Mr. Wilson suspected that playing audience roles effectively would be challenging for his students, so he created several strategies for providing support. After introducing the roles, the class made a “question chart” that provided appropriate sample questions for each of the student audience roles. For the first role, checking predictions and theories, the questions on the chart read:
“What were some of your predictions?”
“Can you support your prediction with a theory?”
“Is your theory intelligible, plausible, and fruitful?”
Intelligibility, plausibility, and fruitfulness were terms that Mr. Wilson had been working on with his students all year.
For the second role, checking summaries of results, the student might ask:
“I’m not completely clear on what you found. Can you explain your evidence more clearly?”
For the third role, relating predictions, theories, and results, the questions read:
“Did you find what you originally predicted?”
“Did your results support your theory?”
“What evidence do you have that supports or challenges your theory?”
At the beginning of the unit, the students relied heavily on the question chart in performing their audience roles. They also had a difficult time, at first, distinguishing between predictions and theories. To address this, Mr. Wilson created a public “theory chart” that kept track of the different theories posed over time, with periodic review of theories occurring when students decided that some theories could be ruled out on the basis of the results from different groups.
The point of the theory chart was to reinforce the notion that science involves a process of revising thinking over time as new evidence arises. Mr. Wilson had decided that this theory chart would also help him challenge the prevalent idea among his students (and many others) that the object of doing science is to “get the right answer.” The theory chart helped make public the way in which the students’ collective thinking was changing over time. What follows is an excerpt from one of Mr. Wilson’s classes in which students use audience roles effectively.
Mr. Wilson: “Does anybody have a theory about the wood? For instance, why the wood floats? Why did you predict that the wood would float?”
Deana: “Because I’ve seen it float.”
Mr. Wilson: “So are you saying that just having seen something do something before is a reason, an explanation of why something would sink or float?”
Deana: “I think it is.”
Mr. Wilson: “You think it is? Can you say more about that?”
Deana: “Because if you’ve seen it before, then it’s a theory.”
Jody: “Wait, but didn’t we sort of decide that our experience is a good way of helping us make predictions, but it doesn’t explain why something happens?” [Christina waves her hand.]
Mr. Wilson: “Christina, do you have something to add?”
Christina: “Well, I sort of disagree with Deana, because a theory’s kind of different from a