Problem Generation in the Mission to Mars Curriculum
This paper will explore a problem finding task the authors developed as one component of the Mission to Mars curriculum, an inquiry-based science unit developed by Petrosino & The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV). The paper also attempts to address evolving conceptions of the problem generation task, primarily from that of an independent variable to that of a dependent variable. The first section provides a brief overview of the Mission To Mars curriculum, specifically focusing on problem-finding activities that were used to structure classroom discussions and research. The second section presents attempts to understand the initial and post-instruction problem generation activity of students participating in the Mission To Mars curriculum, beginning with a theoretical discussion on the nature of context, noticing, and expertise, and the roles that expertise might play in problem-finding activity. Participants in the study were 17 ethnically diverse students in a sixth-grade class that reflected a typical inner-city classroom in public schools in Nashville, Tennessee. Findings indicate that initially students asked very general questions which were often tangential to the established problem domain. Those questions posed initially that were well specified were often focused upon trivial issues. Relative to initial attempts, problems generated at post-instruction were more appropriate with regard to the planning task and tended to deal with specific relevant issues. It is concluded that in addition to motivating students and developing a sense of ownership of issues in a domain, problem generation activity sensitizes students to the complexities of the tasks to be completed. Contains 23 references. (JRH)
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