While research has shown that collaborative or individual learning may be more beneficial depending on the task or learning goal, there are relatively few studies that examine the potential for learning when students move between individual, small group, and whole-class social planes. Further, while studies have shown the affordances that technology can play in supporting collaboration, there is limited research on how it can support transitions between individual and collaborative learning. Further, as these configurations become increasingly complex, there is also the challenge of how to support teachers’ orchestration and facilitation.
In response, SimSnap will integrate learning along three planes–individual, small group, and whole class–with technologies and classroom teachers supporting learning in innovative ways. SimSnap will be implemented, over 4-years, in middle school life science classes, in which students will solve important socio-scientific problems, such as growing healthy plants in community gardens to address the need to grow sufficient produce to fulfill ever increasing and varying demands. Thus, SimSnap will not only address the issue of designing innovative participant structures in classrooms but also develop novel curricula in Biology. Working within a digital plant habitat simulation, students will investigate how different environmental and genetic factors affect the health of a variety of plants and vegetables. Using our SimSnap framework, as students engage in design tasks, they will be able to seamlessly move between individual and collaborative work with peers by “snapping” their tablets together (by placing them next to each other) to create a single shared simulation that spans all their devices. Students will be able to drop elements of their individual inquiry activities (e.g., plant types, soil compositions) into their shared simulation, providing opportunities for collaborative discussion and knowledge integration. When students “unsnap” their tablets, their collaborative work will stay with them in a digital journal, for individual reflection or as a resource for future collaborative activities (with potentially new group members).