MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS'
The purpose of this study is to characterize the learning practices demonstrated by seventh graders when they used various scientific inscriptions in an inquiry-based learning environment. Inscriptions are types of transformations, such as graphs, diagrams, data tables, symbols, maps, and models, that materialize or visualize an entity into another format or mode. As suggested by science studies, scientific knowledge and the reality of science are constructed through manipulating a variety of inscriptions. However, little is known about how middle school students make use of inscriptions over time and what resources or features of the learning environment support students in doing so. Drawing on a naturalistic approach, this classroom-based study aims to characterize students' inscriptional practices, trace their learning trajectories, examine potential use of various scientific inscriptions, and analyze the learning supports and resources provided by the teachers and the learning environment.
This eight-month study is conducted in two inquiry-based science classes with participation of two teachers and 27 seventh graders. Two student dyads from each class were observed intensively. Multiple sources of data were collected, including fieldnotes, classroom video recordings, process video recordings, computer-based models, webpages, science reports, notebooks, and transcripts from interviews with students and teachers. Several analytical steps were taken to analyze and synthesize these data.
Expanding upon early research on students' learning of inscriptions, this study shows that seventh graders could demonstrate competent, purposeful inscriptional practices when they were scaffolded by the teachers and the curriculum in a learning environment where the inscriptional activities were sequenced, iterated, and embedded in scientific inquiry. Additionally, using inscriptions in science classrooms provided students with opportunities to engage in thoughtful discussions about concepts and scientific inquiry. The historical development of students' inscriptional practices documented in this study suggests a progression in scientific thinking. The findings of this study inform theories about social practices, learning communities, scientific reasoning, and science inquiry. This study also provides insights into the design of a learning environment in which students can develop competent and authentic scientific practices.
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