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Modern Scientific Literacy: A Case Study of Multiliteracies and Scientific Practices in a Fifth Grade Classroom


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Modern Scientific Literacy: A Case Study of Multiliteracies and Scientific Practices in a Fifth Grade Classroom. By: Allison, Elizabeth, Goldston, M. Jenice, Journal of Science Education & Technology, 10590145, Jun2018, Vol. 27, Issue 3

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This study investigates the convergence of multiliteracies and scientific practices in a fifth grade classroom. As students’ lives become increasingly multimodal, diverse, and globalized, the traditional notions of literacy must be revisited (New London Group 1996). With the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013a) in many states, either in their entirety or in adapted forms, it becomes useful to explore the interconnectedness multiliteracies and scientific practices and the resulting implications for scientific literacy. The case study included a fifth grade classroom, including the students and teacher. In order to create a rich description of the cases involved, data were collected and triangulated through teacher interviews, student interviews and focus groups, and classroom observations. Findings reveal that as science activities were enriched with multiliteracies and scientific practices, students were engaged in developing skills and knowledge central to being scientifically literate. Furthermore, this study establishes that characteristics of scientific literacy, by its intent and purpose, are a form of multiliteracies in elementary classrooms. Therefore, the teaching and learning of science and its practices for scientific literacy are in turn reinforcing the development of broader multiliteracies.

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Sep 3
Aline Vushaj Aline Vushaj (Sep 03 2020 10:22AM) : the 5 E's model more

This reminds me of the 5 E’s model I learned in my summer EDE 717 Science methodologies class.

One way in which teachers can teach students inquiry based skills is through the 5 E’s model. Lesson plans can be structured through phases of Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate. Once students are able to elaborate on their understanding, they can apply what they’ve learned to new situations. This deepens their learning and their skills.

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Multiliteracies; Scientific literacy; Scientific practices; Elementary science education

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Introduction

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Scientific literacy as a goal of science education traditionally includes components of socio-cultural and civic responsibility, mastery of science content, and an understanding of scientific practices—or any combination thereof (NRC [27] ). According to this perspective, in order to achieve the goal of scientific literacy, students must experience science in a variety of contexts (i.e., social and academic) and interact with content in different modes (i.e., text, models, discourse). Furthermore, scientific and engineering endeavors rely on the creation and utilization of tools and technology. Given the integration of technology with these endeavors, along with the inherent multimodality and socio-cultural nature of science, science education converges toward a framework of multiliteracies which employs the idea that due to innovations in technology and increased local diversity ad globalization, literacy in its broadest sense must now be viewed as multimodal, multicultural, and multilingual. Viewed in this way, the lines between traditional literacy, multiliteracies, and scientific literacy blur.

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Sep 3
Aline Vushaj Aline Vushaj (Sep 03 2020 10:24AM) : The 5 E's more

one example is the 5 E’s model! Getting kids engaged through an introduction that hooks them from the beginning.

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Sep 24
Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse (Sep 24 2020 1:17AM) : Science if not handle in a delicate manner it can be viewed as boring or not interesting to the students. more

This is why i agree that having different way of displaying science curriculum is important. Students having hand on activity or the fact they are able to see it in action through their own eyes rather than just watching or hearing from it from the 4 corners of their classroom

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This study explores the presence of multiliteracies and scientific practices in a fifth grade elementary classroom. Specifically, we look at the convergence of multiliteracies and scientific practices and the resulting implications for scientific literacy. The multiliteracies framework reshapes traditional literacy practices to include an increased emphasis on multimodality and linguistic/cultural diversity. Therefore, finding multiliteracies within scientific practices and connections for science education begs the question, as Yore and Hand ([37] ) point out, “If learning is about negotiation within and amongst learners, sensory experiences, prior knowledge, and sociocultural context, what are the negotiations required to move between the arrays of modal forms used to represent a science concept?” (p. 94). In this work, focus groups, observations, and interviews were utilized in a case study to investigate, through rich descriptions, the convergence among multiliteracies and scientific practices as enacted by the teachers and elementary students.

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Background

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Science education in the USA is evolving to reflect the needs of a changing society. With increased technologization, global connectedness, and societal diversity, students must be prepared to exist and work in a world in which powerful computers are carried in pockets and communication is not limited to our immediate surroundings. While the overall characteristics of scientific literacy continue to address science content, informed citizenship, and science practices, the underpinning needs of each of these areas are evolving. The continuous need for analyzing the nature of scientific literacy as it pertains to our evolving society leads to the exploration of the interconnectedness of multiliteracies and science in elementary classrooms. What follows is a discussion of related literature as it pertains to the current state of science education, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States [25] ), scientific literacy, and multiliteracies.

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Sep 24
Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse (Sep 24 2020 1:22AM) : How does this occur if the students are not exposed to it in their classes? or the teachers lack resources or do not know how to apply it into their lesson?
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Scientific Literacy

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Despite decades of varied interpretations, scientific literacy continues to serve as a central role in science education. Often overshadowed by the broader goals of science education, perspectives on scientific literacy evolve, adapting to the changing needs of society (including the needs of K-6 students). For instance, Holbrook and Rannikmae ([19] ) outline several perspectives over the past four decades that speak to the evolving nature of scientific literacy:

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The trend […] is suggested as away from the short term product approach, in which the facts and skills are paramount, towards the inclusion of issue-based teaching, the need to go beyond scientific problem solving to encompass socioscientific decision making, and the recognition that scientific literacy relates to enabling citizens to effectively participate in the real world. (p. 279)

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Hurd ([20] ) perceived the importance of scientific literacy by recognizing that science education must adapt to societal changes including globalization and technologization (Hurd [20] ). According to Hurd ([21] ), instead of a singular emphasis on science content, students should be engaged in a “lived curriculum […] where students have a feeling that they are involved in their own development and recognize that they can use what they learn” (p. 411). In today’s society with its rapidly evolving technologies, science classrooms should include “lived curriculum” to move students toward a goal of scientific literacy, as “the literate person needs to have content knowledge and also must be able to apply it to ill-structured, daily-life problem solving” (Yore et al. [38] , p. 561). Scientifically literate individuals should be able to transfer content and skills from the science classroom to their everyday lives. As the everyday lives of individuals becomes more intertwined with the use of multiliteracies, we must reexamine “science literacy, and disciplinary literacy in general, as the cultural practices that encompass specific ways of talking, writing, viewing, drawing, graphing, and acting, within a specialized discourse community” (Tang and Moje [34] , p. 83).

