, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 754-767
Date: 18 Jan 2012

Pedagogical Affordances of Multiple External Representations in Scientific Processes

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Abstract

Multiple external representations (MERs) have been widely used in science teaching and learning. Theories such as dual coding theory and cognitive flexibility theory have been developed to explain why the use of MERs is beneficial to learning, but they do not provide much information on pedagogical issues such as how and in what conditions MERs could be introduced and used to support students’ engagement in scientific processes and develop competent scientific practices (e.g., asking questions, planning investigations, and analyzing data). Additionally, little is understood about complex interactions among scientific processes and affordances of MERs. Therefore, this article focuses on pedagogical affordances of MERs in learning environments that engage students in various scientific processes. By reviewing literature in science education and cognitive psychology and integrating multiple perspectives, this article aims at exploring (1) how MERs can be integrated with science processes due to their different affordances, and (2) how student learning with MERs can be scaffolded, especially in a classroom situation. We argue that pairing representations and scientific processes in a principled way based on the affordances of the representations and the goals of the activities is a powerful way to use MERs in science education. Finally, we outline types of scaffolding that could help effective use of MERs including dynamic linking, model progression, support in instructional materials, teacher support, and active engagement.