supporting dialogic inquiry
into the nature of science
Nature of Science
Learning Problem
Learning Goals
Learning Theory
User Studies
The Solution
timae.us is a web-based, semantic-narrative mapping and annotative visualization tool that provides a shared language and experience, designed to support preparation for meaningful dialogue.
From the main interface, students create, edit, and browse their own inquiry maps and those of others. Prologues and epiloguesset the context for an inquiry map through descriptive texts and links to related studies.
Students make claims about the Nature of Science by applying formal-analytic and sociocultural annotations to inquiry maps. The search interface allows for rapid structural-level browsing of semantic-narrative maps related by content.
Given that meaningful dialogue is difficult to scaffold, we provide an encompassing curriculum for effective implementation. Each technology feature corresponds to a curricular component.
Learner Assessments
Employed a construction paper and string prototype to test whether our approach helps students to reunite process and content in science.
Assessed the effectiveness of semantic-narrative mapping in developing strategies and mental models while performing research.
Explored the nature of science with a study group after mapping an historical artifact with a prototype of our technology solution.
Project Resources: Report, timae.us
Special Thanks To: Roy Pea, Jericha Franz, Brigid Barron, Shelley Goldman, Karin Forssell, Amrita Thakur, Beth  Injasoulian, Jacqui Ghodsi, and all of our invaluable user testers.
Paul Franz & Coram Bryant
Learning, Design & Technology, 2010
Stanford University


Among the most important aspects of science is the process that scientists undertake in their efforts to better understand and explain the natural world. Per contra, secondary education is dominated by an information-driven and didactic pedagogy, which constrains inquiry into the how, what, and why of science, thereby preventing students from envisioning the subject as a dialogic, meaningful, and human process. In response, we propose timÆus, a web-based, semantic-narrative, visualization tool and curriculum that supports inquiry into the nature of science and transformative reflection on one's own practice of the scientific process through formal-analytic and culturally situated dialogue with self, others, and historical exemplars.


Our logo comes from Raphael’s School of Athens, a Renaissance painting that strives to unite the luminaries of the ancient world with those of the early 1500s. Each of the figures in the painting is meant to represent both an ancient thinker and one of Raphael’s contemporaries. At the center of the image are Plato and Aristotle, engaged in dialogue about their respective philosophies. Plato gestures upwards, speaking to the value and import of seeking to understand eternal and metaphysical truths, while Aristotle gestures towards the earth, arguing for more practical concerns. In Aristotle’s hand is the Physics, his treatise on the natural world. Under Plato’s arm is the Timaeus.

Among the philosophical and metaphysical explorations in Plato’s Timæus, the participants in the dialogue speak to the human desire to comprehend and explain the natural world. As a precursor to Aristotle’s Physics, Timæus is, then, one of the first recorded inquiries into understanding both nature itself and the nature of what we now call science, an inquiry that was also at the heart of the Renaissance. Just as Raphael desired to equate the intellectual passions of his contemporaries with those of the Greeks, we envision our technology as opening the door for a new kind of dialogic education in the same spirit of inquiry. We are inspired by the ideal embodied by the School of Athens of participation in a vibrant historical discussion around the nature of science.
Is science primarily an empirical or a logical study? On the one hand, there have been scientists and philosophers who have argued that true knowledge about the nature of the universe comes to us a priori, from pure logic alone. Mathematics in particular has traditionally been an a priori study, and its application to science is an affirmation that the natural world follows logical laws. On the other hand, a great many scientists are empiricists, believing that nothing is true which is not observed. In this account, the role of logic is secondary to the role of observation and experimentation.

We might, therefore, characterize the Nature of Science on a pair of axes, ranging from objectivism to social constructionism in one direction, and empiricism to a priori logic in the other. While this is only one of any number of pairs we might select, it seems a natural one in that it is concerned, in the x direction, with scientific knowledge and in the y direction with scientific process. That a great many reasonable and respected luminaries across the history of science disagree about both the extent to which scientific knowledge is objective or socially constructed, and the extent to which scientific investigation is empirical or logical goes to show that the debate is a rich one.

Just as we might have a debate around whether these axes are appropriate, or which direction to prefer, we might also debate about where any particular scientist belongs, which is exactly the point. Even those who believe that science is about attaining certain knowledge recognize that there is no certain agreement that such is the purpose of science. Why, then, would we simply inculcate students in a particular viewpoint, shutting off access to such a vibrant debate? After all, this is but a small part of the ongoing dialogue around the Nature of Science.

