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The Roles of Aesthetic Experience in Elementary School Science


The role of aesthetic experiences for learning was examined in elementary school science. Numerous authors have argued for a science education also involving aesthetic experiences, but few have examined what this means empirically. Recordings of children’s talk with each other and with the teacher during hands-on activities in nine different science units were made. How the children and teachers used aesthetic judgements and how these judgements were part of aesthetic experiences of the science assignments were analysed. For the analysis a pragmatist perspective was used, especially drawing on Dewey and the later Wittgenstein. The results showed how aesthetic judgements occurred in moments of anticipation and moments when the science activities were brought to fulfilment. In this way children used aesthetic judgements normatively about what belonged in science class and what to include and exclude. In this way aesthetic judgements were an important part of learning how to proceed in science class. In using aesthetic judgements the children also talked about their own place in science class and whether they belonged there or not. In this way aesthetic experience is tightly related to learning science as participation. Learning science also meant learning a special kind of aesthetics, that is, learning how to distinguish the science context from other contexts. The fact that children liked or disliked something outside school did not necessarily mean that it was experienced aesthetically in the same way in school, but needed to be re-learnt. What these results mean for science education is discussed at length. The connection between aesthetics and learning to observe is also briefly discussed.

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  1. 1.

    “Carbonic acid” [kolsyra] is a literal translation of the words children used to describe this phenomenon. We have chosen this literal translation because the everyday expression that is used in Swedish to say that a beverage is “carbonated” is to say that it is “with carbonic acid.” So it is natural for Swedish children to name bubbles that appear in water as “carbonic acid,” although the term has no meaning as to the chemical composition of the bubbles.

  2. 2.

    The original Swedish word Nicolai used was “pyssla,” which has a connotation of tinkering in a cosy way. We have found no corresponding word in English.


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Correspondence to Britt Jakobson.

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Jakobson, B., Wickman, P. The Roles of Aesthetic Experience in Elementary School Science. Res Sci Educ 38, 45–65 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-007-9039-8

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  • Aesthetic experience
  • Elementary school
  • Dewey
  • Science learning