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Jessica Watkins

Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching and Learning

The overarching goal of my scholarship is to understand how to support students learning to do science and engineering, that is, how they learn to engage in disciplinary pursuits. In scientific inquiry, this pursuit is for causal, coherent understandings about the world, and in engineering, this pursuit is for solutions to complex, ill-defined problems. Across my scholarship, I study how learners engage and progress in these disciplinary pursuits and how teachers can support them.

In my examinations of learning, I look both at the moment-to-moment dynamics and longer-term stabilities of what takes place in classrooms. I develop microgenetic analyses to examine shifts in learners’ activities and to study how new ideas and practices emerge. My work also looks at how disciplinary activities become stable over time, for instance, by showing how learners take ownership of and hold each other accountable to their scientific pursuits.

Another strand of my research focuses on teachers, particularly how teachers learn to attend and respond to disciplinary substance in student thinking. My work brings this focus to research in engineering design, addressing a need created by its increasing inclusion in standards and curricula. Given the “blank slate” of engineering in schools and the heterogeneity inherent in design practice, there is a unique opportunity to work with teachers to draw out and build on their students’ diverse intellectual resources.