The Nature of Science in Secondary Education

"What is their understanding of 'the scientific method'? Indeed, what should it be? Francis Bacon's or Karl Popper's? Dare we share with students the insights of Peter Medawar that scientists as human beings do what everyday people do?" (Brown, 1994, p. 11)

The term Nature of Science generally encompasses the epistemological, ontological, and sociocultural aspects of science. This includes the evolving corpus of knowledge produced by science, the formal-procedural and informal-social practices employed by practitioners of science, and the ways in which society both influences and reacts to scientific endeavors (Clough, n.d.). From this perspective, content, process, and context are inseparable, and must be understood together to be understood at all. Yet, as expressed in Brown’s pondering in her Advancement of Learning, within the science education community there is considerable disagreement regarding how science should be presented to students. Although researchers such as Collins and Osborne have suggested that defining a consensual understanding of the Nature of Science is critical to the development of comprehensive standards in secondary science education, others, such as Alters, have suggested that the only legitimate educational position is a pluralistic approach that acknowledges that no singular account of the Nature of Science exists (Collins et al, 2001).

Still, science education is dominated by content-oriented curricula purveying absolutist claims and, on occasion, descriptions or reenactments of experiments. Even the process of science itself is presented in a prescriptive manner, despite disagreement as to the exact steps of the scientific process, or in what ways they may be combined to form a legitimate progression toward discovery (Crowther et al, 2005). This often takes the form of a reduced, linear version of the traditional Baconian Method, consisting of the following steps:
  1. Observation
  2. Question
  3. Hypothesis
  4. Experiment
  5. Claim
Only after years of practice in this paradigm are students expected to fully engage legitimately in communities of scientific practice (Brown & Adler, 2008).

Brown, A. L. (1994). The advancement of learning. Educational Researcher, 23(8), 4-12.

Brown, J. S., & Adler, R. P. (2008, Jan-Feb). Minds on fire; open education, the long tail, and learning 2.0. Educause Review, 16 - 32.

Clough, M. P. (n.d.). Teaching the nature of science to secondary and post-secondary students: questions rather than tents. Retrieved from http://www.pantaneto.co.uk/issue25/clough.htm

Collins, S., Osborne, J., Ratcliffe, M., Millar, R., and Duschl, R. (2001). What ‘ideas-about-science’ should be taught in school science? A Delphi study of the expert community. Retrieved from http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/58275.

Crowther, D. T., Lederman, N. G., and Lederman, J. S. (2005). Understanding the True Meaning of Nature of Science. Retrieved from http://www3.nsta.org/main/news/stories/science_and_children.php?news_story_ID=51055
Despite the nature of science as an unfolding dialogue between scientists, their tools and methods, and the subjects of their study, science in high school education is too often presented within the context of an information-driven, didactic pedagogy that is mired in the decades-old efficiency goals of mechanized industry, and perpetuated by the tight, reflexive coupling of pedagogical practices and standardized assessments (Rogoff, 2003). As a result, students are inundated with isolated facts, theories, formulae, and absolutist conclusions with little appreciation for the contextual processes and narratives from whence they come. Where process is presented, it is typically within the confines of a constrained, linear progression that perpetuates biases toward seeking confirmation rather than falsification, and absolutism rather than unfolding epistemological awareness (Klayman & Ha, 1987; Kuhn, 2010). Where narrative is presented, it is typically within the mythical construct of the solitary scientist generating knowledge through genius and momentary inspiration, as exemplified by the prevailing allegory of Newton divining the Laws of Gravity by fortuitously observing a falling apple (Fara, 1999). This approach to science education not only belies the complex, collaborative, and dialogic processes that are inherent to the advancement of science, but also tragically ignores the emerging truth that as the half-life of information in expert domains continues to diminish, so too does the value of content-based knowledge relative to critical, procedural understanding (Adler, 2007). In this rapidly-evolving world, the development of strategies and models for evaluating and describing scientific processes and claims from a continuum of viable perspectives, indeed for inquiring into the nature of science itself, stands out as sorely missing from traditional high school science education.

