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2014 Abstracts

How a Small Group of Middle School Students Engaged with Data and Evidence While Addressing a Local Water Quality Issue

David Turner, Utah State University


Problem based learning is an approach to education where students develop solutions to authentic problems (Hmelo-Silver, 2004) with support from scaffolding (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976; Reiser, 2004). Computer based scaffolding helps students organize thoughts and arguments while solving problems (Belland, Glazewski & Richardson, 2008). We examined how students from one small group constructed order in their interactions and arguments as they solved an environmental issue using a stakeholder lens.
Setting and Participants
Using stakeholder perspectives (e.g., farmers or the Environmental Protection Agency), seventh-grade students investigated their local river’s water quality. Participants were from three periods; two periods were allowed to work with computer-based scaffolding. All students had access to previous water quality data, and online resources. Using an ethnomethodological lens (Garfinkel, 1967), we focus on how a small group from the control condition formulated arguments and constructed order.
Data Collection
Groups were videotaped during the unit, the presentation, and post-unit interview. The researchers transcribed, coded and analyzed the video data.
The group proposed only a semi-successful solution because they misconstrued the relevance of online sources and largely neglected their stakeholder position.


Belland, B. R., Glazewski, K. D., & Richardson, J. C. (2008). A scaffolding framework to support the construction of evidence-based arguments among middle school students. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(4), 401–422. doi:10.1007/s11423-007-9074-1
Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn? Educational Psychology Review, 16(3), 235–266. doi:10.1023/B:EDPR.0000034022.16470.f3
Reiser, B. J. (2004). Scaffolding complex learning: The mechanisms of structuring and problematizing student work. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(3), 273–304. doi:10.1207/s15327809jls1303_2
Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17(2), 89–100. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x