A Cultural Study of a Science Classroom and Graphing Calculator-based Technology

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Date
2001-11-12
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Virginia Tech
Abstract

Social, political, and technological events of the past two decades have had considerable bearing on science education. While sociological studies of scientists at work have seriously questioned traditional histories of science, national and state educational systemic reform initiatives have been enacted, stressing standards and accountability. Recently, powerful instructional technologies have become part of the landscape of the classroom. One example, graphing calculator-based technology, has found its way from commercial and domestic applications into the pedagogy of science and math education.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the culture of an "alternative" science classroom and how it functions with graphing calculator-based technology. Using ethnographic methods, a case study of one secondary, team-taught, Environmental/Physical Science (EPS) classroom was conducted. Nearly half of the 23 students were identified as students with special education needs. Over a four-month period, field data was gathered from written observations, videotaped interactions, audio taped interviews, and document analyses to determine how technology was used and what meaning it had for the participants.

Analysis indicated that the technology helped to keep students from getting frustrated with handling data and graphs. In a relatively short period of time, students were able to gather data, produce graphs, and to use inscriptions in meaningful classroom discussions. In addition, teachers used the technology as a means to involve and motivate students to want to learn science. By employing pedagogical skills and by utilizing a technology that might not otherwise be readily available to these students, an environment of appreciation, trust, and respect was fostered. Further, the use of technology by these teachers served to expand students' social capital--the benefits that come from an individual's social contacts, social skills, and social resources.

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Keywords
social capital, graphing calculator-based technology, special education, cooperative learning
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