The Learners

We focus on high school students as our target learners, given their significant inculcation in the content-oriented presentation of science, including the presentation of the distilled Baconian process. By high school, students have reenacted prefabricated procedures of inquiry and recorded their experiences in traditional laboratory notebooks. As a result, they have developed a nascent scientific identity, ranging from full identification to alienation with respect to science. Consequently, they have sufficient experience to engage in critical, transformative, and meaningful dialogue into the nature of science.

Adler, R. (2007). Enhancing india's knowledge workforce. The Aspen Institute.

Fara, P. (1999). Catching a falling apple: isaac newton and myths of genius. Endeavour, Vol 23(4), 167-170.

Klayman, J., and Ha, Y. (1987). Confirmation, disconfirmation, and information in hypothesis testing. Psychological Review, Vol 94(2), 211-228.

Kuhn, D. (2010). Teaching and learning science as argument. Retrieved from http://www.interscience.wiley.com. DOI 10.1002/sce.20395.

Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development (Chapter 7). Oxford Press.
Because of the largely didactic experience of most high school students in the science classroom, it is imperative to get to the roots of scientific understanding. We see three primary goals around which we have built our curricular and technological approach to our learning problem. These goals aim to overthrow constraints upon student inquiry into the how, what, and why of science, thereby allowing them to envision the subject as dialogic, meaningful, and human. Moreover, we find that our goals are aligned with the recently released draft of the NRC Framework for Science Education, corresponding passages of which are included below:

1. Reuniting content and process in science education

"In learning science, one must come to understand both the body of knowledge and how this knowledge is established, extended, refined, and revised" (p. 14)

2. Developing strategies and models for employing and evaluating scientific processes and claims

"The classic conception of scientific method, as it is often taught, provides only a very general and incomplete version of the work of scientists. In actual practice, the process of theory development and testing is iterative, uses both deductive and inductive logic, and incorporates many tools besides direct experimentation. Modeling (conceptual models, mechanical models, and computer simulations) and scenario building (including thought experiments) play an important role in the development of scientific knowledge. The ability to examine one’s own knowledge and conceptual frameworks, to evaluate them in relation to new information or competing alternative frameworks, and to alter them by a deliberate and conscious effort are essential key scientific practices that the idealized version offered by school science textbooks fails to recognize" (p. 24)

"Science education is not just a process of acquiring a body of static knowledge. It also includes developing the ability to use tools, ranging from microscopes and rulers to computers and test tubes, and the ability to build and explain models, make predictions, and conduct scientific inquiry. Just as reading, writing, and mathematics involve the performance of complex practices, so does science” (p. 11)

3. Fostering an understanding of the Nature Of Science

"Learning to understand science or engineering in a more expert fashion requires development of an understanding of how facts are related to each other and to overarching core ideas” (p. 13)

“Science is fundamentally a social enterprise. Scientists talk frequently with their colleagues, both formally and informally” (p. 15)

The primary learning theory upon which we draw is Critical Pedagogy, as explicated in Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1995). We recognize the difference between the real, political and social oppression with which Freire was concerned and the prevalence of what we consider an unhelpful pedagogy in modern science education, but the concepts and language of Critical Theory remain relevant to our design process.

There are three aspects of Critical Theory that are most important to our project. The first is praxis, the second problem-posing education, and the third is dialogue.

Freire explains praxis - the process of liberation from a sometimes unrecognized force of 'oppression' - as both a social and personal effort achieved by means of reflection and meaningful action in the community. Praxis is a good analogy for the kind of effort a student in a science class should be allowed to make. Through both the reflection and kind of action that a scientist might take, a student is able to enter the scientific community, and is therefore not constrained by the artificially limited role of "student."

Practically, praxis turns into "problem-posing education," a model that encourages both reflection and action. In Critical Theory, the line between teacher and student is blurred, thanks largely to the kinds of problems that both teacher and student are able to pose. Reflective and active students generate questions, as do good teachers, because the mutual goal is always learning. Science has synergy with Critical Theory on this point, because inquiry, in the form of asking and trying to answer questions, is always an important goal.

Finally, Freire speaks to dialogue as a key to learning:

"Only dialogue, which requires critical thinking, is also capable of generating critical thinking. Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no true education. Education which is able to resolve the contradiction between teacher and student takes place in a situation in which both address their act of cognition to the object by which they are mediated. Thus, the dialogical character of education as the practice of freedom does not begin when the teacher-student meets with the students-teachers in a pedagogical situation, but rather when the former first asks herself or himself what she or he will dialogue with the latter about. And preoccupation with the content of dialogue is really preoccupation with the program content of education" (Freire, 1995).

