Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Valerie Otero

Second Advisor

Noah Finkelstein

Third Advisor

Kris Gutiérrez

Fourth Advisor

Eve Manz

Fifth Advisor

William Penuel

Abstract

This dissertation investigates how emerging bilingual students make sense of natural phenomena through engaging in certain epistemic practices of science, and the elements of the learning environment that created those opportunities. Specifically, the dissertation focuses on how emerging bilingual students problematized electrical phenomena, like electric flow and electrical resistance, and how the design features of the environment (e.g., sequencing of activities, linguistic practices) may have supported students as they made sense of phenomena. The first study describes how students presented and evaluated mechanistic models of electric flow, focusing specifically on how students identified and negotiated a disagreement between their explanatory models. The results from this study highlight the complexity of students’ disagreements, not only because of the epistemological aspects related to presenting and evaluating knowledge, but also due to interpersonal dynamics and the discomfort associated with disagreeing with another person. The second study focuses on the design features of the learning environment that supported emerging bilingual students’ investigations of electrical phenomena. The findings from this study highlight how a carefully designed set of activities, with the appropriate material resources (e.g., experimental tools), could support students to problematize electrical resistance. The third study describes how emerging bilingual students engaged in translanguaging practices and the contextual features of the learning environment that created and hindered opportunities for translanguaging. The findings from this study identify and articulate how emerging bilingual students engaged in translanguaging practices when problematizing electrical resistance, and strengthen the perspective that, in order to be equitable for emerging bilingual students, science learning environments need to act as translanguaging spaces. This dissertation makes three contributions to how science educators understand how elementary-aged emerging bilingual students learn science. First, I offer a detailed account of how emerging bilingual students engaged in epistemic practices to problematize electrical phenomena. Secondly, I argue learning environments need to create opportunities for emerging bilingual students to engage in productive epistemic work through leveraging multiple kinds of resources from their semiotic repertoires. Finally, this dissertation contributes to our understanding of how emerging bilingual students engage in translanguaging practices as they investigate and talk about the natural world.

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