Preparing Science Teachers to Argue: Scientific Argumentation in the Classroom

I. A. Rationale: Current research in science education suggests that including opportunities for learners to engage in a scientific argument (SA) promotes not only conceptual understanding of the content beyond rote memorization, but also develops an understanding of the nature of science (Sampson & Schleigh, 2013). The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS: Achieve, 2013) clearly emphasize the use of evidence to develop a SA at all grade levels, providing descriptive guidelines that address the interactions between content, scientific practices (especially of SA), and the way that learners would be able to demonstrate an understanding for the science concepts and for the nature of science. NSTA, is a strong advocate for helping teachers learn how to implement SA in their classrooms, taking a lead in offering workshops, publications, and resources that work to facilitate a transformation in the approach to teaching science. The difficulty remains that teachers are not easily transitioning to teach with this new approach. The resistance may be partially related to the lack of opportunities that teachers have previously had in learning through SA, their lack of role models or previous instructors that have implemented SA in the science classroom (Oleson & Hora, 2013) and their lack of the tools or resources to support a transition from traditional to reformed science teaching (Sykes, Bird & Kennedy, 2010; Windschitl et al., 2012). Often, even teachers who describe “good science teaching” as opportunities that involve inquiry and the use of scientific practices (such as argumentation), continue to practice didactic, teacher-centered instruction (Keys, 2005), suggesting that their perception of their role as the “all-knowing-experts”, rather than the role as mentors, may interfere with their ability to allow learners to investigate concepts (McKinnon & Perara, 2015). Therefore, breaking the traditional approach, and the traditional perception of the teacher’s role can be difficult. There are particular places in the cycle of learner-teacher-learner where this chain of experience can be broken. The experienced in-service teacher and the teacher educator can serve as strong agents of change to overcome the resistance to new teaching approaches (Schleigh, Bosse & Lee, 2011) by using the approach in the k-12 classroom (Sampson & Schleigh, 2013) and in the pre-service teacher courses (Ozdem, 2009). Although these Agents of Change are less likely to revert to the traditional methods of teaching science and of the traditional perceptions of their roles as educators, they too need to have opportunities to experience, test, and evaluate the strategies to effectively implement SA in their classrooms, before they will likely influence the next generation of science teachers. When teachers (and teacher leaders) can experience the learning in the same manner as the learners, and then discuss, evaluate the effectiveness and engage in problem solving these strategies, as they would be implemented in a variety of different populations and learning environments, they will be more likely to be effective leaders in the science education reform that includes the SA approach.
B. Overview Description: This workshops emphasizes highly interactive interactions among the participants, involving them in identifying and developing and/or collecting evidence to support a scientific argument. Participants examine evidence, consider alternative arguments, evaluate the methods in which the data is collected and interpreted, and determine which claims are strongest based on this information. Attention is given to the development of a “safe” environment that encourages everybody to participate and all ideas to be equitably considered. There are several strategies that have been tested and will be used during these activities to facilitate the “safe” environment, especially for very diverse student populations and identified “at-risk” or underrepresented student populations in science. Attention will also be given to the language in both verbal and written forms that supports productive and respectful SAs, to the structure and phrasing, and the important components that help to generate a strong SA. Participants reflect on their experiences as learners in the activity to promote discussions about the strategies they experienced, consider how these strategies may work with their learner populations (including discussions of the modifications that might be considered), and share ideas that could support other participants’ situations. The participants examine a version of the activity in the traditional teaching approach, and discuss how the activity was modified to support the implementation of the SA approach, further working toward changing their own practices and providing them with information to share with their learners to change their practices. The science content itself is flexible. Materials that can be used for multiple science activities/investigations, allow participants to guide the direction of the content so that the focus is on the strategies and approach rather than on the content specifically. This further helps participants consider how to transfer the methods learned in the workshop to their own teaching practice.

C. Overall goals:
• Participants will learn about the components of a SA
• Participants will learn how to construct a strong SA
• Participants will find value in teaching through a SA approach
• Participants will learn how to teach through a SA approach
II. Timeline, Objectives and Instructional Strategies: (timeframes can be adjusted for each section of the following plan: 90min/4 hrs. If the workshop is scheduled for 4 hours, 5 – 15min breaks will be built in)
1. Pre-assessment & introduction (10/30 mins): Identify what participants know about SA (structure, component, other information that makes a SA?). Strength comparison of SA? Participants write ideas, share in small groups. Whole group discussion; facilitators share the accepted structure and components of a SA. Facilitators provide acceptable sentence starters and response structures for classroom discussion/SA and compare to “everyday arguments”. (Objectives: Participants will describe their understanding for the components of a SA.)
