CAREER: A Study of Pedagogical Practices and the Development of Students’ Science Identities

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 
  1. Determine what counts as "meaningful scientific practice" in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade standards-based science classrooms via comparative ethnographies.
  2. Chart students' scientific competence and dispositions over time as they experience standards-based and/or traditional science instruction via longitudinal case studies.
  3. Identify specific teaching practices, at different grade levels, that cultivate strong scientific competence and dispositions for a broad range of students.
  4. Develop teacher preparation materials designed to support teachers' efforts in creating learning environments and using teaching strategies that foster the development of students' scientific competence and dispositions.

Southeast United States, 2 school districts, multiple elementary and middle schools.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is longitudinal and comparative, and is designed to generate evidence which is descriptive (case study, observational, ethnography) and causal. Per Maxwell (2004, Educational Researcher), my qualitative/ethnographic research examines process causality (not variance causality). Miles and Huberman (1984) call this local causality-- examining the actual events and processes that lead to a specific outcome. This project collects original data using diaries/journals/records kept by study subjects; assessments of learning/achievement tests; videography and personal observation; paper and pencil self-completion questionnaires; face-to-face and telephone semi-structured interviews; focus groups; and PI designed performance assessments of content knowledge and relevant student classwork (homework, tests, science journals).

Ethnographic data for individual classrooms are first analyzed primarily using Spradley's (1980) semantic structure analysis method, coupled with the creation of timelines and event maps (Reveles, et al., 2004). Comparative ethnographic data are analyzed using Miles & Huberman's (1994) cross-case analysis method, which involves the creation of meta-matrices, conceptually-ordered matrices and time-ordered matrices. Longitudinal case study data are analyzed in Year 1 (the year the participants experience standards-based science) to understand how individual students participate within and against established the classroom's scientific normative practices, and the kind of scientific competence and dispositions students take on. Subsequently (in years 2&3 of each cohort study), students' competencies and dispositions are mapped to account for growth and/or change over time. The third unit of analysis (effective teaching practices) is identified by creating explanatory effects matrices and causal networks (Miles & Huberman, 1994) and Spradley's (1980) componential analysis. These techniques move the analysis to an explanatory level (connecting teaching practices to students' scientific competence and dispositions).


This is a multi-phased project, with multiple units of analysis. I highlight a few of my findings below.

