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Tinkering with Theoretical Objects: Designing Theories in Scientific Inquiry

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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NSF Grantees Poster Session

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ShaKayla Moran Boise State University


Leslie Atkins Elliott Boise State University Orcid 16x16

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Leslie Atkins Elliott is a Professor of Curriculum, Instruction and Foundational Studies at Boise State University, specializing in Science Education. Her research focuses on fostering participation in the practices of science - particularly writing and design - and how science instruction can reduce barriers between classrooms and everyday life. Her work with scientific practices emphasizes students’ rights to their own ideas and the emergence of scientific practices, including design, from disciplinary engagement with those ideas.

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The EDISIn Project (Engineering Design in Scientific Inquiry), taught in an undergraduate teacher preparation program, is investigating where engineering design opportunities emerge within contexts of scientific inquiry, with implications for how science teachers might productively engage in engineering design in their science courses without compromising on either the science or the engineering.

In some inquiries, the opportunities for engineering were obvious, particularly with respect to novel experimental designs and in developing physical representations of models. In other inquiries, however, the investigations were either largely theoretical or the experimental designs were readily developed without a need for deliberate attention to design practices. However, in these inquiries we notice commonalities between how students iteratively construct and manipulate theoretical objects in pursuit of scientific explanations and theories, and how they construct and manipulate physical objects. In particular, we call attention to playful, iterative, goal-oriented activities that have strong parallels to tinkering within the engineering design literature.

In this poster, we provide an analysis of one student’s “idea tinkering” as she constructed a model of color mixing. We consider how literature from engineering education might be leveraged to support playful, iterative construction of theories in science - not only for its role in supporting the design of physical objects, but also theoretical objects.

Moran, S., & Atkins Elliott, L. (2021, July), Tinkering with Theoretical Objects: Designing Theories in Scientific Inquiry Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37910

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