Discussion on Chickscope Across K-12 Classrooms

This is a summary discussion on the Chickscope project. To provide a participating teacher's perspective, a review of Chickscope project integration in a ninth grade biology curriculum is also provided by S. L. Herricks.

This summary covers the following five areas:

Learning a new approach to using the Internet.

The goal for the Chickscope project was not only to provide students and teachers with access to the MRI system over the Internet, but also to provide them with the supporting infrastructure that is usually reserved for scientists. Furthermore, we wanted to explore how this project could be integrated in classrooms across K-12 in light of the current science education reform initiatives that recommend the use of Internet for learning and teaching (e.g., Hunter, 1995; Linn, 1992). Based on student and teacher feedback, the project was well received, particularly in lower grades because this was the students' first introduction to doing science on the Internet for an extended period (e.g., at least 21 days).

The access to remote scientific instruments using basic Internet tools from the classrooms offer opportunities for K-12 students and teachers to participate in collaborative research and data analysis. In addition to Chickscope, there are other K-12 projects that use the Internet for controlling scientific instruments. For example, the MicroObservatory is an interesting project at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where a network of five automated telescopes can be controlled over the Internet by students and teachers. Currently, educators nationwide are testing this network of telescopes and developing activities for the classrooms.

Lessons learned from the Chickscope project relating to the Internet include the following:

  • Students were more involved in Chickscope when it was well integrated into the classroom curriculum plans. So, the teachers played a critical role in integrating both Web-based and non Web-based activities into their curriculum.
  • Students working in groups were able to share computers and limited MRI time effectively to do serious Internet-based science for an extended period.
  • In spite of the complexity of the technology, students and teachers across K-12 grade levels and settings (public, private, home school, after-school science club) were able to benefit.

Implications of new Internet-based technologies for K-12 outreach include the following:

  • On-line interactions with experts is very helpful in doing scientific investigations on the Internet (especially for students in the lower grades who may need specific guidance as well as immediate feedback).
  • Access to new technologies from the classrooms should be possible through standard computer hardware and software, such as Web browsers.

Nature of the scientific enterprise

There has been considerable interest in making tools used by scientists available to students and teachers in classrooms. The metaphor often used to illustrate this is that of building a bridge between the classroom and the laboratory. One aspect of the scientific community that is often overlooked in this bridge building concept is that most scientists do not work alone. For example, a laboratory may have a group of scientists with different areas of expertise working together on a project. Laboratory staff may include graduate students, undergraduate students, technicians, etc. One of the objectives of the Chickscope project was to provide a supporting scientific community for the classrooms.

Early analyses tells us that Chickscope was successful in terms of immersing students and teachers in a small scientific community (Bruce et al., 1997). Students and teachers learned much about how to collect and analyze data, how to ask questions, and how to communicate their findings with others. They also had opportunities to interact with experts from several disciplines, such as MR imaging, developmental biology, curriculum and instruction, and computer science.

The access to unique scientific resources and expertise provided the students with motivation for learning science and stimulated interest in the scientific enterprise. A surprising result of this project is the continuing sustained use of the Web materials by the participating classrooms (as well as by classrooms that did not originally participate in the project, or had access to the MRI system remotely).

Imaging on the Web and interpreting of scientific data

Each classroom had access to the MRI twice a week for 20 minutes, except the after-school science club which had access once a week for 2 hours. All classrooms were able to acquire successful and meaningful images during the course of the project.

In at least two aspects Chickscope provided a fundamentally different experience to the students than could be provided by simply making the information and images available using the Web or a CD-ROM. Firstly, the students were immersed in a real-world scientific experience in which they were responsible for planning an experiment and making efficient and good use of time allocated on a complex and subtle piece of scientific apparatus. It was noted that most of the classrooms showed significant improvement in the quality and quantity of the images which they acquired during the project period. This indicated that the students learned how to plan and control their experiments and increased their understanding of the process of gathering scientific data. Secondly, the students were able to interact with scientists and specialists from a number of different disciplines during the course of the project. In this way the students could get answers to their questions and at the same time the scientists involved had the opportunity to provide guidance and suggestions to the students based on the interest and understanding evident in the posed questions about MR images.