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Sep 20
Karen Molina Karen Molina (Sep 20 2020 6:10PM) : A lived curriculum more

This is true in the discipline of science, where many students just study or memorize facts to pass an exam. With this kind of learning, we must find ways to ensure students are effectively learning. Also, as we enter a fully remote classroom, students have the ability to just search for an answer rather than truly understand the content. It is important to develop a curriculum that has students apply what they learn and see the connections it has to real life. Science is a discipline that gives educators the opportunity to supply content in innovative and diverse ways.

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Sep 24
Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse (Sep 24 2020 1:33AM) : I could not agree more with you Karen and this is similar to what I was mentioning earlier. Students should be involved in their learning and it should be as lived or connecting to the real world as much as possible. more

This gives the students the opportunity to create relationship between curriculum in science and real life examples. This is crucial because the interconnection does not disorient them but help them see the similarity and how they work hand in hand.

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Next Generation Science Standards

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The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a set of “learning goals,” originated in the USA, with the standards organized by grade level through the fifth grade and then located in grade bands (6th-8th grade) and (7th-12th grade). Underlying each set of grade level performance standards are three dimensions (Science and Engineering practices, Discipline core ideas, and Crosscutting concepts) which work together to increase student engagement and a more comprehensive, integrated understanding. The three dimensions were presented first in the Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC [29] ) as a response to the strands for scientific literacy in the NRC’s Taking Science to School ([28] ). However, the NGSS Lead States ([25] ) recognize the world is drastically different than it was when the last national science standards were written in 1995, as such the new standards are broadly stated to address rapidly evolving social, economic, and scientific changes. Overall, the goal of the NGSS is to increase interest in STEM while preparing students for success in college and the workplace (NGSS Lead States [25] ).

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The NGSS are organized in a multidimensional framework, consisting of crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, and scientific and engineering. The Framework and NGSS emphasize the importance of integrating science concepts with practices, stating that the two cannot be mutually exclusive (NGSS Lead States [26] ; NRC [29] ). Future assessments will reflect this viewpoint, as “they will be assessed together, showing students not only ‘know’ science concepts; but also, students can use their understanding to investigate the natural world through the practices of science inquiry, or solve meaningful problems through the practices of engineering design” (NGSS Lead States [26] , p. 1). The Science and Engineering Practices, as defined by the NGSS, include the following: (1) asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering), (2) developing and using models, (3) planning and carrying out investigations, (4) analyzing and interpreting data, (5) using mathematics and computational thinking, (6) constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering), (7) engaging in argument from evidence, and (8) obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information (NGSS Lead States [26] ). While the standards originated in the USA, the Science and Engineering Practices are valuable in all contexts.

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Sep 24
Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse (Sep 24 2020 1:38AM) : Practice makes better more

Very key for the students to be able to master their skills in the science curriculum. Practice is key and how you have the students practicing is also key. This is also good because it gives the students the independency to do research and find out on their own.

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Multiliteracies in Science

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Similar to scientific literacy, multiliteracies encompass a multitude of practices and concepts that lead to a constantly evolving view of literacy. The discussion of multiliteracies emerged with scholars who saw a need to redefine the traditional view of literacy to reflect the changes in the way in which information is communicated and represented (cite some). The “multi” of multiliteracies refers to the multiplicity of literacy in terms of multimodality and cultural and linguistic diversity. In terms of science, Yore et al. clarify a connection for multiliteracies in learning science as follows: “purposeful discussion, reading, and writing embedded in authentic inquiry and problem solving that move language from everyday usage to the specialized disciplinary uses can enhance learning for understanding” (2007, p. 565).

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Sep 3
Jonathan Paladini Jonathan Paladini (Sep 03 2020 7:13PM) : Multiliteracies in Science more

I believe this could be hard to achieve because the language of science is meant to be ubiquitous in order for data to be correctly interpreted by each individual independently analyzing it.

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Through careful analysis, several commonalities arise in the literature related to scientific practices and multiliteracies. These include, but are certainly not limited to, varied modes of communication and collaboration, independent thinking, and varying uses of information and communication technology (ICT). Online simulations, for example, foster visualization of natural phenomena and objects in an environment that can be controlled and manipulated (Collins and Halverson [11] ). The authors of the Framework and NGSS, like scholars of multiliteracies, recognize the impact of technology on society, science, and engineering (NGSS Lead States [25] ; NRC [29] ). For example, in a description of the practice of Analyzing and Interpreting Data, it is noted that “Modern technology makes the collection of large data sets much easier, providing secondary sources for analysis” (NGSS Lead States [26] p. 23). The following sections outline literature related to practices of multiliteracies with respect to science teaching and learning.

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Multimodality

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Science classes inherently lend themselves to the use of multimodal mechanisms, particularly as the emphasis of science curricula is changing from a focus on facts and information to key disciplinary core concepts and scientific/engineering practices along with unifying themes and interconnections (NRC [29] ; NGSS Lead States [25] ). The New London Group ([35] ) refers to text as being “related to the visual, the audio, the special, the behavioral, and so on” (p. 4). This description of the various ways in which meaning is expressed and consumed designates multimodality as the various uses of methods, genres, and approaches of communication. Multimodality in science teaching and learning occurs in a variety of ways: (a) tools for instruction, (b) student interaction, and (c) the creation of artifacts. For example, when preparing for a science lesson, a teacher may rely on a number of tools and resources emphasizing multimodality. For students, many hands-on, inquiry-based lessons are multimodal by nature, as they typically interact with a variety of materials. Goldston et al. [16] , for example, had students explore the rock cycle through a variety of activities and discussions including making models with crayon shavings, watching online videos, creating rock cycle comic strips, completing an online web-quest, and classifying actual rocks. With respect to these activities, Prain and Waldrip state that “learning how to integrate the multimodal literacies of this subject” is critical and rather than being “viewed as peripheral to learning, or surface features of content acquisition, they are now understood by researchers in this area as crucial tools for meaning-making and knowledge production” ([30] , p. 1).

