Introducing argumentation frameworks: Teaching students to think like scientists by developing claims, evidence, and reasoning.
My students have trouble explaining scientific phenomena. Why? When I probe for recall of key concepts, students are often strong. They know the answer. But other times, even if they know that vaccines prevent disease, or that ice is slippery, or that the mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell… they can’t tell me why or how these things happen. Given that this process of explanation and argumentation is essential to doing and learning science (Osborne 2010), I want to teach my students how to build better arguments. In the classroom, I hope to use this to make their thinking visible and to enhance our flow of learning. More broadly, I hope to weave this practice of argumentation into our activities, to develop my students into engaged and empowered problem-solvers.
Now, what makes a strong argument?
People smarter than me have broken argumentation down into three main components:
The strength of any argument, as such, depends on the strength of these components. Let’s say, for example, I ask my students How does a Bunsen burner release energy into the environment?
Students might provide answers like the following: The burner releases gas, and when you light it up with a spark, it turns into a flame. The flame is hot, and this releases energy in the form of heat.
Here’s a better response.
When we ignite a Bunsen burner, we observe light and temperatures of 1500 C emitting from the flame. We also observe the release of carbon dioxide gas and water vapor, typical products of combustion reactions. Bunsen burners release methane gas, which is a hydrocarbon that readily combusts in the presence of oxygen and heat. Thus, this release of energy must be coming from the combustion reaction, specifically the rearrangement of our reactants methane and oxygen.
The key thing here is that, in addition to having a specific claim, students also provide supporting evidence and scientific ideas. I find that when I talk with my students, the latter is often the most difficult for them. So, I want to give them scaffolds that can develop this skill. Here's mine:
THE ART OF ARGUING IN SCIENCE
In this lesson, I introduced argumentation as a scientific practice that we’ll be using throughout the year (and life!). This was also our first time trying out CER. Using rubrics and graphic organizers, we evaluated an example of an argument and then set out to build our own. Lesson outline below, adapted from Ben Meacham's work here:
In the next post, I'll start by analyzing student data from this lesson.
Hi! I'm a bio/chem teacher and M.S.Ed. student at the University of Pennsylvania.