Academic journal article Science Scope

Turning the Science Classroom into a Courtroom: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Academic journal article Science Scope

Turning the Science Classroom into a Courtroom: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Article excerpt

Every day, all of us, including middle-school-age youngsters, are besieged with unscrupulous claims backed by questionable evidence. Turn on the television, read the newspaper, or go online, and you can't avoid someone making a claim to adults about how to lose weight, how to stop smoking, how to increase your financial investments, or the benefits of herbal medicines. For kids, it may be a basketball sneaker company that claims it will make them into a top athlete, or an energy drink that is guaranteed to give them more pep. To prevent middle-level students from being bamboozled into making false assumptions, teachers need to provide lessons that (a) help students analyze assertions and scoff at claims that lack compelling and empirical evidence and (b) instill in their students the ability to discern a deceiving scientific argument from one grounded in substantial evidence. Effective teachers do this, in part, by giving students the experience of stating a claim, then defending and justifying it with supportive evidence. This will help students, when faced with a claim, not to jump to conclusions.

Rather, they should first ask the following: Is the claim realistic? How reliable is the evidence? Is the evidence compelling?

This article proposes a way to scaffold students toward an understanding of scientific argumentation by answering three questions:

1. What are the basic parts of a scientific argument?

2. What do the Common Core State Standards and A Framework for K--12 Science Education say about argumentation?

3. How can teachers help introduce students to the concept of making and defending arguments by turning the science classroom into a courtroom?

First, teachers need to explain to students that everyday home and school-yard arguing is not the same as a scientific argument. Unlike conventional arguments, where middle-level students engage in quarrels through their interactions with classmates and peers, scientific argumentation is a critical-thinking skill that students apply to propose, support, critique, refine, justify, and defend their positions about issues relating to science (Llewellyn 2013). As Ross, Fisher, and Frey (2009) put it, "Children are often good at arguing, but not at argumentation" (p. 28).


Although scientific arguments can vary in form and fashion, they often involve six essential elements:

1. The question emanates from an observed phenomenon that generates a scientific investigation or debate.

2. The assumption is an initial statement that uses prior knowledge to describe or explain an observed phenomenon. Sometimes the assumption helps build a model that constructs a possible answer to the question being studied. The assumption can also lead to a proposed hypothesis, a tentative answer, or a possible solution to a problem.

3. The claim is an assertion or conclusion that attempts to answer the original question or summarize the findings of a scientific inquiry.

4. The evidence is extracted from all the data collected in the form of observations and measurements. The evidence supports the legitimacy of the stated claim.

5. The explanation summarizes the claim and provides an interpretation of the newly acquired knowledge.

6. The rebuttal is a discussion, coming from the presenter's audience, that provides a counterclaim or new evidence to refute the original claim made.

These six elements play an important role in designing argument-based science investigations. Based on what scientists do and what we try to teach our students about scientific practices, argumentation is as inherent to scientific inquiry as it is to the nature of science.

Created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects is a foundational document for crafting highquality literacy standards for grades K--12. …

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