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Collaborative Agent-based Modeling to Explore Complex

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the
National Science Foundation for the Collaborative
Research: Group-Based Cloud Computing for STEM

Phenomena in Pre- and In-service Teacher Education Education Project

NSF Grant Number: DRL 1615207
RFP: NSF-15-599
Innovative Technology Experiences for Students
Anthony J. Petrosino, Maximilian K. Sherard, Jason R. Harron, Mica Kohl, and Uri Wilensky and Teachers.

Introduction In-service Teachers

Teaching and learning about complex physical and social systems are important for Situated in a southern state whose standards are based on Next Generation Science Standards
preparing learners for life in the 21st century. However, Grotzer and Tutwiler (2014) (NGSS) students are required learn about food webs, species interactions, and the negative
explain that reasoning about these systems can be difficult when heuristic driven impact of human actions (NGSS Lead States, 2013). The standards, however, fail to capture the
cognition “can derail an ability to discern and understand these complex causal emergent and complex nature of ecosystem dynamics. To address this failure, a 4-lesson
features” (p. 97). Recent research shows that agent-based computer simulations ecology unit using the GbCC Wolf-sheep Predation model (Wilensky, 1997) was generated and
have been used individually with students to promote learner’s understanding of implemented with one middle school science teachers. Upwards of 200 students were able to
complex systems (Rates, Mulvey, & Feldon 2016). Despite classrooms being group- explore the complex story of how the presence of wolves generates a cascade of effects which
situated experiences; instruction typically engages only the individual by following influence plant and river patterns in Yellowstone National Park.
the initiation - response - feedback (IRF) sequence (Wells, 1993). Modeling supported student learning by allowing for

collaborative exploration of how multiple species’

For classrooms to engage in more socially mediated and generative teaching and population sizes vary depending on initial population
learning about complex physical and social systems, instructors must design values and predation or herbivory. Students culminated
situations for groups of students to construct relations between stored knowledge, the project by using their models to generate and
experience, and new information (Wittrock, 1991). Using the taxonomy of defend arguments for implementing wolf conservation
generative design provided by Stroup, Ares, and Hurford (2004) scientific modeling plans in Yellowstone National Park and the state of
allows learners to engage in generative learning with the help of agent-based Wyoming.
models deployed using the Group-based Cloud Computing (GbCC) web-based
platform (Petrosino, Stroup, Harron, & Sherard, 2017). Conversations were scheduled with the teacher ECOSYSTEM ENGINEERS
throughout the 4-lesson unit to troubleshoot use of the HOW WOLVES CHANGE RIVERS – STUDENT

GbCC is an agent-based modeling program, powered by NetLogo Web, that allows models as well as discuss challenges and successes of
learners to work collaboratively to participate in, author, and share models. Models the lessons. At the end of the unit, an interview was THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN

developed in NetLogo Web (Wilensky, 1999) cover a range of domain content conducted with the teacher regarding their experience
including, but not limited to: disease transmission, population dynamics, physical teaching and planning with the GbCC Models.
phenomena, and social stratification. This study is interested using the GbCC models Conversations and interviews with the teacher led to
Figure 1 – Concept Map of Yellowstone Trophic Cascade
with pre- and in-service teachers to uncover how current or future instructors the creation of three sequential GbCC Models to
engage with group-based computer simulations (Wilensky, 1997). The GbCC continue the content story line. Comments were placed in the code to scaffold users’ ability to
platform is a powerful computational tool; however, “powerful technological tools, modify existing code to increase the authorable nature of GbCC Models.
in the absence of powerful pedagogy, detract from rather than contribute to Pre-service Teachers
learning” (Philip & Garcia, 2013, p. 313). With this insight in mind, the goal of this
poster proposal is to: An undergraduate teacher preparation program was chosen for pre-service teachers to
explore GbCC Models in a Project-based instruction (PBI) course. PBI pedagogy can be used to
1. Characterize pre- and in-service teacher participation with GbCC models; address the learning design potential of the highly interactive, group-based functionality the
2. build capacity of pre-service and in-service teachers to work with and use GbCC platform provides. Eight pre-service teachers enrolled in a PBI course had the
GbCC models to facilitate socially mediated forms of classroom activity with opportunity to collaboratively explore the GbCC Wolf-sheep Predation model (Wilensky, 1997)
complex systems; and, after having completed a 3-day teaching experience at a partner school. Pre-service teachers
3. Develop a sequence of GbCC models related to tri-trophic cascades with shared their outcomes with peers who have the ability to replicate their peer’s model with the
comments in the code to scaffold user’s ability to modify existing - or author same variables. Pre-service teachers worked in groups to practice using and sharing models,
new – models. and discuss alignment with the tenets of project-based instruction.

