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Brown, B. A., & Gray, S. (2010).  Language, Identity, & The Stress of Learning Science Language. “Scienc in the City” – part of an NSF report.  Retrieved from:

Brown and Gray (2010) have conducted a very interesting and relevant study on scientific language and stress. They attempt to answer the question, “Does the process of learning scientific language cause stress in high school students and thus interfere with their ability to learn science concepts?”  In this experiment a sample of 64 students were randomly assigned to 2 groups, both of which were learning about the water cycle. The control group watched a video about the water cycle that used complex language while the treatment group watched a video about the water cycle that used simple language. The results showed that there was no statistical difference in learning the concepts between the 2 groups, however the control group did respond slower during the testing process. In addition, the 2 groups differed statistically in the amount of stress generated by the videos. The stress was measured by 2 proxies: the Stroop test and the Flanker test. These tests both indirectly measure the stress level of the students, and in both cases the treatment group had higher levels of stress as measured by these proxies. This is very relevant to my research question in that one of my assumptions is that the scientific language or jargon can act to make student feel excluded from learning science because they don’t know the “science language.” This excludes them from the realm of science because their discourse does not match the discourse of science.


Brown, B. A., Reveles, J. M., & Kelly, G. J. (2005). Scientific literacy and discursive identity: A theoretical framework for understanding science learning. Science Education, 89(5), 779–802. doi:10.1002/sce.20069

Brown et al. (2005) discuss a theoretical framework for understanding a student’s identity and how this affects their learning of science and the use of scientific language. They use interviews with 5th grade African American students to elaborate their general premise.  In other words, they draw on these interviews to demonstrate that “cultural components” of a classroom can generate feelings of alienation for many students and particularly underrepresented minorities. The “cultural components” of a course includes the scientific language used to describe science concepts. Although the paper does not describe an experiment it does use interviews with students to explore the connection between science language and a student’s identity.  This paper is relevant because one of my assumptions is that the scientific language or jargon can act to make student feel excluded from learning science because they don’t know the “science language.”

Brown, B. A., & Ryoo, K. (2008). Teaching science as a language: A “content-first” approach to science teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(5), 529–553. doi:10.1002/tea.20255

Brown and Ryoo (2008) describes an experiment to test the idea that science content taught with everyday language enhances learning compared with science content taught with scientific language.  They have conducted an experiment to test this hypothesis by introducing 49 minority high school students to the topic of photosynthesis. The students were randomized into a control group (taught with scientific language) and a treatment group (taught with everyday language).  The students were given a pre- and post assessment of their unit on photosynthesis. They measured the following dependent variables: overall score, ability to explain photosynthesis with everyday language and the ability to explain photosynthesis with scientific language. They found that the treatment group (using everyday language) had greater learning gains for all 3 dependent variables. In addition, analysis of open-ended questions showed a similar effect.  The treatment group were better able to articulate their scientific concepts in writing compared to the control group. The experiment was well controlled, randomized and placed in an appropriate theoretical framework. However, the sample size remains low (49 students). This fits directly with my research question:  Which is “Does excessive science terminology interfere with students’ abilities to understand science concepts.”  My study will be different in that it will test college students and will examine the students’ ability to learn other biology concepts (ie. genetics, osmosis, or experimental design).

Itza-Ortiz, S. F., Rebello, N. S., Zollman, D. A., & Rodriguez-Achach, M. (2003). The Vocabulary of Introductory Physics and Its Implications for Learning Physics. The Physics Teacher, 41(6), 330. doi:10.1119/1.1607802

The authors of this paper examine how introductory level college students understand 3 major terms in physics: force, momentum, and impulse. They examined how students understood these terms in both everyday usage and in the context of physics. They also asked students to compare the 2 definitions. 154 college students were given a pre- and post- surveys on the meaning of the 3 physics terms. The pre-survey involved their understanding of the terms before instruction. The post-survey asked students to compare the 2 meanings (everyday and physics) and the interviews explored the students process as they found similarities and differences in the everyday vs. physics meaning of the terms. The recommendation that came out of this study is that it would be useful for students to compare/contrast the everyday and physics meaning of terms. In this manner they have a higher likelihood of understanding the physics meaning and of retaining the information.  The authors have a large sample size and are exploring patterns of student responses, however they are not doing a manipulative experiment. I feel that his limits their conclusion in some ways. This is relevant to my research question in that it compares everyday and complex language learning by students and proposes a mechanism whereby the difficulty in learning these 2 ways of using the terms might be overcome by students.


Song, Y., & Carheden, S. (2014). Dual meaning vocabulary (DMV) words in learning chemistry. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 15(2), 128. doi:10.1039/c3rp00128h

Song and Carheden (2014) explore the difficulty students have when they are learning “dual meaning vocabulary,” or science terms that have a different meaning when used in everyday language. The authors interviewed  13 chemistry students went through extensive interviews with the authors to examine the process of learning and retaining the scientific meaning of 13 different “dual meaning vocabulary” words. They found that when chemistry terms had a dual meaning in everyday language it was much more difficulty form them to learn and retain the scientific meaning. The study was well conducted except for the low sample size. They initially approached 150 general chemistry students but only 13 completed the interview process. This research paper is germane to my research question in that it explores an additional difficulty that students have in learning complex science language.

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