Earthworms, Ecological Reasoning, and Participatory GIS Mapping: Design-Based Research on Children’s Developing Understanding of Life Underfoot at their Elementary School
Kathryn Lanouette

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Berkeley

Primary Discipline

Constructing, sharing, and contesting models of the natural world is central to scientific inquiry (Latour, 1999) and a central component of current educational science standard reforms in the United States. Yet the process of moving from the world to its modeled forms presents challenges, especially for younger children. These challenges are made more pronounced in school science because the phenomena being modeled is often disconnected from children’s everyday experiences (Barton & Tan, 2008) and the dynamic, socially constructed nature of scientific inquiry (Manz, 2015). The representational forms used in classrooms have mirrored these disconnections, traditionally privileging abstracted and quantitative data forms that contrast with children’s more immediate and qualitative experiences within local spaces. My dissertation takes up these issues within the context of 4th and 5th grade classrooms in which I use an instructional design that supports student inquiry into the soil ecosystem in their schoolyard and surrounding neighborhoods. Through my design-based research study, I am exploring the potential of participatory GIS maps to support children’s conceptually rich science learning. As a secondary focus, I am investigating how children’s familiarity with local spaces and engagement in the larger scientific inquiry process shape their causal reasoning over time. This research is potentially important for not only better understanding the ways in which children’s science learning develops but also the generative role that local places and digital spatial tools can play in children’s learning.
About Kathryn Lanouette
Kathryn Lanouette is a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. Kathryn’s research explores the ways in which children’s science learning develops across multiple contexts and representational forms. Through her work, she seeks to advance not only theoretical understandings of children’s learning, but also practical instantiations that directly inform the design of teacher education programs, classroom curriculums, and museum exhibit designs. In her dissertation, she is engaging in design-based research to advance our understanding of how elementary children create, share, and contest spatial explanations about the surrounding schoolyard soil ecosystem. She is particularly interested in the ways in which children use the varied data representations and their daily experiences to reason about complex ecological relationships. Her scholarly interests build from her experiences teaching in elementary classroom and science museum settings for nearly a decade in New York City. She holds a M.S.Ed. in Museum and Childhood Education from Bank Street Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in Politics from Oberlin College.

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