Space, Relations, and the Learning of Science

Publication Date


Document Type



Roth, WM. & Hsu, PL. Cult Stud of Sci Educ (2014) 9: 77. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-013-9533-4


In the literature on the situated and distributed nature of cognition, the coordination of spatial organization and the structure of human practices and relations is accepted as a fact. To date, science educators have yet to build on such research. Drawing on an ethnographic study of high school students during an internship in a scientific research laboratory, which we understand as a “perspicuous setting” and a “smart setting,” in which otherwise invisible dimensions of human practices become evident, we analyze the relationship between spatial configurations of the setting and the nature and temporal organization of knowing and learning in science. Our analyses show that spatial aspects of the laboratory projectivelyorganize how participants act and can serve as resources to help the novices to participate in difficult and unfamiliar tasks. First, existing spatial relations projectively organize the language involving interns and lab members. In particular, spatial relations projectively organize where and when pedagogical language should happen; and there are specific discursive mechanisms that produce cohesion in language across different places in the laboratory. Second, the spatial arrangements projectively organize the temporal dimensions of action. These findings allow science educators to think explicitly about organizing “smart contexts” that help learners participate in and learn complex scientific laboratory practices.