Le Monde De Darwin

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It's not enough to let someone to explore an environment to learn the good working strategies. He needs a strong and significant relationship with a specialist in the subject, who's working in this same environment. Le monde de Darwin is an educationnal Internet environment which is going that way. It lead children from 8 to 14 years old to develop and practice a strict scientist thought by exploring ICT resources and introduces them into a scientist community (Aubé, 1999, 2000; Aubé et David, 2000; Aubé, David et de la Chevrotière, 1999, 2000, on press).

The approach is socio-constructivist, more precisely inquiry learning. It focuses on treatment and organization of the information as part of collaborative procedures of the knowledge construction of the students. Le monde de Darwin proposes an organized content which invites participants to put their researches, observations and knowledge on the website to learn how to interpret some complex ecosystem, using ICT: (a) Storage and access to information (pictures, sounds and texts of animal life); (b) Communication and swat with a wider community of observant who enrich the activities with their own gathering and observations; (c) Collaboration between participants; (d) Publishing of the results by putting a file online

Le monde de Darwin exploits the possibilities of communication and collaboration of the Internet. It creates networks between students and teachers of participating classes, two animators and experts in nature science. It is a place of distributed appraisal in which the coordination of activities is done by electronics conferences. The possibility to pursue a research began at home is a noticeable additional advantage.


A class who wants to participate fills a form online. By this form, it express its intention to adopt an animal of it faunal patrimony. This is an observable wild species, living near the school, with an easy visible ecosystem. Adoption means doing the best file on the animal and its ecology. This file has to be ratify by a specialist of the species and it language quality by a linguistic checker. An online form allows the student to integrate texts, data tables and multimedia documents (photography, pictures, map of distributions, sounds, animations…). The computer system structures automatically them in a file.

This way to proceed lead to a standard of publication similar as those in scientists reviews. This let freedom for creativity and innovation (choice and organization of information, formulation of deeper questions, and exploitation of hyperlinks or multimedia elements for illustrating the best the species, its behaviour and the dynamic of its ecosystem. The students are encouraged to compare their file with the others in le Monde de Darwin, and with anyone in the Internet.

The file's structure is done from headings in guides of identifications of kinds of vertebrates. These guides are used in university, for the formation of biologists. Doing a complete and validated file is more than just collected information. This is a respectable professional production. Especially as the file's structure has been completed and validated by biologist from some government organizations.

The file's form is a meta-set of what is relevant for a biologist to know about a species. It delegates to students a part of expert's knowledge and frames the data's picking. It allows young researchers to see and to mark the good information. It allows them to organize that information in a significant manner too. First, the heading's names help, then the repeated use of a form teach students a lot of technical words of this field of knowledge. Sharing this common structure and vocabulary help swaps between classrooms, and allows interaction with the scientist expert.

The file has five sections. Each can receive 3 different types of data. (1) Textareas allow analytic and detailed information; (2) Tables allow synthesizing factual and often numerical data (mensuration, weight, longevity…) (3) Hypermedia (pictures, map of distribution, cries and songs, or shorts animations).


  • Présentation (Presentation): brief content illustrating the animal (photography, short specification, taxonomic situations), presentation of the group of researchers (photography and name). This implicates the authors in the quality of the file.
  • Identification (Identification): complete description of the animal: (1) distinctive characters, (2) differences with similar or close species, (3) clues of it presence which allow locating it ecosystem, (4) identification of some special things characterizing the species. Those are some kind of brand image of the animal. They will hold up the motivation of the students to a deeper study and interest some visitors. This heading is often the beginning of deeper questions which will eventually become research hypothesis in a further section.
  • Cycle biologique (biological cycle): collect diverse information on reproduction behaviour, sexual parades, birth of babies, their support, their maturation and the behaviour in family.
  • Niche écologique (ecological niche): display with maps and texts, the geographical distribution of the animal. This is the feature of its habitat, its layout, which predator and prey it fights. Here is also marked all the relationships between individuals (territorial behaviour, attack or submitting signal) of the same species or not, sharing the same ecosystem.
  • Activités scientifiques (scientific activities): more complex section towards which should gradually converge more elaborate information and questions without answers met before. The first two headings invite to specify the statute (stability/vulnerability) of the species, as well as the various contributions (ecological, scientists, economic, food, cultural) which makes the animal interesting to study, to pursue or to protect. Both last headings allow to gather the various sources of development of the file, and to communicate any other information which would not have found place in the preceding headings. The daring heading Recherches (Research) invites the young researchers to add important research met in the literature or on the Web about their species, and of to formulate by themselves at least a not yet solved interesting question concerning the animal being studied. It is not enough here, simply to mention one or the other of the headings of the file for which one would not have found an answer. To formulate a really relevant question, the class contacts an expert of the field and discusses with him of the raised interrogations. To support an interesting dialogue here, it is necessary to have thorough and well organized knowledge about the studied species and ecosystem where it lives. The students are also enjoint to propose an assumption of resolution to their own questions, or at least to specify the way in which they could take there to arrive, and to collect relevant information with this regard.


