Exploring middle school students' use of inscriptions in project-based science classrooms

Wu, H.-K.
Krajcik, J. S.
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Wiley Periodicals
This study explores seventh graders' use of inscriptions in a teacher-designed project-based science unit. To investigate students' learning practices during the 8-month water quality unit, we collected multiple sources of data (e.g., classroom video recordings, student artifacts, and teacher interviews) and employed analytical methods that drew from a naturalistic approach. The findings showed that throughout the unit, provided with the teachers' scaffold and social, conceptual, and material resources, the seventh graders were able to use various inscriptions (e.g., digital pictures, Web pages, and models) to demonstrate meaningful inscriptional practices such as creating and using inscriptions to make arguments, to represent conceptual understandings, and to engage in thoughtful discussions. Inscriptions and associated practices provided students with experiences and understandings about certain ways to organize, transform, and link data or scientific ideas. However, when constructing inscriptions, students did not consider how the inscriptions could serve certain reasoning purposes. In addition, more scaffolds were needed to help students use multiple inscriptions to make a coherent argument.