Students in several classrooms also completed MRI worksheets where they identified views (front, top, side) on their previously acquired images. Such writing exercises were particularly helpful to primary school classroom students as it encouraged them to write (Mason-Fossum and Thakkar, 1997). Working with MRI visualizations for an extended period provided all students with an opportunity to develop spatial skills.

Classroom evaluation and assessment

In order to examine how Chickscope was used across contexts, we adapted the situated evaluation approach (Bruce and Rubin, 1993; Bruce, Bruce, Conrad, and Huang, 1997). This approach was appropriate for the following four reasons. Firstly, the classrooms participating in the project were from across grade levels and different settings. Secondly, prior to the participation in the Chickscope project, the participating classrooms had limited experience in doing Internet-based science activities. Thirdly, in addition to allowing students to participate in an extended activity of serious science, the project also appeared to accomplish an array of goals, such as contributing to teachers' growth in understanding technology and science and providing convenient mechanisms for scientists to support students' learning. Fourthly, the project was evolving with regular input from participating teachers. The situated evaluation approach was then suitable to understand the similarities and differences of using Chickscope across grade levels and school settings.

The data sources for the evaluation included background and feedback surveys, classroom observations, interviews, computer access logs, and interactive commentaries (electronic mail and scratchings). Before the project started, all appropriate university, school, and parent consent was obtained. We set a five-point criteria to understand the impact of the Chickscope project.

  1. How useful is MRI/Web for understanding chick embryo development?
  2. What different modalities are available to students?
  3. What are students learning from this experience?
  4. What kinds of support structure is provided to teachers?
  5. What are some of the unexpected events?

Participating Chickscope teachers also developed innovative mechanisms for assessing student performance. For example, students in one elementary school classroom recorded observations daily in their chick embryology logbooks (see Figure 4 in the "Sample Chickscope classroom scenarios" section).

We are currently working towards developing a comprehensive evaluation framework to assess the effectiveness of remote instrumentation projects, such as Chickscope, across a range of grade levels.

Relevance to local and national standards

The curriculum resource materials developed by the Champaign County Cooperative Extension Service directly relate to the Illinois State Goals for Learning, Benchmarks, and Objectives of the 4-H Embryology Project.

Our current plans include working with teachers to develop Chickscope imaging activities across K-12 that meet the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) criteria. A key challenge will be to consider the role of new technologies (such as remote instrumentation) in the scientific inquiry process (Linn et al., 1994).


  1. Bruce, B. C., & Rubin, A. (1993). Electronic quills: A situated evaluation of using computers for writing in classrooms. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  2. Bruce, B. C., Bruce, S. P., Conrad, R. L., & Huang, H-J. (1997). University science students as curriculum planners, teachers, and role models in elementary school classrooms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34, (1), 69-88.
  3. Bruce, B. C., Carragher, B. O., Damon, B. M., Dawson, M. J., Eurell, J. A., Gregory, C. D., Lauterbur, P. C., Marjanovic, M. M., Mason-Fossum, B., Morris, H. D., Potter, C. S., & Thakkar, U. (1997). Chickscope: An interactive MRI classroom curriculum innovation for K-12. In press, Computers and Education Journal.
  4. Hunter, B. (1995). Learning and teaching on the Internet: Contributions to educational reform. In B. Kahin and J. Keller (Eds.), Public Access to the Internet, (pp. 85-114). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  5. Linn, M. C. (1992). Science education reform: Building on the research base. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29, (8), 821-840.
  6. Linn, M. C., diSessa, A., Pea, R. D., & Songer, N. B. (1994). Can research on science learning and instruction inform standards for science education? Journal of Science Education and Technology, 3, (1), 7-15.
  7. Mason-Fossum, B., & Thakkar, U. (1997). Primary school classroom and Chickscope: Studying the egg in the classroom and using the Internet. Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on the Human Factors and the Web, Designing for the Web: Practices and Reflections, Denver, Colorado, June 12.
  8. National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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