William Pluta, William Pluta, Clark Chinn
Recent recommendations for reforming science instruction have advocated placing inquiry activities such as evidence evaluation, model-building, explanation, and argumentation at the center of the curriculum. An increasing number of studies indicate that instruction focused on these inquiry activities promote deep content learning and an informed understanding of the nature of science. A major challenge in any inquiry program is developing methods to move students' reasoning forward. I report on
more » ... the results of three studies aimed at exploring strategies to make science inquiry instruction more productive. The first two studies focus on the development of students' ideas about epistemic criteria. Study 1 examines 324 middle school students' preinstructional ideas about epistemic criteria for good scientific models. Study 2 examines four class discussions in which students propose, vet, and adopt class lists of epistemic criteria. Collectively, these two studies provide important information about students' preinstructional ideas about scientific models and epistemic criteria as well as strategies for promoting student understanding of epistemic criteria. The third study focuses on students' ability to coordinate evidence in order to develop a more inclusive, accurate model as well as their understanding of epistemic criteria for good evidence. Study 3 iii describes the results of an interview study in which 29 middle school students attempted to coordinate multiple pieces of conflicting evidence. Overall, the three studies provide insights into ways to design inquiry learning environments. In particular, they have implications for scaffolding inquiry-I argue that productive scientific discourse and inquiry activities can be scaffolded through reflection on epistemic criteria for evaluating the quality of models and evidence. Criteria provide important information on the extent to which student need to be introduced to science-specific criteria and the extent to which students need to be scaffolded when engaging with multiple pieces of evidence. Finally all three studies provide important theoretical information on students' epistemic resources and the overall sophistication of their understanding of the nature of science.