2. Experiencing the development of SA (30/60 mins): Facilitators present a discrepant event. Participants will make assumptions about the discrepant event. Small groups make decisions about how to investigate an assumption. Using a Round Robin strategy (Sampson & Schleigh, 2013) small groups discuss/examine each other’s ideas for data collection and provide peer feedback. Small groups collect/analyze data. Facilitators move through groups, ask questions about processes/decisions, focus on their explanations (how/why they did what they did; what they think results mean). (Objectives: 1. Participants will identify multiple ways of investigating a phenomena. 2. Participants will design and conduct an investigation to answer a question.)
3. Presenting Data & Explaining Meaning (20/45mins): Participants organize the data, write their ideas about what they think the data means in terms of answering their questions related to the discrepant event. Using white boards, explain their data and meaning in a Round Robin activity. Facilitators remind them to use the components of the SA for their small group interactions/presentations and to use sentence starters/structures during peer reviews/discussions. (Objectives: 1. Participants will use data as evidence to support claims. 2. Participants will describe their ideas about what the evidence means in terms of explaining a phenomena. 3. Participants will evaluate alternative meanings.)
4. Writing and Evaluating Arguments (15/30 mins): Whole group discuss the results of the various investigations. Facilitators focus discussion to identify strengths of different evidence, asking how data collection influenced results & other possible interpretations. Facilitators share scientifically accepted ideas, whole class discuss how results support/refute them. Facilitators review the components of a SA and individually, participants write a SA about the phenomena. Participants use a rubric, score peer’s arguments in small “blind” groups, offering peer feedback/scores. Facilitators collect these, select a couple to review as a whole group, discuss the author’s argument and the peer-review feedback from the small group. (Objectives: 1. Participants will write a SA about a phenomena they have observed. 2. Participants will evaluate the strength of SAs in terms of the components that are included. 3. Participants will evaluate the ability of their peers to demonstrate specific science content through a SA.)
5. Debriefing and Research: (10 – 30 mins): Small groups discuss and write on stickie notes the strategies used for SA, indicating more/less helpful for individuals/groups, in developing the argument and learning content. Groups post on board for whole class discussion. Facilitators encourage the participants to make suggestions to modify strategies to more effectively support individuals/groups/learning environments in developing SAs and learning science content. Facilitators share examples of SA implementation in other groups/learning environments, their research, experiences as PD and as teachers. Participants examine a similar lesson/activity, written in a traditional approach, and whole class discusses/compares the traditional lesson to their workshop experience. Facilitators discuss common issues preventing teachers/students from using/engaging in SA. Facilitators share how research in SA informed educational leaders about best practices in teaching/learning science and provide further resources participants can draw on for their own/learners’ uses. (Objectives: 1. Participants will identify specific strategies to support students learning through argumentation. 2. Participants will discuss strengths and weaknesses in various strategies that support SA and science content learning. 3. Participants will share possible modifications that could be used to support diverse populations and learning environments in SA.
6. Concluding and closing: (5 – 15 mins): Whole group discusses value of workshop. Participants share ideas about whether they will try to implement the strategies and/or SAs in their classrooms. They reflect/share how their previous approach compares to what they experienced in the workshop and how this may/may not change perception of teacher roles. They write a reflection describing workshop experiences, how experiences will be valuable (or not) for their own teaching practice/their learners. They offer suggestions for workshop facilitators to improve the workshop experience for future participants. These are collected by the facilitators to add to the evaluation for the success of the workshop. (Objectives: 1. Participants will describe the value of implementing SA in their own classrooms with their own learner populations. 2. Participants will reflect on the impact of the workshop on their own ideas about best practices in teaching and learning science. 3. Participants will provide suggestions to improve the workshop to meet their needs or the needs of their learners.)
III. Networking & Support: Classroom materials/curriculum provided. Facilitators collect & exchange contact information and invite participants to a FB group and future training/workshops. Emails & FB posts throughout year will check on participants’ attempts to implement SA, identify support needs, and seek learner SA samples for inclusion in future publications and workshops.
IV. Audience: Teacher leaders/educators, PD providers & curriculum developers for all levels of science learning.
V. Budget, workshop needs, etc.
Provided with the references page.
VI. Facilitator credentials in reference page.