Students studying in government-run schools in rural India possess much experiential knowledge of the world around them. This paper presents a narrative account of an ethnographic exploration of such students as they attempted to learn about electricity in an eighth-grade classroom in a government-run schools in a village in India. The paper shows how students having a rich experience with household electric circuits attempt, in a contingent and situated manner, to negotiate their role as students and participate in the school science discourse. The students' actions expressed agency that was contingent, situated, and aimed at selective appropriation of school science discourse for their own purposes. Such expressions of student agency indicate rich possibilities for meaningful learning of science in rural schools in India provided school science is made relevant for their lives and concerns. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed92:297–319, 2008