Dialogue, as Freire has it, bridges the gap between teacher and student, and is the sole pedagogical model that allows for "true education." Because dialogue is communicative, rather than didactic and, therefore, hierarchical, it is the most desirable structure for a learning environment.

That classroom discussion is an effective pedagogical model in the humanities has become something of a truism. In social studies and English, especially, there is reason to believe that discussion-based classrooms are better for student learning and achievement (Applebee, 2003), especially when those conversations are well-scaffolded (Flynn, 2009). Moreover, discussion can bridge cultural gaps, thereby increasing mutual understanding of both material and each other (Rankin-Brown, 2007). Dialogue is also the basis of the traditional, classical liberal education, largely because discussion allows students to recognize and reinforce effective critical thinking and communication skills (Brann, 1992). It is our belief that science education would see many of the same benefits as social studies and humanities classes do were it to adopt a more dialogic pedagogical model.

Applebee, A., Langer, J., Nystrand, M., Gamoran, A. (2003). Discussion-Based Approaches to Developing Understanding: Classroom Instruction and Student Performance in Middle and High School English. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 685-730.

Brann, E. (1992). St. John's Educational Policy for a “Living Community.” Change, 24(5), 36-43.

Flynn, N. (2009). Toward Democratic Discourse: Scaffolding Student-Led Discussions in the Social Studies. Teachers College Record, 111(8), 2021-2054.

Freire, P. (1995). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Rankin-Brown, M., Fitzpatrick, C. (2007). A Confluence of Voices Negotiating Identity: An East Coast- West Coast Exchange of Ideas on Writing, Culture, and Self. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (New York, March 23, 2007).
Meaningful dialogue requires significant preparation, particularly where participants represent diverse viewpoints by virtue of having engaged in isolated, knowledge-building activities. Perhaps the most critical aspect of preparation for dialogue is the act of perspective-making. This typically involves engaging in a line of inquiry, followed by rigorous reflection on the experience in order to genuinely express the results to others. As members of a community engage in increasingly specialized lines of inquiry, however, the adoption of a common language for communicating individual experiences becomes increasingly critical.

As an outgrowth of their observations of dialogic practices in communities of knowing, Boland and Tenkasi (1995) present an analysis of information transfer that involves reciprocal actions of perspective-making and perspective-taking via symbolic boundary objects. The act of perspective-making involves exploration, reflection, and the generation of objects of recognizable, visible form that are accessible to other members of the community for analysis and interpretation. The act of perspective-taking, of gaining insight into the unique experience of perspective-makers by exploring their boundary objects, is the means by which differentiated knowledge is synthesized in communities of knowing. Notably, Boland and Tenkasi claim that perspective-taking can only effectively take place after one has first engaged in perspective-making, as communication with the self forms the basis of reflexivity with respect to others. Taken together, perspective-making and perspective-taking, as mediated by boundary objects, compose the functional components of dialogue.

Nonetheless, the extent to which interaction rules and common symbolic language forms should be imposed on students in such a comunnity is an open pedagogical issue. Research involving semi-structured interfaces in education demonstrate that students focus better on learning tasks when they are provided with common structures for depicting and sharing knowledge. However, these studies also demonstrate that student modes of thought become constrained by the form of the interfaces themselves (Dillenbourg, 1999).

Boland, R. J., Jr., & Tenkasi, R. V. (1995). Perspective making and perspective taking in communities of knowing. Organizational Science, 6, 350–372.

Dillenbourg, P. (1999). What do you mean by collaborative learning? In P. Dillenbourg (Ed.), Collaborative-leraning: Cognitive and Computational Approaches (pp. 1-19).
The most effective boundary objects are those that incorporate domain-specific, paradigmatic knowledge with accessible narratives describing a personalized perspective with respect to a phenomenon (Boland and Tenkasi, 1995). Avraamidou and Osborne (n.d.), in their analysis of the discovery of penicillin, also make the case for narrative as a pedagogical complement to traditional, formal treatments of science. Drawing on the work of Bruner, they identify two distinct ways in which humans order experience: the paradigmatic, which refers to logico-scientific thought, and the narrative, which is the expression of information in readily comprehended forms that guides the learner through an experience. The presentation of paradigmatic scientific content within a narrative context not only provides opportunities for students to place themselves vicariously into the role of the scientist, thereby contributing to the formation of their own scientific identities, but also provides an entry point for students to experience the processes that are at the core of scientific practice.

