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EXP: Understanding the Transformative Potential of Spoken Assessments of Science Understanding for Young Learners: 1228996

Principal Investigator: Wayne Ward
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Brandon Helding
Organization: Boulder Language Technologies

This exploratory proposal addresses a significant goal in the New Science Framework and one that was previously highlighted in the NRC report: “Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8”. The goal of the project is the teaching and learning of the norms of scientific argument, explanation, and the evaluation of evidence for productive participation in the discourses of science, starting in the early grades. The investigators assert that even though some students do not read well, there may be significant scientific understanding which will go unrecognized unless alternative methods of evaluation are developed such as oral assessments. Oral assessments by pedagogical agents which can elicit explanations from students and engage them in serious dialog are an alternate to oral assessments by humans.

The project has two goals: 1) assess the benefits of incorporating spoken prompts into written assessments, and 2) investigate spoken dialogs between a student and a virtual or human teacher testing if they can produce detailed and accurate assessments of science understanding as well as the ability to verbalize complete and accurate science explanations. The site for this project is the Boulder Valley School District’s low and mid-performing schools and its Summer Science Camp program for language-minority students. FOSS, the Full Option Science System, a curriculum used by over 100,000 teachers and 2 million students, and the FOSS Summative ASK assessments will be used for the curriculum and to measure learning. This effort builds on an earlier successful development by the same team of My Science Tutor (MyST), an intelligent tutoring system to improve science learning by third, fourth, and fifth grade students through spoken dialogs with Marni, a virtual science tutor in multimedia environments. Elementary science will be the content area for this project as well. Primary organizations involved are Boulder Language Technologies, the Boulder Valley School District, and the University of Colorado. It is expected that these exploratory studies will show that alternative forms of assessment are feasible and should be used more widely to raise the achievement level of both language-minority students and elementary students in general. The evaluation will include an external expert review and regular critical review of the project?s methods and progress, analysis procedures, and interpretation of data into findings.

The proposed studies will expand the options of assessment conditions available for students in early grades, particularly those who are weak readers and writers and English language learners. The project will expand the pool of students who can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of science, addressing a critical need to expand the pool of students engaged in science learning.

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