A communal effort for knowledge construction

How is knowledge relevant to math or science constructed? How is it possibly generated in these networked communities?


According to Rosalind Driver, “The objects of science are not the phenomena of nature but constructs that are advanced by the scientific community to interpret nature.”

Knowledge relevant to science and math is constructed as part of socially accepted ideas that have permeated and prevailed into scientific communities through symbolic representation of empirical research. The role of the teachers, therefore, is to initiate students into the scientific ways of knowing (Driver et al., 1994), by introducing them to scientific concepts, as well as intervening and negotiating their conceptual understanding. Educators are mediators that guide students in differentiating between the everyday world of perceived science and the accepted world of science developed by the scientific community, as emphasized by Driver.

With the advances in science informational technologies (IT) provide, scientific and mathematical knowledge construction is heavily influenced by social processes and context. Carraher’s study of ‘Mathematics in the Streets and in Schools’ compared computational strategy effectiveness, given a context (such as completing transactions in the streets of Brazil) to routine learned computations strategies in school, without context. The study found that the knowledge construction was more powerful and effective if it was learned within a context, making fewer computational mistakes since the learning was being meaningfully applied for that student (Carraher et al., 1985). This implies that learning using an IT context needs to include opportunities for students to make meaning for themselves of the scientific knowledge they are delving into. As educators wanting to use networked communities such as Exploratorium and Virtual Field Trips like Discovery Ed, we need to negotiate differences between common sense science and the scientific symbolic representations of actual science.

Digital Libraries and Museums can offer excellent scientific reasoning opportunities for students to engage in. Interactive installations and activities allow for physical observations of scientific phenomena for students, while enhancing the scientific community of young learners by enabling choice and interest through a variety of topics (Hsi, S., 2008). These virtual museums can allow for students to access true scientific material from remote areas, rather than relying on student collected empirical data to make informed scientific research. In my own practice, I have found citizen science projects, such as Zooniverse.org, to be effective ways to engage young learners in scientific discovery and dataset research and interpretation. The distributed data collection using IT allows for a broadening of the scientific community that can enhance interest and learning far greater than what was available to the average student in the past.

However, as Spicer points out, there is still no truly effective replacement for real field trips and scientific knowledge building through hands-on and socially constructed learning opportunities. Staff and student interaction during real field trips facilitates deeper “emergent” issues through discussions that allows for more profound learning to occur (Spicer et al., 2001). Therefore, with any IT enhanced science or math engagement opportunity, the learning should be enhanced not replaced with virtual learning environments. Virtual field trips, for examples, should be used as a ‘before and after’ routine that can further a student’s thinking towards a particular scientific principle, rather than relying solely on the guided or open tours available through a virtual museum’s website.

Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. British journal of developmental psychology, 3(1), 21-29.

Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Scott, P., & Mortimer, E. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational researcher, 23(7), 5-12.

Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 20(9), 891-899.

Spicer, J., & Stratford, J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual field trip to replace a real field trip. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 345-354.


  1. As a math teacher, I can speak to the importance of giving a students a context to apply their learned mathematical skills, and also the difficulty of being able to consistently provide this context. At the grade 8 level when students are learning very practical mathematical skills, like percentages, and the Pythagorean theorem, this is very easy to do. However, it is always difficult to create situations where students can apply concepts like the logarithm, or the transformation of functions. That is why I plan to utilize activities from teacher.desmos.com. Although artificial, I believe it gives students the best chance to apply mathematics even at the senior level.

    1. Thanks for sharing that site Gary. Although I don’t teach at the high school level, I remember a number of students really struggling to connect with math at the higher levels simply because of the lack of context, feeling that they are never going to use the “math” they are learning. It’s too bad that so many students felt that way, when it can be so applicable if they only had a chance to see it.

  2. Jocelynn

    I like the fact that you discussed “that learning using an IT context needs to include opportunities for students to make meaning for themselves”.

    I wonder if we were able to view or track one lesson from every science and/or math teacher…how many would make their lessons meaningful for students?

    A good next step might be to think about how you are going to make your lessons meaningful for every child in your classroom. Can you do this every day for every child? What I have found helpful for struggling students — is to find out their interests (soccer, Pokemon, Kim K etc) then include that in my next lesson. After a couple of times, the student seems more engaged, even if I have not included their interests for a few weeks.

    To keep the conversation going — make sure to respond to at least two other learners as well respond to all learners that respond to your own post. When responding to other learners, please use references to support your ideas/thesis/concepts etc.


  3. Hi Jocelynn,

    Thanks for bringing up citizen science project. It jogged my memory of a recent CBC radio news clip I heard. I’m not sure if you’ve heard about this one, but scientists are now using gamers (of a game called Eve) to do scientific research. It’s called Project discovery (https://www.eveonline.com/discovery/). In the same way Globe is getting research data from students, Project Discovery is using gamers to advance their science. The first project was about proteins, and now they are onto a second project looking for exoplanets in space. It’s a really cool concept. I’ve never played myself, and I’m not sure if there is an educational component that will benefit students, but it would be neat to explore its potential!


    1. Wow Mo!

      That looks like a pretty cool environment even with all of the scientific research aside. Thanks for sharing that resource, I think I might go play…


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