Argumentation in science

Subtle differences in words can make a big difference: for example “arguing” and “argumentation.” Our students see TV shows where arguing is the most common activity. People shout at and interrupt each other, spout ideas that may have little or no truth to them, and have little tolerance for different points of view or experiences. But structured and respectful argumentation can be a wonderful experience anywhere, especially in a classroom.

The skills involved in argumentation have to be taught and modeled, and the articles in this month’s issues have many suggestions and real-life examples of what this kind of activity looks like and sounds like in a real classroom. (I can think of a few talk show hosts who should read these, too!)

Connecting Science and Literacy Through Talk describes the benefits of whole class discussion to debrief, summarize, and reflect on learning. What the authors describe is not a “discussion” that includes interrogation by the teacher in a Q/A format, but active listening and engagement by the students (with their science notebooks). I met a teacher once who boasted that her students were so busy that they didn’t have time to think. But the authors of this article would argue that “Although direct experience is crucial to inquiry, students may learn little from the hands-on experiences if they are not given adequate time to make meaning from them.” This type of discussion would also be an appropriate time for teachers and students to use wait time. Use SciLinks for suggestions on other Literacy Skills.

The article More Than One Right Answer has “sentence starters’ for the language of argumentation and describes a debrief discussion routine. The authors note that using routines or protocols (such as a Think-Pair-Share) can help students to focus their conversations.

If you and your colleagues have been “arguing” over the role of textbooks and trade books in learning science, the article Bringing Back Books will be relevant. Rather than a dichotomy in which students either engage in inquiry OR read books and other materials, the authors suggest that several programs of research have demonstrated how inquiry-based science experiences combined with science text can support students’ scientific understanding. Their research has demonstrated that “students who experience science through a balance of text and hands-on experiences exhibit greater growth in science knowledge than do students who participate in curriculum involving mainly hands-on inquiry experiences or mainly reading science books.” It’s nice to hear that research does support the variety of planned and purposeful learning experiences that teachers use. If your students struggle with reading in science, check out some of the Reading and Writing in Science resources in SciLinks.

Reading about scientists of the past and present may inspire the scientists of the future in our classroooms. But reading biographies does not have to be a dull experience. Check out the suggestions for reading and reflecting on biographies of scientists in this month’s Teaching Through Trade Books article. For additional ideas and online biographies, use “biographies” or the name of a particular scientists as a SciLinks keyword.

Having survived a few nor’easters on the mid-Atlantic coast, I was interested in How Can Wind Cause a Bridge to Collapse? I did review some background information on bridges and resonance in SciLinks.

You won’t get much of an argument (but perhaps lively argumentation) if you focus on the science behind some familiar topics: pizza (Solar Pizza Friday), skateboarding (Speed Kills! Or Does It?), and Digging Soil. For the last topic, check out the selected Scilinks for Explore Soil and use the search term “soil” for even more information and teaching suggestions.

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One Comment

  1. Claire Reinburg
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    NSTA has a new resource on this topic titled “Scientific Argumentation in Biology: 30 Classroom Activities”: http://www.nsta.org/store/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/9781936137275 . It’s also a key scientific and engineering practice described in the forthcoming Next Generation Science Standards.

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