Scientific knowledge is advanced because scientists manage uncertainty. Although managing uncertainty is an essential practice of science, transferring it from expert settings to K–12 classrooms is problematic because, understandably, students are not familiar with the intentions of scientists. Few studies have explored learning science as an enterprise of uncertainty management. This longitudinal case study, grounded in ethnographic microanalysis of interaction, examines dialogic pathways for the dynamics of authority and accountability between students and teachers as a mechanism to understand how uncertainty gets raised and managed through resources related to the epistemic understanding of argument. The data sources include 15 videotaped fifth-grade, whole class discussions over a 20-week period. Students obtained peer feedback through discussions focused on group presentations of arguments regarding the scientific concepts of the ecosystem, the human body, and the day and night cycle. As time passed and as opportunities for students to engage in managing uncertainty increased, the dialogic pathways moved away from teacher-scaffolded to serpentine and to student-led. Results indicate that elementary school students are able to engage in uncertainty management, yet they need support from the teacher to know how to use resources effectively. Student development of scientific practices and knowledge may depend on teachers knowing when to authorize and hold students accountable as they work to resolve their uncertainty, learning how to interpret data as evidence, and using resources productively. A schematic model is conceptualized regarding the tensions between authority and accountability that shape the three dialogic pathways to manage uncertainty.
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