Journal of Learning Sciences Webinar Discussing Our New Research Article

A Journal of Learning Sciences (JLS) Webinar was held to discuss our new JLS article: Co-Organizing the Collective Journey of Inquiry with Idea Thread Mapper. Four leading learning scientists offered valuable insights and comments. Dr. Katherine Bielaczyc (Clark University), Dr. Carol Chan (University of Hong Kong), Dr. Keith Sawyer (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Dr. Chewlee Teo (National Institute of Education, Singapore). See the recording on Youtube:

Keynote at GCCCE 2018: It takes a social system to raise creativity


Dr. Jianwei Zhang gave a keynote at the Global Chinese Conference on Computers in Education (GCCCE) hosted by South China Normal University (May 2018, Guangzhou, China).

Abstract: Education needs to prepare students for creative careers and productive lives in the 21st century. Research on creativity depicts it as a sustained social process for continual idea advancement, which goes beyond individual sparks of “Aha” insights. The sustained process is supported by creative social systems, in which ideas are continually contributed and built upon by interactive peers, leading to collective advances as well as progressive uncovering of deeper problems and higher goals. The sustained inquiry in each team is further supported by interactions across teams that work as a larger interconnected field.  In this talk, I will review the components of real-world creative social systems and stimulate conversations about how we may develop a system of this kind in education with technology support. Using our Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) project as an example, I will discuss new technology and pedagogical designs to support sustained creative inquiry in interconnected classroom communities, which build on one another’s knowledge to investigate challenging problems.

This keynote was reviewed/highlighted by a number of articles:

New Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) supports cross-classroom inquiry and knowledge building

We have recently upgraded Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) as a new generation collaborative platform to better organize and support student-driven knowledge building within each classroom as well as idea interaction across classrooms. ITM includes (a) spaces and tools for online discourse interaction through which students generate deepening questions and ideas; (b) features for inquiry structure creation and visualization to capture emerging inquiry directions and co-organize the online discourse accordingly; and (c) a cross-community space for students from different classrooms to view one another’s inquiry directions and progress and engage in “super talks” to discuss challenging issues across classrooms.  The new ITM is being used by a network of Grade 5 classrooms to investigate core scientific issues and build deep knowledge. See more info here.




Teachers and students from Slingerlands Elementary School presented their creative classroom work to Bethlehem Board of Education

Over the past two years, we have been collaborating with Slingerlands Elementary School to test technology-supported innovations to engage students in year-long scientific inquiry. This research has led to deep changes in science, which have further spread to ELA, social studies, and even classroom management.

(our presentation starts at 13:00)

A Productive Summer Institute with Collaborating Teachers!

Our lab held a productive summer institute with our collaborating teachers from Guilderland Elementary School and Slingerlands Elementary School on June 28 and 30. The theme of this year is Building Deep Connections for Deep Inquiry across Classrooms. Our collaborating teachers shared their classroom advances achieved in the past year to  implement student-driven collaborative knowledge building over a whole school year in a set of eight Grade 5 classrooms.  Students took on high-level responsibility for structuring the inquiry goals and processes as they pursued deepening questions and ideas in core scientific areas (e.g. human body systems, ecology). They further shared idea progress through writing “Super Notes” that presented their journeys of inquiry. Their knowledge building practices have spread to their ELA and social studies. Two teachers from the knowledge building network of Singapore headed by Dr. Chew Lee Teo presented their innovative classroom work through videoconferencing. Building on the research advances and classroom inventions of the previous years, our collaborative team will further refine and integrate our two key design elements with the support of Idea Thread Mapper in the coming year: (a) co-structuring of deepening inquiry goals and processes for sustained advancement of understanding in each classroom and (b) cross-classroom interaction through “Super Notes” and “Super Talks.” A network of classrooms from multiple nations will work together to investigate core scientific challenges facing the world today.


Our Project Video “Inquiry across Classrooms” Included in the NSF STEM for All 2017 Showcase

In current practices, inquiry learning is often organized as short and scattered activities in individual classrooms. This research explores ways to support sustained inquiry and dialogue across classrooms. We tested a multi-layer interaction design: As students engage in focused inquiry and discourse within their own classroom’s online space, they review productive threads of ideas generated from their work and create “super note” reflection for cross-classroom sharing. The “super notes” serve as “boundary-crossing objects,” which focus on synthesizing the unfolding journey of inquiry using four scaffolds: Our research topic and problem(s)…, We used to think…, now we understand…, We need deeper research…  We upgraded Idea Thread Mapper to include a cross-community interaction space to support  inquiry and discourse across classrooms.

Following the multi-layer interaction design, a set of buddy classrooms from Albany, NY and Toronto, ON participated in collaborative knowledge building in shared scientific areas. Students used the “super notes” from other classroom as a resource to advance their inquiry, including those written by the previous student cohorts. Students found it highly motivating and rewarding to put their ideas in broader and actual use by other classrooms. Comparing the themes and depths of the inquiry work of different classrooms triggered deep reflection on their own inquiry. Students further adopted questions and ideas from other classrooms to develop integrated understanding.

We are developing an international network of inquiry classrooms. Students from Asia, Canada, and the US, will engage in collaborative inquiry of challenging issues facing the world today and accumulate a shared knowledge base over time.

Our research project was spotlighted at the NSF Video Showcase event: “Advancing STEM Learning For All: Sharing Cutting Edge Work and Community Discourse” (May 17-23, 2016)

Connecting Idea Threads for Sustained Inquiry and Discourse:

This project aims to enable student-directed, sustained knowledge building by which ideas are continually developed, built upon, and refined, giving rise to shared goals and structures to guide their deepening work. Current collaborative online environments support interactive discourse, but lack effective means to representing collective landscape and progress in long-term, distributed discourse. The lack of collective structural representations makes it difficult for students to monitor and deepen their collective work over time and share discourse progress with other communities.

This NSF Cyberlearning project created Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) to help students monitor what is going on in extended online discourse in order to share progress and formulate collective directions for deeper inquiry. Interoperating with Knowledge Forum and potentially other platforms, ITM profiles unfolding trajectories of discourse as “idea threads,” each of which includes a series of discourse entries that investigate a shared epistemic object (e.g. batteries).

Supported by automated topic modeling and discourse tagging tools, students create and map out their idea threads to reflect on what their community is investigating, with what progress and gaps. They further selectively share productive idea threads with other classrooms for idea sharing, build-on, and collaboration.

Research suggests that young students (Grades 3, 5 and 6) are able to use the ITM tool to formulate productive lines of inquiry for sustained knowledge building. Our undergoing research tests ITM-enabled designs for students to access and build on the productive idea threads of other communities, including those from the previous school years for sustained build-on.