WallCology is a digital simulation from the Embedded Phenomena framework (Moher, 2006) that serves as an evidentiary base for student inquiry. Fictitious organisms inhabit the classroom walls with different ecosystems occupying different areas of the room. The mixed reality environment engages middle school students as a community of scientists to discover ecological relationships amongst the imaginary species in their science classroom.

My contributions to this research include an instructional sequence and associated software for modeling ecosystems known as Hakuna Matata, and the latest embodiment of WallCology, which includes an integrated system for creating and reviewing claims about predator and prey relationships, with an interactive food web visualization of collective progress (known as the Master Food Web).

The simulation embeds fictitious organisms are “embedded” in the classroom walls through “Wallscopes” (i.e., computer monitors) that provide internal views of the walls. They reveal different ecosystems of varying components (e.g., vegetation, herbivores and predators). An underlying computational model developed in consultation with a population ecologist governs how these species interact with one another.
Using a design-based research method in collaboration with science teachers, we created digital tools, including as tablet-based interfaces (e.g., Hakuna Matata) and large displays of collective work, designed to support middle school students with collaborative modeling of population dynamics.
WallCology also refers to the instructional unit itself, which spans approximately two-months. During this time student groups observe (as “naturalists”) and perform investigations (as “experimentalists”) on specific ecosystems. Some relationships are directly observable while others require experimentation for them to be understood. Each ecosystem is inhabited by a subset of species (e.g., 4-5). Since the feeding preferences of the WallCology species are universal, and no ecosystem contains all 11 species, students must work together as a community to discover the complete set of relationships over 8 weeks.

Cycles of independent group work and teacher led whole-class discussions drive community progress — as supported by collective interfaces. After the class arrives at a consensus about the food web model, students use the model in order to solve a broader population ecology challenge.

Postdoctoral Research

My doctoral research identified design features that supported meaningful student-student and student-teacher interactions within a mixed reality environment, it also revealed the need for scaffolding students’ work with conceptual ideas within such environments. My postdoctoral work at the University of Illinois at Chicago addresses the latter topic by investigating how learners transition between more active forms of interactions (e.g., moving around the classroom to engage with different aspects of the simulation, discussing common referents with peers) and more reflective thinking in mixed reality learning environments.

Selected Publications

  1. Moher, T., Lopez Silva, B., Lui, M., McBeath, D., Thompson, J. (2019, April). Embedded Phenomena: Classrooms as sites of community inquiry. Presentation at the annual National Conference on Science Education (NSTA), St. Louis, Missouri.
  2. Lui, M., & Moher, T., Lopez Silva, B. (2019, April). Critters in your classroom walls: Visualizations for collective investigations and model construction in population ecology. Roundtable presentation at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Toronto, ON.
  3. Lui, M. & Moher, T. (2017). Collaborative food web modeling in middle school science students. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) – Volume 1, (pp. 495-502). International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS). [PDF]

Recent Work