series include the Jasper Woodbury Problem Solving Series (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1997), 12 interactive video environments that present students with challenges that require them to understand and apply important concepts in mathematics; see the example in Box 9.2. Students who work with the series have shown gains in mathematical problem solving, communication abilities, and attitudes toward mathematics (e.g., Barron et al., 1998; Crews et al., 1997; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997; Vye et al., 1998).
New learning programs are not restricted to mathematics and science. Problem-solving environments have also been developed that help students better understand workplaces. For example, in a banking simulation, students assume roles, such as the vice president of a bank, and learn about the knowledge and skills needed to perform various duties (Classroom Inc., 1996).
The interactivity of these technology environments is a very important feature for learning. Interactivity makes it easy for students to revisit specific parts of the environments to explore them more fully, to test ideas, and to receive feedback. Noninteractive environments, like linear videotapes, are much less effective for creating contexts that students can explore and reexamine, both individually and collaboratively.
Another way to bring real-world problems into the classroom is by connecting students with working scientists (Cohen, 1997). In many of these student-scientist partnerships, students collect data that are used to understand global issues; a growing number of them involve students from geographically dispersed schools who interact through the Internet. For example, Global Lab supports an international community of student researchers from more than 200 schools in 30 countries who construct new knowledge about their local and global environments (Tinker and Berenfeld, 1993, 1994). Global Lab classrooms select aspects of their local environments to study. Using shared tools, curricula, and methodologies, students map, describe, and monitor their sites, collect and share data, and situate their local findings into a broader, global context. After participating in a set of 15 skill-building activities during their first semester, Global Lab students begin advanced research studies in such areas as air and water pollution, background radiation, biodiversity, and ozone depletion. The global perspective helps learners identify environmental phenomena that can be observed around the world, including a decrease in tropospheric ozone levels in places where vegetation is abundant, a dramatic rise of indoor carbon dioxide levels by the end of the school day, and the substantial accumulation of nitrates in certain vegetables. Once participants see significant patterns in their data, this “telecollaborative” community of students, teachers, and scientists tackles the most rigorous aspects of science—designing experiments, conducting peer reviews, and publishing their findings.