the changes in knowledge base and argument quality observed in the study are not surprising. If students attend to information through the use of a newspaper for stories or statistics, as this study utilized, or if they practiced writing counterarguments, then increased pattern recognition or recognition of the situation (IDK) accompanied by increased elaborations (ELK) should occur.
However, using schema theory leaves open the question of to what extent an argument schema has developed. Schema is indicative of planning knowledge and the ability to set up goals and subgoals and to execute those plans (EXK; Marshall, 1995). Boykin (2000) said that development connotes
multiple processes of student change. It refers to cultivating, fostering, and bringing talent to fruition. It refers to sustaining talent, keeping it from fading out . . . and enhancing talent, taking it to ever higher levels. It means promoting talent, which necessitates providing many opportunities for its expression. (p. 8)
Therefore, schema development would be akin to talent development that is sustained and becomes a working schema that students could retrieve and apply to other situations, assuming that an argument schema was not preexistent. In Kuhn and Udell’s study (2003) the development of argument skills was scaffolded to train students to realize the importance of attending to the opponents’ claims. This study did not report whether students would have attended to counterarguments if given a topic of interest, or if they might attend to counterarguments without a prompt if given a similar task later on.
Schema theory also allows the researcher to attend to prior learning, or schema, and to the congruence between task and prior experiences. In Xie and So’s (2012) pilot study the preservice teachers were familiar with argumentation in other areas such as philosophy but were not familiar with the idea of argumentation in science. Argumentation in the field of science education is new to both students and educators, yet, students may have engaged in an argument or debate around a topic or issue.
The extent to which engagement in argumentation leads to a developed argument schema is still an open question. Sakamoto and Love (2004) noted that “social schemas are proposed to function as filtering devices for inconsistent information that lead to inconsistent information being ignored and discounted during the encoding process” (p. 535). This phenomenon could also explain achievement and the degree of success in terms of facilitating and encouraging retrieval while minimizing filtering.
Offredy and Meerabeau (2005) used schema theory and think-aloud protocols to explain the correct and incorrect responses of nurse practitioners and general practitioners in diagnosing scenarios of patients’ conditions. Likewise (Quinlan, 2012) used schema theory to explore the knowledge progressions of high school students’ learning of issues relevant to biology, technology, and Western society. Complex approaches such as argumentation and other issues in learning that perplex our society may require complex methods and not ones easily understood. Possibly, by combining complex methods that have social and cultural implications, research could provide new perspectives.
Schema theory takes many intersecting factors into consideration. It allows researchers to question the extent to which a task is a schema-based instruction that facilitates the development of certain schemas. Schema-based instruction results in the “creation and expansion of students’ schemas for the domain in which instruction occurs” (Marshall, 1995, p. 119).
According to Boykin and Noguera (2011) schema-based instruction can lead to increased information processing and student performance, such as “discerning regularities, patterns, and typologies” in problem-solving (Boykin & Noguera, 2011, p. 118). Schema theory addresses the learner and the impact of the social and cultural structure of learning and the effectiveness of the instructional technology curriculum, as well as the extent to which technology use facilitates talent.
In this study students were given access to technology as needed to build on their pre-existing schemas. Students were expected to use their pre-existing schemas and pre-existing cognitive resources to determine when and if specific digital technology and supporting information were needed to reason with the evidence. This access to digital multimedia technology data meant that students could engage in higher order thinking even if they did not have the pre-existing understandings of Earth science concepts and Earth systems. This study explored students’ cognitive resources using the schema theory framework and sought to understand how these cognitive resources can be used to inform the integration of instructional technology with three-dimensional science learning.
The research questions that guided this research were as follows:
- What can be learned about students’ cognitive resources if Marshall’s (1995) knowledge types are used as an exploratory and explanatory framework for analysis?
- How can students’ cognitive resources be used to inform the integration of technology and three-dimensional science learning promoted in the NGSS?
Participants were five African American female preservice graduate students in a master’s degree program in elementary education at an institution identified in the category of historically black college and university. Students were enrolled in a required science and mathematics methods course that was team taught. The researcher (author) was the science methods instructor for the first 8 weeks, or first half of the semester. The class met once weekly for 4 hours. The students agreed to participate and be audiotaped and they signed consent forms.
During the first 6 weeks, the students were introduced to argumentation using segments from the Ideas, Evidence, and Argument in Science (IDEAS) Project (Osborne et al., 2004) for the first 2 hours of each class. Exposure to the IDEAS project is believed to be beneficial in teacher training because it looks at the epistemology of argumentation (Simon & Maloney, 2006). Video clips from the IDEAS project were used to train the students in argumentation. These training resources were made available to me by Dr. Jonathan Osborne, first author of the IDEAS project. Afterwards, I implemented the Crime Scene Investigation Toolkit (CSIT) in Earth Science, created by NYSCI for 2 remaining weeks. Table 1 summarizes the digital multimedia resources made available incrementally to students during Week 1 as students engaged in dialogues. In Week 2 students presented their findings.
Digital Multimedia Resources Used. Curriculum Source: “CSIT: Circa Unknown, a High School Earth Science Exploration.” NYSCI