Constructing and Defending Explanations

The science curriculum in most school systems focuses narrowly on “final form science”—the collection of scientific findings that populate textbooks. When students are given opportunities to “do” science, these experiences are often presented as experiments with predetermined steps and findings. In other instances, science investigations take the form of “activity mania” in which students complete activities that lack purpose and input from teachers.

Productive investigations are not sequentially scripted. Nor are they unguided. They do not simply unfold when students are given materials and opportunities to work on scientific problems. Rather, they are structured and regulated by the teacher, who plays an active role in the investigative experience. In order for investigations to be successful, teachers must work to make student activity purposeful, to build social interaction that supports cognitive processes, and to focus their efforts on pushing students’ thinking about science toward increasingly sophisticated levels. Teachers and researchers have found ways to structure and script aspects of scientific investigations so that, over time, students gradually acquire scientific modes of thinking and interacting, drawing on these to learn science. They have also found promising ways to teach students fundamental practices for developing scientific explanations, as well as ways to integrate these practices into students’ ongoing work.

We have discussed a science unit from the BGuILE project called Struggle for Survival. It is drawn from a research and design initiative called Investigating and Questioning Our World through Science and Technology (IQWST). The goal of IQWST is to design middle school science curricula that support the scientific practices of explanation and argument as learners engage in project-based inves-

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