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Epistemic Aims, Considerations, and Agency: Lenses for Helping Teachers Analyze and Support Students’ Meaningful Engagement in Scientific Practices

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The reforms called for by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (National Research Council, 2012; NGSS Lead States, 2013) involve students using scientific and engineering practices to construct disciplinary knowledge with others. For this work to be meaningful, students need to understand what they were doing and how their actions will help them achieve their scientific goals (Berland, Schwarz, Krist, Kenyon, Lo, & Reiser, 2016). This dissertation research examined two related questions. The first question investigated the successes and challenges that emerge when teachers attempt to support students’ meaningful use of scientific practices and their role in shaping the class consensus knowledge. To do so, I developed a framework composed of three analytical lenses that embrace the epistemic issues that are important for guiding and supporting students’ meaningful use of scientific practices: 1) Epistemic aim: What is the goal of the knowledge-building work? 2) Epistemic considerations: What ideas or questions are guiding students’ decisions? and 3) Epistemic agency: Who is responsible for doing this work? The second question investigated how teachers could use these analytical lenses to enhance the students’ role and the meaning that students applied to their engagement in scientific practices. Using the framework, I engaged in cogenerative dialogues with classroom stakeholders (teacher, students, and researcher) to co-construct understandings of classroom events, reflect on the extent to which students’ use of scientific practices was meaningful, and co-develop solutions to identified issues. Through iterative cycles of reflection and experimentation, Kami noticed how her planned trajectory for achieving the lesson’s content goals constrained her students’ opportunities to shape the consensus knowledge of the classroom. In addition, Kami noticed the need for students to have epistemic authority to assess the validity and reconcile competing ideas to reach consensus. In both cases, Kami used her interpretation of classroom events to address the identified issues. Taken together, the findings from this dissertation research provide empirical support for how this analytical framework could be useful not only for researchers, but also for practitioners to analyze and enhance the meaningfulness of students’ engagement in scientific practices.

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  • 02/09/2019
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