Methods After analyzing the interactions of pre-service teachers with the model, we found that
Figure 2 – Wolf-Elk-Aspen Model
participants initial changes focused on modifying values of the sliders and toggles. Participants
Consistent with the goals of characterizing participation while building pre- and in- did not share to the class gallery until explicitly directed. For example, once the first student
service teacher capacity for pursuing more fully socially mediated approaches to References found the feature to share-out to the class gallery, the teacher provided a verbal cue to
learning about complex physical and social systems, this research uses design-based Fishman, B. J., Penuel, W. R., Allen, A.-R., Cheng, B. H., & Sabelli, N. (2013). Design-Based Implementation Research: An Emerging Model for acknowledge the contribution. Only after this action did other students begin to interact in
Transforming the Relationship of Research and Practice. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 112(2), 136–156.
implementation research (Fishman, Penuel, Allen, Cheng, & Sabelli, 2013). In this Grotzer, T. A., & Shane Tutwiler, M. (2014). Simplifying Causal Complexity: How Interactions Between Modes of Causal Induction and the collaborative gallery feature of the GbCC workspace.
Information Availability Lead to Heuristic-Driven Reasoning. Mind, Brain, and Education, 8(3), 97–114.
first cycle of research; the two groups of participants are (1) one in-service teacher, NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Next Steps
Petrosino, A. J., Stroup, W. M., Harron, J. R., Sherard, M. K., (2017, June). Group-based cloud computing for STEM education. Poster at the
teaching fifth and sixth grade science, and (2) eight pre-service teachers enrolled in annual convention of the American Society of Engineering Education, Columbus, OH.

a project-based inquiry undergraduate course. Each group experienced a unique

Philip, T., & Garcia, A. (2013). The importance of still teaching the iGeneration: New technologies and the centrality of pedagogy. Harvard
Educational Review, 83(2), 300-319.
Moving forward, this research allows for the continued exploration of (a) next-generation,
intervention experience with a GbCC model designed specifically for the needs of
Rates, C. A., Mulvey, B. K., & Feldon, D. F. (2016). Promoting Conceptual Change for Complex Systems Understanding: Outcomes of an Agent-
Based Participatory Simulation. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 25(4), 610–627.
fully authorable, collaborative, STEM-focused, cloud-based computing and (b) capacity
the in-service or pre-service teachers. Data was collected from the in-service teacher
Stroup, W. M., Ares, N., & Hurford, A. C. (2004). A taxonomy of generative activity design supported by next-generation classroom networks.
building for pre- and in-service teachers when working with collaborative models. Our
in the form of self-reported open-ended questionnaire and classroom documents
In Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of Psychology in Mathematics Education North America.
Wells, G (1993). Reevaluating the IRF sequence: A proposal for the articulation of theories of activity and discourse for the analysis of teaching
research represents one-step in the cycle of development and implementation across many
produced during the GbCC intervention. Audio and video data were collected from
and learning in the classroom. Linguistics and Education, 5(1), 1993, (p. 1-37).
Wilensky, U. (1997). NetLogo Wolf Sheep Predation model. Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling. Retrieved from
schools, subject-areas, and grade levels -- a scalable and low-cost technological and
the pre-service teachers throughout engagement with the GbCC models.
Wilensky, U. (1999). NetLogo. netlogo/. Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling,
pedagogical infrastructure is intended to directly increase student and teacher involvement
Northwestern University. Evanston, IL.
Wittrock, M. C. (1991). Generative teaching of comprehension. The Elementary School Journal, 92(2), (p. 169-184).
with high-quality STEM learning experiences.