Wolff-Michael Roth
Lansdowne Professor (applied cognitive science)



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co/editor of

.FQS: Forum Qualitative Social Research

2 book series: .SENSE: science & math
.SENSE: culture & history

contact address


Wolff-Michael Roth
MacLaurin Building A567
University of Victoria
Victoria, BC
V8P 5C2


favorite sites

  .Jay Lemke
  .Jean_François Maheux

  .Damien Vervust









Wolff-Michael Roth, Kenneth Tobin, & Steve Ritchie, Re/Constructing Elementary Science (New York: Peter Lang, 2001).

Order books through Peter Lang Customer Service Department:
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Our new book on learning science in elementary schools through technological activities, and about learning to teach by fostering classroom discourse. It provides images of excellent teaching and learning science in action, and also provides stories of change. Each chapter is followed by a professional conversation about pertinent issues in teaching science at the elementary-school level.


Overview of the Book

We began this book by writing seven chapters (Chapters 2-8). Although we take joint responsibility for the entire book, the six chapters featuring case studies (Chapters 3-8) were written from a personal perspective. As a result, the voices in these case studies are different both in their expression (arising from our different professional histories) and in their location (participant, observer). We then took those six chapters as starting points for professional conversations about elementary science. Thus, each of these case studies is followed by a continuing conversation that takes its topics from the chapter. This conversation continues into the concluding Chapter 9 which, in a Batesonian manner, rises above the previous metalogues, turning them into the topic of the conversation.

In Chapter 2, we contextualize the remainder of the book in terms of several dimensions. We begin by reviewing some traditions in design and theories of designing. We then describe an emerging theory of the nature of design that differs considerably from older conceptualizations of design processes. A considerable chunk of this chapter is devoted to descriptions of children's design and our understandings of the nature of children's designing and products thereof. Finally, we outline some of the problematic issues of learning canonical science through design activities and the tension between production and re/production of cultural knowledge.

In Chapter 3, we analyze a whole-class conversation in which two boys present their bridge design. In the course of this discussion, canonical science is made explicit and enacted by the presenting students and their peers. Critical questions and responses provided a forum for learning canonical science concepts. How such discussions and the design experiences on which they built led to learning outcomes that showed deep understanding of science concepts is shown in an analysis of children's engineering logbooks where they defined engineering terms that they found most relevant to their work. The chapter includes a discussion of some characteristic features of the classroom environment and children's experience that brought them to the point at which they learned canonical science through engineering design activities.

In Chapter 4, we show another classroom in which canonical science practices emerged from engineering design activities. It features a whole-class discussion in which students and teacher tried to construct descriptions of and explanations for the outcome of a tug of war in which a teacher was victorious against 20 Grade 6-7 students because his efforts were mediated by a block and tackle. We show in this chapter what students learn when they participate in authentic scientific practices. Whole-class debates in which students have to defend their positions also led in this class to a form of argument that provides the context for many scientific discussions. The competitive aspect of the tug of war contributed to the setting up of a context in which the rhetorical aspects of scientific discourse in this class were brought to the fore.

In Chapter 5, we provide extensive analyses of learning in an Australian classroom in which students learn scientific discourse through their designing of inventive machines. The teacher interprets a given curriculum in flexible ways and thereby allows children to draw on their personal experiences, creatively redefine the nature of problems and curriculum sequences, and appropriate an authentic scientific discourse about energy. Here, as in other design curricula, children have the opportunity to develop their own goals within a broad overarching framework set by the teacher. Therefore, children do not convert the curriculum into their own truck curriculum, but incorporate materials and ideas that are salient in their worlds within the overall curriculum framework.

Elsewhere, we analyzed the cultural production and reproduction of science and technology in an elementary classroom (Roth, 1998a). In such a scenario, artifacts emerge from children's design activities and bear the marks of multiple influences (actors). Our account of the design activities in Mr. Hammett's class shows how important interactions among students, between groups, and with the teacher are not only significant for particular activities but, more importantly, are also significant for the development of viable observations and theory descriptions. In Chapter 6, we show how interactions among students foster the generation and communication of fruitful analogies that help children transit to a discourse commensurable with canonical science.

In Chapter 7, Ms. Scott, a Grade 2 teacher, enacted the curriculum in a child-centered way that involved students in diverse activities that were enjoyable and involved a degree of problem solving. The chapter provides complementary perspectives of the teacher and the researcher and illustrates that although the students were engaged in inquiry, they did not build a canonical discourse that was science-like. The efforts of the children and those of the teacher were oriented very much toward the children's goals, which were to build structures that looked like castles and contained as many castle-like features as was possible. The teacher, who employed a role of facilitator, did not mediate in the constructions of students such that what they learned evolved to be more and more scientific in nature. In addition, the roles of students were constrained to include interactions only with the teacher and peers within their small group. Ms. Scott did not use whole class activities to share what had been learned in groups and to negotiate classwide understandings. Nor were students encouraged to interact with peers from other groups.

After more than 20 years of not teaching science, Ms. Mack began to adapt her roles as a teacher of reading and language arts to her responsibility to teach science. Chapter 8 describes how a Grade 1 teacher was able to learn to teach science, provide her students with increasing autonomy and responsibility, and initiate a program of science that involved the family as a critical ingredient. Ms. Mack taught science regularly and maintained high standards, her students used inquiry to build understandings that were science-like about a range of phenomena. The study demonstrates that Grade 1 learners can undertake intensive independent studies and can build understandings of engineering science that connect to the materials they used in their curriculum but also are a source of learning for their peers.

In Chapter 9, we further develop several themes that arose from the previous chapters and our metalogues. These themes are likely to be central in any serious effort of re/constructing elementary science: epistemology, role of teaching and teachers, resources and artifacts, discourse community and participation, nature of elementary science, and resources that support learning. We encourage readers to take these conversations only as launch pads for ongoing conversations and opportunities to transform science education as it is practiced in their own situations.

update: 09-AUG-17


new work (2012-15)

- "symmetrical ZPD"
- "Becoming and belonging"
- "Limits to generalizing"
- Limits to general expertise
- Experiencing (pereživanie) as developmental category
- On variability in data
- The Emerging Presence
- Vygotsky, Bakhtin, Vološinov
- Theory-practice at work
- Fuzzy Logic
- Theory of Experience
- Online media learning
- Birth of intentions
- Event-in-the-making*
- Post-constructivist ethics
- Pregnance of bodily movement
- Health—personalized science
- Sociocultural perspectives
- Lectures then and now
- Situated cognition
- "I am a Pibidiana"
- Translation—the possible impossible
- Societal mediation of mathematical cognition
- Origin of signs
- Development of concepts
- ZPD symmetrically

making trouble

- "Meaning means nothing"
- What more?
- More reflexivity
- «Mosh»
- Science hegemony
- On editing . . .
- Ethics as social practice
- Political ethics, unethical politics
- Vagaries and politics of funding 1
- Vagaries and politics of funding 2
- Editorial power/authorial suffering


- Radical passivity
- On responsibility . . .
- Identity & Community
- Mêlée & literacy
- Dynamic of life
- Solidarity
- Education and diversity of life
- Living/Lived Math
- Representing mathematical performance
- Indeterminate evolutionary change of language
- Psychology from 1st principles

Science studies
- Struggle over water 2
- Struggle over water 1
- Science and the good citizen
Scientific literacy
- Allgemeinbildung: Readiness for living in risk society
- Citizenship and science education
Gesture studies
- Gestures: The leading edge of literacy...
Workplace math
- The meaning of meaning...
- The emergence of graphing...