"Maybe the Algae was from the Filter": Maybe and Similar Modifiers as Mediational Tools and Indicators of Uncertainty and Possibility in Children's Science Talk

Susan A. Kirch, Christina A. Siry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Uncertainty is an essential component of scientific inquiry and it also permeates our daily lives. Understanding how to identify, evaluate, resolve and live in the presence of uncertainty is important for decision-making strategies and engaging in transformative actions. In contrast, confidence and certainty are prized in elementary school classrooms. In this study we ask when and how children express their uncertainty during science activities and about what they are uncertain. This descriptive study focuses on the use of a linguistic element often associated with a process of hedging and distancing - the term 'maybe' (and related modifiers 'might', 'perhaps', 'probably', 'possibly' and 'could'). These words could be interpreted negatively as hedging or they could be interpreted positively as uncertainty marking possibilities to be explored. We report that these words were typically employed by speakers to modify statements, claims or assertions in order to indicate uncertainty that marks possibility in the form of three types, which we term: potentiality, discernment and challenge. We reflect on the possible intersubjective meanings that could be made when these modifiers are used in conversations with and between elementary school students (7-8 years old). We test our interpretation on transcripts from a variety of databases and show that these categories are viable regardless of age or context. We draw implications for 'maybe' as an indicator of children's recognition of uncertainty and possibility during their science learning. We discuss how teachers who are attuned to and encourage the use of this family of modifiers might able to promote interactions that consistently foster more dialogic interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-280
Number of pages20
JournalResearch in Science Education
Volume42
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012

Keywords

  • Elementary
  • Primary
  • Science education
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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