The apparent complexity of the device reflects especially the diversity of opportunities and of constraints which meet there, such as: more and more large accessibility with fast and powerful communication networks; the possibility to request the engagement and the motivation of the children of this age by their fascination of nature; need for imbricating in the environment of training complex concepts of ecology, ethology and theory of the evolution; the requirement of a rigorous and attractive craftsmanship which can convince researchers of the serious of the company and the interest of their participation...

3.1 science is a collective business

  • The structure of the program of adoption makes difficult the realization of a file without collaboration:
    • Participation by group imposed,
    • A huge quantity of information has to be sought, gathered, organized and validated.
  • The file's structure in 5 sections, promotes:
    • Distribution of work in team,
    • Share of information,
    • Interest in the progress of the others.
  • The task's structure supports a positive and natural interaction with the teacher and other people resources (parents or experts).
  • The insertion of the file in the data base of Le monde de Darwin also promotes the exchange between specialist classes in similar species or animals sharing the same ecosystem.
  • Finally, the interaction continued with one or more scientists inserts these young researchers like valid apprentices and interlocutors within this community.

3.2 science is an engaging activity

To engage and to make students responsible for the quality of the task: - Publication on Internet, in a neat and attractive format, of complex and substantial information, frequently visited and used by other children, adults and researchers of the field. - Double validation (form and content) of brought back information and the explanations provided. - To be done, adequate and minimum request of the councils, for subtle and complexes problems which resisted research and discussions between students and with the teacher. That causes messages of confidence and admiration of the teachers and scientific advisers. What enracine still more deeply the engagement of the young researchers

3.3 science progresses by its questions

Width and length of research within the framework of the program of adoption are sufficiently extended to allow pupils to carry out their own scientific experiment: - Each knowledge's field has zones of shades to which is even confronted the best of the experts. - Large quantity of information concerning the majority of the species alive escape still to our knowledge and several of their behaviors remain always enigmatic, which is one of the essential engines of curiosity and motivation for researcher. - Data and results obtained cause frequently more questions than answers of the assumptions which chaired their harvest. - Scientist is skeptic and carries a critical glance, which it makes careful in his assertions. - Progression of young researchers through the various sections of the file brings them to hightlight the surprising characteristics, the weird behaviors, or incomplete information, initially in the form of simple curiosities, but little by little in the form of significant questions with to deepen.


4.1 A co-operative and socio-constructivist approach (Palincsar, 1998)

Scientific knowledge is acquired by active construction of new concepts in the memory of student starting from his preconceptions and former knowledge. This dynamic development which is carried out in interaction with the environment, of which other people, themselves in process of training and reorganization of their thought. Knowledge is action tools; complex actions which require coordination between the agents; coordination which rests on communicable and transferable knowledge which must emerge from an interaction between knowing subjects, in a negotiation of the direction which rests on the reciprocal validation of the knowledge (Palincsar and Brown, 1984). This is the model of development of the scientific thought. The program of adoption of Le monde de Darwin is presented thus in the form of a device which support the construction of knowledge and high level competences by young people themselves, facilitating them the access to rich and diversified sources, but especially by causing in a natural way a tightened and critical interaction between several researchers, young people, adult professionals, or others still of the scientific community (Campione, Shapiro and Brown, 1995). This "space of maturation", between more formed and more articulated spirits and others young people, but nevertheless available to the rigour as with amazement, constitutes a true "zone proximale of development" (Vygotsky, 1978) favourable with the acquisition of a complex thought.

