Sixth Graders’ Co‐construction of Explanations of a Disturbance in an Ecosystem: Exploring relationships between grouping, reflective scaffolding, and evidence‐based explanations

We report on a study investigating the relationship between cognitive ability grouping, reflective inquiry scaffolding, and students’ collaborative explanations of an ecosystem disturbance which took place when a number of flamingo birds died in a

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  This article was downloaded by: [University of Cyprus]On: 23 March 2015, At: 08:12Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK International Journal of ScienceEducation Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Sixth Graders’ Co-construction ofExplanations of a Disturbance in anEcosystem: Exploring relationshipsbetween grouping, reflectivescaffolding, and evidence-basedexplanations Eleni A. Kyza a  , Costas P. Constantinou b  & George Spanoudis ca  Department of Communication and Internet Studies , CyprusUniversity of Technology , Limassol, Cyprus b  Learning in Science Group, Department of EducationalSciences , University of Cyprus , Nicosia, Cyprus c  Department of Psychology , University of Cyprus , Nicosia,CyprusPublished online: 04 May 2011. To cite this article:  Eleni A. Kyza , Costas P. Constantinou & George Spanoudis (2011) SixthGraders’ Co-construction of Explanations of a Disturbance in an Ecosystem: Exploring relationshipsbetween grouping, reflective scaffolding, and evidence-based explanations, International Journalof Science Education, 33:18, 2489-2525, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2010.550951 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the“Content”) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever  or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &Conditions of access and use can be found at    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   C  y  p  r  u  s   ]  a   t   0   8  :   1   2   2   3   M  a  r  c   h   2   0   1   5  ISSN 0950-0693 (print)/ISSN 1464-5289 (online)/11/182489–37© 2011 Taylor & Francis RESEARCH REPORT Sixth Graders’ Co-construction of Explanations of a Disturbance in an Ecosystem: Exploring relationships  between grouping, reflective scaffolding, and evidence-based explanations Eleni A. Kyza a * , Costas P. Constantinou b  and George Spanoudis c a Department of Communication and Internet Studies, Cyprus University of Technology, Limassol, Cyprus; b Learning in Science Group, Department of Educational Sciences, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus; c Department of Psychology, University of Cyprus,  Nicosia, Cyprus Taylor and FrancisTSED_A_550951.sgm10.1080/09500693.2010.550951International Journal of Science Education0950-0693 (print)/1464-5289 (online)Original Article2011Taylor & We report on a study investigating the relationship between cognitive ability grouping, reflectiveinquiry scaffolding, and students’ collaborative explanations of an ecosystem disturbance whichtook place when a number of flamingo birds died in a salt lake because of nearby intensive humanactivities. Twenty-six pairs of students from two intact sixth-grade classes participated in the study.All students investigated scientific data relating to the ecosystem problem using a web-basedlearning environment. One class was provided with web-based reflective inquiry scaffolding(WorkSpace), while the other class used PowerPoint. The main data analyzed for this studyconsisted of each pair’s written explanation and task-related artifacts. Findings show that the web-based reflective scaffolding supported students in providing valid evidence in support of theirexplanations. The analyses of the students’ collaborative explanations showed no statisticallysignificant differences that could be attributed to prior achievement between students in theWorkSpace condition, while differences were found between the different cognitive ability pairs inthe PowerPoint class. These findings suggest that the WorkSpace scaffolding may have providedmore influential support to lower cognitive ability pairs in creating evidence-based explanations. * Corresponding author. Department of Communication and Internet Studies, Cyprus Universityof Technology, P.O. Box 50329, Limassol 3603, Cyprus. Email: International Journal of Science EducationVol. 33, No. 18, December 2011, pp. 2489–2525    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   C  y  p  r  u  s   ]  a   t   0   8  :   1   2   2   3   M  a  r  c   h   2   0   1   5  Keywords: Explanations; Evidence-based reasoning; Inquiry-based learning; Reflective inquiry scaffolding  Introduction Explanation-building is at the heart of making sense of the natural, technological,and social world (de Vries, Lund, & Baker, 2002; Salmon, 1989; Sandoval & Reiser,2004). In our work, we view explanation-driven inquiry as the means to learn, do,and teach science, a view which is supported by extensive literature in scienceteaching and learning (Anderson, 2002; Chinn & Malhotra, 2002; Donovan &Bransford, 2005; NRC, 1996; White & Frederiksen, 1998). The design of learningenvironments that nurture the practice of explaining can be very powerful: children’sengagement in the process of creating explanations is an epistemic activity that canfoster students’ knowledge acquisition and help refine existing knowledge structures(de Vries et al., 2002; Sandoval & Reiser, 2004).In this paper, we examine the relationship between cognitive ability grouping,reflective scaffolding, and the quality of students’ collaborative causal explanationsof a complex ecological problem. The term ‘general cognitive ability’ refers tostudents’ capacity to grasp and learn concepts, understand the relationships of concepts, and solve problems. This study was part of a broader research project thataims to investigate software-based scaffolding as a means to support middle schoolstudents’ inquiry learning. The study seeks to contribute to current understanding of the complex interplay between software scaffolds and students’ collaborative inquirylearning in science, by investigating whether the scaffolding provided by inquiry-support systems had a differentiated effect in supporting students of varyingcognitive abilities to engage in extended inquiry projects. To our knowledge, thequestion of whether software-based inquiry scaffolding has differentiated effects onstudents’ collaborative explanation construction according to their cognitive abilityhas not received much attention in the literature.The paper begins with an overview of students’ difficulties with evidence-basedexplanations in inquiry-based science learning and a discussion of scaffolding to helpstudents overcome such difficulties. We then present the methodology of a studydesigned to examine the relationship between grouping and reflective scaffolding.We conclude with a presentation of the results of this study and a discussion of theimplications for scaffolding different cognitive ability students’ explanation-building. Students’ Difficulties with Scientific Reasoning and Creating Evidence-Based Explanations Learners encounter considerable challenges in approaching inquiry-based science asa knowledge-building process and in developing the disciplinary skills required toreason scientifically (Krajcik, Blumenfeld, Marx, Bass, & Fredricks, 1998; Kuhn,Amsel, & O’Loughlin, 1988; Quintana et al., 2004; Reiser, 2004). Inquiry is an ill-structured quest for evidence-based knowledge that differentiates substantially E. A. Kyza et al. 2490    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   C  y  p  r  u  s   ]  a   t   0   8  :   1   2   2   3   M  a  r  c   h   2   0   1   5  according to the phenomena being examined. For these reasons, researchers haveargued about the need to be guided in developing into a self-regulated inquirer (Rogoff,2008). In addition to the challenges in grasping the fundamental concepts of hownatural systems function, middle school students are often reported to encounter diffi-culties when asked to corroborate their explanations of physical and biologicalphenomena (Brewer, Chinn, & Samarapungavan, 2000; Kuhnet al., 1988; Sandoval,2003; Zimmerman, 2005; Zuzovsky & Tamir, 1999). It is extremely important toaddress students’ challenges, as it has been shown that formulating explanations canimprove one’s understanding (Chi, Leeuw, Chiu, & LaVancher, 1994); furthermore,it has been suggested that articulating explanations, verbally or in writing, is a char-acteristic of higher-achieving students (Chi, Bassok, Lewis, Reimann, & Glaser, 1989).One commonly reported theme is students’ difficulties with explanation-building.Explanation can be seen as the ultimate goal of scientific inquiry (Salmon, 1989)and, as an extension, a primary goal in learning science. Middle school students areable to provide explanations of how the world around them works but may not citeevidence in support of their explanations (Glassner, Weinstock, & Neuman, 2005;Kuhn et al., 1988; Wu & Hsieh, 2006), even in cases when their explanations arewarranted by the data they have examined (Sandoval, 2003). When students do citeevidence, there may be problems relating to the quality of that evidence (McNeill &Krajcik, 2007; Sandoval & Millwood, 2005). Another area of difficulty is consider-ing alternative explanations of the data (Kyza, 2009; Mynatt, Doherty, & Tweney,1977). In previous research with seventh-grade students, we provided evidence indi-cating that students’ challenges in discussing alternative explanations of their datawere related to their epistemologies of what constitutes a good scientific explanationand argued that students can be guided in understanding the role of addressingalternative explanations (Kyza, 2009). Reflective Inquiry: An essential process in explanation-building  From the discussion thus far, it appears that students need support in understandingwhat counts as evidence, determining the quality and appropriateness of evidence,and creating persuasive arguments within the domain-specific explanatory frameworkthey are investigating (Sadler, 2004). Some of the challenges students encounterbecome more apparent when they are engaged in inquiry-based learning, are asked towork collaboratively to solve data-rich problems, and construct evidence-based expla-nations. Reiser (2004) summarized students’ challenges as relating to the cognitivecomplexity and unfamiliar social interaction and discourse patterns, with non-reflective work being one of the crucial cognitive challenges. Specifically, Reiser arguedthat ‘for learning through investigation to succeed, students must not only constructsolutions to the particular scenario but must connect the explanations or argumentsthey construct to more general disciplinary frameworks’ (2004, p. 278). To be success-ful, learners should approach inquiry reflectively, engaging with each cognitive taskmindfully. Adopting a reflective stance to complex inquiry situations is prerequisiteto deep understanding (Dewey, 1910) but, at the same time, is not   an endeavor that Scaffolding Explanations 2491    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   C  y  p  r  u  s   ]  a   t   0   8  :   1   2   2   3   M  a  r  c   h   2   0   1   5
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