Why and how do middle school students exchange ideas during science inquiry?

Camillia Matuk, Marcia C. Linn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Science is increasingly characterized by participation in knowledge communities. To meaningfully engage in science inquiry, students must be able to evaluate diverse sources of information, articulate informed ideas, and share ideas with peers. This study explores how technology can support idea exchanges in ways that value individuals’ prior ideas, and allow students to use these ideas to benefit their own and their peers’ learning. We used the Idea Manager, a curriculum-integrated tool that enables students to collect and exchange ideas during science inquiry projects. We investigated how students exchanged ideas, how these exchanges impacted the explanations they ultimately produced, and how the tool impacted teachers’ instruction. We implemented the tool with 297 grade 7 students, who were studying a web-based unit on cancer and cell division. Among other results, we found a relationship between the diversity of students’ ideas, and the sources of those ideas (i.e., whether they came from the students themselves or from their peers), and the quality of students’ scientific explanations. Specifically, students who collected more unique ideas (i.e., ideas not already represented in their private idea collections) as opposed to redundant ideas (i.e., ideas that reiterated ideas already present in their private idea collections) tended to write poorer explanations; and students who generated their own redundant ideas, as opposed to choosing peers’ ideas that were redundant, tended to write better explanations. We discuss implications for formative assessment, and for the role of technology in supporting students to engage more meaningfully with peers’ ideas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-299
Number of pages37
JournalInternational Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Knowledge repositories
  • Middle school
  • Science inquiry
  • Social technologies
  • Student learning
  • Web-based curricula

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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