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Creating Scientific Communities in the Elementary Classroom

By Leslie R Herrenkohl, Patty Jacobs, Caryn McCrohon, Maureen Reddy

It is commonplace today to read about the importance of collaborative, hands-on science. But can we assume that children build knowledge simply through their interactions with materials and each other? How can we be sure that students are engaged in meaningful and productive scientific inquiry? In Creating Scientific Communities, two classroom teachers and two university researchers reveal what a better understanding of early scientific literacy can tell us.

Based on transcripts of classroom conversations and samples of children's writing, Creating Scientific Communities looks at the...

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It is commonplace today to read about the importance of collaborative, hands-on science. But can we assume that children build knowledge simply through their interactions with materials and each other? How can we be sure that students are engaged in meaningful and productive scientific inquiry? In Creating Scientific Communities, two classroom teachers and two university researchers reveal what a better understanding of early scientific literacy can tell us.

Based on transcripts of classroom conversations and samples of children's writing, Creating Scientific Communities looks at the social context of the elementary classroom and its impact on science teaching and learning. In lessons structured much like those in a writers workshop, group work in science is bracketed by whole class meetings, providing numerous opportunities for students to construct meaning through dialogue with each other and their teacher. Throughout the lessons, the teachers use a variety of discourse strategies—including questioning, modeling, and dialogue journals—to support, extend, and ultimately assess their students' understanding.

An approach to scientific inquiry that centers on group work and dialogue is necessarily unpredictable. Teachers must be purposeful, yet flexible, and collaboration must be guided by shared rules and norms. In Creating Scientific Communities, you will witness how these teachers and researchers collaborated to develop classroom environments in which students learn more than scientific concepts and procedural skills, they acquire the values and attitudes associated with successful scientific collaboration.

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