Instructional Science

, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 665–682 | Cite as

The impact of classroom context upon 1st and 2nd grade students’ critical criteria for science representations

  • Joshua A. Danish
  • Asmalina Saleh


We report on a design based research study exploring how the organization of classroom activity impacts early elementary students’ critical criteria for evaluating representations in science class. The ability to critique representations produced by others as well as one’s own is an important practice when working with representations. Effective critique requires understanding the purpose of the representation and the context of its use. We use Activity Theory to explore how a change in teacher prompts can facilitate a shift in how the teacher and the students organize their collective activity ultimately resulting in a change to the nature of their critical criteria for evaluating their peers’ representations. To explore this relationship, we worked with a teacher to iteratively adapt and refine whole-group discussions of students’ representations to provide a context in which students critique their peers’ work on scientific grounds. After each representational activity, the teacher engaged the students in discussing the representations (three groups of students across a total of six sessions, N = 39). Findings indicate that contextual cues lead to a statistically significant shift in students talk. Video analysis indicates that shifts in contextual cues resulted in dramatic shifts in how the activity is mediated, resulting in the verbalization and application of increasingly robust scientific criteria across three different sessions.


Science representations Activity theory Early elementary 



Portions of this work were funded by the Proffitt Endowment to Indiana University. We would also like to thank David Phelps, DiAnna Washington, Johanna Keene and Alejandro Andrade-Lotero for their help in completing this research. As always, we are also indebted to the teachers and students who participated in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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