Meaningful Engagement in Scientific Practices: How Classroom Communities Develop Authentic Epistemologies for Science
Christina Krist

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

Current reforms in science education emphasize scientific practices as the means by which students develop and use scientific ideas. Engaging students in scientific practices requires that classrooms adopt the knowledge-building goals of science and use the epistemic criteria of discipline, such as ideas for what counts as credible evidence, to guide their knowledge building and evaluation work. Much research has focused on bringing the epistemic elements of disciplinary science into classrooms through designing curricular materials. However, implementing new curricula without making changes to classroom social dynamics can lead to rote enactment of the rich practices they are designed to support. In order for classroom communities to engage in scientific practices in disciplinarily authentic ways, they must establish a culture that redistributes epistemic agency, or the ability to accept, reject, or modify an idea or explanation, from the teacher to the students. This redistribution also creates space for students to make scientific practices meaningful for their own knowledge building goals. By carefully studying classrooms aiming to redistribute epistemic agency, this dissertation aims to understand the processes by which classroom communities make scientific practices meaningful. This three-year longitudinal case study follows students in two middle schools as they progress from 6th-8th grade. By comparing two different schools, this study will provide context-sensitive heuristics for the design of instruction, professional development, and materials that support meaningful engagement in scientific practices. In addition, this study contributes to our understanding of how to meaningfully adapt disciplinary practices for classroom settings by providing empirical, longitudinal evidence for students’ epistemic development in practice.
About Christina Krist
Stina Krist is a doctoral candidate in the Learning Sciences program at Northwestern University. She received a BA in Biology and a teaching certification from the education program at Grinnell College (2009). Stemming from her experiences designing and teaching science outreach programming, her research focuses on understanding science learning as both a process of enculturation into an historical discipline and as a process of identity negotiation situated in a particular context. Her dissertation study explores how students learn to engage in scientific practices in ways that are meaningful both to their own classroom community and to the scientific community.

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