My research interests focus on cognition, learning and reasoning. My work explores how social and material supports affect the development thinking and knowing from childhood through adulthood. I study how classroom variables, such as teacher-student or peer interactions, task or activity structures and material supports, influence students’ engagement in learning, knowledge, reasoning, and epistemic cognition. I am also interested in the connections between informal or out-of-school and formal school learning.
In broad terms, I am interested in how people think and learn in knowledge rich domains. My research focuses on reasoning and learning in science from childhood through adulthood. Within this context, I am interested in several specific research questions:
Exploring Biological Evidence (EBE): Helping Students Understand the Richness and Complexity of Evidentiary Constructs in Biology (NSF-DRL Award # 1661124)
In modern science, discoveries are driven by disciplinary research techniques that produce complex and multifaceted evidence. For example, life scientists adapt microscopy techniques from the physical sciences to gather biomolecular evidence, draw from chemistry to develop chromatography techniques for the study of cellular processes, and apply mathematics to model population variation. Recent research and education reform documents emphasize integrating the teaching and learning of disciplinary knowledge with the science practices by which evidence for that knowledge is generated. Despite decades of research on these issues, educators find that students continue to have difficulty understanding the nature, quality, and scope of the evidentiary base on which advanced science concepts are founded. The EBE project aims to address this gap by studying how instructional scaffolds can be used to foster students’ understanding and use of biological evidence in the context of advanced biology learning. For the purposes of this project, instructional scaffolds are defined as written prompts embedded in task instructions, that direct students’ attention to evidence in inquiry and problem-solving tasks. The EBE project will examine trajectories of learning in high school students’ understanding and use of biological evidence. We will work with instructors who incorporate a variety of rich and authentic problems/inquiry tasks designed to help students understand and apply core concepts in biology. We hypothesize that students’ evidentiary reasoning will improve more with the use of instructional scaffolds which explicitly connect abstract considerations of the quality and relevance of evidence to key disciplinary knowledge in biology. We will collaborate with biology instructors to help them develop and implement instructional scaffolds for students in the context of classroom inquiry activities, and examine the effects of scaffolding on student learning.
Modeling in Primary Grades (MPG): Science Learning through Content-rich Inquiry (NSF DRK12, Award #1222853)
Funded by NSF-REESE, this exploratory project examines how teachers of second grade students scaffold the development of student conceptual models and their understanding of the nature of scientific models and modeling processes in physical science conceptual areas associated with the particulate nature of matter. Teachers receive professional development around ways in which they can facilitate productive disciplinary discussions with young children that result in students coming to understand core ideas in the Next Generation Science Standards. The project focuses on the topics of matter and sound based on the FOSS units “Solids and Liquids” and “Water,” and the STC unit “Sound”. My CoPIs on this project are Lynn Bryan, Nicholas Giordano, and Yukiko Maeda.
The Epistemic Cognition Project
My interests in Epistemic Cognition can be traced back to my doctoral research in the 1980s. When I began my doctoral work, the conventional view of young children was that they lacked the cognitive tools (such as the ability to coordinate ideas with evidence) that would allow them to reflect upon, evaluate, and revise scientific ideas. Informed by work in the epistemology of science, the psychology of scientific reasoning, and cognitive development, I embarked upon a program of research to explore children’s developing capacities for epistemic cognition. I explored children’s judgments about what counted as a good or better theory in the context of practical scenarios that drew upon children’s early ideas about how the natural world works. That line of research showed that even young children show an emerging preference for empirically consistent, non-ad hoc, and coherent scientific explanations, when they understand the content of the explanations and when the competing explanations are both plausible based on their prior experience and knowledge. Since then, I have continued to explore aspects of epistemic cognition in children and adults. My recent research had explored the role of content expertise, including methodological expertise, and tacit / informally acquired methodological knowledge, in the epistemic cognition of practicing scientists. This work suggests variations in the epistemic cognition of research scientists as a function of their disciplinary training and expertise. We are currently studying how students develop these more nuance, discipline-specific forms of epistemic cognition through apprenticeship in programs of scientific research.