Argumentation in the classroom

The first things that often come to mind when we think about science and science learning are experiments by lab-coated, goggle-wearing students mixing bubbling chemicals in beakers and flasks. But what happens next? The central practice of effective argumentation is just as important as the experiments themselves, perhaps even more so.

The Learning Design Group (LDG) at the Lawrence Hall of Science, in collaboration with Boston College, has been researching the importance of argumentation, and developing materials to effectively teach it. Researchers identified four elements of argumentation for educators to focus on: evidence, reasoning, student interaction, and weighing competing claims.

The resulting Argumentation Toolkit provides videos, guides, and strategies for educators to use as they implement argumentation in their classrooms. These videos and other multimedia directly address the four elements of argumentation. Using these resources, teachers can learn more about how to help their students effectively evaluate evidence and use that evidence to support scientific claims.

As a central tenet of what it means to “do science,” there’s no question that teaching argumentation belongs in science classrooms. Yet argumentation is important to more than merely science. It is a critical thinking skill that students employ in other academic disciplines, as well. The Argumentation Toolkit is aligned with Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy. These standards emphasize using evidence from texts to present careful analyses and well-defended claims—the same skills that can be taught using the Argumentation Toolkit.

“Argumentation is new and challenging, and teachers are hungry for tools to help them implement it in their classrooms,” says Suzanna Loper, primary investigator of the project. That is why the Hall and our partners are working hard to provide teachers with this important resource.

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