Beyond explanations: What else do students need to understand science?
Students' difficulties with learning science have generally been framed in terms of their generalized conceptual knowledge of a science topic as elicited through their explanations of natural phenomena. In this paper, we empirically explore what more goes into giving a scientific account of a natural phenomenon than giving such generalized explanations. We audio-recorded pairs of upper secondary students during laboratory work in electrochemistry. We used a situative and pragmatist approach to study learning in action. This approach made it possible to study how the particulars and contingencies of working with a real electrochemical cell went into students' reasoning. Our results show that students needed to learn to make distinctions, recognize, and name the particulars in encounters with their cell. They also needed to learn what counts as reasonable readings and to deal with quantitative issues and correlations pertaining to their cell. We refer to these additional learning requirements as the students' taxonomic and measurement interests. Implications for what is involved in giving a scientific account of a natural phenomenon in school are discussed. The study constitutes an attempt to include, in a systematic way, also the particulars and contingencies of actual practice in an account of students' reasoning in science. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci. Ed 93:1026-1049, 2009