What Can Empirical Images of Scientific Practice Tell Us about the Design of Learning Environmnents in Schools?

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A recent development in K-12 science and mathematics instructional design has been the emergence of temporally extended curricular activities generally described as project-based learning (Thomas, 1990). Among educational researchers efforts to examine project-based learning emerged as part of mounting criticisms about a dissonance between what was learned in schools and what constituted mature disciplinary knowledge, or what should be learned in order to understand and practice a discipline. Some referred to this problem as the ‘encapsulation of school’ (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Engestrom, 1991). In this paper I argue that part of addressing this problem involves capturing images of activity inside places where scientific and mathematical notions are the means of solving problems scientists deem as relevant. Those images can better guide the design of learning environments in which students and teachers can have a clear sense of the [everyday] working of science; without these images progress with project-based curriculum will be limited to superficial effects on the current and future engagement of students in the sciences. The purpose of this paper is thus to develop an empirically based framework of scientific practices that can inform science curriculum design efforts. Such framework is constructed using data from a three-year ethnographic study of a scientific project, and encompasses the type of contexts and leading activities that take place inside a scientific laboratory. Working under this framework, the paper offers a curricular instrument (a matrix) that could help us speculate about ways in which mature scientific practice can inform science curriculum design.


Keywords: Math and Science Learning Environments, Cognitive Examination of Scientific Practice, Inter-Contextulity
Stream: Curriculum and Pedagogy; Student Learning, Learner Experiences, Learner Diversity
Presentation Type: 30 minute Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Asst. Prof. José Antonio (Tony) Torralba

Assistant Professor of Education, College of Education
Curriculum Studies Department, Univeristy of Hawaii at Manoa

Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Dr. Torralba has an interest in examining issues of learning and development at schools and at work places. His work in this area includes an extended ethnographically-based research project that examined organizational, representational, and developmental issues inside a professional laboratory, and corresponding activities inside a secondary mathematics classroom. He has also focus his research in creating ecological learning environments (based on his extensive examination of scientists) that directly engage students with ongoing research projects conducted by scientists. These efforts have targeted under-represented students with the practical aims of engaging these students in post-secondary education. More recently, Dr. Torralba has began to work with teachers in relation to their own development in primary and secondary levels.

Ref: L09P0405