CREATE Science Speaker: Michelle Wilkerson


Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm


252 Erickson Hall

Title: Putting Student Ideas to Work: Tools to Support Scientific Expression and Progress in K-12 Classrooms

Abstract: In scientific practice, simulations and data visualizations serve as epistemic and communicative tools that guide inquiry. I study how such tools might serve a similar function in the science classroom. For example, the SiMSAM project explores how middle school students engage in model based inquiry using an animation and simulation toolkit designed to highlight students' ideas. Similarly, the DataSketch project examines how enabling learners to build their own data-driven animations might serve to support exploration and modeling of the quantitative relationships that underlie systems. In this talk, I will provide an overview of my research agenda—focused on connecting theories concerned with learning by design, idea diversity, and community knowledge building—and a broad description of emerging results. I will then illustrate these ideas through a more detailed analysis of a two week classroom enactment of SiMSAM, where fifth grade students constructed and revised models of evaporation and condensation. I will focus on two groups who developed models drawing from different experiences: everyday activities like cooking, and school lessons about the water cycle. These groups’ simulations foregrounded complementary elements and mechanisms, which the class then integrated to create a consensus model with more explanatory power. This analysis reveals specific ways simulation served to guide the structuring, elaboration, coordination, and eventual synthesis of diverse ideas throughout the modeling process.

Bio: Michelle Wilkerson is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. My work explores how youth learn with and about scientific computing tools such as simulations, data visualizations, and modeling environments. As part of this, I conduct research and design software that allows youth to author simulations and visualizations by building on familiar expressive activities such as storytelling or sketching. My designs, research and analyses are informed by theories of learning that illuminate (1) the dynamic nature of knowledge, (2) the importance of scientific and mathematical discourse and expression, and (3) the critical role that community and culture play in productive learning environments. I hold a PhD in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University, and before moving to Berkeley, I was faculty in the Department of Education at Tufts University. My work has been funded by the National Science Foundation including through an Early CAREER Award, and has been published in venues including the Journal of the Learning Sciences, Science Education, the Journal of Science Education and Technology, and the Journal of Science Teacher Education.