Background

The interest in remote scientific instrumentation projects for K-12 education is growing. President Clinton, in a memorandum to the heads of the executive departments and federal agencies, has set several guidelines for enriching the role of the Internet as a learning and teaching resource (Clinton, 1997). One of the guidelines is to provide students and teachers with access to networked scientific instruments along with an online mentoring support structure to guide scientific inquiry.

Although remote scientific instrumentation is today an exotic and expensive technology for schools, it is clearly becoming part of the daily practice in research and industry (e.g., Kouzes, et al., 1996). This suggests at least two things. First, K-12 students and teachers need to learn more about it because this kind of instrument access and control is becoming an integral part of performing scientific research. Second, as with most technologies, it is likely to become much more commonplace and less costly in the near future. This has happened in the case of electronic mail (email), which is now part of the everyday activity in many schools. The particular instruments and scientific domains may differ, but understanding of the principles underlying this mode of learning through projects like Bugscope is generalizable (Bruce, et al., 1997).

Despite the growing importance of remote instrumentation in science, industry, and medicine, few educational projects have used it for pre-college instruction. Some examples of remote instrumentation projects are mentioned here (see, also, Morgan, Pardoe, and Smith, 1998, for a review of such projects). For example, the MicroObservatory4 is a project at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics where high school students and teachers can control a network of five automated telescopes over the Internet. Another example is Interactive Nano-Visualization in Science and Engineering Education,5 which provides real-time operation of a scanning probe microscope over the Internet to upper-level high school and first-year college students and teachers. Yet another project called Stardial6 uses an autonomous astronomical camera on the web to provide authentic problem-solving activities for undergraduate instruction (McCullough and Thakkar, 1997). A very successful project is Hands-On Universe7 where high school students nationwide can request observations from professional observatories. However, such projects are not generally applicable to classrooms across K-12. In addition, rarely do such projects allow real-time remote access and control capabilities to classrooms across the nation, as does Bugscope.

Previous work

Prior to the Bugscope project, another WWL innovation, the Chickscope project,8 allowed students and teachers from ten classrooms ranging from kindergarten to high school, including an after-school science club and a home school, to study the 21-day chicken embryology development using a remotely controlled magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) instrument.9 Using computers in their classrooms with access to the Internet, students and teachers were able to login to the computers at the university, manipulate experimental conditions, and then view resulting MR images of a chicken embryo in real-time. Researchers at the university answered students' questions about the images and related issues. Although the Chickscope project was successful in immersing students and teachers in a scientific community (Bruce, et al., 1997; Mason-Fossum and Thakkar, 1997), the project was not sustainable because of the large number of people and enormous technology resources needed to support a small number of classrooms. For example, the operations team for this project involved intermittent help of at least ten individuals. In addition, over one hour of the instrument time was needed to set up the system for four hours of remote classroom access per day during the project. Since the completion of the Chickscope project, there have been many inquiries from around the world asking if the project would be repeated, requesting access to the resources, and seeking expertise.

As a starting point to address the growing interest in Chickscope, a professional development program for K-12 teachers of mathematics and science from east-central Illinois was developed with support from the Lumpkin Foundation (Potter, 1997) and the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) (Bruce and Thakkar, 1997). Thirty-two teachers from 15 schools representing kindergarten to high school grade levels participated in the professional development program, called Illinois Chickscope,10 for 11 inservice days during the spring, summer, and fall semesters of 1998. Each inservice session included interactive discussions and hands-on and computer-based activities related to chicken embryology, egg mathematics, and MR imaging. Teachers collaborated with preservice teachers, graduate students, and interdisciplinary faculty and researchers from eight university units. The program was successful because it demonstrated that the Chickscope project could be scaled up to a larger community (Bruce, Thakkar, and Hogan, 1999). The IBHE later funded the project for another year (Bruce and Thakkar, 1998). The program demonstrated that although the Chickscope project was not sustained as a remote scientific instrumentation project, it was sustainable through the use of project resources, such as the MRI database, that teachers would use to develop activities for their students. As one special education teacher who taught all subjects to students from 5th to 7th grades said,

I would rather have the database to use since it would easily fit into my ever changing schedule. Since it is possible for students to virtually hand pick any image possible, having a database of images is just as good and seems more practical than using [an] actual MRI.

Illinois Chickscope did not provide participating teachers and their classrooms access to the remote MRI system. This was because the MRI system was then unavailable, and the resources (people and technology) needed for the project would still be enormous. Indeed, many teachers participating in Illinois Chickscope considered not having the access to the remote MRI system a missing component of the project. As one teacher who taught all subjects to gifted students in 2nd and 3rd grades pointed out,

I would be disappointed if we won't be able to do some kind of remote instrumentation in the future. That really was the lure and appeal of this project for us. A simulation would be [okay] but it's not really what scientists do. Trying and failing and sometimes succeeding would be far better than walking through images that someone else made.

Hence, the primary goal of Bugscope is to provide sustainable access to remote scientific instrumentation to classrooms nationwide. The lessons learned and experiences gained from Chickscope and Illinois Chickscope were useful in the development of Bugscope.


  4 http://mo-www.harvard.edu/MicroObservatory

  5 http://invsee.asu.edu/Invsee/invsee.htm

  6 http://www.astro.uiuc.edu/stardial

  7 http://hou.lbl.gov

  8 http://chickscope.beckman.uiuc.edu

  9 http://chickscope.beckman.uiuc.edu/about/overview

10 http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/projects/inquiry/chickscope/chickscope

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