Student discussion develops shared scientific explanations

By Suzanne Perin - May 2011


Radinsky, J., Oliva, S., & Alamar, K. (2010). Camila, the Earth, and the Sun: Constructing an idea as shared intellectual property. Journal of Research in Science Teaching47I(6), 619–642.


The science talk format that helped elicit such a meaningful, productive class discussion may be useful to ISE educators who wish to foster such discussions in their programs. For ISE professionals, as for teachers, awareness of the need for student instruction in how to construct explanations jointly—with only guidance rather than answers from the instructor— recognizing the significance of the students responses to each other as they unfold, and the value of investing instructional time in meaningful discussion is part of the expertise of the educator, and could be included in professional development.

What Is The Issue?

Sociologists and other researchers have challenged the idea that scientific accomplishments and knowledge resides within an individual, but emphasize that scientific practices are social and distributed among many. This article demonstrates characteristics of how a similar dynamic played out in a classroom through one student’s discourse moves, as well as the teacher’s guidance. The goal is to help educators better recognize, assess, and promote these ideas in their everyday class interactions.

What Was The Study?

Using the Science Talks format (see Further Reading), this particular student presented a theory she had written in her journal to the class, which, although it was incorrect, contained scientific reasoning that the teacher used to build on the way the student was making sense of the world. In her presentation, the student’s discourse moves directly map onto professional science practice, and include: 

What Were The Findings?

The shared theory that resulted from this particular discussion was held, revised, and eventually abandoned throughout the teaching of several more units, as more data was incorporated into the student’s understandings. It should be noted that the teacher did not authoritatively make statements about the correctness of the ideas under discussion, but used the science talk protocol to let students negotiate their ideas. 

Further Reading 

Alamar, K., & Greene, C. (2003). Science talk: Inviting and integrating students’ stories and life experiences within classroom inquiry. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Chicago, IL, April 25, 2003.

Ballenger, C. (1997). Social identities, moral narratives, scientific argumentation: Science talk in a bilingual classroom. Language and Education, 11(1), 1–14.

Gallas, K. (1994). The languages of learning. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gallas, K. (1995). How children talk their way into science. New York: Teachers College Press.