Technological Support for Teachers Transitioning to Project-Based Science Practices (Soloway et al.)

Soloway, E., Krajcik, J. S., Blumenfeld, P., & Marx, R. (1996). Technological Support for Teachers Transitioning to Project-Based Science Practices. In T. Koschmann (Ed.), CSCL : theory and practice of an emerging paradigm (pp. 268-305). Mahwah N.J.: L. Erlbaum.

In this chapter, the authors discuss the challenges and struggles teachers face as they transition to a more meaningful way of teaching learning and how technology may play a role to scaffold that transition.

More specifically, the transition that the authors are examining is towards project-based science (PBS), whereby learners engage in “long-term, multidisciplinary investigations that answer important intellectual questions through collaboration over extended time” (p.269). The authors have developed a process for working with teachers called CEER, which emphasizes cycles of collaboration, enactment, and reflection. They have also developed a suite of integrated teacher tools (called collectively a Project-Support Environment, PSE), to support teachers as they plan projects, learn features of PBS, develop visions of, and strategies for, classroom practices through studying multimedia cases, reflect in a personal electronic journal, and collaborate with others through telecommunications.

“The literature on teacher change is clear: Change will not take root and innovation will not be sustained if one adopts traditional top-down models of dissemination and enhancement that rely on one-shot workshops, distribution of curriculum materials to be used exactly as prepared*, and lists of prescribed practices to be implemented. In fact, critics of current dissemination models assert that they are frequently naive about complexities of teaching, are couched in abstract theoretical terms, are not situated in the reality of schools, do not provide follow-up help and support, and serve to maintain teacher isolation” (p.271).

[*I find it so interesting that even educational reformers who may be in fact clamoring for more constructivist activities in the classroom still would fall back on direct instruction methods of training. Perhaps our natural way of learning is through contextualized knowledge building and our  natural way of teaching others is by direct transmission of information. Design should be mindful of target users’ natural behaviors and practices.]


  • Aim is for teachers to develop a range of practices that are congruent with project-based instruction and that are tailored to their own situational constraints and personal preferences.
  • (Richardson, 1990) – development of “warranted practice,” where teachers meld practical knowledge with theoretical knowledge.
  • Authors use the word enactment rather than implementation to emphasize that teachers are not merely applying a set of predefined prescriptions, but planning and teaching in a manner that tailors PBS to fit their unique circumstances, anticipating possible problems, and devising strategies to deal with them.
  • Essentially, during planning, teachers create mental representations — road maps or guides that can be changed during enactment based on classroom conditions, student reactions, and their own evaluations of how their primary aims are being accomplished.

Project-Support Environment (PSE) — interactive learning environment used to help teachers transition to PBS. Serves as teacher’s workbench.

Literature on teacher learning has informed the design of the PSE:

  • Teacher knowledge is represented in the language of classroom activities and events, rather than as a set of propositions and prescriptions.
  • Important to contextualize information int he real world of classrooms.
  • Cases are important to convey the rich and complex nature of teaching. Multiple instances are important if teachers are to understand and develop a range of practices congruent with the premises of the innovation. [cognitive flexibility theory; criss-crossing the landscape]. Cases provide a richly textured description of teachers struggling with complexities of actual teaching practice. These thick descriptions enable readers to appreciate the complexities and subtleties that make up teaching practices. [Geertz’s “thick descriptions,” 1973]
  • Teachers are highly influenced by their own and others’ stories.
  • Teachers learn from realistic portrayals.
  • Teachers need to be thoughtful as they consider cases and watch video.
  • Change comes from experience, from proactive planning, action and reflection.
  • Collaboration among teachers aids in constructing understanding of standards of desired practices and how they might be attained.

Features of PSE:

  • PIViT (Project integration visualization tool) — helps teachers design, plan, modify projects.
  • CaPPs (Casebook of project practices) — helps teacher learn features of PBS and strategies. for enactment via video-based teacher cases, teacher and researcher written and verbal commentary, and reflective questions.
  • P/CaPP (Personal casebook of project practices) — supports teacher reflection by allowing teachers to construct their own case book by using video from their own and other enactments, critiques, and personal notes.
  • PSNet (Project-support network) — promotes collaboration and the sharing of documents such as PIViT plans and student artifacts via telecommunications.
  • In the PSE, documents and applications are linked to each other in a seamless fashion. Providing user with a dynamic, nonlinear structure that allows users to move easily among the components. [Google Wave does this very nicely… and adds a playback function so a new user can also determine when the contribution was made during the “conversation”]

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