Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Let's Argue!

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Let's Argue!

Article excerpt

After what seems like a lifetime of imploring my children to "Please stop arguing!" I've now done a complete 180. In my science classes, I now regularly encourage student arguments. Go figure.

Like many parents, I quickly tire of the back-and-forth arguments of my children. Like many citizens, I also find the endless arguments so much in the news to be important but tiresome--confrontations over gun control, reproductive rights, the size of government, immigration policy, marriage equity, and on and on. So why do I encourage argumentation among my students?

The answer, of course, is that scientific argumentation is a very different kettle of fish. The everyday arguments of children, politicians, and sports fans attempt to win over the opponent, to convince an antagonist that your position is right and the other wrong. In contrast, the goal of argumentation in science is quite the opposite: to reach consensus in a collaborative search for truth. Scientists constantly critique each other's ideas, defend claims and challenge inferences, propose alternative interpretations, and engage in the back-and-forth debate that moves forward our understanding of the natural world. The process of peer review epitomizes the argumentation at the heart of the scientific process. The result is publication--like the peer-reviewed articles found in this journal--of ideas that have been thoroughly assessed, critiqued, defended, and supported by evidence.

The recently published Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) rightly identify "arguing from evidence" as one of eight important scientific and engineering practices, along with its close cousin "obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information" (Achieve 2013). …

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