The goal of this project was to test whether certain educational technologies currently under development would be feasible as constructionist resources for teaching mathematics. The results were intended to define the direction for further research and indicate how best to use these technologies in the classroom. As the software were not yet fully functional, the challenge was to support a ``premature adoption" process in a field trial, in this case, at a small private middle school. The students were engaged in a ``guided collaboration"; they were encouraged to reflect on their use of the technology and to aid the researchers in predicting how effective the technology would be when completed.
The central feature of the technology under review is its use for component-based construction of interactive programs; it allows relatively inexperienced non-programmers to build their own tools for exploring mathematical concepts. However, at the time of implementation the construction tools didn't yet support use by students. Consequently, the functionality of the planned toolset was to be assessed by having an experienced teacher/researcher hand-build a set of interfaces focussed on certain mathematical concepts. The students were subsequently challenged to apply these concepts by building interfaces of their own in a facsimile construction environment.
Of equal importance was the question of whether middle school students would be able to employ such a system effectively once it reached maturity; they would have to learn new ways of relating to software, ways that might be more typical for a programmer than a user. Consequently a participatory design scenario was implemented. The main idea of participatory design is to encourage active participation of the users themselves in the design of technology, and thus empowering the users . Through the low-tech design tool simCHET, the students contributed to the development of the design and functionality of the planned toolset.
Engaging children in the design of new educational technologies has become the focus of several recent studies [6,8] as has engaging teachers . It affords an opportunity for researchers to gain a fresh perspective on their work and how children perceive and interact with their environment. Many of these studies have involved children ages 5 to 10 and have employed approaches such as participatory design, technology immersion, and contextual inquiry. Similar ideas were adapted for use in this project.