The exploratory learning strategy enables the users of the Cognition and Technology method to progress through the tasks set out by the tutor in a non-linear way. In other words, students can decide to what degree they want to study economics or philosophy: they concentrate on those areas of the subject, which they deem most important.
Decide-Learn-Integrate is an example of the exploratory learning strategy. It implies that learning about the world should be interdisciplinary, learning should be interesting, a diversity of global topics and cultures should be engaged. These qualities were embedded by Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992) when they created their instructional method.
Each of the 16 units in the course of study is accompanied by at least four suggestions for activities, such as creating Egyptian myths, tasting Japanese food, student interviews on Latino customs, and a field trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in New Jersey. The projects each consists of approximately 50 content questions for the students to find in a variety of recommended web pages.
The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt designed and developed two full series of video-based problems, “Adventures of Jasper Woodbury” and “Scientists in Action.” “Adventures of Jasper Woodbury” consists of twelve videodisk-based adventures (plus video-based analogues, extensions, and teaching tips) that focus on mathematical problem finding and problem solving. Each adventure is designed from the perspective of the standards recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (Hadidi and Sung, 2000). In particular, each adventure provides multiple opportunities for problem solving, reasoning, communication, and making connections to other areas, such as science, social studies, literature, and history.
Specific research questions
In the series “Working Smart,” Jasper, Emily, and Larry compete in a problem-solving contest sponsored by a local travel agency. They set about creating mathematical smart tools that will allow them to solve several classes of travel-related problems efficiently and quickly in hopes of winning an all-expenses-paid trip anywhere in the United States. All three episodes help students see the power of science, demonstrating that a mathematical representation can be created for a whole class of problems (Hadidi and Sung, 2000).
Using the same set of assumptions used to design the Jasper series, the “Young Scientist” series provides scientific adventures for students to solve. In the “Stones River Mystery,” students in the field and in an electronically connected classroom have been monitoring a local river for pollution. During one sampling trip, they notice that the measures they are monitoring have begun to change. The students and scientists must work together to determine where the pollution is coming from. In this module, a time capsule has been found during a renovation of the local university. In it are letters and a map from a local philanthropist who had donated a large tract of land to the area almost a hundred years ago. Students and their science teacher set out to find some Native American letters mentioned in Clark’s letters. Although their initial trip is not successful, it helps them understand the importance of planning to make such a trip and how much science is needed.