Family sense-making practices in science center conversations

Heather Toomey Zimmerman, Suzanne Reeve, Philip Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


In this paper, we examine the interactional ways that families make meaning from biological exhibits during a visit to an interactive science center. To understand the museum visits from the perspectives of the families, we use ethnographic and discourse analytic methods, including pre- and postvisit interviews, videotaped observations of the museum visits, and coding and analysis of utterances from naturally occurring conversations. We employ an Everyday Expertise framework to understand how families use ideas and materials to make meaning from the scientific content presented in exhibits. We argue that individual and cognitive aspects of learning are fundamentally connected to the social and cultural aspects of learning; therefore, we analyze the intertwining role of individual cognitive resources, situated activities, and cultural toolkit resources that support learning interactions and processes. Findings indicate how families use a variety of knowledge types (epistemic resources) to make sense of exhibit content, how they make sense of biological content by transferring cultural epistemic resources from prior experiences, and how families use two types of scientific epistemic resources-biological facts and perceptual descriptions-as the primary means to make sense of biological exhibits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-505
Number of pages28
JournalScience Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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