Virtual Inquiry Tools: Designing for an Asynchronous Learning Cycle

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Learning cycle and inquiry-based learning are important components of STEM education, but many topics are challenging to design engaging lessons and units around with physical materials.  Virtual tools can be used to promote inquiry, but educators must be strategic when planning to build student curiosity and ingenuity into activities.


Dr. Matthew Vick is a professor of science education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has directed/co-directed two grant projects at UW-W: a two-year Wisconsin Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title IIA Improving Teacher Quality Grant entitled "Integrating Science and Literacy Learning with English Proficient and English Language Learners" and a one-year UW System Outreach grant entitled "Collaboratively Implementing the Vision of the Next Generation Science Standards in the Mukwonago Area School District with Pre-service and In-service Teachers". He has published research articles and a book chapter in science education as well as practitioner-based articles. He has presented at the National Science Teachers Association, the Association for Science Teacher Education, the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, and the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers. He has served as department chair for the department of Curriculum and Instruction and interim associate dean of graduate studies.

Extended Abstract

This session will demonstrate how to apply the learning cycle model to the use of virtual science experiments.  During the session, the freely available NSF-funded pHET website with physics and mathematics simulations will be utilized by participants (although participants can choose to use a different online resource). 

The session will begin with a brief introduction to an inquiry-based framework showing that it is important students have opportunities during some lessons to ask their own original questions, design their own procedures, and interpret their own results will be shared.  The concepts of confirmation inquiry, structured inquiry, guided inquiry, and open inquiry from Banchi & Bell (2008) will be used to help participants understand the various levels of student interaction with content. An example will be presented by the facilitator about how an online pendulum lab can allow for students to ask their own original research questions about motion and force, designing their own data collection method and procedure, and interpret their own results.  Participants will be asked to pick an online science or math lab that appeals to them and to brainstorm some methods of engaging students in these elements of inquiry asynchronously.  The discussion will include strategies to structure learning so that online learners don’t just rush to fill in the blanks on a lab “worksheet.”

Next, a brief introduction to the Karplus learning cycle framework (concept exploration, concept development, application), BSCS 5E model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate), and the Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle (Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, Active Experimentation) will be presented.  Three different models will be presented for two reasons:  (1) to acknowledge the complexity of instructional models and that there are many quality approaches available and (2) to allow participants to best pick an approach that matches their own instructional content and approaches.  These Learning Cycles all emphasize exploration before learners attempt to define terms and concepts.  They all lead to further active exploration to apply knowledge.  Online activities need to be carefully constructed so that learners can engage in these stages rather than just thinking linearly and completing the equivalent of an electronic worksheet.

Participants will identify a learning cycle framework and elements of inquiry that they wish to use during the session to guide their thinking about implementing online labs or activities.  The presenter will model how to brainstorm ways to steer learners to explore BEFORE they read explanations and hopefully co-construct explanations with each other and the instructor.  Then, the application phase will be emphasized as another experience where learners use the knowledge from both the exploration and the co-constructed explanations. 

After the presenter shares his example of how to design a learning cycle for exploring concepts of gravity using a pendulum simulation, participants will be asked to brainstorm (independently or with a partner/group) ides of how they could implement a learning cycle with a virtual lab of their choosing.  Idea sharing will be facilitated so that participants can share their ideas.