May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Should We Teach Our Students to Argue?

Posted: Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

by Grahme Smith

We all love to get the correct answer. It feels great to be “right.”  As soon as we learn how to point, we are cheered for being able to identify the correct color of our toys, and to accurately count the number of peas on our plate. For toddlers, there are correct answers. They learn that adults know the answers and praise children for saying the “right” thing. This idea often is reinforced in school through testing and teacher directed learning. Students learn that the teacher or the textbook or the Internet has the right answer, and that the job of students is simply to find and regurgitate information. In Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse, Jonathan Osborne notes that “deep within our educational fabric, education is still seen simplistically as a process of transmission where knowledge is presented as a set of unequivocal and uncontested facts, transferred from expert to novice.” However, the goal of education is to help students learn to think rationally and independently, to problem solve, and to make informed decisions. Osborne explains that the goal of science is not just to understand the things we’ve already learned but also “to produce new knowledge of the natural world.” If we’re sending the message to students that their role is simply to regurgitate preexisting information, how will they ever develop into independent thinkers and science innovators?

Many in the educational community feel that taking a constructivist approach is the best method to support students in formulating their own ideas and in fostering independent thought. The hope is that when students generate their own understanding, they have more ownership of the concepts and gain a deeper understanding of the material. The argument against constructivism is that it can perpetuate misconceptions and it does not push forward our collective thinking.  For example, if a student constructs their own understanding of why there are phases of the moon, they might mistakenly think that the Earth’s shadow causes the moon’s phases. On the other hand, if a student is simply told the cause of the moon’s phases, they will likely not internalize nor have ownership over the information, and it will be quickly forgotten.

Osborne’s answer to this conundrum is to have students do what actual scientists do; argue. “Argumentation is the means that scientists use to make their case for new ideas.” From informal discussions in laboratories to formal peer reviews, new ideas are validated and broken down based on feedback and scrutiny from colleagues. “Critique is not, therefore, some peripheral feature of science, but rather it is core to its practice, and without argument and evaluation, the construction of reliable knowledge would be impossible.”  He cites a study indicating the most learning gains come when students participate in activities that are interactive and require collaborative discourse and collaboration.  This discourse forces students to defend their ideas and helps them develop an understanding of how we know what we know about science instead of just an understanding what we know. With this methodology students are encouraged to construct their own ideas, then defend and justify their thinking against another student’s ideas and the literature. This ensures that students are learning accurate information, gives space for students to learn from each other, and helps to collectively move group thought forward.

My questions for the CSTA community this month are how can we channel the energy and enthusiasm students put into being “right” into having a critical discourse with their peers? Can we de-program students into believing that it is ok to be wrong and that understanding why they’re wrong is more important than simply being right? Can we have students argue in class without causing chaos? Have you been able to do this in your classroom or informal learning center? As a professional science educator, do you engage in this type of discourse with your colleagues? Please share your thoughts about the importance or effectiveness of argumentation in enhancing student’s conceptual understanding and scientific reasoning and let us know how you have supported this with students and peers.

All quotes are from Arguing to Learn in Science: the Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse written by Jonathan Osborne and published in Science in April, 2010. Click here to read the abstract: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/328/5977/463.short.

Grahme Smith is manager at the Teacher Institute on Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences and CSTA’s informal science director.

 

Written by Grahme Smith

Grahme Smith is manager at the Teacher Institute on Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences and CSTA’s informal science director (2011-2013.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

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To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.