A 5th-grader’s reflection: What I love about science this year is that it is like we are trying to solve a mystery.  …The questions will forever lead me on in the pursuit to understand the mystery of the human body.  Everybody in my class is like Sherlock Holmes. Everybody helps each other by sharing the different knowledge that they have.  That is why I love science.”


Supported by ITM, we conducted multi-year, design-based research in a set of Grade 3-6 classrooms to test and refine new classroom designs to support student-driven knowledge building within each classroom and idea interaction across classrooms.

  • At a local classroom level, students engage in focused inquiry and discourse while carrying out metacognitive conversations to frame/reframe their collective inquiry directions and processes, and synthesize their inquiry progress over time.
  • For cross-community interaction, they share productive idea thread syntheses (Journey of Thinking) in a cross-community space for idea contact with broader knowledge builders.

Analyses suggest a number of benefits:

  • Through ITM-supported reflective review and structuring of inquiry, students developed a clearer and broader awareness of their community’s knowledge goals and progress beyond their personal focus and ideas.
  • Their online discourse became more productive and connected, with more interactive build-ons, deepening questions, idea improvement, and integration.
  • Students engaging in ITM reflection achieved more sophisticated scientific understandings than those in a comparison condition.
  • Students further built interactive connections with peers from their buddy classrooms, which supported their mutual learning of new/deeper knowledge as well as collaborative investigation of challenging issues.

The combination of the technology advances and classroom designs shed light on new socio-technological infrastructures for creating networks of knowledge building communities, each of which engage in continual idea advancement while building on the knowledge work of other communities.

For more info about our research, check out the following article and other publications listed on our  project site.

Zhang, J., Tao, D.,  Chen, M.  Sun, Y., Judson, D., & Naqvi, S. (2018). Co-Organizing the Collective Journey of Inquiry with Idea Thread MapperJournal of the Learning Sciences, 27(3), 390-430.

Zhang, J., & Chen, M.-H. (2019). Idea Thread Mapper: Designs for Sustaining Student-Driven Knowledge Building across Classrooms. In K. Lund, G. Niccolai, E. Lavoué, C. Hmelo-Silver, G. Gweon, & M. Baker( Eds.), A Wide Lens: Combining Embodied, Enactive, Extended, and Embedded Learning in Collaborative Settings, 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) 2019, Volume 1 (pp. 144-151). Lyon, France: International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Tao, D., Zhang, J. (2021). Agency to transform: how did a grade 5 community co-configure dynamic knowledge building practices in a yearlong science inquiry?. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 16, 403–434. 

Yuan, G., Zhang, J., & Chen, M.-C. (2022 in press). Cross-Community Knowledge Building with Idea Thread Mapper. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 17(2).

ITM software stability research

Research on the human, software behavior model of ITM which is a study of software behavior of ITM can be found on the behavior-model page.