Avraamidou, L. and Osborne, J. (n.d.). Science as narrative: the story of the discovery of penicillin. Retrieved from http://www.pantaneto.co.uk/issue31/avraamidou.htm

Boland, R. J., Jr., & Tenkasi, R. V. (1995). Perspective making and perspective taking in communities of knowing. Organizational Science, 6, 350–372.
The creation of boundary objects grounded in personal experience and composed of flexible, domain-appropriate elements is consistent with Seymour Papert's pedagogical theory of Constructionism. According to Papert, this process of building knowledge structures, whether concrete or abstract, is most effective when the learning is engaged in constructing a public entity (Papert & Harel, 1991). Furthermore, pedagogy based in Constructionism offers the greatest benefits at the level of deeper meaning, rather than first impact. Papert himself describes the beneficial first impact of sharing the results of ethnographic studies of science with children, but warns that "telling children how scientists do science does not necessarily lead to far-reaching change in how children do science" (Papert & Harel, 1991, n.p.). Deep epistemological change, then, can only be achieved by engaging students in the active construction of knowledge.

Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991) Constructionism. Ablex Publishing Corporation.
d.school User Study

Four students from the No Teacher Left Behind class were invited to participate in the user study from weeks six through ten of the course. The students - who had to complete an assignment with similar parameters as a part of the class - were asked to map their group’s design process using crayons and paper. In addition to the other students, one of the researchers (who was taking the same class) also participated in the study.

Because of the heavy workload of the course, only two of the four students completed process maps. Moreover, post facto recording was preferred, especially when an already present process journal was available to consult in reconstructing an artifact. Because the researcher also completed a map, we have three artifacts from this study. The first was constructed in situ and the other two post facto:

The second artifact in particular was influential on our design process, because as he completed his map, the student began making a second copy for the researcher, and enthusiastically modified his map to accentuate the thematic structure of which he had became aware. He was quite eager to talk through his visualization as well, explaining why he had put each node where, and what it represented.

There were three primary questions we wanted to address in this study:
  1. Given an open-ended request to generate a process map, what form do students in a graduate design course choose to use?
  2. Do they choose to generate these in situ or after the fact?
  3. What was their perception of their approach, and would they prefer to have approached this task differently?
Ultimately, we drew three primary conclusions from this user study:
  1. It is important to provide some structure so that artifact construction is coherent.
  2. Using colors instead of shapes encourages more flexible structures which can also be unexpected and personally relevant in a way that shape-based representation stifles.
  3. There is a strong impulse towards accompanying visual representation with linguistic recording.
LDT User Study

We ran one of our user studies with fellow members of the LDT cohort and assorted graduate students from across the University. In this study we gave students an historical account of Marie Curie’s discovery of radium and asked them to build a semantic map using a shape-based symbol system representing steps in the scientific process. In addition we asked participants to give a one sentence summary of their experience.

The resulting process maps were quite varied in both the structure and amount of textual accompaniment, as this sampling of the artifacts shows:

In general our participants enjoyed the opportunity to read the text closely and reflect on it. A great many were interested, moreover, in what other students’ processes might look like, and still others stated that they noticed things they might not otherwise have noticed in the textual account had they not employed our semantic mapping structure.

This study was designed to address the following questions:
  1. Given the same description of an historical scientific experiment, in what ways will a sample of graduate students and college graduates depict the process underlying the experiment using a specific visual construct?
  2. Is the creation of the artifact helpful in understanding the scientific content and objective of the experiment?
  3. Is the creation of the artifact helpful in understanding the scientific process?
Our key gleanings from this study were as follows:
  1. There is the potential for initial confusion due to what seems like arbitrary symbol use, but with time students come to understand the abstract symbols naturally.
  2. Exposure to exemplars positively informs future recording of process.
  3. Providing students with historical exemplars is a quick and effective way to get them thinking about process and also introduce them to a subject.
  4. Providing students with an opportunity to compare their artifacts with others may provide opportunities for them to reflect upon and revise their understanding of the scientific process.
The primary feature of timae.us is a workspace in which students construct semantic-narrative maps of scientific processes. The nodes of the map, which constitute the semantic visualization language, correspond to the five steps of the traditional Baconian Method, of which students are no doubt familiar. This set of symbols was chosen to not only enforce a shared language for the facilitated comparison of visual artifacts, but also to aid in the destabalization of the previously learned linear process. The narrative of the scientific process is encoded in the hierarchical ordering of the nodes from top to bottom. Upon creation, nodes may be amended with descriptive text and media attachments that may be subsequently accessed by drilling down into the element. This design foregrounds a visual representation of the narrative and semantic process of a line of inquiry, while also joining it with content upon further inspection.

