Supporting Elementary Teaching and Learning by Integrating Uncertainty in Classroom Science Investigations (NSF #1749324)

In this project, researchers and K-5 practitioners work together to rethink the elementary school science investigation. We are designing tools and materials that allow elementary students to productively engage with some of the forms of uncertainty scientists grapple with as they design, conduct, and make sense of investigations.

Target Audience: 
Grades K-5
STEM Discipline(s): 
What Issue(s) in STEM Education is your Project Addressing?: 

Scientific activity is driven by the need to manage uncertainty; uncertainty not only about how to explain the world, but how to represent the world in the form of an experiment, what to measure, and how to convince peers to see what the scientist wants them to see. Yet elementary science investigations typically reflect little of the uncertainty that scientists grapple with. This project seeks to develop a conceptual framework and set of tools that allow teachers and elementary students to engage productively with uncertainty in empirical activity⁠—for example, uncertainty about how to represent phenomena in investigations, how to develop measures, and how to make sense of what investigations don’t explain. We use methods drawn from design-based research, co-design, and implementation research to examine existing investigations and students’ experience of them, re-design so that students can grapple with key uncertainties, and understand how to develop learning environments where uncertainty supports conceptual innovation and meaningful engagement in science practices such as investigation, argumentation, and explanation. We partner closely with a local school district and work with district leaders and teachers to develop and implement materials, analyze student engagement and learning, and develop professional learning experiences.

What are your Findings?: 

We are finding that several of the forms of uncertainty that we conjectured to be useful foci for elementary students appear to be productive in our investigations, in that as students grapple with these uncertainties we see them engaging in scientific practices and developing or refining conceptual understandings. We are particularly interested in how young students can engage productively in making sense of ways their investigations do not generalize to the phenomena of interest, and how examining the gap between what happened in an investigation and what could happen supports conceptual innovation. We are currently examining how students consider scale and relation when generalizing from an investigation to a target phenomenon they are seeking to understand.

Eve Manz