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“Experiments” and the inquiry emphasis conflation in science teacher education



This article examines the use and role of the term “experiment” in science teacher education as described by teacher students. Data were collected through focus group interviews conducted at seven occasions with 32 students from six well-known Swedish universities. The theoretical framework is a sociocultural and pragmatist perspective on language and learning with the analysis based on the notion of pivot terms, introduced in an earlier article, to operationalize language use as habit and mediated action. The term “experiment” was found to be conflated with “laboratory task” and referred to as primarily a pedagogical activity in contrast to a research methodology, in line with the previously described inquiry emphasis conflation. The notion of “controlled experiment” was unfamiliar to most students and had not been explicitly discussed in terms of research methodology during their teacher education. The pedagogical meaning given to the term “experiment” is discussed in contrast to its use and function in scientific research. The possible problems of this conflation of terms are discussed in relation to the educational goal of teaching students about the nature of scientific inquiry. Recommendations for teacher education are discussed, and a heuristic model to use pivot terms to facilitate explicit reflection on unexamined customs of science education is introduced. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed95:908–926, 2011