stereotypical and reflexive patterns of “this is how you do it.” There is no transfer to other domains of knowledge.

The educational challenge is to ensure that a student understands why particular ways of doing things are appropriate for particular problem contexts. Problem solving must be reflective.

  1. The power-limitations issue: learning and understanding what the system is versus is not capable of doing or what the system can versus should be used to do. Of necessity, any system privileges some ways of doing things at the expense of others. To the extent that the system design reflects best practices in a particular knowledge domain, especially as reflected in the thinking processes of domain experts, then the support system can be very powerful.

    However, in the hands of an unwary user, support systems can do things that may be misleading, counterproductive, and wrong (Figure 6.5). Thus, cartographic mapping packages can generate a remarkable range of maps, based on different projections. Selection of the wrong projection can lead a user to make comparisons between data values plotted on a map that does not preserve area, thus resulting in inappropriate inferences (as exemplified by the so-called Greenland versus South America effect seen on an inappropriately used modified Mercator projection). Support systems have defaults, pre-set ways of operating that are taken as standard in a domain, but whose implications and use must be understood before they are applied automatically.

This general problem is compounded in the K–12 context because as the concepts of developmental and educational appropriateness make clear, data management, data analysis, and display functions must be matched to the student’s cognitive capacities. Expert practices may not match the capacities and needs of beginning or even intermediate students.

The educational challenge is to build and deploy support systems that are educationally and developmentally appropriate. The committee believes: (1) that a successful support system should be a means to an end, that of problem solving, helping to frame problems and providing ways of responding to them; (2) that components of the system should be transparent wherever possible; and (3) that the system should be comprehensible to the full range of students. The ultimate goal in learning to use a support system is understanding and flexibility in problem solving, not necessarily enhancing speed and efficiency by minimizing error and increasing accuracy, desirable though those characteristics might be.

Therefore, a support system should be viewed not as a prosthesis that substitutes for and replaces thought but as an enabling device that facilitates and enhances the process of thinking. It should enable students to engage in thinking more consciously, more willingly, more effectively, more reflectively, and with more confidence in as wide a range of contexts as possible (i.e., integrating across the curriculum).


The design of a support system should (a) meet specific educational goals, (b) be appropriate to student needs, and (c) match the educational context. Given its analyses in Chapters 2 through 5, the committee has identified 10 general criteria for the design of a support system in K–12 education.

Meeting Educational Goals

  1. Be supportive of the inquiry process in at least five basic ways:

    1. providing prompts, feedback, and helpful hints to guide the flow of work and to encourage critical reflection;

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