4.2 An approach which supports the acquisition of a rigorous thought and the transfer of knowledge

Several conditions support this development of a critical and rigorous thought:

  • To publish a complex and structured set of information for a critical and informed community installs a requirement for quality which stimulates and engages.
  • Duration of project over several months allows the multiplication of points of view, the location of the errors and their correction, ensures the reflexions a greater maturation, and offers to their expression a development more deepened.
  • Information collected on different sites varies sometimes considerably, as to appear incoherent or contradictory. It is then necessary to validate the sources, by confronting them with others, and more often possible while seeking to justify these variations.
  • These justifications become generally the matter of headings in the file, or revive interrogations and exchanges on other levels.

The approach of Le monde de Darwin also seems to support the transfer of knowledge, a little noted phenomenon which resists the teaching intervention readily (Detterman, 1993).

4.3 a contextualized approach which engages and justifies

By definition, transfer requires a decontextualization of knowledge, whereas, paradoxically, those are all the more easily acquired they are strongly contextualized (Greeno, Moore and Smith, 1993). Strategy suggested by Tardif and his collaborators (Tardif and Meirieu, 1996; Tardif and Presseau, 1998) to counter this difficulty rests on triple movement: (1) firmly to anchor knowledge to be made acquire in the concerns and interests of the pupils. (2) to multiply the similar situations where they have the occasion of recontextualize the same knowledge by appreciating their utility and their application in a variety of problems. (3) Finally, the moment of decontextualization aims at making abstract and generalize the knowledge and acquired skills, so that they can be recombined and exploited in the future and adapted in different contexts.

However the device of adoption precisely recommends that the choice of the animal is done gradually, starting from the experiments of the young shared with the personal anecdotes, in order to anchor in their episodical memory fragmentary information which they will seek thereafter to consolidate. Recontextualization begins with a division from the experiments and various knowledge of the pupils who often contribute to supplement or relativize theirs proper experiments. It continues through their first research relating on similar species or other species of the same ecosystem. The more theoretical knowledge implicitly contained in the structure of the file, just as the search for more deepened information and the exchanges continued with the scientific adviser, ensure finally a progressive decontextualization of knowledge which could then be applied to other species and other ecosystems.

The large and generally constant motivation of the pupils throughout project rests in part on the contextualisation of initial anchoring. It is consolidated then in the engagement taken by the children to make known the retained animal. The possibility of publishing on Internet and the quality of the product are considerable factors. Motivation also feeds from the curiosity of the young people gradually renewed as new knowledge raise from uncommon questions. It reinforces finally thanks to the interactions with the scientific adviser and valorization which results from this.

4.4 A structured approach which frames while supporting autonomy

The fact that pupils build their knowledge does not mean that they are initially left alone with themselves. The framing is firm and structured, as in scientific community. Science constitutes a cumulative process, where successes and failures are constantly put in division. In addition, scientists subject themselves to standards of nomenclature, measurement, methodology, publication... which contribute to sit a methodology and a common language which encourages the division of information and facilitates them comparison as well as their confrontation. In the same way, the structure of the file and the obligation of validation frame activities, without preventing original expressions or new formulations. Lot of information of the natural science are implicitly inserted in the file, like through the multiple examples which are used as reference to the participants. They create the requirements for a rigorous exchange between teams and classes, and with teachers, persons in charge for the project and experts of contents. Thus allowing the progressive insertion of these young people within community of adult researchers.