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Although it is easy to focus on technology as the primary source for multimodal instruction, it is not limited to such tools. Visual literacy “refers to the ability to make meaning from information in the form of the image” (Rowsell et al. [31] , p. 444). Currently, all types of images are becoming increasingly prevalent in everyday communication, as demonstrated in the use of photos and illustrations in websites, blogs, wikis, and memes, not to mention the plethora of emoticons (Kress [24] ; Knobel and Lankshear [22] ). However, visual literacy can also be addressed through the use of picture books or other traditional texts with images, charts, or diagrams, and even models. In teaching and learning science, visual representations are particularly useful in representing content that can otherwise not be seen (Coleman et al. [10] ; Coleman and Goldston [8] ). For example, a diagram or model of the human respiratory system gives students the opportunity to visualize a system they would otherwise be unable to see.

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A study by Cohen and Johnson ([7] ) investigated the effects of images on science vocabulary retention with 89 fifth grade students. Four instructional methods were implemented and analyzed: “Picture Presentation”-word shown with a picture,“Image Creation—No Picture”-students created an image of a word without being shown a picture, “Image Creation—Picture”-students drew an image of a word after being presented with a picture, and “Word Only”-only verbal representations were used (Cohen and Johnson [7] ). Retention of the vocabulary words was assessed through a vocabulary comprehension test (fill in the blank and matching) the day after the activity and again 2 weeks later. In both the next-day and delayed assessments, there was a significant difference in scores between groups with scores increasing as the level of processing increased. This led to the implication that “imagery-based strategies influence vocabulary learning in the science content domain” (Cohen and Johnson [7] , p. 948). In connecting these findings to science, it is clear that educators should “recognize that students need to learn the specific literacy practices of integrating the multimodal elements of representations according to scientific conventions in order to construct the canonical meaning of accepted scientific concepts” (Tang and Moje [34] , p. 83).

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Greer and Sweeney ([18] ) employed a variety of data collection methods to analyze the ways in which students believe they learn best. For example, one method required that students “draw a picture of themselves with the various things that helped them learn and to comment on how they used them” (Greer and Sweeney [18] , p. 296). Drawings of 347 students were analyzed, and 67 different items were identified as tools to aid in learning. The top ten most popular items were as follows (beginning with the most frequently mentioned): computers/laptop, interactive whiteboard, dictionary, books, teacher, parents/family, friends, library, calculator, and pencils. The variety of items confirms that students learn in different ways and value tools differently. When asked in questionnaires and interviews about instructional tools, students commented “that technologies can make concepts easier to understand, more enjoyable, more professional looking as well as providing an incredible resource by way of the internet” (Greer and Sweeney [18] , p. 299). Although students seemed to value technology, there was no mistaking that they also believed the teacher was an integral part of their education. The authors suggested further investigation into quality professional development where teachers can learn to integrate technology into inquiry-based or problem-based learning (Greer and Sweeney [18] ). Not only would this enhance teachers’ confidence in implementing technology in the classroom, but it would also improve student learning and achievement. Thus, multiliteracies through multimodality have tremendous capacity to enhance science students’ classroom experiences through increased engagement, individualization, and communication opportunities.

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Sep 24
Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse Ms. Aimee Grace Embaba Ngatse (Sep 24 2020 1:47AM) : Learning Styles more

That is why i believe we have different learning styles and it is very helpful when a teacher uses more than one in their curriculum to assure students are receiving the information in a style that pertains to them. I am glad to see technology is also meeting all those requirements.

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Multimodality in science education opens the door for preparing students for a more realistic approach to the communication they will take part in as adults, while reinforcing science concepts. For instance, “providing learners with a multimodal, digitally enhanced environment supports their transition between the real and the symbolic world” (Anastopoulou et al. [2] , p. 282), representing the way that many adults interact with technology on a daily basis. Thus, we must be aware that not only are the modes of communication changing, but the potential audience is changing as well.

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Globalization vs. Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

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While globalization increases connectedness both nationally and internationally, local communities are becoming increasingly diverse. This cultural and linguistic diversity is reflected at all levels of relationships and community life including elementary classrooms. Thus, students are now communicating in a variety of ways with a variety of people, both in person and digitally. Being able to utilize and create multimodal artifacts will be imperative in achieving the goal of scientific literacy for all students, particularly with the purpose of encouraging students to be effective communicators (creators and receptors) with respect to science. Online, information can travel globally in seconds. Today, students must be able to analyze data and information represented in a number of ways (graphs, images, data tables, text, etc.), form inferences from such data, and then communicate their results. Becoming more adept with multimodal approaches, such as analyzing, utilizing, and creating digital work, they have a better chance of reaching scientific literacy in today’s world.

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Research Questions

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This research study emerged from questions evoked from research on multiliteracies and scientific literacy. Ajayi ([1] ), for example, calls for research to address the following questions: “What are the most effective strategies for teaching multimodal texts in classrooms with ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity? How can content area teachers extend multiliteracies to their fields?” (p. 411). The results of this study shed light on Ajayi’s broad questions by focusing specifically on science content taught in elementary classrooms. As noted above, multiliteracies embrace multimodal meaning-making as a result of constantly evolving technologies prevalent in today’s society. Because, new technologies are commonly used by elementary students in their everyday lives and are becoming more prevalent in elementary classrooms, how multiliteracies unfold in the teaching and learning of science and its practices beyond the culture of the classroom provides insights into connections within the larger social milieu. Therefore, the following research question is addressed in this study: what and how are multiliteracies and scientific practices implemented in the elementary science classroom?

