Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

VBOT: Motivating computational and complex systems fluencies with constructionist virtual/physical robotics
by Berland, Matthew W., Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2008, 222; 3307005
Abstract (Summary)

As scientists use the tools of computational and complex systems theory to broaden science perspectives (e.g., Bar-Yam, 1997; Holland, 1995; Wolfram, 2002), so can middle-school students broaden their perspectives using appropriate tools. The goals of this dissertation project are to build, study, evaluate, and compare activities designed to foster both computational and complex systems fluencies through collaborative constructionist virtual and physical robotics. In these activities, each student builds an agent (e.g., a robot-bird) that must interact with fellow students' agents to generate a complex aggregate (e.g., a flock of robot-birds) in a participatory simulation environment (Wilensky & Stroup, 1999a). In a participatory simulation, students collaborate by acting in a common space, teaching each other, and discussing content with one another. As a result, the students improve both their computational fluency and their complex systems fluency, where fluency is defined as the ability to both consume and produce relevant content (DiSessa, 2000). To date, several systems have been designed to foster computational and complex systems fluencies through computer programming and collaborative play (e.g., Hancock, 2003; Wilensky & Stroup, 1999b); this study suggests that, by supporting the relevant fluencies through collaborative play, they become mutually reinforcing. In this work, I will present both the design of the VBOT virtual/physical constructionist robotics learning environment and a comparative study of student interaction with the virtual and physical environments across four middle-school classrooms, focusing on the contrast in systems perspectives differently afforded by the two environments. In particular, I found that while performance gains were similar overall, the physical environment supported agent perspectives on aggregate behavior, and the virtual environment supported aggregate perspectives on agent behavior.

The primary research questions are: (1) What are the relative affordances of virtual and physical constructionist robotics systems towards computational and complex systems fluencies? (2) What can middle school students learn using computational/complex systems learning environments in a collaborative setting? (3) In what ways are these environments and activities effective in teaching students computational and complex systems fluencies?

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wilensky, Uriel J.
Commitee: Horswill, Ian D., Sherin, Bruce L.
School: Northwestern University
Department: Education and Social Policy - Learning Sciences
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 69/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Inservice training, Science education, Curricula, Teaching, Computer science
Keywords: Complex systems, Computational fluency, Constructionism, Learning sciences, Robotics, VBOT
Publication Number: 3307005
ISBN: 978-0-549-54132-5
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