Cultural Historical Approach to Thinking
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Layered Inscriptions in Science Textbooks.

Ethnographic research in the sciences showed that inscriptions, all forms of expression in written media other than text, are central to the nature of and progress in science. Inscriptions also figure prominently in school science textbooks, where they may serve as resources for teaching and learning specific concepts. However, some studies point out that students do not easily understand inscriptions. This may be die to the gap between inscriptions and the things in the world that they stand for, a gap that requires considerable interpretive work to be bridged by the reader. There have been suggestions that overlaying an experience-distant inscription- e.g., a pressure-volume graph- with one or more others that are closer to everyday experience- e.g., images of cylinders with pistons at various depth- will help students learn. The purpose of this study is to investigate the function of layered inscriptions in middle school science textbooks, which we found to represent 24 percent of the inscriptions in Korean and North American science textbooks. In this study, we develop a semantic model that allows us to describe the work of reading and interpreting layered inscriptions. Our analyses of several layered inscriptions provide examples of the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to establish the links between the layered inscriptions, and between the inscriptions and the world familiar to the student. In addition, different functional relations in layered inscriptions require different kinds and amounts of linking work. Our study shows that although layered inscriptions decrease the gaps between more experience-distant inscriptions and the world of experience, the total amount of different types of work- i.e., structuring, transposing, and translating- that has to be done and aligned increases. Our study provides a framework for studying how students learn from using inscriptions in general and layered inscriptions in particular.

Han, J. Y., Roth, W.-M., & Pozzer-Ardenghi, L. (in press). Layered inscriptions in science textbooks. Journal of Research in Science Teaching.

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