4.5 A significant and relevant exploitation of the ICT

The project rests on the resources of the ICT and a diversity of external sources (observations on the ground, books, reviews, photographs, videos, people resources, or institutions, like zoos or centers of interpretation of nature). Pupils gradually carry out their research that the ICT gain with being combined with other sources, which bring each one their contribution. An originality of the project is precisely to seek explicitly among the ICT the specific functionalities which serve the principles of them basic. Science is a collective enterprise, where researchers must communicate between peers, to ensure the reciprocal validation of their data and of their theories, it thus appeared essential that the young people can contact true researchers, and also have this mechanism of validation and of confrontation, which allows the e-mail. To fit there actively in a scientific community, it is necessary to be able to publish produce of professional gauge, which might be recognized, appreciated or criticized by the members of this community. Here still, ICT offer a powerful way: an online form which automatically generates a Web page starting from the information collected by students. Those can after publish and edit, according to a looked after page-setting, with attractive and suitable illustrations, rigorous information which are widely diffused, and by the way they can from now on be themselves questioned. Capacity to formulate new and relevant questions about a given subject requires finally a fast access to a multiplicity of valid information on this subject. What easily navigation offers on Internet. Of course, it is necessary to supplement more substantial texts published in books or reviews of seek more traditional. However, more and more of these reviews become accessible on the Web. In short, the device presented well illustrates how the ICT can be exploited of an original way which optimizes their use while capitalizing on some of theirs specific functionalities.

5. The point of view of Inquiry-Based Learning

If someone details the large facets of the scientific activity, he can connect them to the model cyclic of investigation (See here) :

1/ Observation:

Le monde de Darwin offers technological and teaching tools to stimulate, to support or to start again the observation. Each class which takes part in the project adopts an animal, and becomes the specialist about it. It is its responsibility to collect in a structured and communicable way all relevant information on the selected species. The students are thus gradually brought to realize, in the plan of the construction of knowledge, their own interdependence with other specialists. Another important teaching idea consists in the presence of good models of structuring of knowledge: there is thus a good repertory of animals files, standardized well, exploiting images and animations, as well as diversified resources of Internet. These tools must encourage questions on the taxonomic class of the animal, its habitat, its measurements, its mode of reproduction... In this stage the first two phases of the cyclic model of investigation are: Questionner (to ask) (questions about the characteristics, the fonctionnement... of the adopted species) and Enquêter (to inquire) (data-gathering on the ground, and in the resources).

2/ Formulation d'hypothèses (Formulation of assumptions) :

In Le monde de Darwin we can also find guided tours, allowing the integration of several knowledge and the interpretation of ecosystems. As the goal is to develop the aptitude for the scientific thought, the structure of activities brings to the formulation of assumptions. The pupils build, in their interactions at the same time with their own data of observations, with those already collected on the site, and with those provided by the experts, FAQ and Frequently asked Assumptions. The idea is here to clarify, in a concrete and contextualized way, the epistemological statute of these various statements, and the process of research which allows them progressive circulation from one bank to another. On the level of cyclic model of investigation, this is the phase Créer (to create): student does links, connections and creates ideas and theories which are not although at the stage of assumptions.

3/ Vérification(Checking) :

A scientist fact is a fact which can be done again. Le monde de Darwin thus includes a mechanism of validation and collective standardization of the observations, by the other pupils as by the experts, in a way allowing transparency and questioning. The authors think that the children are very early ready to take an active and critical share with this process, if they have adequate models. The ICT offer then a medium to support the critical exchange and the validation of the knowledge. This is the phase Discuter (to discuss) of a cycle of inquiry: students share their ideas with the others and subject them to their validation, questions, critical.

4/ Communication des résultats (Communication of the results):

Thus, the communication crosses all these activities. By electronic conferences, the pupils exchange between them and with naturalists. Observations are presented at the pupils who seek and divide information in order to build, collectively, an interpretation of behavior of the components of an ecosystem. In the cycle of investigation, we are in the two last stages of a cycle: one is still the phase Discuter (to discuss) (results were validated or not, and are presented at the remainder community), but also in the phase Réfléchir (to reflect) (was the species adopted well described? Were all stages carried out correctly? Is there still work to make on this species? Which are the points still obscure?....). This stage close a cycle of investigation, and from there, students could start again for a cycle.


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