Epistemological Authenticity in Science Classrooms

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A scientifically literate individual understands important characteristics of both the nature of scientific knowledge and the activity that produces it, scientific inquiry. (NRC, 1996; AAAS, 1993) In support of these goals the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) envisions science classrooms where students engage productively in activity that is similar to scientific inquiry. It is presumed that by engaging in this kind of activity students will come to deeper understandings of scientific inquiry and scientific knowledge. For this instructional approach to be successful it is necessary students not only engaging in activity that "looks" like science in important ways, but also view their own activity as authentically using knowledge for the purpose of making sense of natural phenomena. Notably the determination of what is authentic is problematic in a science classroom. There are two different possible arbiters "present" in a classroom, the students themselves and the discipline of science. And what is authentic to one might not be to the other.

This work provides perspectives on classroom and teacher professional development implications of this view of science instruction. Chapter two articulates a conceptualization, epistemological authenticity, of the nature of student activity necessary to achieve these instructional goals. Such activity involves students engaging in scientific practices with the same purposes as scientists. Chapter three uses a case study of a science classroom to illustrate some of the features of student activity that provide evidence of more and less productive student expectations about the purposes of their own participation in a science class. It also discusses the role teacher instructional choices play in influencing how students perceive the purposes of classroom activity. Chapter four considers teacher professional development, specifically images of exemplary science classrooms in the Standards and a supplement to it (NRC, 2000). The depictions in those documents provide little insight into student activity, instead focusing on the pre-planned instructional sequence. This is poor preparation for teachers who must pay close attention to students. An alternative depiction is presented and contrasted with the images in the supplement to the Standards.