Chemistry design project
  The heating-and-cooling unit: A design-project in a chemistry classroom




Design-based learning (DBL) is a form of project-based learning in which students learn what they need to learn in a just-in-time fashion while trying to design something. In my group, we build 6-to-8-week-long DBL units for middle school and highschool math, science, and technology classrooms. These units use engineering design processes as a foundational structure for the units—this structure improves the design outcomes and provides an organizaton of the math/science learning that happens inside the classroom. However, we need to add additional supports into the process to maximize learning in this classroom setting. We are currently exploring a particular form of DBL called Model Eliciting Activities, in which students are pushed to a deliver a general model design specification rather than just a particular solution; these MEAs surface student thinking to the instructor and themselves, provide a more authentic push for understanding of general relationships, and can help develop mathematics as a thinking tool.

Key Results
  • Virtual learning units can produce equivalent computer science learning outcomes in half the time as physical learning units.
  • Relative to an existing hands-on curriculum, students in one of our DBL units learned 2x as much science content during a similar period of learning
  • All groups benefited from participating in the DBL, but the largest effects were seen with traditionally underserved minority students
  • Students using our DBL units show significant gains in scientific reasoning skills
  • Robotics units structured around MEAs lead to increases in mathematics skills in proportional reasoning.



The Team
Schunn Lab: Anita Schuchardt, Kathy Malone, Miray Tekkumru-Kisa, Birdy Reynolds, Mary Satoris
Collaborators: Mary Kay Stein (Pitt), Aaron Kesslar (Pitt) ,Sam Abramovich (SUNY Buffalo), Robin Shoop (CMU), Ross Hagashi (CMU)
Home Page Image

Students from the annual design competition that we host. Top teams from each class who implement our DBL units come to the competition.

A video of the 2009 Design Competition


Current Projects

BLOOM (Biology Levers Out Of Mathematics). The project brings mathematics as a thinking and learning tool into high school biology instruction through the use of engineering-based modules focused on core biology topics. The modules will be developed by a collaborative team involving learning science, mathematics education, and biology expertise. The modules are designed for large-scale urban settings and we will study the ways in which teacher materials and various web-based tools can support high quality implementation at scale.

Connecting Research and Teaching Through Product Realization (RET). We work with high school science teachers in the summers to provide them with innovative engineering design experiences (over in the school of engineering with Amy Landis, and with Sondra Balouris from Health and Rehabilitation Sciences). We also work with the teachers to build design-based learning projects do be implemented during the school year in their high school classrooms.

Robot Algebra/CS2N. Robotics curricula designed to strengthen algebra and computer science skills in urban middle and high school students. This work is done collaboratively with Robin Shoop and Ross Hagashi at CMU's NREC, and Vincent Aleven, Albert Corbett, and Ken Koedinger at CMU's HCII. CS2N website

  • Liu, A., Schunn, C. D., Flot, J., & Shoop, R. (In press). The role of physicality in rich programming environments. Computer Science Education.
  • Abramovich, S., Schunn, C. D., & Higashi, R. M. (2013). Are badges useful in education?: It depends upon the type of badge and learner expertise. Educational Technology Research & Development, 61(2), 217-232. pdf
  • Apedoe, X. & Schunn, C. D. (2013). Strategies for Success: Uncovering what makes students successful in design and learning. Instructional science, 41(4), 773-791. pdf
  • Apedoe, X. & Ellefson, M. E., Schunn, C. D. (2012). Learning together while designing: Does group size make a difference? Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21(1), 83-94. pdf
  • Silk, E. M., Higashi, R., Shoop, R., Schunn, C. D. (2010). Designing technology activities that teach mathematics. The Technology Teacher, 69(4), 21-27. pdf
  • Silk, E. M., Schunn, C. D., & Shoop, R. (2009). Synchronized robot dancing: Motivating efficiency and meaning in problem solving with robotics. Robot Magazine, 17, 42-45.
  • Schunn, C. D. (2009). How Kids Learn Engineering: The Cognitive Science Perspective. The Bridge, 39(3), 32-37. pdf
  • Doppelt, Y. , Schunn, C. D., Silk, E., Mehalik, M., Reynolds, B., & Ward, E. (2009). Evaluating the impact of a facilitated learning community approach to professional development on teacher practice and student achievement. Research in Science & Technological Education, 27(3), 339-354. pdf
  • Silk, E., Schunn, C. D., & Cary, M. S. (2009) The impact of an engineering design curriculum on science reasoning in an urban setting. Journal of Science Education and Technology. pdf
  • Reynolds, B., Mehalik, M. M., Lovell, M. R., & Schunn, C. D. (2009). Increasing student awareness of and interest in engineering as a career option through design-based learning. International Journal of Engineering Education. pdf
  • Apedoe, X., Reynolds, B., Ellefson, M. R., & Schunn, C. D. (2009). Bringing engineering design into high school science classrooms: The heating/cooling unit. Journal of Science Education and Technology. pdf
  • Doppelt, Y. & Schunn, C. D. (2008). Identifying students' perceptions of the important classroom features affecting learning aspects of a design based learning environment? Learning Environments Research, 11(3). pdf
  • Ellefson, M., Brinker, R., Vernacchio, V., & Schunn, C. D. (2008). Design-based learning for biology: Genetic engineering experience improves understanding of gene expression. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 36(4), 292–298. pdf
  • Doppelt, Y., Mehalik, M. M., Schunn, C. D., & Krysinski, D. (2008). Engagement and achievements in design-based learning. Journal of Technology Education, 19(2), 21-38. pdf
  • Mehalik, M. M., & Doppelt, Y., & Schunn, C. D. (2008). Middle-school science through design-based learning versus scripted inquiry: Better overall science concept learning and equity gap reduction. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(1), 71-85. pdf

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