Academic journal article Science Scope

Generating Arguments about Climate Change

Academic journal article Science Scope

Generating Arguments about Climate Change

Article excerpt

"My brain hurts!" said Elton after being asked by a peer student to explain what evidence supported his claim that the Earth is warming. Another student jumped in to defend Elton, saying "Figure 4 shows that Earth's temperature is increasing!" This was a typical exchange among students engaged in a unit on global climate change, which gave them the opportunity to engage in the process of scientific argumentation. Below is a description of this unit, along with some tips for teachers to help enact it.


Scientific argumentation in the classroom

In order to facilitate students' sense making about scientific data and phenomena, it is helpful to prioritize their development of scientific explanations. In fact, the creation of scientific explanations is explicitly prioritized in the National Academies' new conceptual framework for K--12 science education standards (NRC 2011). One way that science teachers can focus more on the explanatory aspects of science inside the classroom is to use instructional strategies that incorporate scientific argumentation. This particular unit is structured following an instructional model known as "generate an argument" (Sampson and Grooms 2010). Classroom lessons, or content units, adhering to this model provide students with a collection of data generated from one or more empirical studies or from some other published source. Students, working in small groups, are tasked with using the data and information provided to generate a scientific argument to address a guiding question (e.g., "Is the Earth presently cooling, warming, or staying the same?" and "What are some potential causes of the climate change?"). Once the small groups generate their scientific argument, which consists of an explanation (i.e., their answer to the research question) and the evidence and reasoning they used to support it, students share their arguments via a round-robin-style poster session (described below in the context of the lessons). During these poster sessions, students evaluate and critique each other's explanations, as well as the evidence and reasoning that were used to support them. Finally, individual students prepare a written argument that addresses the original guiding question. In the global climate change unit described below, an additional step beyond the generate-an-argument model is added. In this extra step, students' arguments further undergo a double-blind peer-review process. This peer-review process is borrowed from the argument-driven inquiry instructional model (Sampson and Gleim 2009; Sampson, Grooms, and Walker 2009), which is also designed to promote and support student engagement in scientific argumentation.



The lessons below were created using the generate-an-argument model to help students understand global climate change science. This content unit is divided into several phases so as to scaffold the appropriate skills (i.e., pattern recognition and graphical analysis) and understandings needed for engagement in the subsequent phases.

Phase I: Generate an argument: Patterns in climate data (~3 days)

The goal of this lesson is to familiarize students with some of the relevant climate data and the nature of argumentation in science, getting them used to supporting and challenging explanations based on evidence. Additionally, this lesson serves as an evaluation of students' skills, such as interpreting graphical data, understanding how scientific knowledge is produced, understanding what the atmosphere is like, etc. Phase I of the unit starts with the teacher engaging the class with the topic to come: global climate change. The teacher should start with some questions to elicit student ideas, such as "What is climate?," "What is our climate like?," "How is climate different from weather?," and "Is our climate changing?" The teacher then relates that the present unit is a fun way to answer the questions about if and how our climate is changing. …

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