Argumentation-based collaborative inquiry in science through representational work: impact on primary students' representational fluency

Kim Nichols*, Robyn Gillies, John Hedberg

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    21 Citations (Scopus)


    This study explored the impact of argumentation-promoting collaborative inquiry and representational work in science on primary students' representational fluency. Two hundred sixty-six year 6 students received instruction on natural disasters with a focus on collaborative inquiry. Students in the Comparison condition received only this instruction. Students in the Explanation condition were also instructed with a focus on explanations using representations. Students in the Argumentation condition received similar instruction to the Comparison and Explanation conditions but were also instructed with a focus on argumentation using representations. Conceptual understanding and representational competencies (interpreting, explaining and constructing representations) were measured prior to and immediately following the instruction. A small group collaborative representational task was video recorded at the end of the instruction and coded for modes of knowledge-building discourse; knowledge-sharing and knowledge-construction. Higher measures of conceptual understanding, representational competencies and knowledge-construction discourse were taken together as representational fluency. Students in all conditions showed significant improvement in conceptual understanding, interpreting representations and explaining representations. Students in the Comparison and Argumentation conditions also showed significantly improved scores in constructing representations. When compared to the other conditions, the Explanation group had the highest scores in conceptual understanding and also interpreting and explaining representations. While the Argumentation group had the highest scores for constructing representations, their scores for conceptual understanding as well as interpreting and explaining representations were also high. There was no difference between the groups in knowledge-sharing discourse; however, the Argumentation group displayed the highest incidence of knowledge-construction discourse. The paper discusses how a collaborative inquiry instructional focus on explanation-building using representations fosters representational competencies, while a collaborative inquiry instructional focus on argumentation and explanation using representations promotes representational fluency.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)343-364
    Number of pages22
    JournalResearch in Science Education
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


    • Argumentation
    • Earth sciences
    • Representational agency
    • Representational fluency


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