Factors Influencing Middle School Students' Sense-Making
Discussions in their Small-Group Investigations of Force and Motion
|In this study, I adopted a combined individual and sociocultural perspective
on learning in order to investigate small-group discussions in an inquiry-based
middle school science classroom.
The specific purpose of the study was to answer the following research questions: (a) How can we classify students' sense-making statements?, (b) To what extent do students engage in sense-making discussion (SMD)?, and (c) Which factors provide support for students' SMD? To answer these questions, two groups were videotaped during the Interactions and Motion unit from the Constructing Ideas in Physical Science middle school curriculum.
To classify students' sense-making statements, I developed a six-component framework for sense-making discussion. My six components of sense-making discussion are: predicting a phenomenon or experimental outcome; clarifying the facts of a phenomenon or experimental result; describing and explaining a phenomenon or experimental result; defining, describing, clarifying, and connecting scientific concepts, procedures, processes, and representations; testing knowledge compatibility; and making a request for any of the above.
The extent of students' sense-making discussions was established by (a) documenting instances of student sense-making according to the six-component scheme, and then forming distributions of sense-making instances, and (b) calculating the percentage of time that groups dedicated to sense-making discussion. To determine the influence that various factors have on students' sense-making discussions, I first drew on the research in collaboration, discourse, and nonverbal sense-making to arrive at an initial list of personal, group, task, and contextual factors that would likely influence the SMD in this study. I then picked out significant quantitative differences in sense-making between groups, students, and different portions of the curriculum (cycles, sub-sections, etc.), and determined to what extent the initial list of factors contributed to the significant differences in SMD, and also to what extent any additional factors contributed to these differences.
My analysis showed that many of the factors from the initial list helped to explain the differences in sense-making. I also identified six other factors that contributed to these differences: capacity for intra-group guidance, intellectual capacity, time available for sense-making, external guidance, awareness of the curriculum structure, and an awareness and valuing of the curriculum goals.
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Preliminary pages: title, table of contents, etc.
Appendix 1: Curriculum materials
Appendix 2: Student assessments (not available for download)
Appendix 3: Activity sub-sections
Appendix 4: Distribution of sense-making instances in each activity and activity sub-section, by group and student
Appendix 5: Samples of coded transcripts
Appendix 6: Distribution of sense-making instances for each curriculum cycle, by student