A Multiple Perspective Analysis of the Role of Language in Inquiry Science Learning: To Build a Tower

  • Michael Kamen
  • Wolff-Michael Roth
  • Lawerence B. Flick
  • Bonnie Shapiro
  • Laura Barden
  • Elizabeth Kean
  • Stephen Marble
  • Jay Lemke
Keywords: Science, Education, Physics


The role of language in science learning is coming into focus for science education researchers from a number of perspectives. With a constructivist paradigm dominating the field, language is being explored for its role in facilitating and assessing learning and in understanding complex interactions related to science teaching and learning. This paper, by opening a window onto a variety of techniques, methods, and approaches to the analysis of one short discussion between several elementary students, presents the opportunity to continue and enhance the dialogue about ways to research and understand children's discourse during science activities. The purpose of this paper is to clarify issues relating to the interaction between language and science learning and to relate these issues to different theoretical perspectives. From this "discourse about discourse" the authors identify and share avenues for further research, including methodological approaches and implications for the classroom teacher. The researchers examine a two-and-one- half minute videotape of three boys constructing a tower of plastic drinking straws as part of a unit called "Engineering for Children: Structures" which was presented in a mixed fourth- and fifth-grade class.

Author Biographies

Michael Kamen
Aubirn University
Wolff-Michael Roth
University of Victoria
Lawerence B. Flick
Oregon State University
Bonnie Shapiro
University of Calgary
Laura Barden
Western Illinois University
Elizabeth Kean
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Stephen Marble
Southwest Educational Development Lab
Jay Lemke
University of New York