A UW-Madison education prof seeks middle school science teachers to participate in a professional development project.
Improving science teaching with hypertext support

Researcher: Sadhana Puntambekar
Email puntambekar@education.wisc.edu
Phone: (608) 262-0829
Link to site: www.compassproject.net/info
News context:
Science Magazine: The World of Undergraduate Education
Previous participants include:
Kelly Francour: kfrancou@marinette.k12.wi.us
Dana Gnesdilow: gnesdilow@wisc.edu
Hands-on science lab activities provide students with engaging ways to learn. But sometimes students don’t fully learn the concepts behind what they’re doing.
A hypertext computer environment being developed and field tested gives students graphical ways to practice learning and relating science concepts like ‘force’ and ‘energy,’ for example.
The program, called CoMPASS, helps ensure that hands-on construction activities leads to student understanding of the underlying deep science principles and phenomena.
UW-Madison education professor Sadhana Puntambekar points out that reading, writing, and communicating are an essential part of science instruction.
Research has pointed out the important role of language in science. Yet informational text is seldom used to complement hands-on activities in science classrooms.
This CoMPASS computer environment gives students a graphical, interactive, hypertext ‘concept map’ to help students visualize concepts and their relations. Navigating these ‘concept maps’ helps student make connections between abstract concepts, and to select text resources based on the relatedness of the documents to each other.
Eighth-grade students using the CoMPASS ‘concept maps’ performed better on essay question requiring depth. On a concept mapping test, students using CoMPASS made richer connections between concepts in their own maps (6th and 8th grades)
The CoMPASS environment helps teachers, too. It gives them another way to observe how well students learn.
The system is being used in inquiry-based curriculum units in sixth and eighth grade science classes. To date, CoMPASS has been used by over 1000 students in sixth and eighth grades in Wisconsin and Connecticut.

The CoMPASS project gives students better ways to find information related to their goals. The CoMPASS ‘concept map’ interface helps students navigate and learn using digital resources (illustration). A ‘fisheye’ view zooms in and out to help students clarify relationships between science concepts.
Middle school science teachers in and around Madison sign up for training and field testing CoMPASS because they get experience in teaching combined hands-on science with conceptual text-based support materials.
Participating in the project gives teachers more experience in curriculum design.
Teachers get more experience helping students establish connections between the questions students asked and the design challenge they were working on.
Teachers get more experience helping students connect new topics to their prior knowledge, and more experience in facilitating whole-class and small-group discussions.
Teachers can add to their resume that they’ve participated in a National Science Foundation-funded project.
Teachers who engage in the project receive support through the school year from graduate assistants with training in psychology, computer sciences, cognitive and learning sciences, or physics education.
Participating teacher Kelly Francour says that working with the project has made her focused on the best teaching practices. She uses inquiry-based instruction, and participating in the project has given her more strategies to use in the classroom. She says she now asks more higher-level-thinking questions during instruction.
Participating teacher Dana Gnesdilow says participating in the project has been worth the effort. ‘There’s a variety of benefits, including a huge amount of student engagement,’ she says. ‘Students like CoMPASS because it’s hands-on and minds-on. Students take control of their own learning. It’s a student-centered environment.’ She says that benefits to teachers include professional development and a growing sense of confidence in ‘teaching through inquiry.’ Gnesdilow says, ‘Teachers gain more content knowledge. Students have great questions and we explored their questions together.’
Name Paul Baker
E-mail: pbaker@wisc.edu
Telephone 608 263 8814