Formulating and Communicating Conclusions

Designers Should Help Students Justify Their Solutions Through Argumentation

Namsoo Shin & Steven McGee

What is argumentation?

One can define argumentation in science education as “meaning a process of proposing, supporting, criticizing, evaluating, and refining ideas, some of which may conflict or compete, about a scientific subject” (Kuhn, 1993, 1992). In developing argumentation, students must employ a rich base of shared knowledge and beliefs held by a community in order to evaluate and communicate knowledge claims (Van Eemeren, Walton, Willard, Woods, & Zarefsky, 1996). Empirical evidence is an important consideration for evaluating scientific theoretical claims (Jimenez-Aleizandre, Rodriguez, & Duschl, 2000).

Why is argumentation important in scientific inquiry?

  • It is what scientists do.
    Argumentation is essential to both performing science and communicating scientific claims (Jimenez-Aleizandre, Rodriguez, & Duschl, 2000; Siegel, 1995). In conducting scientific investigations, argumentation is used to construct scientific knowledge claims, to evaluate the claims constructed, and to establish the objectivity of scientific explanations (Duschl, Ellenboger, & Erduran, 1999). For communicating scientific findings and conclusions with others, scientists justify a collection of evidence and coordination of their theoretical ideas with supporting or contradictory evidence in argumentation (Bell & Linn, 2000; Koslowski, 1996).
  • It lends to improve learning outcomes.
    When students are provided opportunities to engage in argumentation, they participate in wide-ranging conversations in small groups and in the whole class. Their reports contain a diverse set of ideas (Duschl & Gitomer, 1997; Penner, Giles, Lehrer, & Schauble, 1997; Roth, 1995). Moreover, engaging students in argument building can support students’ view of science as an ongoing process in which knowledge is sought, questioned, and revised (Diehl, 2000; Strike & Posner, 1992).

How does a designer encourage students’ argumentation skills?

  • Provide authentic contexts.
    Kuhn found that argumentative reasoning skills do not occur equally across all learning environments (1992). Students must have opportunities to choose among different options and to reason which criteria lead to the option chosen (Kuhn, 1993, 1992). Research argues that authentic contexts are an adequate framework to promote arguments (McGinn & Roth, 1999). For authentic contexts in science education, learning tasks must be designed according to scientific culture (or the culture of science practitioners). The major characteristics of authentic problems are (a) relevance to the life of the students, and (b) the use of criteria about evidence and justification similar to the criteria scientists would use (Brown, A., & Duguid, 1989). See details in Ill-Structured Problem Solving.
  • Provide access to contradictory pieces of evidence.
    Research suggested that students benefit from being encouraged to consider a collection of evidence and coordinate their theoretical ideas with supporting or contradictory evidence as they engage in argumentation (Bell & Linn, 2000; Koslowski, 1996). To facilitate students’ arguments, designers have to promote students’ taking into account a wide variety of contradictory empirical evidence instead of individual pieces of evidence in their constructed arguments (Driver, Leach, Millar, & Scott, 1996; Bell, Davis, & Linn, 1995). In addition, students should be encouraged to evaluate theoretical claims against empirical evidence or data from other sources rather than solely on directly demonstrated intuitive and surface ideas (Kuhn, 1993, 1992).
  • Provide feedback to reflect on the structure of arguments.
    Students who perceive benefits of arguing put more effort into building effective arguments, research shows (Sanders, Gass, Wiseman, & Bruschke, 1992). A designer should provide students feedback about how their argument reflects on main ideas, issues, or topics. In addition, students should be encouraged to think about the relationship between their arguments and the main issues.


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