Re/Production of science process skills and a scientific ethos in an early childhood classroom

Susan A. Kirch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many educators and researchers are convinced that age limits what students can learn and achieve in science. Elementary school curricula focus on isolated process skills under the faulty assumption that young students are not capable of combining the process skills and content knowledge necessary for reasoning scientifically. In the present study, I demonstrate that many process skills are produced in conversations between second grade students and between these students and their teachers, including: questioning, hypothesis formation, experimental design, identifying relevant evidence, critical analysis of hypotheses and predictions, hypothesis reconstruction, and variable identification. Through conversation analysis I show that most classroom community members adopted the role of skeptic at some time, but there was a strong tendency to defer to authoritative sources when resolving debates. This latter observation led to further investigation of when and how authoritative sources were consulted and used, and when and how a skeptical stance was taken. I show that, as students used science process skills and interacted with each other and teacher-mediators, community practices, values, and mores were shaped and an ethos of science began to emerge. It is my contention that this ethos often emerges unconsciously as part of the community's dynamic set of rules and schema. Teachers who are attuned to the tension between open-mindedness and skepticism, and how they and their students cope with this dialectic, however, can actively shape the scientific ethos of their classroom community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)785-845
Number of pages61
JournalCultural Studies of Science Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2007


  • Conversation analysis ?early childhood
  • Cultural-historical activity theory
  • Ethos of science
  • Science education
  • Science process skills
  • Skepticism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies


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