The materiality of materials and artefacts used in science classrooms

Bronwen Cowie, Kathrin Otrel-Cass, Judy Moreland

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftKonferenceabstrakt til konferenceForskningpeer review


Material objects and artefacts receive limited attention in science education (Roehl, 2012) though they shape emerging interactions. This is surprising given science has material and a social dimensions (Pickering, 1995) whereby new knowledge develops as a consensus explanation of natural phenomena that is mediated significantly through materials and instruments used. Here we outline the ways teachers deployed material objects and artefacts by identifying their materiality to provide scenarios and resources (Roth, 2005) for interactions. Theoretical framework We use Ingold's (2011) distinction between materials as natural objects in this world and artefacts as manmade objects. We are aware that in a classroom material objects and artefacts shape, and are shaped by classroom practice through the way they selectively present scientific explanations. However, materials and artefacts have no intrinsic meaning (Wertsch, 1991). They need to be activated as educational objects to reveal what Ingold (2011) describes as their materiality. Interaction with conceptual or symbolic aspects allows them to contribute to students’ progressive attempts to increase their understanding because they afford and constrain forms of action and insights that are likely to “emerge” (Wells, 2003). Methods The study's teachers considered that students enjoy and benefit from “hands–on” learning activities and many commented that tasks and interactions incorporated the use of materials. These included material objects such as fossils, plant samples and artefacts like test tubes, worksheets and digital tools along with written inscriptions produced during interactions and that served as artefacts in subsequent interactions (Roehl, 2012). Data sources Data were generated via classroom observation using video, student work sample collection, and student and teacher interviews before and after lessons, with focus on the ways material objects entered into dialogue, scaffolded students towards more independent ways of working, and made student learning visible and public. Substantiated conclusions a) Collections of materials to build “common knowledge” (Edwards & Mercer, 1987). When Jane noticed that her Year 1 students did not know what a seed was she guided an examination of seed types. b) Materials that problematise. Jane deliberately “planted” an egg amongst a set of materials be sorted into “wet” and “dry” / “solid” and “liquid” knowing that it would generate debate. c) Artefacts to make “new things visible, or familiar things visible in new ways” (Wise, 2006). A unit about mould began with direct observations and progressed through the use of digital microscopes and discussions of highly magnified interactive whiteboard images. d) Artefacts as an adjunct to talk. The use of sets of cards or actual objects. Students changed the position of the cards/ objects as a dynamic visual representation of consensus thinking. Significance The teachers in our study did not view materials as being neutral objects but thought about means and ends of artefacts/ materials. They explored artefacts/materials and how they could be used and through this exemplified materiality in the objects. More deliberate and focused attention to what constitutes materiality can support collaboration and communication to support and enhance learning experiences.
StatusUdgivet - 2015
BegivenhedAERA Annual Meeting 2015: Toward Justice: Culture, Language, and Heritage in Education Research and Praxis - Chicago, Illinois, USA
Varighed: 16 apr. 201520 apr. 2015


KonferenceAERA Annual Meeting 2015
ByChicago, Illinois

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