In Making sense of argumentation and explanation by Berland and Reiser, the authors argue that scientific explanations have three purposes: 1. sensemaking, 2. articulating, 3. persuading.
They summarize these nicely as constructing arguments, presenting arguments, and debating arguments.
I like these. A lot. The authors don't treat these three purposes as separate domains but argue that each of these serve to strengthen the other.
Other than being really interesting, why is this relevant? From page 31:
We suggest that viewing student work in terms of these three instructional goals can clarify students' successes and challenges in constructing and defining scientific explanations and consequently inform the design of supports for this practice......we suggest that each aspect of the practice may require different types of support for students.This has very broad implications about everything from assessment to scaffolds to how to structure the entire class. The authors studied the CER framework and decided it was good for purpose 1 and 2 but not so much for 3. My personal experience backs that up. From the abstract:
Through this analysis, we find that students consistently use evidence to make sense of phenomenon and articulate those understandings but they do not consistently attend to the third goal of persuading others of their understandings. Examining the third goal more closely reveals that persuading others of an understanding requires social interactions that are often inhibited by traditional classroom interactions.
If someone were to ask me what the three legged stool of science education is, as of May 2012 at least, I'd say content knowledge, inquiry, and argument. You can't have a complete science education without all three.
In science education, argument is our weakest area. I know for me, it wasn't even something I thought about until last year.
This is my way of qualifying any suggestions I have. I'm still new at this. I don't have a lot to offer.
What I can tell you is that if you want students to engage in argumentation, you need to give them something to argue about. Sounds obvious right? But if I explain a topic, then we do a confirmation lab, and then I expect students to engage in argument about that topic, I'm setting myself up for all sorts of disappointment. I haven't given them anything to argue about. I've just given them an opportunity to show me how well they've memorized what I've said.
I've got three other suggestions which I'll break into the next post.