Academic journal article Science and Children

Constructing and Critiquing Arguments: Four Communication Strategies Help Students Discuss, Defend, and Debunk Ideas

Academic journal article Science and Children

Constructing and Critiquing Arguments: Four Communication Strategies Help Students Discuss, Defend, and Debunk Ideas

Article excerpt

As the need for students to be able to construct and critique scientific argumentation is emphasized in A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012), have you wondered how to support students in this process? Scientific argumentation is defined as the interplay between construction and critique involving both individual cognitive activities and a negotiated social act through talk and writing within a specific community (Cavagnetto 2010; Ford 2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012) identifies three dimensions for K-12 science and engineering classrooms: scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. At the center of the first dimension is the idea that "critique is an essential element both for building new knowledge in general and for the learning of science in particular" (NRC 2012, p. 44).

How can we as teachers engage students in written and oral scientific argumentation? In this article, we introduce four powerful strategies for teaching the practice of scientific argumentation: (1) Visualize ideas using a concept map; (2) Whole-class engagement in a negotiation circle; (3) Time to pause and reflect; and (4) Writing a letter to a younger audience. These four strategies emphasize speaking and writing to facilitate students' engagement in argumentation. These strategies can be used with grades 1 to 6 based on the activity.

The Science Classroom: A New View

Critique plays a significant role in shifting the construction of scientific knowledge from an individual, private level to a public level. However, students are rarely provided the opportunities and time needed to critique and construct ideas about scientific phenomena based on evidence (Krajcik and Merritt 2012). Instead, they are often given the final scientific content that scientists have developed over time. As a result, students focus on reciting the correct answers of scientific content and reproducing this content knowledge by rote in their homework and tests. The second and third dimensions of the new Framework emphasize learning a limited number of core ideas through the practice of construction and critique rather than learning disconnected and dense factual knowledge. To facilitate student understanding of core ideas, it is critical to embed language-based activities in the practice of construction and critique. Thus, speaking and writing become absolutely crucial language tools to help students as well as scientists and engineers engage in critiquing knowledge construction (Chen, Park, and Hand 2012). The following four strategies encourage students to use oral and written communication to promote knowledge construction and critique through scientific argumentation.

Visualize Ideas Using a Concept Map

A concept map is a negotiation tool for both construction and critique. A classroom concept map can be used at the beginning of a unit to see what students already know. The teacher asks students to write down everything they know on sticky notes (one concept per sticky note) in relation to the core idea and use arrows and linking verbs to connect all the sticky notes. The arrows usually consist of a verb or a preposition, such as contains, includes, can be, lives in, occurs in, have, like, which has, are, from, produces, causes, and so on. Here is an example of observations from Mr. Smith's third-grade science classroom. In a class discussion within a unit on weather, students were working on a concept map with the core concept of "types of weather." A student suggested rainbow as a type of weather, several hands were raised up, and negotiation began as to where rainbow should be located on the concept map. One student claimed, "A rainbow is a reflection of the Sun. Put it with sunny." Mr. Smith made a note about the word "reflection" for himself so he could revisit this scientific term another time when appropriate. Another student claimed that rainbow must go with rain because it comes after it rains. …

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