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Methodology

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A multiple case study of two elementary classrooms was utilized as the research method for this study. However, this paper specifically addresses the case of Ms. Tyson’s fifth grade class. Pseudonyms for participants and places are used throughout the study.

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Context

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The study took place at Littleton Elementary, a K-5 elementary school in a small city school district, adjacent to a larger urban city in the southeastern USA. Morning City School System is composed of only three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. The district’s mission and belief statements, as stated on their website, promote multiliteracies and scientific practices of interest in this study. These include the following: (a) developing twenty-first century learners by fostering problem solving skills and creativity to prepare learners for an integrated global society, (b) developing students’ communication skills for growth and collaboration, (c) fostering opportunities for collaboration to strengthen social skills, (d) inspiring creativity and innovation in learning and teaching, (e) assessing curriculum for critical thinking experiences, (f) motivating students to participate in the community, recognizing ownership in a global society, (g) providing experiences that contribute to cultural awareness, and (h) promoting environmental consciousness.

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Participants

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Ms. Tyson, a fifth grade teacher, was in her 5th year of teaching. The first criterion for choosing a case “should be to maximize what we can learn” (Stake [33] , p. 4). Ms. Tyson was purposefully and selectively chosen based on the criteria that she teaches science daily, utilizes technology on a regular basis for teaching and learning, and employs a hands-on or student-centered approach to teaching and learning in order for the sample to better lead to theory development (Charmaz [6] ). All of the 20 students in her class chose to participate in this study. Of these, 14 students were Caucasian, 3 were African-American, and 3 were Hispanic.

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Data Collection

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The case study approach to this study allowed for a thorough exploration of the research questions and emerging data (Stake [33] ). The data presented in this paper were collected primarily through classroom observations. During this study, the researcher took the role of an observer-participant, positioning herself “primarily an observer but [had] some interaction with study participants” (Glesne [15] , p. 50). Her very presence may have affected the teachers’ instructional methods or the students’ behaviors. Likewise, engaging with the students during observations was unavoidable. Descriptive and analytic observation data was recorded in the form of field notes and then analyzed and expanded as soon as possible after leaving the classroom, typically on the same day (Glesne [15] ). Data collection consisted of classroom observations, a minimum of 3 days a week over a period of 5 to 6 months as the participants’ schedules permitted. The purpose of classroom observations was to record and identify the presence and describe enactments of multiliteracies and scientific practices associated with the teaching and learning of science. While keeping an open mind about what is observed in the classroom, it was helpful to outline some general characteristics of multiliteracies and scientific practices that may have been present in the classroom. Multiliteracies could be implemented, for example, through the use of technology, visual literacy, multimodality, and collaboration online or in person.

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Data collection also included semi-structured focus groups and interviews with the students. Each student in the class participated in at least one focus group (consisting of four to five students). In addition to student focus groups, two students were purposefully chosen for individual interviews (three, 30-minute interviews per student) in order to address individual voices and perceptions. The two students, Callie and Kevin, were purposefully selected because they represented two distinct student voices. Callie, a Caucasian female, was identified as gifted and was very confident in classroom discussions and activities. Kevin, an African-American male, self-admittedly struggled in school and often lacked confidence in class.

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While the focus groups and interviews consistently delved into the students’ personal views of student voice and multiliteracies in science, individual focus group and interview protocols were formulated throughout the study as patterns and themes emerged in observation data. As is typical with a grounded theory approach, data collection and analysis were constant and ongoing throughout the research process (Charmaz [6] ). Although all grounded theory is somewhat constructivist in nature, this study sought to deliberately assist teachers and students in chronicling their classroom experiences with multiliteracies, student voice, and scientific practices. Delicately encouraging students to describe their experiences and the social processes that emerge while constantly immersing oneself in the data allowed for analysis that elevated the students’ accounts to a theoretically rich level.

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Data Analysis

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Data, including transcripts, audio recordings and video recordings, were stored in ATLAS.ti Version 6.0 (2011). While this study utilized a case study approach, data analysis for this study began with initial, systematic coding consistent with grounded theory research (Charmaz [6] ). Analysis began with line-by-line- coding, attempting to focus on the “language of action” rather than theoretical topics (Charmaz [6] , p. 47). This process resulted in specific codes such as “Observation (Obs)-Reading from Textbook” and “Student-Textbook Image Opinion.” As data were recoded during the data collection and analysis process, focused coding (Charmaz [6] ) continued with modified codes, double-coded passages, and the development of broader categories such as “Visual Literacy” and “Scientific Practices.” For example, in a particular passage, the initial code “Obs-Reading from Textbook” was also double-coded with “Obs-Scientific Practice-Asking Questions-Textbook” and “Obs-Visual Literacy-Textbook.” Subcategories were linked with broader categories while organizing data and making connections (Charmaz [6] ).

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Findings

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The findings are organized by classroom activities in Ms. Tyson’s fifth grade class. Though the different activities vary in length (one daily lesson to month long project), they were observed over the course of a 6-month period, with observations up to three times a week. The following excerpts represent samples that identify multiliteracies used in teaching science (i.e., multimedia, technology, visual literacy), supplemented with students’ perceptions of these strategies. When applicable, specific evidence of multiliteracies and/or scientific practices is explicitly noted.

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Reading, Videos, and Visual Literacy

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While reading aloud, Ms. Tyson frequently utilized pictures, charts, and diagrams in the readings to prompt questions and class discussions; this practice provides students opportunities to develop visual literacy with graphics as they learn to interpret a chart and pictures) as part of a science lesson. Another prominent aspect of Ms. Tyson’s pedagogy was her continued questioning in science class, regardless of the activity being completed. As students read aloud, Ms. Tyson employed the “pointing out” technique, asking students to analyze charts and images from the textbook (Coleman et al. [9] , p. 629).

