be achieved, but few appear to demonstrate productive disciplinary engagement (notable exceptions include Herrenkohl et al., 1999; Lehrer et al., 2001; Palincsar et al., 2001; Rosebery, Warren, and Conant, 1992).


As this chapter illustrates, science learning involves much more than individual cognitive activity. It is an inherently social and cultural process that requires mastery of specialized forms of discourse and comfort with norms of participation in the scientific community of the classroom. However, the rules for engaging in arguments and evaluating evidence that students learn in their everyday lives are sometimes dissimilar and even contradictory to those employed in science. Students often need support or explicit guidance to learn scientific norms for interacting with peers as they argue about evidence and clarify their own emerging understanding of science and scientific ideas. Genuine scientific argumentation with peer-to-peer interaction is rarely observed in science classrooms. Instead, teachers tend to dominate in a pattern of the teacher posing a question, the students responding, and the teacher following with an evaluative comment. Supporting argument in the science classroom requires a departure from this typical pattern.

Variations in students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds translate into quite different learning histories and stances toward science. Making the norms and patterns of thinking in science visible in the classroom is one approach to supporting science learning in diverse student populations. Another is to capitalize on the continuities between students’ everyday thinking, knowledge, and resources and those of practicing scientists.

For all students, motivation and attitudes toward science play an important role in science learning. Becoming proficient in science requires students to actively engage in scientific tasks and participate in scientifically meaningful ways. Willingness to participate is shaped by students’ own beliefs, their previous experience with science, and aspects of the science classroom. For example, students’ belief in their ability in science, the value they place on science, their desire to master science, and their interest in science all have consequences for the quality of their engagement in the classroom and subsequent learning.

In turn, instruction can be designed in ways that foster a positive orientation toward science and promote productive participation in science classrooms. Such approaches include offering choice, providing meaningful tasks and an appropriate level of challenge, giving students authority over their learning while making sure their work can be examined by others, and making sure they have access to the resources they need to evaluate their claims and communicate them to others.

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