IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT OF MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS AS LEARNERS OF SCIENCE AT AN INFORMAL SCIENCE EDUCATION CAMP
Riedinger, Kelly Anne
McGinnis, J. Randy
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Education researchers and practitioners are increasingly recognizing the need for learning in informal settings to complement formal science learning (Bybee, 2001; Falk, 2001). Informal science education may be critical in meeting the goals of reform and in keeping students and the public informed of advances in science. As such, greater attention has been given to learning in informal science settings. A growing body of research examines how groups engage in learning conversations to make meaning from content and exhibits in these settings. The National Research Council (2009) speculated that individual and group identity might be shaped and reinforced during such learning conversations. The central research question guiding the study was: What is the role of conversation in influencing science learner identity development during an informal science education camp? Identity in this study was defined as becoming and being recognized as a certain type of person (Gee, 2001). This study focused particularly on discursive identity, defined as individual traits recognized through discourse with other individuals (Gee, 2005; 2011). The study used an exploratory case study. Data collection included videotaped observations, researcher field notes, interviews and participants' reflective journal entries. Each source of data was examined for the conversation that it generated. I used qualitative methods to analyze the data including discourse analysis and the constant comparison method for emergent themes. From the findings of this study, I theorized that the learning conversations played a role in developing participants' identities as learners of science. Participants used language in the following ways: to make sense of science content, to position themselves, to align their discourse and practices with science, to communicate with others which resulted in engagement, to re-negotiate power, and to see others in new ways. The findings of this research support and extend the research literature on identity, learning conversations in informal science education environments and science camp programs. Implications from this study include recommendations for the design of science camps to support identity development as learners of science for participants.