Date of Award

Summer 8-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)


Science and Mathematics Education


Elizabeth Hufnagel

Second Committee Member

Darren Ranco

Third Committee Member

Franziska Peterson

Additional Committee Members

Tammy Mills


Many science identity researchers theorize identity as a process of authoring and re-authoring oneself while being recognized by others, and therefore theorize science identity as negotiated (for example, see Avraamidou, 2019 and Calabrese-Barton et al., 2013). It is widely accepted that recognition by others shapes students’ negotiations of science identity (Carlone and Johnson, 2007). Few studies, however, have focused heavily on the role that students’ self-recognition plays in the science identity negotiation process. A large body of research also exists on students’ ideas about science (see Lederman, 1992), yet that research has not frequently intersected with research on student science identity (Avraamidou and Schwartz, 2021) and often fails to probe students’ ideas about science for much nuance. This thesis project addresses these two identified gaps in the current science identity research literature.

The goals of this research were to explore and describe how sixth grade students negotiated their science identities through descriptions of: 1) their engagement in science and 2) their own ideas about science. Ethnographic interviews were conducted with ten 6th grade students from a middle school in a semi-rural state in the Northeastern US. The interviews were intentionally conducted in a social studies classroom during an integrated science and social studies unit, in order to capture students’ science identity negotiations in a unique and expanded science learning setting. Two components of students’ identity negotiations from the interviews were analyzed: how students authored science selves, and how students recognized (or didn’t recognize) those science selves. The interaction between students’ conceptualizations of science and their science identity negotiations was also analyzed.

Analysis of the interview data showed that these 6th grade students have multifaceted conceptualizations of science composed of both inclusive (broad) and exclusive (narrow) sets of ideas. The complexity seen in students’ conceptualizations of science illustrates that students construct their understandings of science as they do their science identities: from the many experiences they have with science in the different figured worlds they inhabit.

Despite authoring a diverse range of science selves via descriptions of their own engagement with science and scientific thinking both in school and outside of school, seven of the ten total students did not recognize themselves as scientists. This lack of self-recognition was primarily due to the fact that students drew from their own lived experiences (both in school and outside of school) when authoring science selves, but students made their self-recognition contingent entirely on their narrow and exclusive ideas about science. This thesis project therefore contributes to an understanding of the ways in which students’ ideas about science shape their negotiation of science identities, by influencing the ways they recognize themselves as scientific (or not). These findings have implications for both science identity research and science teaching.

Available for download on Wednesday, September 20, 2023