BOX 7.5 Which Water Tastes Better?

The seventh- and eighth-grade students in a Haitian Creole bilingual program wanted to find the “truth” of a belief held by most of their classmates: that drinking water from the fountain on the third floor, where the junior high was located, was superior to the water from the other fountains in their school. Challenged by their teacher, the students set out to determine whether they actually preferred the water from the third floor or only thought they did.

As a first step, the students designed and took a blind taste test of the water from fountains on all three floors of the building. They found, to their surprise, that two-thirds of them chose the water from the first-floor fountain, even though they all said that they preferred drinking from the third-floor fountain. The students did not believe the data. They held firmly to their beliefs that the first-floor fountain was the worst because “all the little kids slobber in it.” (The first-floor fountain is located near the kindergarten and first grade classrooms.) Their teacher was also suspicious of the results because she had expected no differences among the three water fountains. These beliefs and suspicions motivated students to conduct a second taste test with a larger sample drawn from the rest of the junior high.

The students decided where, when, and how to run their experiment. They discussed methodological issues: How to collect the water, how to hide the identity of the sources, and, crucially, how many fountains to include. They decided to include the same three fountains as before so that they could compare results.

achieve understanding (Brown and Palincsar, 1989; Inagaki and Hatano, 1987).

What do students learn from participating in a scientific sense-making community? Individual interviews with students before and after the water taste test investigation (see Box 7.5), first in September and again the following June, showed how the students’ knowledge and reasoning changed. In the interviews (conducted in Haitian Creole), the students were asked to think aloud about two open-ended real-world problems—pollution in the Boston Harbor and a sudden illness in an elementary school. The researchers were interested in changes in students’ conceptual knowledge about aquatic ecosystems and in students’ uses of hypotheses, experiments, and explanations to organize their reasoning (for a complete discussion, see Rosebery et al., 1992).

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