From a curricular standpoint, we have found that mapping of historical artifacts is a vital entry point for students in both using the technology and in engaging with the scientific process. Fortunately, for many famous experiments there are detailed second and sometimes first-hand accounts of the inquiry process. Those accounts are often textual, but may include images or videos, and may be supplemented with observational and/or experimental data from the inquiry.

If we take, as an example, Robert Millikan’s determination of the charge of an electron as an historical account of interest, there is a particularly rich resource in the form of an article by Alan Franklin of the University of Colorado (Franklin, 1997). His textual account - supplemented with images of Millikan’s apparatus - is an exemplar for the kind of text we would emphasize at the outset of any particular curricular module. By engaging with Franklin’s account of Millikan’s experiment, students could use timae.us to construct an historical map reflecting their own understanding of the account. This in turn serves as a springboard (and an essential shared experience) for conversation about content, process, and the relationship of the two. Furthermore, engaging with and building historical exemplars helps to scaffold the curricular experience for students so that, when they perform their own inquiries, they identify more easily with the work of scientists throughout history. Having developed an understanding of Millikan’s work (or that of any other scientist), students are better equipped to pursue independent inquiry.

Franklin, A. (1997). Millikan’s oil-drop experiments. The Chemical Educator, Vol 2(1), 1-14. doi:10.1007/s00897970102a.
Inquiry maps in timae.us are placed into historical and semantic context by annotating the initial and final nodes with prologue and epilogue elements, respectively. The prologue provides a general description of the experiment, background information for historical situation, and a series of links to lines of inquiry that served as inspiration. Similarly, the epilogue provides concluding remarks along with links to lines inquiries that evolved from the current experiment. These annotations serve not only to situate the experiment within an historical narrative, but also to visually depict the nature of science as an interconnected web of inquiry and exploration, as opposed to a collection of isolated content.

While many of our accounts of famous experiments surround a particular character, our curricular approach and technology also emphasize the broader scientific community. Practically, context comes into play when students compose prologues and epilogues for scientific process maps. Rather than imagining Millikan as working in a vacuum, students can use both Franklin’s account and previous content (assuming there is any) from their class to construct prologues and epilogues around the Oil-Drop Experiment.

These prologues might simply indicate that J.J. Thompson’s discovery of the electron was a necessary precondition for Millikan’s work to discover the charge of the electron (and for good reason), or they might actually link Thompson’s experiment - as well as countless others - to the starting point of Millikan’s, demonstrating the range of necessary theories, technologies, and debates that went into Millikan’s efforts.

Similarly, an epilogue might be a short textual account of where Millikan’s experiment lead and how that compared to his own expectations, or it might contain a link to a map of Millikan’s work in 1913 to further refine his value on the charge of the electron. Likewise, experiments done after Millikan’s by other scientists, but relying upon his work, could be linked together here as well. These might include independent student inquiries that emerge from a follow-up question as an outgrowth of an historical account.

Franklin, A. (1997). Millikan’s oil-drop experiments. The Chemical Educator, Vol 2(1), 1-14. doi:10.1007/s00897970102a.
In order to support the process of perspective-making with respect to the nature of science as both an objective, formal-analytic process, and a human endeavor situated within a sociocultural context, timae.us provides tools for assessing self and peer created inquiry maps via preexisting and user-generated annotations.

These annotations include free-form comment bubbles for assessing the content of Observations, Questions, Hypotheses, Experiments, and Claims, as well as the processes that generate them. More specialized annotations provide options for constructing claims regarding the scope of hypotheses and the effectiveness of experiments in testing them (inspired by Klayman and Ha, 1987), as well the validity of Claims with respect to the data generated by Experiments in the form of Toulmin schematic elements (Toulmin, 1958). In addition, timae.us provides annotations that encourage students to evaluate scientific processes from a social constructionist perspective, including the influence of scientific precedence, available instruments, dominant paradigms of thought, and even political, social, and economic pressures.