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Although the use of graphics in the textbook encouraged student focus during readings, one student, Callie, believed that the best instructional pictures come from the Internet. When asked her opinion of the pictures on matter in her textbook, she responded by saying, “Some of them are [good], but most of them are examples of things that have matter and you kind of already know that because everything [is] matter.” Another student, Sarah Ann agreed, “Sometimes the pictures don’t really help. Like when you’re trying to do your work. Some of the water cycle ones didn’t really help.”

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Visual literacy was not only addressed in print, but in other media content as well. Ms. Tyson showed short videos (Brain Pop and Bill Nye), usually before or after the reading portion of the lesson. Students enjoyed the videos as an alternative to reading. Tyler, for example, said that he “can just like watch something and understand it instead of going in [his] textbook and having to read all that stuff.” Tyler suggests that videos can cover the same amount of content as textbook readings in less time and be more enjoyable. Sarah Ann suggests that watching short videos, like BrainPop, allows for more time to be allocated toward hands-on activities and investigations. BrainpPop is a website that contains brief animated videos and accompanying resources for teachers and students. Observations of Ms. Tyson’s class revealed that the short videos often prompted questions from the students or triggered conversations sparked from prior experiences. This can be noted as the scientific practice of Asking Questions. Being able to decode online science texts, which are image-heavy, while at the same time questioning and wondering are important aspects of multiliteracies and in this case, scientific literacy (Kress [24] ; Knobel and Lankshear [22] , [23] ). In the next section, Science Court prompts similar questioning and discourse between students in a computer-based, problem-solving program bringing to the forefront multiliteracies through technologies, collaboration, and science.

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Science Court—Multimedia in Technology, Scientific Practices, and Collaboration

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Science Court is a computer software program that utilizes animated, humorous videos and scenarios to “introduce core science topics and model scientific processes” (Scholastic [32] ). The classroom protocol followed with Science Court was the same each day, and it took several days to complete the program—students watched the video segments as a class, worked on questions (worksheet) in teams, and then answered the questions as a whole class activity. In their small teams of four, each student was given a character blurb on the worksheet to read to the rest of their team. The team then answered the questions together, which Ms. Tyson expressed to be quite important because the team did not know whose name would be called to answer the question in front of the class. This approach is utilized in cooperative learning whereby students are accountable to each other and must ensure that all team members are comfortable with the learning material.

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One task from the Science Court program on matter required students to “describe an experiment that would demonstrate that one material expands more than another when heated.” This task was given several minutes of class time with several students raising their hands to contribute an answer. For example, Harold stated, “You could have two stoves with two pans with the same temperature so the experiment is accurate and then you could put two things in the pan and see what happens.” This task focuses on the scientific practice of planning investigations but fell short of carrying out their investigations. Although the students shared several viable ideas, none were acted upon or explored further, despite the fact that Science Court includes three additional inquiry activity lesson plans.

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Researching Online—Flexibility and Evaluation of Resources

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Here, scientific practices take on different forms. There were several occasions in Ms. Tyson’s science class in which students were asked to research a topic online using iPads and/or laptops (Scientific Practice: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information). For instance, in one activity, Ms. Tyson separated students into small teams of three or four and then assigned each team a layer of the atmosphere to research. They were given one science period to research and then were responsible for teaching the rest of the class about their atmospheric layer the next day. Students used iPads and laptops to conduct the research, which was self-guided as the teacher did not provide particular websites to visit. On another occasion, Ms. Tyson presented a question for students to consider:

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I have a little thing that we need to do some research on. Mrs. Pearson just went on vacation and they went skiing in Utah. She noticed that it was 40 degrees, but the snow wasn’t melting. If it was 40 degrees here what would be happening to the snow? It would be melting!

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Students raised their hands to make comments. One student mentioned the unusually warm temperature during the Winter Olympics that were held in Sochi saying, “It was warm out and people were wearing short sleeves, but there was snow there too!” Students used mobile devices and laptops to research the question, independently at first and then with their table members. Several questions from students arose in the process including, “Does air pressure help keep the snow from melting?” and “Does the sun’s reflection on the snow have something to do with it?” (Scientific Practice: Asking Questions for Science). The use of a real-world scenario engaged students and prompted many questions.

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Students also conducted research in a more teacher-directed manner when they were introduced to elements of the Periodic Table. Working in pairs, students chose and recorded information on five elements from the Periodic Table. Students used resources provided by Ms. Tyson through Quick Response (QR) codes. As they began the activity it was apparent that some students were more comfortable than other students using QR codes to locate information. Kevin showed excitement as he and his partner began researching, “It’s like kryptonite!” Later in an interview, Kevin explained that he enjoyed using iPads and laptops in science class, “Just because it seems a little more interesting.” The students’ work was collected by Ms. Tyson, but not discussed further as a class.

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Sep 3
Aline Vushaj Aline Vushaj (Sep 03 2020 10:28AM) : different levels of inquiry learning more

confirmation inquiry and guided inquiry both rely on teacher -led instruction.

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The activities students searched online demonstrated the most frequently used scientific practice, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, which manifested itself in different ways for different students. In focus groups, students expressed varying strategies for searching online and critically analyzing information from websites. This freedom to explore and choose a method of online searching implies that students were trusted to guide their own learning in the online environment. In a discussion about searching for information online, students agreed that Google is the best place to start a search, but a point of discrepancy arose associated with the website’s usefulness. Latisha shared, “I look under the website and they have information, and then the one that has the best [information is the one I want].” While Callie added, “I don’t go to ones that are like Yahoo where anyone can say anything.” When students were asked if they use Wikipedia and/or Yahoo, their responses were clear.

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Sep 3
Aline Vushaj Aline Vushaj (Sep 03 2020 10:29AM) : scaffold more

This freedom allows students to trust their own thinking and challenges them to be independent in their own learning.

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Sarah Ann: It [Wikipedia] has too much information.

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Callie: Sometimes on Yahoo people just put stuff or say I don’t know.

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Andrew: Well, I know I just go to websites that aren’t Wikipedia and find the best answers.

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Another group shared,

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Robbie: [It is not useful] If you can edit on it.

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Tyler: It’s true, but sometimes Wikipedia is better.

