1996). Learners are first acquainted with natural variation in climatic temperature, human-caused increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and uses of spreadsheets and scientific visualization tools for inquiry. These staging activities specify themes for open-ended collaborative learning projects to follow. In laying out typical questions and data useful to investigate the potential impact of global warming on a country or a country’s potential impact on global warming, a general framework is used in which students specialize by selecting a country, its specific data, and the particular issue for their project focus (e.g., rise in carbon-dioxide emissions due to recent growth, deforestation, flooding due to rising sea levels). Students then investigate either a global issue or the point of view of a single country. The results of their investigations are shared in project reports within and across schools, and participants consider current results of international policy in light of their project findings.
Working with practitioners and distant peers on projects with meaning beyond the school classroom is a great motivator for K–12 students. Students are not only enthusiastic about what they are doing, they also produce some impressive intellectual achievements when they can interact with meteorologists, geologists, astronomers, teachers, or computer scientists (Means et al., 1996; O’Neill et al., 1996; O’Neill, 1996; Wagner, 1996).
Many technologies function as scaffolds and tools to help students solve problems. This was foreseen long ago: in a prescient 1945 essay in the Atlantic Monthly, Vannevar Bush, science adviser to President Roosevelt, depicted the computer as a general-purpose symbolic system that could serve clerical and other supportive research functions in the sciences, in work, and for learning, thus freeing the human mind to pursue its creative capacities.
In the first generation of computer-based technologies for classroom use, this tool function took the rather elementary form of electronic “flashcards” that students used to practice discrete skills. As applications have spilled over from other sectors of society, computer-based learning tools have become more sophisticated (Atkinson, 1968; Suppes and Morningstar, 1968). They now include calculators, spreadsheets, graphing programs, function probes (e.g., Roschelle and Kaput, 1996), “mathematical supposers” for making and checking conjectures (e.g., Schwartz, 1994), and modeling programs for creating and testing models of complex phenomena (Jackson et al., 1996). In the Middle School Mathematics Through Applications Projects (MMAP), developed at the Institute for Research on Learning, innovative software tools are used for exploring concepts in algebra through such problems as designing insulation for arctic dwellings (Goldman and Moschkovich,