Developing a Semiotic Framework for How People Learn Science Across Contexts

September 01, 2008

Funding: SRI International

Summary: Recent results from standardized assessments indicate that science is one of the most challenging subjects for students and that American students are falling behind their peers in other developed nations (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2005; National Center for Education Statistics, 2000; Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2007).  Moreover, these reports indicate that American students’ achievement in science has not improved in the last three decades.

While achievement scores provide an indication of students’ overall understanding of science, we have less detailed information about student learning science in and across formal and informal settings (but cf. Linn, Bell, & Hsi, 1998).  We adopt an ethnographic perspective that treats the process of learning as distinct from individual moments of cognition, taking place within and across many events, and over time (Wortham, 2006).  Yet the question remains how may one document empirically students’ learning behaviors over time?  How can one capture and analyze the vast amount of data needed to examine a phenomenon that takes place both within and across time scales?  It is with these questions in mind that this project was designed.  It proposes development of a theoretical framework for analyzing learning behaviors within and across contexts, as well as a technical toolbox for handling the amount of data needed to examine student learning over time.