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Applying Technology and Triarchic Enhancement to Instruction and Assessment in a School Science Curriculum: Air-Traffic Control, Earthquake, and Air-Pollution Analysis

Edward A. Friedman


Background: In the past, many students and even teachers may have seen school science curricula as somewhat arcane and divorced from the everyday demands of their lives. But as science and technology increasingly enter into the mainstream of daily life, this attitude is becoming difficult to maintain. One of the challenges schools thus face is that of how to make science accessible to all students, not just to those with strong abilities or interests in science. It is a task of educational research to investigate the cognitive bases, educational importance, and ways of introducing technological advances into science education.

Purpose: The goal of this project was to integrate a model for teaching science with an existing program of scientific curriculum enhancement driven by modern technology. We investigated the effects of triarchic instruction, based on the triarchic theory of intelligence (Sternberg 1988, 1997) and real-time Internet learning on instructional outcomes. Student achievement in high school physics was evaluated based on learning with/without triarchic instruction and with/without use of computers.

Intervention: This study crossed two types of instruction (triarchic analytical, creative, practical; conventional) and two modalities of presentation (paper-and-pencil; computer-based) to assess the effectiveness of these alternative forms of instruction.

Setting: This study involved high school physics teachers and their students in a variety of urban, suburban and rural school districts in New Jersey, representing a range of socioeconomic levels. Teachers and students participated in this study between July 2001 - March 2002.

Research Design: Participants were 27 high school physics teachers and their approximately 1,200 students in urban, suburban, and rural areas in New Jersey. Participating students represented a wide range of socio-economic levels and under-served minority groups were over sampled.

There were four instructional conditions for this study. The conditions were based on a 2 x 2 design for the independent variables. The first independent variable was the use of technology versus non-use. In two conditions, presentation of material was paper-and-pencil, and in two it was computerized. These conditions were intended to reveal the effect of dynamic technology versus static paper-and-pencil presentation. The second independent variable was the use of the enhanced triarchic curriculum (which combines analytical, creative, and practical elements) with the use of a conventional textbook-based instructional condition (which emphasizes memory and analytical but not creative and practical skills).

The basic textbook presentation paper-and-pencil (no technology/no enhanced instruction served as a control condition. Teachers were given an instructional paper-pencil package based on existing textbook material. They used their conventional method of teaching this material. In all four conditions, students were taught the same content. The four instructional conditions were completely matched for time spent in learning, types of learning activities (e.g., group versus individual activities), and assessments. However, the groups differed in terms of engaging versus not engaging technology (+/- technology) and teaching predominantly for memory versus teaching for analytical, creative, and practical interpretations of the material (+/- enhanced teaching).

We collected pre- and post-intervention achievement data from all participating students, bearing on the content taught during the intervention. In addition, we administered a survey asking about participating students' and teachers' satisfaction with the program.

Findings: The empirical trends indicate that only a small amount of the variability between students in post-intervention physics achievement was attributable to differences between the experimental conditions. Technological presentation alone resulted in a marginally significant improvement in achievement over the conventional paper and pencil condition (i.e., control group) (p < .06). There was also a trend for improvement in the triarchic paper and pencil condition compared to the control group, although this effect did not reach significance (p > .10). The combination of technology and triarchic training did not result in improved physics achievement. We identified three possible reasons to explain these preliminary results: recruitment bias, implementation variation, and intervention duration.

Achievement data showed a strong influence of the teacher on students' performance, and differences between students based on their self-reported ethnic and cultural background. Specifically, students who declared themselves to be of multicultural or ethnic background (e.g., Mexican-American, Italian-American, etc) profited more from the triarchic/technology-enrichened condition than did students who declared themselves as belonging to one cultural or ethnic group only. In addition, the affective feedback from students and teachers indicated an overall higher positive attitude toward the triarchic/technology condition than toward other pedagogical conditions, and a qualitative analysis of teachers' classroom behavior showed greater change in classroom practices in the triarchic groups than in the non-triarchic groups.

The high school curriculum material developed for this project can be found at .

You can learn more about this project by visiting