One of the biggest changes that have occured in the shift to meet the intent of the NGSS is the role that students play in their own learning. Students are no longer allowed to be passive participants in their own education. Instead, students drive the learning. In middle school, this is especially apparent in the Science and Engineering Practice Engaging in an Argument Using Evidence.
How do students Engage in Arguments in Middle School?
Argumentation is a key practice in science because it allows scientists to determine the most plausible explanation when more than one possible explanation exists. This is also a major difference between Engaging in an Argument and Constructing Explanations.
Also, argumentation is because it helps students to understand that science is a dynamic process. Our understanding of the world around us improves over time.
What are the parts of an argument in a science class?
The three major parts of a scientific argument are the claim, evidence, and reasoning.
At some point in your instructional sequence, students will encounter questions that can be investigated. Ideally, these questions are student-generated. (Click here to read more about the Science and Engineering Practice Asking Questions) Students will answer the question using evidence that they have collected in class. This answer will be provided in the form of a simple statement, often referred to as the claim.
It's also important to note that the claims should be causal instead of a statement of observation. This is a great way to tie in the Crosscutting Concept Cause and Effect and thus the third dimension. (Click here to learn more about three-dimensional learning.)
Students can gather evidence in a wide range of ways in your classroom. They can analyze data on a graph or conduct an investigation. Students can find evidence in their reading, videos, or other components of the class.
Students will use this evidence to support their claim and need to provide reasoning to connect the evidence and the claim.
Why do students struggle with the reasoning in a scientific argument?
While students can generally provide a claim and evidence, they struggle with creating reasoning. This may be due in part to how we define reasoning for them.
For example, when I first started teaching students to include reasoning, I asked them to connect the evidence with the claim. I noticed students were restating the evidence without including much reasoning.
So, I dug a little deeper. In many cases, students believed that the evidence that they had provided made an obvious connection to their claim. However, these connections are not clear to the reader.
Reasoning can be defined as what the evidence means.
To improve understanding, I redefined reasoning by asking students to tell me what the evidence means. Students will still need practice.
Once they are able to explain what their evidence means, I ask them to provide a greater connection. I started asking my students to include a definition, scientific principle, or outside research. Once I included this component, their reasoning improved dramatically.
How do I help my middle school students improve at engaging in an argument using evidence?
My favorite way to help students improve their arguments is to have them review a pre-written argument. They were asked to identify the claim, evidence, and reasoning in these arguments.
This helped them to see that the reasoning was more difficult to identify because it discussed the evidence and the claim. They were also able to see what a well-structured argument might look like.
Check out this NGSS aligned resource to help middle school students engage in an argument.
Click here to find this resource in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
The resource contains:
An explanation of the components of an argument (Claim, Evidence and Reasoning) to be used in an interactive notebook or as a handout
- An activity that requires students to identify the claim, evidence and reasoning component in 3 different arguments with a key
- 2 graphic organizers
- 3 versions of rubrics for grading student arguments
- Teacher instructions
- PDF and Google Slides™ Version
Don't forget the argument in argumentation.
In order for students to actually engage in an argument, there should be some uncertainty in the accuracy of their claim. If there is no uncertainty, students are simply constructing explanations. Ultimately, students should be able to explain why their explanation is the most accurate, and other explanations are not.
Create an opportunity for students to give a rebuttal.
Once students are comfortable with formulating a claim, evidence, and reasoning, they should start developing the ability to craft a rebuttal. You can start by providing students with two or more potential arguments in order to provide an alternate account. You can also create a debate-style situation where students are arguing for or against a scientific advancement that may cause an ethical concern.
Either way, students will need to listen to the argument crafted by the other side and find evidence against that argument. This provides the opportunity for a much more rich style of argumentation. (This is also an excellent way to incorporate both listening and speaking English Language Development Standards.)
Want to learn more about the NGSS Science and Engineering Practice of Engaging in an Argument Using Evidence?
Check out these resources to learn more:
- Asking Questions
- Your Questions about 3-Dimensional Learning Answered
- Teaching Science in 3D Podcast – How to Make Sense of the Science and Engineering Practices