, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 155-188
Date: 23 Aug 2013

Activity Structures and the Unfolding of Problem-Solving Actions in High-School Chemistry Classrooms

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Abstract

In this paper, we argue for a more systematic approach for studying the relationship between classroom practices and scientific practices—an approach that will likely better support the systemic reforms being promoted in the Next Generation Science Standards in the USA and similar efforts in other countries. One component of that approach is looking at how the nature of the activity structure may influence the relative alignment between classroom and scientific practices. To that end, we build on previously published research related to the practices utilized by five high-school chemistry teachers as they enacted problem-solving activities in which students were likely to generate proposals that were not aligned with normative scientific understandings. In that prior work, our analysis had emphasized micro-level features of the talk interactions and how they related to the way students’ ideas were explored; in the current paper, the analysis zooms out to consider the macro-level nature of the enactments associated with the activity structure of each lesson examined. Our data show that there were two general patterns to the activity structure across the 14 lessons scrutinized, and that each pattern had associated with it a constellation of features that impinged on the way the problem space was navigated. A key finding is that both activity structures (the expansive and the open) had features that aligned with scientific practices espoused in the Next Generation Science Standards—and both had features that were not aligned with those practices. We discuss the nature of these two structures, evidence of the relationship of each structure to key features of how the lessons unfolded, and the implications of these findings for both future research and the training of teachers.