Multi modal exploration, representation and reasoning in an Australian primary science classroom

Year: 2012

Author: Hackling, Mark, Murcia, Karen, Ibrahim-Didi, Khadeeja

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This study is set within the ARC funded EQUALPRIME project. The project uses contemporary video capture and data analysis technology to study primary science in Australia, Taiwan and Germany, exploring teaching and learning practices that create opportunities for quality reasoning and learning in science in diverse cultural traditions. The research is framed within sociocultural and social semiotic perspectives (Kress, 2010; Lemke, 1999). The Australian primary science study reported in this paper addresses the following research questions:

I.         How does the teacher offer productive opportunities for student engagement with multimodal representations and reasoning and the development of scientific literacy outcomes?

II.         How do students use various forms of representation and reasoning to construct their undertandings of science phenomena?


The study used video capture and ethnographic microanalysis (Erickson, 1992) to investigate connections between teaching strategies, engagement of students with academic tasks and learning outcomes. The power of video relates to its ability to capture multiple interactions and diverse modes of representation including discursive, graphical, and embodied forms. In this study, data were gathered using two cameras coupled to FM transmitter microphones, one following the teacher and the other a focus group of students. Teacher and student interviews and collection of classroom artefacts complemented the video data.

In this astronomy topic with Year 4 students, discourse, gesture, manipulation of objects, role play, drawing and writing were used in a connected way to make sense of how day and night occur, and explanations were multimodal. In one context, teacher scaffolding was sufficient for students to make connections between their embodied procedural explorations and a conceptual explanation, however, on another task the learning demand (Leach & Scott, 2002), even with teacher support, was too great for students to make connections between a series of representations of a phenomenon and a conceptual explanation.

The study extends knowledge of the truly multimodal nature of children's exploration of natural phenomena, the high learning demand of tasks that require students to move beyond embodied explorations and perceptions to construct conceptual explanations and the critical role of the teacher in scaffolding and mediating the co-construction of explanations.