Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 513–522 | Cite as

Investigating a Method of Scaffolding Student-Designed Experiments

  • Kelly MorganEmail author
  • David W. Brooks


The process of designing an experiment is a difficult one. Students often struggle to perform such tasks as the design process places a large cognitive load on students. Scaffolding is the process of providing support for a student to allow them to complete tasks they would otherwise not have been able to complete. This study sought to investigate backwards-design, one form of scaffolding the experimental design process for students. Students were guided through the design process in a backwards manner (designing the results section first and working backwards through typical report components to the materials and safety sections). The use of reflective prompts as possible scaffold for metacognitive processes was also studied. Scaffolding was in the form of a computer application built specifically for this purpose. Four versions of the computer application were randomly assigned to 102 high school chemistry students and students were asked to the design of an experiment, producing a report. The use of backwards-design scaffolding resulted in significantly higher performance on lab reports. The addition of reflective prompts reduced the effect of backwards-design scaffolding in lower-level students.


Scaffolding Inquiry Assessment 



This work was submitted by Kelly Morgan Deters in partial fulfillment of the Ph.D. requirements at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Morgan Deters, K. (2009) Investigating a computerized scaffolding software for student designed science investigations. ETD collection for University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Paper AAI3352767.

Supplementary material

10956_2011_9343_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (82 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 82 kb)


  1. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1993) Benchmarks for science literacy. Oxford, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (2001) Atlas for science literacy. American Association for the Advancement of Science, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  3. Brooks DW, Shell DF (2006) Working memory, motivation and teacher-initiated learning. J Sci Educ Technol 15(1):17–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bruner J (1985) Vygotsky: a historical and conceptual perspective. In: Wertsch JV (ed) Culture, communication & cognition. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. Clark RC, Mayer R (2003) e-Learning and the science of instruction. Pfeiffer, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark R, Nguyen F, Sweller J (2006) Efficiency in learning: evidence-based guidelines to manage cognitive load. Pfeiffer, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  7. Cohen J (1977) Stastical power analysis for behavioral sciences. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  8. Davis E (2003) Prompting middle school science students for productive reflection: generic and directed prompts. J Learn Sci 12(1):91–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Holton D, Clarke D (2006) Scaffolding and metacognition. Int J Math Educ Sci Technol 37(2):127–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kirschner PA, Sweller J, Clark R (2006) Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential and inquiry-based teaching. Educ Psychol 41:75–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Manlove S, Lazonder AW, de Jong T (2007) Software scaffolds to promote regulation during scientific inquiry to promote regulation during scientific inquiry learning. Metacogn Learn 2:141–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. McNeill K, Lizotte DJ, Krajcik J (2006) Supporting students’ construction of scientific explanations by fading scaffolding in instructional materials. J Learn Sci 15(2):153–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Morgan Deters K (2006) What are we teaching in high school chemistry? J Chem Educ 83(10):1492–1498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Morgan Deters K (2008) Kendall/hunt chemistry: discovering chemistry you need to know. Kendall/Hunt, DubuqueGoogle Scholar
  15. Morgan Deters, K. (2009). Student-designed laboratory scaffolding and assessment tool (Version Retrieved from
  16. National Research Council (1996) National science education standards. National Academy Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  17. Norman DA (1991) Cognitive artifacts. In: Carroll JM (ed) Designing interaction. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 17–38Google Scholar
  18. Puntambekar S, Kolodner J (2005) Toward implementing distributed scaffolding: helping students learn science from design. J Res Sci Teach 42(2):185–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Quintana C, Reiser B, Davis E, Krajcik J, Fretz E, Duncan R (2004) A framework for supporting metacognitive aspects of online inquiry through software-based scaffolding. Educ Psychol 13:337–386Google Scholar
  20. Quintana C, Zhang M, Krajcik J (2005) A framework for supporting metacognitive aspects of online inquiry through software-based scaffolding. Educ Psychol 40(4):235–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sharpe T (2006) ‘Unpacking’ scaffolding: identifying discourse and multimodel strategies that support learning. Lang Educ 20(3):211–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Shell DF, Brooks DW, Trainin G, Wilson KM, Kauffman DF, Herr LM (2010) The unified learning model: how motivational, cognitive, and neurobiological sciences inform best teaching practices. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Shepard L (2005) Linking formative assessment to scaffolding. Educ Leaders 63(3):66–70Google Scholar
  24. Van Merrienboar J, Kester L, Paas F (2006) Teaching complex rather than simple tasks: balancing intrinsic and germane load to enhance transfer of learning. Appl Cogn Psychol 20(3):343–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Vygotsky LS (1978) Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. In: Cole M, Scriber S, Johns-Steiner V, Souberman E (eds) Harvard University Press, Cambridge (original work published 1930)Google Scholar
  26. Winne PH (1995) Inherent details in self-regulated learning. Educ Psychol 30(4):173–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  2. 2.University of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnUSA

Personalised recommendations