Hands-on and Minds-on Learning of Science using a Microbial Fuel Cell

Project Number
OER 01/12 LYJ

Project Duration
July 2012 - October 2016


One major goal of inquiry-based instruction is to build scientific literacy, which comprises the cognitive, epistemic, and social dimensions according to the discipline's current understanding of this construct. However, engaging in inquiry activities alone does not guarantee the latter, especially when the hands-on doing of science often overwhelms the minds-on aspects. That is, students might be able to manage procedural scientific knowledge, manipulate physical objects during practical work or be able to control some variables but utterly disappoint with respect to creating, revising or applying abstract scientific ideas, models, or theories. In this research, we want to develop and adopt forms of inquiry instruction that pay more than lip service to the content as well as the processes of science in a social context. One longstanding obstacle in these efforts is the lack of affordances for learning in both the content and processes of science at the same time. Therefore, we have chosen a Design-based Inquiry (DBI) curriculum for secondary school learners designed around a microbial fuel cell (MFC) engineering design problem. The MFC, being a partial scientific ''black-box,'' provides opportunities for learners to explore numerous scientific variables and test hypotheses, develop and optimize MFC setups, and master relevant scientific concepts in a meaningful manner such as in small groups. As learners collaboratively tinker with the MFC, science and engineering principles are dialectically activated, which can foster the growth of scientific literacy?the goal of our project. In this extended ''doing with understanding'' process, we also want to examine the patterns of interaction between scientific and engineering approaches. It is a known shortcoming among educators that manipulation of physical objects and apparatus can overwhelm the conceptual and epistemic understandings in those activities that DBI as the union of "hand and mind" inherently addresses. Using videorecordings of the talk and actions of students engaged in DBI, we intend to use Ford and Forman's (2006) Constructor/Critiquer lens to track the development of conceptual and epistemic understandings of science, that is, their grasp of practice. Furthermore, based on the purported distinguishing characteristics of scientists and engineers, this will be used to understand the alternating facets of problem-solving during DBI. Implementation of this 32-month-long intervention (including creation and trialling of scaffolds and assessments for scientific literacy) will add to our understanding of DBI as a powerful, motivating, but underutilized inquiry pedagogy in local schools.

Funding Source

Related Links
NIE Research Briefs No 16-001: Hands-on and Minds-on Learning of Science using a Microbial Fuel Cell

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