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Robbie: It depends on what you’re looking for.

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Tyler: But if you’re writing a paper then Wikipedia is not really for [that].

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Kevin: I think it’s just my opinion, but you could use something [a website] that’s a little more close to our age. Just one of those that just gives basic facts.

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Students seemed to recognize that anyone can edit information in Wikipedia and it may not be the most useful website. None stated that they look for the usefulness of the site based on the credibility of site originator nor did they mention that a useful site is one well known for being accurate with its information. Following this idea, Callie stated, “I hate the kid websites because they just scratch the surface and don’t tell you anything.”

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Because internet websites are highly visual, students were asked to explain whether having graphics offers valuable information searching on line (e.g., pictures and diagrams). Tyler explained, “I like websites with pictures because you can usually get facts from the pictures. There may be writing, but if you look at the pictures, you can sort of tell what it’s doing.” Again, students shared different views on the role of graphics and their usefulness.

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Latisha: No, they don’t give much information.

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Callie: Well they help me understand.

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Sarah Ann: Sometimes I like it. Sometimes they’re just so unnecessary.

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Students have undoubtedly searched for a variety of topics in many different contexts, shaping their views on the usefulness of visuals. However, despite differing opinions, it seems the fifth graders held clear and discerning views about visuals. Their views were often independent of the context they were considering when they responded.

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Toothpick Bridges—Collaboration and Empowerment in Engineering

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I observed Ms. Tyson’s class during their math block as students began a month-long Toothpick Bridge project of engineering design. In the overview of the project, it was explained that “Each company will be responsible for managing their project budget and project schedule, while developing an innovative design solution that is constructed with craftsmanship, and finally marketed to tell the story of what makes their work special.”

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The bridge project utilized true collaborative learning where each student fulfilled the duties of a specific job on their team, while being accountable to the team. Project roles included Project Director, Architect, Carpenter, Transportation Chief, and Accountant. Students were given the chance to rank their desired jobs, after which Ms. Tyson chose the students for the teams and assigned student roles. Before the project began, I asked Kevin which job he wanted the most and why. He said, “I wanted to be the carpenter because I am really good at sometimes visualizing things to see if it’s right. Like it seems it has to be really stable, so I can make sure how it is balanced with the things that are sticking out of the ground, they are stable.” Callie was assigned to be the architect, which she ranked highly. As we discussed the process of creating the bridge plans, she said, “My job is the architect. I draw. I drew the plans. Well, I was helped…I made the plans. The group helped me draw it because I’m not very good at drawing straight lines even with graph paper.” Callie recognized that although she was responsible for drawing the plans, she required the assistance of other group members, a key characteristic associated with distributed systems (Gee [13] ). When asked what was the hardest part about drawing the plans would be she responded, “The hardest part about drawing the plans was making sure that everything was exactly the same and then counting [the toothpicks] right” (Scientific Practice: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking).

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Ms. Tyson explained, “This is a huge teamwork project. The teams in the past that worked well together did the best. The teams in the past that argued all the time tend to do the worst.” There were four teams in total, and each developed its own personality. Callie’s team struggled most with the collaborative aspect of the project, which she admitted affected their work. She said, “It’s not going pretty great. We’re still arguing and if we argue one more time we are disqualified.” Ms. Tyson, after weeks of working with the team, helping them improve their communication and compromising skills, eventually instituted a possible consequence—disqualification. This caused the group to become more civil and democratic at least on the surface. However, Callie tended to blame one student for their overall struggles, “I hate to point fingers,” she said, “but it’s mainly one person in the group who’s always arguing with another person.” I asked how this experience with the difficult collaboration impacted her. She stated, “Really, you have to [pause] you kind of have to ignore them most of the time. But the other times you have to listen to them and not look like you want to throttle them.”

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Kevin’s team, on the other hand, worked well together. Kevin explained, “Our group is really good. We don’t argue like the other groups. We’ve gotten a lot of stuff done from where we were. We were really behind.” Their team decided to delegate responsibilities, even beyond the assigned roles. Kevin said, “So it’s just me [and the other two boys] working on the building. Then [the two girls], they’re working on the poster. But Erin is the project manager so she wants to add designs to the bridge and stuff for creativity.” Kevin explained that he believed separating responsibility was an effective way to do things because “If we just had one group, we’re going to want to add and then we’re going to start arguing about something we don’t want to do.” This situation actually occurred in the Leader team when one student complained he wanted to help build, but his teammates would not let him.

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Although Kevin’s team seemed to avoid this type of argument, I was interested in how they decided who would do what, given that the boys were building and the girls drawing. I asked if the selection with boys building and girls drawing was done on purpose which may have resulted from gender stereotypes (Anderson [3] ; Banjong [4] ). Kevin explained it was not on purpose, but “[the girls] are very good at drawing. They’re the ones that decorated our toothpicks.” He believed that they separated job roles based on strengths of the individuals. He did not recognize the stereotypical gender bias on role selection or his explanation.

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As Callie and I discussed the Toothpick Bridge Project, she defined essential feature of the multiliteracies “portfolio person” and the influence of these practices on ownership of learning, including the ability to learn from mistakes and participate in decision making (Gee [13] ). For example, she became quite passionate about having choice as a student. She went into great detail about the usefulness of this type of project, where students are given choice and freedom. She began by explaining that, “This way you learn on your own so it kind of sticks more.” She continued:

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Like if the teachers tell you don’t make this mistake and you don’t make it you never really learn anything. You just didn’t make a mistake. But when you make the mistake and you fix it, then you know what to do when that happens and then how to start over.

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She believed that freedom in choice of how one learns was empowering, “We’re creating it as a group. Like, the teacher can’t tell you to make it like this design because it’s your design.” When I asked if she believed it was difficult for teachers to give students this type of freedom, she responded by saying, “To me, if they’re good teachers, then no. But sometimes, you know, it could be because you don’t know if your class is going to get out of control.” Although she seemed to sympathize with teachers on this point, she did not believe it was an excuse to maintain control all the time. For instance she stated,

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Some teachers are just like, “We’re going to do it the old way. We’re going to keep it this way.” But in reality, everyone, your class is different than your last class and the one before that. So you really have to try different techniques.

