The two articles for this week touched generally on the importance of argumentation and explanation as a means of acquiring scientific understanding and strengthening scientific practices, as well as they provided specific examples of how these practices might appear in the classroom.
The first piece I read, by Reiser, Berland, and Kenyon, offered a discussion of explanation and argumentation as they appear in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, elaborating on the interdependency of the two practices and describing through four classroom examples how these practices may be identified and encouraged in students. The article focused strongly on explanation as a means of describing why a natural phenomenon occurs, and on argumentation as a collaborative way of presenting and refining various potential explanations based on experimental evidence.
The second piece, by Sampson and Gleim, described the eight steps of an instructional model designed to engage students in self-initiated scientific inquiry for the purpose of understanding natural phenomena through experimentation, analysis, explanation, argumentation, revision, and reflection. The article comprises a step-by-step walkthrough of the program, which the authors claim can be an effective tool for integrating science with non-STEM subjects and for promoting literacy in both science and language.
Cross-cutting themes I picked up on include:
- Argumentation is an inherently collaborative and communicative practice, relying on dialogue to help participants analyze their theories from multiple perspectives.
- Explanation and argumentation are inextricably linked, dealing ideally with the formulation of accurate cause-and-effect models of natural phenomena.
- Good explanation and argumentation promote metacognition and encourage students to articulate and challenge their own thinking.
I appreciate that the Sampson article was very explicit in its descriptions of the type of instruction it can take to support students in this kind of complex thinking and communication. This, coupled with Reiser’s suggestion that teachers ought to ask ‘why’ questions to provoke ‘why’-type thinking, made the two articles seem very much like a field guide to explanation and argumentation to me. Both articles spoke to the challenging dialogue that constitutes argumentation, providing examples of students critiquing each other’s explanations and even challenging their own thinking when forced to reconcile it with new information. The articles brought me to reflect on my own conceptions of science teaching, especially with regard to what it might look like as a teacher to engage in argumentation and constructive review of student work during times like this.