Author(s): , ,
Institution(s): 1. Concord Consortium
Teaching scientific argumentation has emerged as an important goal for K-12 science education. In scientific argumentation, students are actively involved in coordinating evidence with theory based on their understanding of the scientific content and thinking critically about the strengths and weaknesses of the cited evidence in the context of the investigation. We developed a one-week-long online curriculum module called "Is there life in space?" where students conduct a series of four model-based tasks to learn how scientists detect extrasolar planets through the “wobble” and transit methods. The simulation model allows students to manipulate various parameters of an imaginary star and planet system such as planet size, orbit size, planet-orbiting-plane angle, and sensitivity of telescope equipment, and to adjust the display settings for graphs illustrating the relative velocity and light intensity of the star. Students can use model-based evidence to formulate an argument on whether particular signals in the graphs guarantee the presence of a planet. Students' argumentation is facilitated by the four-part prompts consisting of multiple-choice claim, open-ended explanation, Likert-scale uncertainty rating, and open-ended uncertainty rationale. We analyzed 1,013 scientific arguments formulated by 302 high school student groups taught by 7 teachers. We coded these arguments in terms of the accuracy of their claim, the sophistication of explanation connecting evidence to the established knowledge base, the uncertainty rating, and the scientific validity of uncertainty. We found that (1) only 18% of the students' uncertainty rationale involved critical reflection on limitations inherent in data and concepts, (2) 35% of students' uncertainty rationale reflected their assessment of personal ability and knowledge, rather than scientific sources of uncertainty related to the evidence, and (3) the nature of task such as the use of noisy data or the framing of critiquing scientists' discovery encouraged students' articulation of scientific uncertainty sources in different ways.