From designing artifacts to learning science: A dialectical perspective
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- Hwang, S. & Roth, WM. Cult.Scie.Edu. (2007) 1: 423. doi:10.1007/s11422-006-9018-9
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How students come to know phenomena in terms of abstract concepts and theories through hands-on activities remains one of the open problems in science education. In this study, we develop a theory of learning science through design activities by employing a dialectical view of human activity that explicitly combines the mental and material in the same, irreducible unit of analysis. Dialectical contradictions embodied by this unit, here conceptualized as resistance experienced from a first-person perspective, constitute the inner forces that drive designing. Drawing on a large database of artifact designing constituted during a four-month unit on simple machines, we examine how resistance, in its dialectical relation to contradiction contributes to the unfolding design process and to the learning of scientific concepts and manual process skills during design. First, an inner contradiction emerges in the designers' lifeworlds as an unintended outcome or a breakdown and thereby changes the perceived world of a designer collective. Second, the dialectic of contradiction and resistance realized in this manner constitutes a moment unfolding culture of science in its concrete form embodied in individual designers and therefore contributes to the production and reproduction of culture. We conclude with a reflection on the implications our study makes to a non-dualist view of knowing and learning.