- Scientific inquiry in K-12 classrooms tends to be procedural, lacking
opportunities for students to gain understanding of how scientific knowledge is
constructed through reflection, debate, and argument. Limited opportunity to
develop scientific argumentation skills prevents students from practicing the
scientific thinking needed to understand the nature of scientific knowledge and the
role of scientific inquiry. To solve this problem in science education, recent
research has focused on how to support student opportunities to learn scientific
argumentation in the context of learning science content.
The purpose of this investigation was to examine and analyze one science
teacher's understanding of scientific argumentation and his teaching strategies for
developing students' argumentation skills in the classroom. This investigation
also analyzed student discourse in response to those teaching strategies, to see how
students demonstrate improved scientific thinking skills while they developed
skills in scientific argumentation.
One science teacher, Mr. Field, and his students at the middle school level
participated in this study for two months. Three interviews employing semi-structured
protocols were used to examine Mr. Field's understanding of scientific
argumentation. A structured observational protocol enhanced with field notes and
audio tape recordings were employed to investigate Mr. Field's teaching strategies
that led students to demonstrate scientific thinking skills. Transcriptions of
student discourse and two lab reports were also analyzed for the quality of
students' scientific thinking skills. Three different tools for argument analysis,
Toulmin, Epistemic Operation, and Reasoning Complexity, were used to examine
student argumentation in detail.
The teacher, Mr. Field, defined scientific inquiry as the combination of
developing procedural skills through hands-on activities and reasoning skills
through argumentation. Seven different teaching strategies emerged based on
sixty hours of classroom observation. Daily Science and the Claim-Evidence
Approach were the two main teaching strategies that gave students opportunities to
demonstrate the reasoning skills needed to construct scientific knowledge.
However, students developed less extended arguments during Daily Science,
whose purpose was to provide them with a chance to practice basic skills, such as
differentiating independent variables from dependent. On the other hand,
students developed more extended arguments during the Claim-Evidence Approach,
where the purpose was to provide students with opportunities to develop claims, to
find evidence from experiments to support the claims or refute those of others, and
to discuss the limitation of the experiments.
The less extended argumentation observed during these activities is
described as a linear flow, moving from Mr. Field's question to students' answers
to Mr. Field's evaluation at the end. The more extended argumentation can be
described as a circular flow, moving from Mr. Field's question, to students'
answers, to Mr. Field's evaluation with more prompts or questions, to students'
responses as justification, to Mr. Field's general explanation based on students'
justification, and finally to the teacher's or students' synthesis or applications.
The former argumentation is named Fundamental Argumentation and the latter
Exploring Argumentation. Fundamental Argumentation occurred more often than
the other during this study. Shifting from Fundamental Argumentation to
Exploring Argumentation was observed to depend on the teacher's scaffolding,
such as using more extended questions and prompts to further the discussion.
In addition, the students' abilities to develop scientific argumentation were
related to their scientific knowledge, the teacher's engagement in interacting with
students, and the opportunities students had to practice scientific argumentation.
Limited scientific knowledge is believed to prevent students from demonstrating
reasoning skills. Also, "wait time" that students need to retrieve knowledge,
described by Mr. Field, is also believed to be one of the barriers to scientific
argumentation in some of Mr. Field's classroom interaction. Further investigation
of students' abilities to develop scientific argumentation in different contexts, such
as group work and whole class discussion, is recommended with the use of the
argument analysis tools employed in this study, in order to better understand the
nature of learning and teaching scientific argumentation in the classroom.