Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scientific Argumentation - Incorporating CCSS into my Biology Class

One of the CCSS standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects stresses argumentation as a key idea.  "Central to the process of engaging in scientific thought or engineering practices is the notion that what will emerge is backed up by rigorous argument. Writing Standard 1 places argumentation at the heart of the CCSS for science and technology subjects, stressing the importance of logical reasoning, relevant evidence, and credible sources."  -NGSS Appendix M 

I have always wanted my students to be able to better analyze graphs, data, and the outcomes of their labs.  Many times students look at a chart or graph, they have no idea what it means.  They don't really look at all of the provided information or connect it to what we are learning in class.  Students are so used to be spoon fed the information that they need to know, that they don't do have the critical thinking skills that they need to really process information.

With the implementation of CCSS, I now feel that I can justify spending the time to really work on practicing these skills with my students.  

This summer, I purchased the NSTA book Scientific Argumentation in Biology.  This book is written using the NGSS Frameworks and CCSS.  It contains 30 activities to practice writing arguments.  It teaches students how to write claims, back them up with evidence, and provide justification that relates to the data and topics in science.  Some of the activities are based on articles, pictures, graphs, and data tables, and others have students conducting labs and analyzing the results.  It also goes over counterclaims, and using evidence from multiple sources.  Students work in groups and make a chart containing the parts of their argument on a whiteboard.  Students then present their arguments to other groups to get feedback and develop a stronger argument.  I plan on using many of the activities from this book in my class this year.

I led a professional development for teachers in my district in August and shared an activity from this book.  One of the teachers from my school later shared that he used this whiteboarding argumentation process with students to analyze the data that they collected from their labs.  I hadn't thought of using this argumentation strategy with lab conclusions and I was just about to finish my first inquiry lab with my students, so I decided to try it out. 

First, I taught my students how to write an argument which included a claim, backed up with evidence, and then provide justification.  Next, students practiced by creating a whiteboard with their argument  using the "Mystery Footprints" activity.  The next day, they completed the same activity on their whiteboards using their lab data.  They wrote out their arguments and then visited other group's whiteboards to provide feedback and ask questions about other groups arguments.   Students really were able to analyze the data they collected from their lab and came up with much better lab conclusions than in the past. 

Argumentation Whiteboarding Chart Layout
There are many more uses for scientific argumentation than analyzing data and labs.  My class is participating in the KQED Do Now STEM twitter program.  Each month there is a new Science topic, where a question about a current science issue is posed.  There are resources such as readings and videos for students to learn some background information, then they participate in an online conversation through twitter with students across the country.  As students read the provided background information and watched the video clips, I had students write their own arguments.  They used the same format as we used when writing their arguments from their lab data.  Then, when they were ready, they tweeted their arguments.  But they had to be concise, as they only had 140 characters to tweet with.  This helped the students really refine their arguments.

I am very excited about using this strategy in my class for the rest of the year.  It allows students to collaborate, critically  think, and clearly communicate their ideas.  It is making my students better observers and they are starting to make many more connections between what we are learning and real life examples of the content.  I highly recommend the Scientific Argumentation book.  I have even used this process with my AVID students as they analyzed a reading from a history text.  I think this whiteboarding strategy would work for any subject area.

CCSS Writing Standard 1 for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects 

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1a Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1b Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form and in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1c Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1d Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1e Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.

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