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Still, she emphasized the importance of having choices as a student in the following:

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I think choices are very important just because next in life you’re going to have to make a lot of choices, too. So you want to already have experience. But I also think you have a little less control sometimes, because in the future you also have that. Like your boss might give you fewer choices than you would have liked.

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On evaluation day, the entire fifth grade gathered outside to test their bridges. Interns from an architecture firm assisted each class through the process. Weight was added to each bridge until it collapsed. Afterward, students gathered around the bridges and compared and contrasted the strongest and weakest designs (Scientific Practice: Analyzing and Interpreting Data).

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The Toothpick Bridge Project, focused heavily on engineering, resulting in a variety of implemented scientific practices and multiliteracies including real-world application, research, problem-solving, and collaboration. Admittedly, the project lasted several weeks compared to the other activities which may have only lasted several days. The project was also completed during the students’ math block of the day while science lessons were taught as usual in the afternoon. The variety of challenges and scientific and engineering practices students encountered led to a rich learning experience with science and engineering content and practices, as well as, problem solving and collaborative skills.

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Seen in the data, Ms. Tyson’s class’ science activities represented a variety of instructional strategies. Multiliteracies were employed as part of the instructional strategies through the use of technology devices and their applications (Science Court and Researching Online), visual literacy exercises within the science text, in multimedia sources, and creating visuals in the Toothpick Bridge Project (Reading in Science, Researching Online, Toothpick Bridges), as well as real-world applications of science content (Toothpick Bridges). In addition, students enacted all of the scientific practices outlined by the NGSS. Together, scientific practices and multiliteracies engaged students and fostered collaboration and conversations that are imperative in the development of scientific literacy.

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Discussion and Conclusions

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The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) identify eight scientific and engineering practices that all students should experience and learn during their K-12 science education (See p. 6). The intent of the national and state standards is for teachers to use these practices when teaching content and ways of thinking in science. Furthermore, when the practices are implemented effectively, they are integrated seamlessly while teaching disciplinary core ideas of the sciences. This section will synthesize the findings derived from the case of Ms. Tyson’s fifth grade classroom in light of the scientific and engineering practices because of their role in individuals’ development of scientific literacy and multiliteracies. First, the discussion begins with an overall look at teaching through inquiry in elementary classrooms, as teaching through inquiry is an important foundation for fostering students’ inquiries in science content.

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While inquiry in science education ranges from directed to full inquiry, the investigations and activities in described in the teachers’ classrooms fall into directed or guided inquiry. On one end of the continuum is directed (or structured) inquiry, in which the teacher generates the question, provides procedures, gives students the data and directions on how to analyze it, and then gives directions on how to communicate ideas [Directed inquiry discussion removed]. The majority of activities observed in Ms. Tyson’s classrooms can be characterized as direct inquiry. Students researched science concepts online and in their textbooks, explored the buoyancy of various items in a classroom investigation, and followed Science Court through a sequenced multimedia unit of study.

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Moving toward the middle of the continuum are various forms of guided inquiry. With guided inquiry, the teacher releases some control, giving students more choice with respect to the key features of inquiry defined as “a) engaging with a scientific question, b) participating in and developing the procedures, c) giving priority to evidence, d) formulating explanations, e) connecting explanations to scientific knowledge, and f) communicating as well as justifying explanations” (Goldston & Downey [17] , p. 127). Guided inquiry, then, requires the use of multiliteracies in the form of informed decision making, problem solving, and (possibly) the use of multimodal resources. Full (or open) inquiry is at the opposite end of the continuum from directed inquiry. Full inquiry in theory is totally student-centered in its approach, though rarely enacted in the reality of a classroom. It may begin with a student-generated question and then give students the opportunity to design and carry out investigations or experiments, collect data, and communicate their results and/or arguments. Full inquiry was not observed in Ms. Tyson’s classroom. The closest example would be the engineering bridge design, though still not a model of full inquiry. The following sections outline the intersection of multiliteracies with science and engineering practices in Ms. Tyson’s class.

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Asking Questions (for Science) and Defining Problems (for Engineering)

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As was described earlier, sophisticated student questions arose during the directed and guided inquiry activities, this represents the scientific practice of “Asking questions (for science) and identifying problems (for engineering)” (NGSS Lead States [26] ). For example, in Ms. Tyson’s class, students frequently asked questions of each other during the Toothpick Bridge project as they planned, tested, and redesigned their bridges. Student questions also resulted from interactions with visually rich resources.

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Developing and Using Models

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Student interactions with multimodal resources often led to the creation and use of many “tools” to “develop questions, predictions, and explanations…and communicate ideas” in the enactment of the scientific practice of “Developing and using models” (NGSS Lead States [26] , p. 6). These tools can include “diagrams, drawings, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations” (NGSS Lead States [26] , p. 6). In Ms. Tyson’s class, students designed and built models of bridges during the Toothpick Bridge project. Asking questions and utilizing models as well as other practices are important practices in the development of scientific literacy. When this skill is developed as a scientific practice, it is also developed as a skill transferable to other contexts, thus developing not only scientific literacy, but multiliteracy as well.

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Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

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Incorporating many key features of guided inquiry mentioned above, the scientific practice of “planning and carrying out of investigations,” particularly investigations that “emerge from students’ own questions,” requires that students “design investigations that generate data to provide evidence to support claims” (NGSS Lead States [26] , p. 7). The NGSS suggest that students should participate in investigations that span the inquiry continuum “at all levels” from kindergarten through high school (NGSS Lead States [26] , p. 7). In Ms. Tyson’s class, students orally described plans for investigations during Science Court. Unfortunately, the investigations were never carried out and a missed opportunity for students to fully explore their questions.