Together, these annotations provide students with opportunities to explore and express the nature of science as both a formal-analytic and socially constructed process. This opens up a potentially wide range of mental models and strategies for students to use in their own inquiry. Moreover, by exposing the social factors that go into scientific research, students can begin to account for questions like why certain hypotheses are pursued more fervently than others and why scientists choose to backtrack when they do. As they undergo their own inquiry, again, they will be able to identify commonalities and differences with historical accounts. Again, this is a potentially rich source of shared language and experience for dialogue.

Klayman, J., and Ha, Y. (1987). Confirmation, disconfirmation, and information in hypothesis testing. Psychological Review, Vol 94(2), 211-228.

Toulmin, S. (1958). The uses of argument. Cambridge University Press.
Finally, timae.us provides a search interface for visually comparing small multiples of inquiry maps generated by students in response to the same assignment, be it the representation of an historical account, or the diagramming of related lines of student inquiry. By virtue of the common symbolic language of the mapping software, students can quickly identify similarities and differences in the work of their peers, encouraging them to appreciate the diverse interpretations and expressions that characterize the human qualities of the scientific process.

Comparing the maps of students with each other, or with a library collected from other students, is perhaps the most naturally dialogic curricular tool supported by timae.us. Working from the same Millikan text, a set of 20 students might produce 20 completely different semantic narrative maps, which can then be projected and compared at either a high-level or in greater detail. Likewise, in independent inquiry, students might take wildly different paths in an effort to address the same question. Rather than having to read (and write) long, detailed accounts of those efforts, students and teachers have the ability to compare quickly at a high level the general shape and particular trends of a variety of inquiries.

In the case of either working with an historical exemplar or working on an independent inquiry, searching and comparing maps offers a natural curricular opportunity for dialogue. Consider questions which would likely draw blank stares if not for the groundwork of reading, building a map of an exemplar, and looking at the same account generated by other students:
  • Why did it take Millikan so long to perform his Oil Drop Experiment?
  • What are some of the motivating questions behind Millikan’s work?
  • Would you characterize Millikan’s experimental process as a linear one, why or why not?
Likewise in independent inquiries, leveraging semantic maps allows for metacognitive questions that are otherwise difficult to address:
  • Why did you choose to make further observations here, rather than performing an experiment?
  • What trends do you see in your inquiry process that differ from those of your classmates? Do particular kinds of steps tend to happen for you in particular orders?
  • What did you learn by doing this experiment, and at what point in the process did you "get it?"
Synchronous interpersonal dialogue is not a piece of the technology itself, but as the fundamental principle around which it was designed, it is the linchpin of curricular implementation. The questions that become accessible through the search interface (along with questions that might naturally arise at other points in curricular implementation) are not questions about which there is a single right answer. Rather, they serve as shared discussion points, and they range from the purely practical (why did it take so long?) to the highly metacognitive (when did you get it?). Regardless, the end point is getting students talking to each other about the Nature of Science.

Because the form of authentic dialogue is difficult to predict, our work on this project encourages us to leave curricular decisions open and not overly prescriptive. Therefore, we imagine curriculum support for using timae.us to be highly modular, with particular emphasis on exploring historical exemplars, building and discussing new historical maps, and engaging in student inquiry. These three implementation spaces naturally support each other in the above order. Thus we see the following four primary curricular models in which timae.us might flourish:

As modules in existing curricula, timae.us would support traditional learning by encouraging dialogue and giving teachers and students a set of visualization tools to aide understanding of concepts already under discussion.

timae.us fits into a project-based, inquiry model more naturally, however, where it can be used to scaffold a series of inquiry activities around an organized set of projects building upon each other.

Rather than fitting in single-day modules, timae.us could also disrupt a traditional, didactic model by supporting short inquiry-based projects.

