Embedded Phenomena

January 1st, 2004 - December 31st, 2009

Categories: Applications, Education, Human Factors

Students Working on RoomQuake Distributed Earthquake Simulation
Students Working on RoomQuake Distributed Earthquake Simulation


Embedded Phenomena is an emerging framework intended to support science inquiry in K-6 classrooms. The basic idea is to use simulation to map scientific phenomena into the physical space of classrooms.

Students serve as participants (Collela, Resnick) in the simulation, interacting with the phenomena via networked affordances distributed around the room (Greenberg, Borchers). These affordances might range from simple control devices (e.g., button transponders) to displays reflecting simulation states.

The affordance set is supplemented with teacher- and student-designed semiotic artifacts.

Investigations employing Embedded Phenomena require students to observe, measure, and control the simulated phenomena. Typically, these phenomena are constructed to operate asynchronously with respect to the regular flow of instruction; things happen “when they happen,” The phenomena are designed to operate over extended periods (days, weeks, or months), sometimes because the phenomena themselves operate on that scale, and sometimes because they are temporally scaled to suit classroom constraints and learning needs.

Embedded Phenomena does not (necessarily) seek a 1-to-1 mapping between individuals and technology tools or affordances; access to affordances may be mediated by instructional and social goals and student capabilities and interests.

The capability set of each affordance station is usually highly specialized rather than general-purpose, and the activity requires collaboration among learners as they develop an emerging “community of practice” (Lave) around the investigation of the phenomenon.

Our best instantiation to date is RoomQuake, a distributed simulation of a series of earthquakes using PDAs as simulated (position-dependent) seismographs. We are currently developing Embedded Phenomena of bird migration, planetary motion, and sailing.