Vol. 8, Nos. 3 & 4



Books And Ideas


Differential participation during science conversations: The interaction of focal artifacts, social configurations, and physical arrangements

Wolff-Michael Roth, Michelle K. McGinn, Carolyn Woszczyna, Sylvie Boutonne

Recent conceptualizations of knowing and learning focus on the degree of participation in the practices of communities. Discursive practices are the most important and characteristic practices in many communities. This study was designed to investigate how the content and form of classroom discourse was influenced by different combinations of artifacts (e.g., overhead transparencies, physical models), social configurations, and physical arrangements. Over a four-month period, we collected data ( videotaped activities, interviews, ethnographic observations, artifacts, and photographs) in a grade 6-7 science class studying a unit on simple machines. Four different activity structures differed in terms of the social configuration (whole class, small group) and the origin of the central, activity-organizing artifact (teacher designed, student designed). This study describes how different artifacts, social configurations, and physical arrangements led to different interactional spaces, participant roles, and levels of participation in classroom conversations and, concomitantly, to different discursive forms and content. The artifacts had important functions in maintaining and sequencing conversations. Depending on the situation and the role of participants, artifacts served as resources for students' sense making. Each of the different activity structures supported different dimensions of participating in conversations and, for this reason, we conclude that science educators teaching large classes should employ a mixture of these activity structures. Overall, students developed considerable competencies in discursive and materials practices related to simple machines.

Physical arrangements, the spatial layout of a setting, the arrangement of the furniture, the open spaces, walkways, coffee niches, doors to the outside , and so on have an important influence on structuring interactions. . . they encourage or hinder certain kinds of interaction between people in the scene. (Jordan & Henderson, 1995, p. 74-75) Ubiquitous mediating structures that both organize and constrain activity include not only designed objects such as tools, control instruments, and symbolic representations like graphs, diagrams, texts, plans, and pictures, but people in social relations, as well as features and landmarks in the physical environment. (Pea, 1993, p. 48)

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Principles of Self Organization: Learning as Participation in Autocatakinetic Systems

Sasha A. Barab, Miriam Cherkes-Julkowski, Rod Swenson, Steve Garrett, Robert E. Shaw, Michael Young

Modern science has been built on a Cartesian or Newtonian ( mechanical) world view giving rise to an artifactual view of mind and suggesting that particles (learners) are continuously working to destroy order (are recalcitrant), which can only be maintained by an external artificer (the teacher). At the core of the Cartesian world view is the absolute separation of mind and matter. Beginning with the separation of mind and body, Cartesianism is grounded in a set of dualisms that separate individual from environment and leads to the belief that knowledge refers to a self-sufficient immaterial substance that can be understood independently from the individual, environment, and context in which it is situated. In contrast, we make the argument for an alternative set of assumptions predicated on a "relational ontology" and grounded in recent developments in the understanding of self-organizing systems. In our view, knowing, meaning, and cognition are actualized through the dynamic between learner (self) and environment (nonself), and that which is neither the learner nor the environment. We further argue that the ecologized, or self-organization model (or relational ontology), establishes that (under the appropriate conditions) the particles (learners), in effect, "want" to or strive opportunistically to order themselves once the intention has been properly initialized. From this perspective, instruction involves establishing the appropriate field conditions or connecting the learner into a system (a set of relations) through participation (e.g., as part of a community of practice ) in the service of an intention. The type of learning that we are advocating cannot be handed to the learner wholecloth, but develops itself through dynamic activity (participation) as part of a system as a whole. Central to this line of reasoning is the assertion not only that learner practices and meaningful relations that arise due to their functional significance as part of a dynamic system are fundamentally different from teacher- or textbook-owned descriptions of practices and meanings, but that they are in this way far richer, more meaningful, and more functional. Context and participation, to put it directly, not only matter but in a deep and fundamental way are everything.

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Addressing the Challenges of Inquiry-Based Learning through Technology and Curriculum Design

Daniel C. Edelson, Douglas N. Gordin, Roy D. Pea

Abstract Inquiry experiences can provide valuable opportunities for students to improve their understanding of both science content and scientific practices. However, the implementation of inquiry learning in classrooms presents a number of significant challenges. We have been exploring these challenges through a program of research on the use of scientific visualization technologies to support inquiry-based learning in the geosciences. In this paper, we describe five significant challenges to implementing inquiry-based learning and present strategies for addressing them through the design of technology and curriculum. We present a design history covering four generations of software and curriculum to show how these challenges arise in classrooms and how the design strategies respond to them.

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Developing Scientific Communities in Classrooms: A Sociocognitive Approach

Leslie Rupert Herrenkohl, Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar, Lezlie Salvatore DeWater, Keiko Kawaski

The purpose of this study was to design and implement a classroom intervention to foster the development of an intellectual community in the context of science instruction. Our work is based on the assumption that young children can think about and discuss science in sophisticated ways in classroom contexts that support student interaction and engagement. Specifically, our focus was on the role and value of scaffolding student discussions in the interest of advancing their ability to co-construct theories and models from the data they have collected in the course of inquiry regarding floating and sinking. This study joins an emergent literature regarding the use of scientific discourse to promote learning in classroom communities (Herrenkohl & Guerra, 1998; Herrenkohl & Wertsch, 1999; Hogan & Pressley, 1997; Palincsar, Anderson & David, 1993; van Zee & Minstrell , 1997; Wells, 1996). Three principles figure prominently in our approach: (1 ) having students focus on important reasoning practices in science, such as building explanations by differentiating and coordinating theories and evidence, and using models to offer further support for their explanations, (2 ) offering students explicit guidance on the roles that they can take in classroom discussions to help them monitor their own and others' thinking, and (3) creating opportunities for students to develop a sophisticated epistemology of science by participating in science as a process of revision.

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Books And Ideas

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