  1. Lessons learned about including standards-based elementary science as a regular feature of the elementary curriculum. Teachers who manage to include standards-based science instruction as a regular feature of their classroom are the exceptions. To do so, they must "go against the grain", creatively work around barriers, find ways to work both within and against the system (see Carlone, Haun-Frank, & Kimmel, under review). They are oftentimes marginalized in their schools both professionally and socially. Further, they are often one principal away from leaving the profession. In this climate of high-stakes accountability in mathematics and literacy, science gets marginalized, and our best elementary science teachers are on the precipice of leaving the profession. (Based on a site selection study to find the best standards-based science teachers in 7 school districts and 70 elementary schools in the Southeast US).
  2. Lessons learned from a comparative ethnnography of three fourth grade standards-based classrooms. In the comparative ethnography of three fourth-grade classrooms, we explored promoted cultural models of “science person” by examining the normative scientific practices to which students were held accountable and the accessibility of those cultural models for a broad range of students. Based on the three teachers’ similar commitments to RBS, we expected that the meaning of “being scientific” in each class would be similarly accessible. That was not the case. We provide thick descriptions of how the different cultural models emerged from very similar normative scientific practices, how the cultural models were differently accessible in each classroom, and explanations for why. (Carlone, Haun-Frank, Webb, & Enfield, 2009).
  3. An exploration of 'science identity' across timescales. Actors draw upon different resources to create a definition of “science person”. For example, a macro-level model is that of the “super-intelligent, geeky, white male,” which shapes, but does not determine, who is perceived as being scientific in a given setting. Other macro-level models are also influential—e.g., the “loud Black girl” cultural model (Fordham, 1993) may hinder an African American girl’s ability to be recognized as scientific (Brickhouse & Potter, 2001). These macro-level models of identity are also interactionally emergent at the event level, which is a micro-level timescale (Wortham, 2006). Researchers often pay too much attention to either macro- or micro-level models of identity and ignore “months-long timescales across which classroom-specific habitual patterns” develop (Wortham, 2006, p. 9). Actors develop meso-level models of (smart, difficult, or “science-y”) student and habitually apply these to given students over the year. This paper describes how two students in the same standards-based science (SBS) classroom positioned themselves and got positioned differently over time, across months-long and years-long timescales. This manuscript (a working paper) will provide theoretical and methodological contributions for researchers interested in the production of identities in academic settings. (Carlone, in preparation).
  4. Following “talented science kids” over time: Is scientific identity enduring and cumulative or too situative to nail down? There is a great debate among science educators and identity scholars in general about the nature of identity. Is there such a thing as a “core” identity? Is identity stable? Is it always situative? Is it cumulative? For whom? In this manuscript (a working paper), I will report results of two years’ of longitudinal data, summarizing the ways 4 students (two girls and two boys) who defined themselves and were defined by others (peers, teachers, our research team) as “talented science kids” during their fourth grade year engaged in science across fourth and fifth grades. This study is a groundbreaking look at what happens to scientifically talented children as they experience different kinds of pedagogy. (Carlone, in preparation).
  5. What counts as "culturally relevant" elementary science teaching? This paper (Carlone, Enfield, Haun-Frank, Johnson, & Kimmel, 2009) examines two classrooms with teachers who, while committed to standards-based science teaching, had two very different pedagogical styles. In both classrooms, a wide range of students came away with positive and strong scientific dispositions and solid scientific competence (as measured by standard performance-based assessments, student work, and student performances in class discussion). In this paper we examine the cultural scientific norms in the classes (both very different) in light of Ladson-Billings' (1994) framework for culturally relevant science teaching. The paper troubles the notion of a monolithic model for culturally relevant science teaching.
Publications & Presentations: 


Carlone, H.B. & Johnson, A. (2007). Understanding the science experiences of women of color: Science identity as an analytic lens. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(11), 1187-1218.

Carlone, H.B., Kimmel, S., & Tschida, C. (in press). A rural, math, science, and technology elementary school tangled up in global networks of practice. Cultural Studies of Science Education.

Carlone, H., Haun-Frank, J., & Kimmel, S. (in review). Tempered radicals: Elementary teachers’ narratives on doing the work of science education reform.


Carlone, H.B., Enfield, M., Haun-Frank, J., Johnson, A., & Kimmel, J. (April, 2009). An exegesis of power in two culturally relevant elementary science classrooms: Lessons learned from a comparative ethnography. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Carlone, H.B., Haun-Frank, J., Webb, A., & Enfield, M. (April, 2009). Cultural models of “science person” in two fourth-grade classrooms: Assessing equity beyond knowledge- and skills-based outcomes. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Garden Grove, CA.

Haun-Frank, J., Kimmel, S., Carlone, H., & Vaughn, M. (April, 2008). Doing the work of science education reform: Teachers’ narratives of hard-won accomplishments. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Baltimore, MD.

Carlone, H.B. (March, 2008). Exploring connections between pedagogy and students’ science identity development. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.

Kimmel, S., Haun-Frank, J., Carlone, H., & Vaughn, M. (March, 2008). Tempered radicals: Elementary teachers’ narratives of teaching science within and against prevailing meanings of schooling. Poster session (with paper) presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.

Carlone, H.B., Kimmel, S., & Tschida, C. (April, 2007). The relevant context of science education: An ethnography of a rural math, science, and technology elementary school. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Chicago, IL.

Other Products: 

(1) Pedagogical cases that use multiple media (video, audio, student work, artifacts); these are exemplar-based (providing examples of excellent teaching and science practices) and dilemma-based (promoting critical reflective thinking) (Lampert & Ball, 1998). (2) "Kidwatching" and teaching observation instruments developed to allow classroom observation to document children's expressed science identities and promote pre-service teachers to shift their focus on lessons' "effectiveness" from focusing on teacher to focusing on students' learning. The teaching instrument will be based on effective teaching practices identified in the study; teachers and university supervisors can use this instrument to observe interns, and to evaluate peers.