Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

Geeta Verma, Ph.D. - Chair

Second Advisor

Amy Seely Flint, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Deron Boyles, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Lori Elliott, Ph.D.

Fifth Advisor

Stephanie Lindemann, Ph.D.


Doing and learning science are social activities that require certain language, activities, and values. Both constitute what Gee (2005) calls Discourses. The language of learning science varies with the learning context (Lemke, 2001,1990). Science for All Americans (AAAS, 1990) and Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 2000) endorse inquiry science learning. In the United States, most science learning is teacher-centered; inquiry science learning is rare (NRC, 2000). This study focused on 12 high school students from two suburban high schools, their three faculty mentors, and two engineering mentors during an extracurricular robotics activity with FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). FRC employed student-centered inquiry focus to teach science principles integrating technology. Research questions were (a) How do science teachers and their students enact Discourses as they teach and learn science? and (b) How does the pedagogical approach of a learning activity facilitate the Discourses that are enacted by students and teachers as they learn and teach science? Using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), the study examined participants’ language during robotic activities to determine how language used in learning science shaped the learning and vice versa. Data sources included video-recordings of participant language and semi-structured interviews with study participants. Transcribed recordings were coded initially using Gee’s (2005) linguistic Building Tasks as a priori codes. CDA was applied to code transcripts, to construct Discourses enacted by the participants, and to determine how context facilitated their enactment. Findings indicated that, for the students, FRC facilitated elements of Science Discourse. Wild About Robotics (W.A.R.) team became, through FRC, part of a community similar to scientists’ community that promoted knowledge and sound practices, disseminated information, supported research and development and encouraged interaction of its members. The public school science classroom in the U.S. is inimical to inquiry learning because of practices and policies associated with the epistemological stance that spawned the standards and/or testing movement and No Child Left Behind (Baez & Boyles, 2009). The findings of this study provided concrete ideas to accommodate the recommendations by NRC (1996) and NSES (2000) for creating contexts that might lead to inquiry science learning for meaningful student engagement.

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