Case Studies




Case Study - The Hewlett Foundation and The Bay Area Science Museum Learning Collaboratory


San Francisco Bay Area science teachers have little time to find online resources and even less time to align these resources with California content standards for each grade level.


DesignWorlds for Learning assembled a team of teachers and specialists to identify the best online resources from the billion dollars worth of content available from Bay Area science museums. DesignWorlds then organized this content with a Web site that gives three-click access to the best resources for every need.

The Story: From Research into Action

The San Francisco Bay Area has an abundance of well-funded science/technology museums, aquariums, zoos, and other institutions that promote an understanding of science outside the classroom. In fact, as part of a research grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Rockman, et cetera and DesignWorlds for Learning found that during the past 35 years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and others have invested over $1 billion in these institutions.

Visit them today and the payoffs are obvious. You’ll see a wealth of resources for both classroom use and out-of-school learning, including hands-on exhibits. You’ll find videoconferences, real-time simulations of space missions, mobile outreach programs, and thousands of web pages. This online information gives students, teachers, and parents, a wealth of experiments, design challenges, science fair project ideas, and lesson plans.

Unfortunately, the majority of these museum resources remain vastly underused by most science teachers. The reason? Teachers don’t have the time to find exactly what they need. Most Bay Area science teachers have Internet connections. But which of the thousands of web site buttons or links should 6th grade science teachers click when they need the best lesson plans on plate tectonics and changes in the earth’s landforms? Which buttons lead to the best genetics projects for engaging 7th graders? Where do you find physics and astronomy-related activities that will fire the imaginations of 8th graders?

While teachers struggle to find the right information, California middle school and high school students continue to rank near the bottom of the national rankings in science achievement.

Pilot Action Research & Design Project: The Bay Area Sixth Grade Science Museum Learning "Collaboratory"

The Hewlett Foundation awarded a one-year grant to Rockman, et cetera and DesignWorlds for Learning, Inc. to develop a pilot project to help Bay Area middle school science teachers find and integrate museum online resources into their science curricula.

We selected a group of sixth grade science teachers from all around the Bay Area as partners in what became a collaborative web-based laboratory—a collaboratory—where teachers could find and test the best online resources from among six local science-technology programs.

To our delight, we found that this collaboratory structure provided a stunning new dimension as an online environment for continuous professional development in science—an environment that enables ongoing collaborative learning among teachers, project staff, web developers, museum educators, science content experts, advisors and consultants. The Collaboratory continues to grow and evolve.

In less than nine months we designed a new kind of web interface that makes access to the wealth of web learning resources as easy as flicking on a light switch.

Electrifying Science Education

Our solution shows exactly what Bay Area teachers need for every part of their standards-based science curriculum.Teachers see a web window of the available museum resources that match the standards.
For example, a teacher looking for exemplary lesson plans on earthquakes and volcanoes and their relation to plate tectonics can get the job done in just three mouse clicks: Click 1 to “Plate Tectonics” from the Collaboratory home page’s visual summary of 6th grade standards; click 2 to “Earthquakes & Volcanoes” on a visual map of the Plate Tectonics standard subtopics; and click 3 to the top-rated lesson plans for this topic. Experienced teachers can also access and contribute to the Collaboratory’s dynamic database of learning resources, including an Exploratorium archived webcast about earthquakes, a teacher-submitted lesson plan called “The Restless Earth” (with links to resources at several museum web sites,and “Best of the Web” volcano web sites from the University of North Dakota and the U.S. Geological Survey. All of these resources have been selected by teachers or museum educators to support both the standards and the teachers’ needs for exemplary materials.

As a result:
• Bay Area middle school science teachers get exactly what they need via an easy-access web site.
• Teachers, parents and tutors get information they can trust.
• Students get the best available science education with well-tested hands-on activities.
• The Bay Area gets a great opportunity to bring science education up to the top ranks nationally, where it should be.
Museums get feedback that helps them better design and target their resources, so the billion dollars invested in museum exhibits, curriculum materials, and outreach programs go straight to an eager group of teachers and students.

Why DesignWorlds?

To make this system work, knowlegable people had to identify the right resources and organize them in a way that teachers can easily find and use. DesignWorlds for Learning put together an outstanding team, including a core group of 10 exemplary 6th grade science teachers, internationally known science educators and technology learning specialists, visual storytelling artist, web/technology designers, evaluation specialists, and advisors.

This project relied upon innovative learning and technology design concepts researched, developed, and tested over decades by DesignWorlds principals and associates. The Collaboratory process can be extended from the Bay Area to other California communities, other parts of the U.S. and internationally.

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