Learning science includes learning to argue with inscriptions: images used to symbolize information persuasively. This study examined sixth-graders learning to invest inscriptions with representational status, in a geographic information system (GIS)‚Äìbased science investigation. Learning to reason with inscriptions was studied in emergent participation patterns in groups, operationalized as roles. Cross-case analyses compared developmental trajectories for two roles in each group: competitive challenger and quiet bystander. Role development mediated learning to reason with inscriptions, including (1) co-assembling ‚Äúrepresentational states‚Äù of data and (2) managing dialectical tensions of argumentation. Role was operationalized as a site of learning, intersecting individual and collective processes, rather than a mechanism of one impacting another. Distributed conceptions of practice support this approach for understanding how students learn to do science.
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