Artifact project: Past, Present and Future
This first longitudinal school project was organized in close collaboration between the class teacher and the researchers, and contributed to developing understanding of Finnish culture, and the role and diversity of artifacts. In the project, the collaborative learning environment called Knowledge Forum provided sophisticated tools especially for visualizing and building knowledge. The project lasted one and half year. The study was an effort to foster students knowledge-building inquiry through having them work simultaneously with conceptual and material artifacts; artifacts were considered as hybrid entities embodying meanings as well as physical characteristics. The study was motivated by our effort to avoid overemphasizing intellectual aspects of progressive inquiry by finding a way of simultaneously promoting both “hands on” and “minds on” approaches among students. Furthermore, the aim of the project was to break boundaries of traditional schoolwork by supporting pupils’ collaborative knowledge building and designing with the help of various experts, such as museum staff, craftspeople, and designers.
Architecture Project: Scale, Home and User - Children as Architects
The second school project, Architecture Project, was follow-on to the Artifact project. The aim of the project was to continue to use the knowledge building practices in students collaborative design process. In the architecture project the students had to use the expert architects working practices and engage in the authentic and challenging design task. Students were asked to design on the empty site planed by the city of Helsinki the residential buildings for the different users. In the authentic problem-solving situation the students were provided expert-support from the architect who advised them in the inquiry and design process.
Tentative conclusions of the experiments
In the school projects and especially in the artifact project both the material and the conceptual aspects of artifacts were productively involved. The parallel pursuit of these two aspects of artifacts was greatly facilitated by Knowledge Forum that helped to put students’ ideas into the center of discussion. The participants engaged in genuine inquiry across an extended period of time and substantially deepened their understanding of issues being investigated. In terms of timescale of the project it represented genuine knowledge-building activity. Building and creation of knowledge is possible only through sustained efforts across substantial periods of time. Moreover the projects broke down the boundaries of traditional schoolwork by engaging participants in intensive preparation of fieldtrips or other encounters with experts; this allowed seamless integration of these boundary-crossing meetings with the students own inquiries rather than involved mere one-directional transmission of information from experts to passive students.
The teachers’ role was crucial in the projects; without her expertise and commitment to pursue knowledge building and progressive inquiry the achievements of the projects would not have been possible. While the students engaged in in-depth cycles of inquiry throughout the projects, the teacher-controlled and classroom-level activities organized, encouraged and provided required conceptual guidance in the process. The teacher assumed a role of organizers concerning collaborative knowledge-building activities instead of controlling all aspects of students’ learning herself. Simultaneously, however, students were not left working without guidance, but the teachers structured their collaborative efforts and provided advice in KF.