You Teach What? I’m So Sorry! Building a Better Body and Building Better Argumentation

I am always amazed at the looks on people’s faces when I tell them I teach middle school. They seem to pity me for having a position I chose and love! They inform me that middle school “tween-agers” are argumentative, stubborn, and at times, adamant about whatever they set their minds to. But I smile because I have the best job in the world!

The secret about my argumentative middle schoolers is that middle school is a prime time to teach students what argumentation really is and how it is used every day in decision-making processes. Middle schoolers make claims all the time, and if we can harness their passion to make statements, then we have implemented a very powerful tool indeed. When and how did I implement argumentation as an NGSS Science and Engineering Practice (SEP) in my classroom? I started slowly and used the progression of the SEPs to construct “articles of argumentation” to help guide our learning processes.

Article 1: Engage With Evidence, Embrace the Phenomena

The first unit I aligned with NGSS was formerly known as my Human Body unit. I struggled with how to teach body systems as an interconnected system without first having students examine each system individually. I did what many a teacher in my position would do: I googled MS-LS1-3  and started vetting the pages I found. I became inspired by a lesson from, Human Body 2.0, from Mariana Garcia Serrato. I used her project as my template and centered my storyline around this guiding question: What if we could build a better body?

Gathering Evidence

To form a better body, or body system, students need to examine a perceived weakness in our current model/body. As students brainstormed all the ways our bodies could become better, they quickly realized they needed to investigate the current human body system to engineer a better one. To enhance their understandings, students were given several dissection opportunities, lecture videos, mini-labs that could be checked out, textbook pages and web resources. They had two weeks to construct written models (blogs using their G Suite for Education Glogster accounts) summarizing their understandings. Students then commented on one another’s blogs, asking questions about where they saw limitations. In their comments, students were tasked with evaluating understandings independent of their personal biases and practiced making qualitative/quantitative observations. This gave them an initial opportunity to practice strengthening statements by making them empirical.

Article 2: Stating Supported Claims

When students evaluated one another’s comments, they expressed interest in a specific body system, so I had them choose the body system they thought most needed improvements. Students were placed into body system groups of their choice (they ranked their interest in each body system and were assigned to groups based on ranking and availability), then they revised initial models and constructed a physical model for their “Human Body 2.0.” Students spent an additional week preparing prototypes to be shared with the class. On presentation day, students had to evaluate their models and argue effectiveness and feasibility. (See System Evaluation Sheet.)

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Article 3: Pairing the SEP and the CCC

One CCC (Crosscutting Concept) for this particular DCI (Disciplinary Core Idea) is systems and system models. Because the NGSS are interconnected, students are sense making through the combination of content, practices, and overarching crosscutting concepts. Encouraging students to make and revise their models as part of argumentation ensures that they not only understand the benefits of their system, but also its limitations. Argumentation is strengthened through modeling, as it uses a natural feedback loop and allows students to see that argumentation is not a “fight,” but a network of understanding based on evidence. It illustrates that the argumentation process is not linear, and keeps conversations, investigations, and—most importantly to me—wonder ongoing.

Ways I hope to improve this unit in the future

  • Implement an anchoring phenomenon before the guiding question;
  • Continue to become more familiar with NGSS Screener Tools and rubrics; and
  • Increase connectedness. I find students create a better model and argument when they know others will evaluate their model. (If you are interested in having our students evaluate your student’s blogs or vise versa, tweet me at @frizzlerichard.)

So when I am asked on the street, at the pool, or anywhere about my argumentative middle schoolers, I smile. My students know how to argue correctly, and as their science teacher, I couldn’t be more proud!

Meg Richard

Meg Richard is a seventh-grade science teacher at California Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kansas. She has been teaching science since 2010 and is a graduate of Central Methodist University and the University of Central Missouri. In addition to her teaching duties, Meg is excited to be a member of Teaching Channel’s Tch Next Gen Science Squad and to work with the Kansas Department of Education as a Science Trainer. She’s passionate about providing authentic, hands-on science experiences for her students, and she often can’t believe how lucky she is to get to do the best job in the world: Teach! Connect with Richard on Twitter: @frizzlerichard.

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