Bifocal Modeling

Project Dates: 2010 – present

The Bifocal Modeling Framework

The bifocal modeling schematic

Figure 1. Bifocal Modeling Framework linking a physical experiment and a computer model.

Bifocal Modeling is an inquiry-driven science learning approach that challenges students to design, compare and examine the relationships between physical experiments and computational models (thus, “Bifocal”). Students explore natural phenomena such as heat diffusion, chemical reactions, and bacterial growth through physical experimentation, computer models, and the comparison of both in real time. Bifocal Modeling also offers students opportunities to design their models and simulations, instead of only interacting with them.

Bifocal Modeling differs from other educational uses of modeling and simulation because it brings in empirical data in real-time, so the comparison with the model is tightly incorporated into the curricular unit. This is different from using lab experiments only for confirmation of theoretical content. The range of classroom possibilities for Bifocal Modeling accommodates many types of activities. In a typical unit, students explore a phenomenon by developing or exploring two parallel implementations: a physical experiment and a computer model connected through a sensor. This design enables students to quickly identify the similarities and differences between the two, which archives two goals: on the content side, they can more readily understand and refine their theories and models. On the meta-modeling side, students can reflect about the nature of models, their limitations and applications, the role of error and error correction, and how scientists create laws and equations based on noisy data.

 

General Structure and Activities

In the Bifocal Modeling Framework (BMF), the physical and computer components are divided into the following sequence of activities:

Bifocal Modeling Activities

  1. Design – Within the scope of the phenomenon under investigation, students formulate the questions they would like to answer, generate testable hypotheses, and design their physical experiments as well as the computer model to be used in conjunction with it. In designing the model, students typically define the possible variables and conceptualise rules or equations to model the phenomenon of interest.
  2. Construct – To determine the nature of the phenomenon under study, students construct an apparatus for their physical experiment and the corresponding computer model.
  3. Interact – Students interact with their physical experiment by collecting data (e.g. with embedded sensors). Similarly, they interact with their computer model by changing its parameters, running the model, observing the results, and recording the data.

A complete Bifocal Modeling activity comprises the use of many different tools and techniques as well as different modes of classroom facilitation, so the application of the framework within a classroom setting may be challenging. In some contexts, to overcome such challenges, curriculum designers and teachers might combine differently real and virtual experimental setups utilizing ready-made or student-designed models. Teachers may select among these combinations to adapt the implementation modality to their particular needs and requirements.

Timeline of Research and Curriculum Development

Since 2010, TLTLab researchers in partnership with 150 teachers have co-designed, tested and refined Bifocal Modeling units with approximately 1050 students in multiple schools across the USA, Brazil, Hong Kong and Italy.

2013
  • Science Teacher Workshop, 20 teachers (Palo Alto, USA)
  • Gas Laws Unit, high school, 20 students (Stanford, USA) 
  • Newton’s Laws Unit, multi-grade, 5 students (Stanford, USA)
  • Gas Laws Unit, 9th grade, 28 students (Oakland, USA)
  • Bacterial Growth Unit, 9th grade, 15 students (Stanford, USA)
  • Bacterial Growth Unit, 7th grade, 56 students (Oakland, USA)
  • Science Teacher Workshop, 5 teachers (Stanford, USA)
2014
  • Osmosis Unit, 9th grade, 50 students (Oakland, USA)
  • Diffusion Unit, 5th grade, 56 students (Oakland, USA)
  • Diffusion Unit, 6th grade, 54 students (Oakland, USA)
  • Science Teacher Workshop, 5 teachers (Stanford, USA)
2015
  • Oil Spill Unit, 11th grade, 100 students (Oakland, USA)
  • Science Teacher Workshop, 5 teachers (Oakland, USA)
2016
  • Diffusion  Unit, 9th grade, 25 students (Oakland, USA)
  • Climate Change Unit, 5th grade, 50 students (Oakland, USA)
  • Climate Change Unit, 6th grade, 50 students (Oakland, USA)
  • Bacterial Growth Unit, 9th grade, 28 students (Berkeley, USA)
  • Bacterial Growth Unit, 11th grade, 28 students (Berkeley, USA)
2017 
  • Science Teacher Workshop, 20 teachers (Itajaí, Brazil)
  • Capillarity and Plant Coloring Unit, 12th grade, 50 students (Itajaí, Brazil)
  • Food Calorimetry Unit, 12th grade, 50 students (Itajaí, Brazil)
2018
  • Science Teacher Residency (Hong Kong)
  • Lung Structure and Function Unit, 7th/8th grades, 20 students (Hong Kong)
  • Eye Structure and Function Unit, 7th/8th grades, 20 students (Hong Kong)
  • Oral Bacteria Unit, 7th/8th grades, 20 students (Hong Kong)
  • Hydroponic Greenhouse Unit, 150 students (Florence, Italy)
2019
  • Bifocal Residency for researchers (New York City, USA)
  • Science Teacher Workshop, 15 teachers (Florence, Italy)
  • Hydroponic Greenhouse Unit, 9 teachers, 125 students (Florence, Italy)
2020
  • Electrical Circuits Unit, 2nd grade, 23 students (Cupertino, USA)
  • Pandemic Spread Unit, 3 teachers, 30 students (Hong Kong)

