Academic journal article Science Scope

Incorporating Scientific Argumentation into Inquiry-Based Activities with Online Personally Seeded Discussions

Academic journal article Science Scope

Incorporating Scientific Argumentation into Inquiry-Based Activities with Online Personally Seeded Discussions

Article excerpt

Byline: Victor Sampson and Douglas Clark

An explicit goal of the current reform movement in science education is to promote scientific literacy in the United States (AAAS 1993; NRC 1996). One way to encourage scientific literacy is to help students develop a better understanding of science subject matter, that is, the declarative knowledge specifically associated with the physical, life, and earth sciences. However, in addition to helping students develop this type of knowledge, science education programs designed to promote true scientific literacy need to also help learners understand how this knowledge is generated, justified, and evaluated by scientists and how to use such knowledge to engage in inquiry in a way that reflects the practices of the scientific community (Driver, Newton, and Osborne 2000; Duschl and Osborne 2002).

Inquiry is at the heart of current efforts to help students develop this type of scientific literacy (NRC 1996). In this literature, inquiry is described as a knowledge-building process in which explanations are developed to make sense of data and then presented to a community of peers so they can be critiqued, debated, and revised. Thus, the ability to engage in argumentation in order to construct, justify, and evaluate scientific explanations is seen by many as an important component of scientific literacy. Yet opportunities for students to engage in argumentation as part of the inquiry process in science classrooms are rare. Hence, our work focuses on developing new and innovative ways to integrate productive argumentation into the teaching and learning of science.

Online personally seeded discussions

In order to foster productive argumentation in science classrooms, we have developed the personally seeded discussion (PSD). This tool, which is currently embedded into an online science project called Thermodynamics: Probing Your Surroundings, is designed to help students learn how to:

use observations and data in order make sense of a phenomenon under investigation,

develop and articulate an underlying explanation for the given phenomenon,

convince others of the validity and usefulness of an explanation by justifying and defending it with scientific evidence and rational reasoning, and

use empirical and theoretical criteria important to science when assessing the validity or appropriateness of scientific explanation.

The PSD is an online asynchronous discussion forum that automatically sorts participants into small groups based on the nature of students' ideas. While in this forum, students have an opportunity to propose, justify, critique, and revise their ideas until they reach consensus. For example, in the Thermodynamics: Probing Your Surroundings project students are asked to generate a principle that can explain why some objects, such as a metal chair leg and a wooden table, feel like they are different temperatures. Some students suggest that they feel different because they are, in fact, different temperatures. Others suggest that metal "absorbs" cold so it feels cold. Some suggest that it has to do with the conductivity of the object and not the temperature of the object. The PSD software takes advantage of these different ideas in order to foster argumentation. Our software is able to score the ways students explain a particular phenomenon and then uses this information to create online discussion forums that consist of students who have different interpretations of the same phenomenon. When confronted with these different interpretations, students must discuss and debate the validity of each explanation using the data they have gathered in order to reach consensus.

To support this process, students use a specially designed interface to create their initial explanations for the phenomenon under investigation. This interface, which we call the principle-maker, allows students to use a pull-down menu format to create an explanation or a principle from sentence fragments (Figure 1). …

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