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Analyzing and Interpreting Data

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A critical practice in inquiry activities is the practice of “analyzing and interpreting data” as students “reveal patterns and relationships” in science or “analyze designs” in engineering (NGSS Lead States [26] , p. 9). Students in Ms. Tyson’s class analyzed and interpreted data informally with testing their Toothpick Bridge design. After the bridges were tested for strength, the students gathered around their designs and discussed which design features were successful and which were not. This is a key feature of data analysis and interpretation for engineering. As stated by the NGSS, “This allows comparison of different solutions and determines how well each meets specific design criteria—that is, which design best solves the problem with given constraints” (2013, p. 9). There was evidence that students were engaged in data analysis and interpretation during other times of the day as well. Besides being able to analyze information and data in science, this practice is a part of daily life with respect to multimedia, news outlets, social media, and advertisements which is an important multiliteracy (Collins and Halverson [11] ; Gee [14] ).

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Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking

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Many concepts taught in the science classroom require mathematical and computational skills for full comprehension of science concepts (NGSS Lead States [26] ). Students used mathematical and computational thinking through scale and measurement practices during the Toothpick Bridge project in Ms. Tyson’s class. They also participated in a brief mathematical experience during a classroom discussion about the components of the earth’s atmosphere. Information in the real world is rarely presented in isolation. Not only is information multimodal (Kress [24] ; Lankshear and Knobel [22] ), but it is often interdisciplinary. Students must be able to access the skills necessary to discern and decode multimodal and interdisciplinary information as they encounter multifaceted problems, text, and multimedia.

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Constructing Explanations (for Science) and Designing Solutions (for Engineering)

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Building upon the analysis of data and mathematical computations, students are expected to construct explanations or design solutions for the questions or problem being considered (NGSS Lead States [26] ). Constructing explanations and designing solutions in science and engineering was, like many of the other practices, most prevalent in investigative activities that utilized collaborative learning. Working collaboratively and fluidly with peers is an essential feature of a portfolio person (Gee [13] ). As Callie noted, this is not often easy, but important. In these instances, students were given the opportunity to communicate their ideas when prompted by questions from each other or their teachers. As the students stated, constructing explanations and designing solutions with each other was an effective practice. When constructing explanations or solving problems, having multiple voices and tools as resources enabled students to evaluate the voiced ideas against their own, judge whether they find the other ideas more compelling than their own, and determine their own stance. This built confidence and skills needed for lifelong learning (NRC [29] ). The scientific practice of constructing explanations and designing solutions, especially when done in collaborative settings, mirrors the notion of “distributed systems” where leaders “facilitate and mediate,” and “networks form and reform on demand” (Gee [12] , p. 45). Here again, collaboration on projects utilizing scientific practices develop scientific literacy while viewed within the greater milieu forms multiliteracies for real-life experiences.

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Engaging in Argument from Evidence

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Key to presenting findings in science is being able to support an explanation or solution with evidence. In Ms. Tyson’s class, students engaged actively in arguments from evidence during the Science Court computer software program. Students utilized the information and evidence provided through the program (videos and text resources) to argue “guilty” or “not guilty” as the culminating activity of the unit. They also engaged in other forms of argument as they deciphered a water cycle diagram in the science textbook. For example, Ms. Tyson asked, “Is water that has evaporated still water? What about ice, is it still water? Let me hear your arguments.” When working in distributed systems, being able to “argue” effectively using evidence is an important feature of multiliteracies (Gee [13] ). First, one must make meaning from various texts, images, or investigative data, then formulate an explanation and argument based on collected evidence. Once claims are ready to be made, they must again be transformed into language that fits (or benefits) the system. To accomplish this requires acute attention to diversity and characteristics of team members, community practices, and language/information sources and reliability.

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Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

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Depending on the purpose, inquiry activities often involve students to various degrees in “obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information” from either their actual hands-on investigations or from queries of other resources (NGSS Lead States [26] , p. 15). In the process of obtaining and evaluation information, particularly in informal online spaces such as social media, it is becoming increasingly important that students become “critical consumers of information about science and engineering” (NGSS Lead States [26] , p. 15). In Ms. Tyson’s class, students obtained and used information from a variety of sources including books, online websites, investigations, and collaboration with peers. In several of the science classroom activities, students participated in various ways to obtain, evaluate, and communicate information depending on the teacher’s purpose. Obtaining information varied in resource selection, choosing from the teacher-provided materials, locating books in the library, to researching independently or collaboratively online. Evaluating scientific data and information related to science concepts varied as well, from simple analysis and discussion to examining critically the validity of websites. Overall, “obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information” is becoming increasingly complex in many ways due to the expanding use of the Internet as part of the evolving global culture. Therefore, when interacting with information on the Internet, students are not only evaluating traditional expository text but images and user generated content (Collins and Halverson [11] ; Gee [14] ; Kress [24] ). One of the joys of the Internet is that content can be originated by practically anyone. However, this also poses a unique threat to information validity and reliability (Gee [14] ). The students spoke of this threat, making them informed consumers of available web’s information used by them. This ability to discern reliability and validity, particularly of online text and multimedia, will continue to grow in importance emphasizing the need to foster skills for multiliteracies and in particular the development of scientific literacy early on and continually with students.

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According to the national science standards (NRC [27] ), the notion that scientific literacy is the ability to discern for oneself the value and credibility of information and its sources is a practice which must now be developed with the inclusion of technological resources as is described in multiliteracies literature (Knobel and Lankshear [22] ). Although on the surface it may appear that little “evaluation” was occurring, however students evaluated information constantly as was noted earlier in the Researching Online discussion. Although students were not explicitly directed to evaluate resources in class, during focus groups and interviews it became apparent that the students did, indeed evaluate the effectiveness of text, images, and diagrams in their textbook and online without being prompted. When we discussed the process, students in both classes explained how they navigate online from choosing websites in a Google list to whether or not they trusted Wikipedia as a reliable source. However, evaluation of science content against outside criteria was not specifically observed and a necessary multiliteracy. Despite this, these young students portrayed sophisticated skills when it came to understanding and navigating the internet while self-aware of sites that were credible and those that were not.

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