Bifocal Modeling Units

TLTLab researchers have partnered with teachers to co-design and test 12 Bifocal Modeling units complete instructional sequences, student activities, teacher’s guides, assessments and computer models. In each unit, students explore one of the following 12 topics through physical experimentation, computer models, and the comparison of both in real time.  

Publications

(Complete PDFs in the Publications page)

  • Fuhrmann, T., Bar, C. & Blikstein, P. (2020) Identifying discrepant events as a strategy to improve critical thinking about scientific models in a heat transfer unit in middle-school.14th International Conference on the Learning Sciences, ICLS 2020 Nashville, TN.
  • Fuhrmann, T. Bar, C., & Blikstein, P. (2020) Fostering Wonderment: Improving Students’ Question-Asking Practice in Science Using Computer Models Connected to Experiments. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Conference, AERA 2020. San Francisco CA, USA.
  • Blikstein, P., & Fuhrmann, T. (2020) Bifocal Modeling: Summative Results of Studies Combining Real World Data and Computational Models. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Conference, AERA 2020. San Francisco CA, USA.
  • Fuhrmann, T., Bar, C., Blikstein, P., (2019). Growing Curious Minds: Improving Inquiry Practices and Content Knowledge by Comparing Computational Models to Hands-on Science experiments. Paper for The 14th Chais Conference for the Study of Innovation and Learning Technologies, Open University, Israel.
  • Fuhrmann, T., Schneider, B., & Blikstein, P. (2018). Should students design or interact with models? Using the Bifocal Modeling Framework to Investigate Model Construction in High School Science. International Journal of Science Education. 
  • Fuhrmann, T., Bumbacher, E. W., & Blikstein, P. (2018) Introducing Bifocal Modeling Framework in Elementary School: Learning Science Using Tangible Modeling Tools. Proceedings of the 13th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2017), London, England.
  • Fuhrmann, T., Fernandez, C., Hochgreb-Haegele, T., & Blikstein, P. (2018). Professional Development of Science Teachers in Underserved Communities: An Initial Report From the Field. Proceedings of the 13th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2017), London, England.
  • Fuhrmann, T. & Blikstein, P. (2017). Complex Bifocal model Labs in a Science Class: Combining Computer Models and Real World Data in a Diffusion Unit. Paper will be presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), San Antonio, TX, USA.
  • Fuhrmann, T., Blikstein, P. & Raabe, A. (2017).Towards a framework for co-designing complex technology-based science curricula with teachers: an investigation using multiple case study methodology. Paper will be presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), San Antonio, TX, USA.
  • Fuhrmann, T. & Blikstein, P. (2017) The link between physical experiment and computer model in a science classroom. Proceedings of the Chais conference for the study of educational technologies, 2017, The Open University, Raanana, Israel.
  • Blikstein, P., Fuhrmann, T., & Salehi, S. (2016). Using the Bifocal Modeling Framework to Resolve “Discrepant Events” Between Physical Experiments and Virtual Models in Biology. Journal of Science Education and Technology. 25 (4). 
  • Salehi, Shima and Schneider, Bertrand and Blikstein, Paulo (2014). The effects of physical and virtual manipulatives on learning basic concepts in electronics. CHl’14 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 
  • Blikstein, Paulo (2013). Gears of our childhood: constructionist toolkits, robotics, and physical computing, past and future. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children. 
  • Sipitakiat, Aman and Blikstein, Paulo (2013). Interaction design and physical computing in the era of miniature embedded computers. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children. 
  • Chan, Joshua and Pondicherry, Tarun and Blikstein, Paulo (2013). LightUp: an augmented, learning platform for electronics. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children. 
  • Fuhrmann, Tamar and Salehi, Shima and Blikstein, Paulo (2013). Meta-modeling knowledge: comparing model construction and model interaction in bifocal modeling. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children. 
  •  Blikstein, P., Greene, D., Fuhrmann, T., & Salehi, S. (2012). Bifocal Modeling: Combining Real and Virtual Models for Science Learning in a School Setting. Proceedings of the IDC 2012 Conference, Bremen, Germany.
  • Fuhrmann, T., Greene, D., Salehi, S., & Blikstein, P. (2012) Bifocal Biology: Combining Physical and Virtual Labs to Support Inquiry in Biological Systems. Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2012), Sydney, Australia.
  • Blikstein, P., Fuhrmann, T., Greene, D., & Salehi, S. (2012) Bifocal Modeling Workshop. Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2012), Sydney, Australia.
  • Fuhrmann, T., Greene, D., Salehi, S., & Blikstein, P. (2012). Bifocal Biology: the Link Between Real and Virtual Experiments. Proceedings of the Constructionism 2012 Conference, Athens, Greece.

