Science conceptions and connections: How third graders engage in inquiry to learn science

Susan Hemphill Marston, University of Pennsylvania


In this teacher-research study, I explore the process of inquiring to learn science from the perspective of third graders. As a teacher-researcher, this study was conducted in my third grade classroom over the course of a year. I used qualitative research methods to construct five ethnographic case studies of my students. The study focused on (1) third graders' conceptions of science and being scientists. It examined how these conceptions changed (or did not change) throughout the year, and (2) the connections that these students made (or did not make) between science and reading, writing, talking, and listening. Student interviews, observations, and written documentation, as well as my own reflective journal, informed the case studies. The data suggests that these third graders' conceptions of being a scientist are directly related to their definitions of science. These third graders compare their actions to their conceptions of science to determine if they are a scientist. In addition, the data reveals that these students' reading, writing, talking, and listening experiences influence their science conceptions. In particular, I identify three variables, context, definition, and relationships that interact to contribute (or distract) from these third graders' thinking about themselves as scientists. The context in which science is explored plays an important role in these third graders' conceptions. The places where science is performed and who conceives the original ideas to be tested are important conditions. These third graders' definition of science and the relationships they construct within the curriculum and each other also influence their conceptions of being scientists. Overall, this study finds that these third graders use the processes of reading, writing, talking, and listening to enhance their science understanding. It also points to the importance of having the students engage in scientific inquiry both in and out of the classroom. This research suggests an interdisciplinary approach to teaching/learning science and proposes ways that teachers and other educators can better support science learning for students.

Subject Area

Science education|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Marston, Susan Hemphill, "Science conceptions and connections: How third graders engage in inquiry to learn science" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9923572.