Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Two Instructional Models That Teachers Can Use to Promote & Support Scientific Argumentation in the Biology Classroom

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Two Instructional Models That Teachers Can Use to Promote & Support Scientific Argumentation in the Biology Classroom

Article excerpt


Students need to know how new knowledge is generated and validated by scientists as well as the important theories, laws, and unifying concepts of the various disciplines in order to understand science as a way of knowing. Students also must develop the abilities and habits of mind needed to construct and support scientific claims through argument and to evaluate or challenge the claims or arguments developed by others. Current research in science education (Duschl, 2008) indicates that a productive way to help students achieve these important educational outcomes is to give them more opportunities to learn about scientific argumentation (i.e., the process) and from it (i.e., important content) while in school. This task, however, can be difficult for teachers to accomplish within the constraints of a science classroom unless instructional strategies or techniques are available to serve as templates or guides in designing a lesson.

We have therefore used the available literature on argumentation in science education (for an extensive review, see Erduran & Jimenez-Aleixandre, 2007) to develop two instructional models that teachers can use to design a lesson that promotes and supports student engagement in scientific argumentation: the Generate-an-Argument model and the Evaluate Alternatives model. In the sections that follow, we first discuss the nature of argumentation and argument in science in order to clarify our goals for what students should know and be able to do as a result of this type of instruction. We then provide an overview of the two models and an example lesson for each one.

Scientific Argumentation & Arguments

Scientific argumentation can be defined as an attempt to establish or validate a claim on the basis of reasons (Norris et al., 2007) or as a process of proposing, supporting, evaluating, and refining a claim as part of a group in a manner that reflects the values of the scientific community (Kuhn, 1993). A claim, in this context, is not simply an idea or an opinion; rather, it is a conjecture, conclusion, explanation, descriptive statement, or an answer to a research question (Norris et al., 2007). We use the term "reasons" to describe the support someone offers for a claim. The term "evidence" is often used to describe the reasons used by scientists, especially when the support is based on data gathered during an investigation. Yet reasons do not have to be based on data to be viewed as scientific. Charles Darwin, for example, used numerous reasons to support his claims that the species found on earth were descended from other species and that the main mechanism for the change in species over time was natural selection. Some of the reasons that Darwin provided in On the Origin of Species, such as Malthus's ideas about population growth and Lyell's concept of uniformitarianism, were theoretical in nature. Other reasons, such as the observations he made during his voyage to Central and South America, were much more empirical (see Erduran & Jimenez-Aleixandre, 2007). Yet it is important to note that not all reasons are equally valid in science, and an important component of scientific argumentation is evaluating the acceptability, relevance, and sufficiency of the reasons that are offered in support of a claim.

It is also important to understand how an argument (i.e., a written or spoken claim and the reasons that are used to support it) in science is different from the arguments that people use in everyday contexts or in other domains (such as history or religion). In order to make these differences explicit to students, we use the framework illustrated in Figure 1. In this framework, a claim is a conjecture, explanation, conclusion, generalizable principle, or answer to a research question. The evidence component of the argument refers to data (i.e., measurements or observations) that have been collected as part of investigation and then analyzed and interpreted by scientists. …

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