 

Papers in Preparation: 

  • Fuhrmann, T., Blikstein, P. & E. W. Bumbacher (in preparation) . Tangible scientific models: Introducing Bifocal Modeling framework in Elementary school.   Journal of Science Education and Technology. 
  • Fuhrmann, T., Blikstein, P. (in preparation) Implementing Bifocal modeling units in the classroom: Challenges and framework. Journal of Science Education and Technology
  • Fuhrmann, T., Blikstein, P. (in preparation). Thinking like an engineer in first grade: a new model for leveraging engineering expertise. Journal of Engineering Education.
  • Fuhrmann, T., Bar, C. (in preparation). Learning about heat transfer while developing scientific practices. Journal of Science Education and Technology

 

Book Chapters

  • Blikstein, Paulo (2014). Bifocal modeling: Promoting authentic scientific inquiry through exploring and comparing real and ideal systems linked in real-lime. Playful user interfaces. Springer Singapore. 317-352.

Professional Development

As part of this ten-year effort, many cycles of professional development were conducted with teachers, administrators and educational leaders in various states in the U.S. and internationally.  Professional development sessions were delivered in three main formats:

  1. Bifocal Modeling professional development workshops: Introduction to the approach, exploration into its advantages and implementation routes, and hands-on design session. As part of the workshop, participants develop a Bifocal Modeling science curriculum unit that is ready to implement in their classrooms.
  2. Bifocal Modeling professional development residencies: The residencies introduce researchers and educators to the Bifocal approach, exploring its different components, advantages and limitations through out an intensive 5-day session. Residency participants explore existing units and design new ones in partnership with TLT Lab researchers.
  3. Bifocal curriculum co-design academic quarters with teachers

Team Members

Active Members:
Tamar Fuhrmann
Paulo Blikstein
Engin Bumbacher
Livia Macedo

Alumni:
Shima Salehi (Stanford University, USA)
Bertrand Schneider (Harvard University, USA)
Andre Luis Alice Raabe (UNIVALI, Brazil)
Ingmar Riedel-Kruse (University of Arizona, USA)

Collaborators

The majority of the work on Bifocal Modeling Framework is conducted by researchers at the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab, based in Teachers College Columbia University. However, collaborators include faculty, researchers, teachers and others from the following institutions:

  • INDIRE, Italy
  • UNIVALI University of the Itajaí Valley, Itajaí Campus, Brazil
  • Independent Schools Foundation, Hong Kong

Funding

Funded by NSF CAREER grant #1055130 and NSF DIP grant #1324753.

Contact 

For more information, please contact Tamar Fuhrmann (research@tltlab.org).