Finally, timae.us could be leveraged in an informal or after-school environment to support extra-curricular learning.
Baha’i Study Group Learner Assessment 1

The questions we were most interested in exploring during this assessment were the following:
  1. Do our visual representations of the scientific process help students better understand not only the what, but the how of science?
  2. What stimulates dialogue better, explicit information, or one of our artifacts?
We split the study group in half and worked with each separately on a distinct textual account of an historical scientific process. In both groups there was significant engagement in the activity (especially considering that they had just finished two hours of religious study on a Sunday afternoon). More importantly, however, after creating the artifacts, both groups launched into discussions that resulted in bringing in outside materials.

In one group a student asked his parent bring out a book detailing investigations into the Broad Street Cholera Outbreak of 1854, which the students had constructed their diagram around. In the other group, a periodic table was procured in order to further a discussion of elements and radioactivity after building a map for Marie Curie’s discovery of radium.

Our analysis of the assessment resulted in the following conclusions:
  1. Although it took a few minutes to warm up, the general level of engagement was high, suggesting that our approach does not shut students out.
  2. Dialogues afterward were meaningful and authentic.
  3. Their first pass through, the students left out steps, or exhibited some misunderstandings, however even these serve as a starting point for discussion.
  4. Students naturally wanted to add their own questions at the end.
  5. Group construction of the artifacts was a positive process. The negotiation of interpretation was interesting. Also, some students took a while to catch on to the process, and could be guided by their peers.
In summary, this study primarily addressed our first learning goal, reuniting process and content in science education. Our analysis suggests to us that working with historical accounts stimulates dialogue around content largely because of the naturally higher level of engagement supported by narrative around process.
East Palo Alto Academy Statistics Learner Assessment

Our research questions were as follows:
  1. Which ways of recording process lead to better dialogue, about process or the scientific objective itself?
  2. Does searching for background information lead to more refined research questions?
  3. Does keeping track of process in real-time help students make decisions about how to proceed?
  4. Does keeping track of process in real-time distract from engaging in the process?
To our surprise, the groups we asked to build a list of visited web-sites produced very little, and in some cases, nothing at all. All of the students had their research question written, and but only two added "google,” (which was also in the example they were handed). They recorded nothing else.

Linear Exemplar
Linear Artifact

On the other hand, the groups that was asked to build maps averaged 3.2 nodes. Again, each group had the question written, and all but one had at least 3 nodes in the map. The most detailed maps were produced by those working in groups, and all of the maps were structured around "google,” but not all in the same way. One group in particular began building additional concept maps on the back of their original semantic map.

Mapping Exemplar
Mapping Artifact

Our analysis of the assessment is as follows:
  1. Students making maps produced more content than those making lists, suggesting higher levels of engagement.
  2. Making maps of the search process may be more intuitive than making a list.
  3. In the map groupings, the ones that had a copy of the exemplar produced more, suggesting the value of good scaffolding.
  4. Keeping track of process in a semantic-narrative format can encourage further exploration of concepts using similar techniques.
In summary, we feel this assessment suggests that our technology and curriculum approach are well-aligned with our second goal of encouraging students to develop strategies and mental models in science. In this case, in particular, the semantic-narrative mapping of a search process helped students to build a better understanding of their own research questions, much more so than simply recording visited websites as one would in, for example, the drafting of an annotated bibliography.
Baha’i Study Group Learner Assessment 2

We returned to the Baha’i study group with a technology prototype to run a final assessment. This time we switched which group worked with which historical narrative, and allowed the students to build out their account with timae.us after constructing a pen-and-paper model first.

The questions we were most interested in exploring during this assessment were the following:
  1. Does timea.us facilitate the building of semantic-narrative maps?
  2. Having twice gone through the curricular experience of building maps, do students have a better understanding of the Nature of Science?
We interviewed the students before working with them, asking them to reflect on both their academic experience in science classes and their previous work with us. We asked them further questions after going through the activity and working with the technology prototype. Many of those later questions were geared towards refining the technology prototype, but not exclusively.

Our analysis of the assessment resulted in the following conclusions:
  1. Students perceive laboratory experiences in school to be “like magic,” suggesting that they don’t usually understand the scientific context for the experiments they do.
  2. Students would prefer to learn more about the history of famous and important scientific experiments.
  3. Having constructed semantic-narrative maps, students recognize the existence of a scientific community. Students recognized that experiments do not happen in isolation.
In summary, this study primarily addressed our third learning goal. While the study was limited, our interview with the students suggests to us that they better understood science as an activity undertaken by an active, dialogic community after building historical semantic-narrative maps than they did beforehand.