Part 1 of 5 – What is Argument in Science?
Everyday, people attempt to convince others to agree with their ideas or opinions. How can you decide which ideas are strong and which are weak? How can you evaluate the ideas or opinions of others so as to make a sound decision? One way to is to evaluate whether an opinion or idea is supported by strong evidence and reasoning.
When an opinion is science-based and supported by both scientific evidence and reasoning (known science concepts), it is called a scientific argument.
Let’s watch and compare two individuals that are each making an argument to answer the question: Should runners run barefoot or with shoes? As you watch the videos think about what makes for a strong, persuasive argument. As a class you will discuss the answers to the following questions:
- What are the ideas or opinions expressed by each speaker?
- What was different in how each speaker made their case?
- Who has the strongest (more believable) argument and why?
- The speaker who is less believable, what would make his argument stronger? What is missing?
Watch Tutorial Video 1
Watch Tutorial Video 2
Class: Watch the videos and think about the questions above. Take notes on the videos in your student pages on the Scientific Argument Notes sheet. Afterwards you will discuss your answers as a class.
Ideas or opinions are different from arguments. Opinions are not arguments because they lack three critical components: claim, evidence, and reasoning. Similarly, a scientific argument has a science-based claim, is supported by evidence, and understood through known scientific facts (reasoning).
A scientific argument...
A scientific argument…
As you watched the argument videos you might not have noticed when opinions were being used instead of science facts. For the next few class periods you are going to engage in a tutorial to learn how ideas can be presented and supported with facts and reasoning. You are going to learn about strong scientific arguments that are convincing to others (i.e. your classmates, teacher, and/or a city council) and how to tell them apart from opinions.
At the end of this tutorial you will be able to:
- Identify the components of a scientific argument
- Evaluate the strength of a scientific argument and its components
Part 2 of 5 – The “Claim” of Scientific Argument
Knowing that a scientific argument must have claim, evidence and reasoning, let’s examine the first component: the claim. Claims are statements about a phenomena or event. However some claims are obviously stronger and more persuasive than others. What might make a claim stronger or more persuasive than another? Consider the claim statements from the barefoot running videos. Which claims are strong? Which are weak?
Class: Rank the claim statements according to their strength (1 is the strongest claim). Remember to consider the question being asked. What did they have in common?
You might have thought that the strongest claims were complete thoughts or sounded believable. In a scientific argument, strong, persuasive claims have certain characteristics.
Class: Think, Pair Share: Discuss with your group the example investigation and claims found on the Evaluating Claims as a Class sheet. Answer the questions that follow. Afterward discuss your answers as a class.
Questions to consider with your group and discuss as a class:
- Which claim(s) answer the question asked?
- Which claim(s) are causal (include why or because)?
- Which claim(s) are the most clear, restating the question asked?
- Which is the best claim statement for the data provided?
Which claim is the strongest? Why?
Did you realize that the strongest claims are those with multiple boxes checked (both answer a question AND explain a cause/effect)? The weakest claims had only one box on the table checked. On your own, analyze the claim statements from a second student investigation.
Student: Evaluate the claim statements for the unknown substances investigation on the Evaluating Claims as an Individual sheet. Answer the questions that follow on the bottom of the sheet.
Consider this question: Which student claim in this assignment is the strongest? To help determine this, write your own claim by answering this question using the Strong Claim Characteristics as a guide. Practice writing your own claim and share it with the class. What sentence starters are helpful when writing your own claim?
Student: Complete the Scientific Argument Notes: Claims sheet and share your claims with the class.
In summary, a strong persuasive claim is different from opinions or simple facts. It answers a specific question and includes a reason why the answer/solution is correct. However, a persuasive argument does not end with a claim statement, it must be supported by additional information—Evidence.
Part 3 of 5 – The “Evidence” of Scientific Argument
Most people agree that evidence is essential to science and it is key to supporting a scientific claim. However, what counts as evidence can be confusing or hard to determine. What makes one piece of evidence stronger than another? Consider the evidence statements from the barefoot running videos. Which pieces of evidence are strong? Which are weak?
Class: Rank the evidence statements according to their strength (1 is the strongest). Discuss as a class the statements that were the strong and weak. What did they have in common?
In your rankings you might have thought that many of the statements made good points and included numbers to seem stronger, but which statements were strongest?
- Were all numbers equally helpful as evidence? Why or why not?
- What did the stronger pieces of evidence have in common?
In a scientific argument, strong, persuasive evidence statements have certain characteristics.
Evidence consists of trends or patterns in your data that you can see over multiple examples. Evidence is not pure numbers, observations, or raw data. Evidence is the pattern or trend that emerges when the raw data is analyzed.
The quality and type of evidence matters; strong evidence supports a claim and makes it more persuasive. What are the characteristics of strong evidence statements?
Using these Strong Evidence Characteristics as a guide, let’s compare the given evidence statements from the chemical reaction investigation and analyze each for strength.
Class: Think, Pair, Share: Discuss with your group the evidence statements found on the Evaluating Evidence as a Class sheet and fill out the chart. Decide which statement is the strongest. Discuss your choice with your group then answer the questions below. Afterwards, discuss as a class.
- Which evidence uses inference (speculation or generalities) and which uses measurement?
- Which evidence includes measurement trends/patterns and which evidence only states numbers?
- Which evidence statement is the strongest? Why?
Did you realize that the strongest evidence statements are those with the most boxes checked (Includes trend/pattern, is accurate and appropriate, and is sufficient in number), while the weakest evidence had only one or none boxes on the chart checked?
Previously, we compared the claims written for a classroom investigation asking the question: Is Substance #1 and Substance #2 the same substance or different substances? On your own, now analyze the students’ supporting evidence for this same investigation.
Student: On your own, review the investigation, data collected, and given claim found on the Evaluating Evidence as an Individual sheet. Choose the best evidence statement that supports the claim. Explain why you chose that statement.
In summary, a strong claim with supporting evidence is different from an idea that is opinion-based. However, a persuasive scientific argument does not end with a claim and evidence. A scientific argument needs to include the link of scientific content or scientific fact—Scientific Reasoning.
Student: Complete the Scientific Argument Notes: Evidence sheet
Part 4 of 5 – The “Reasoning” of Scientific Argument
We have discussed the first two components of scientific argument: claim and evidence. Now we will address the third, and possibly the most critical, component of the scientific argument:
What qualities might make some reasoning statements stronger than others? Let’s consider the reasoning statements from the barefoot running arguments. Which of the statements are strong? Which are weak? Why?
Class: Rank the reasoning statements according to their strength (1 is the strongest). Discuss as a class the statements that were strong and weak. What did they have in common?
In your rankings of the reasoning statements, you might have thought that many had valid points, but were some stronger than others?
- What did the stronger reasoning statements have in common?
- What type of vocabulary did the stronger reasoning statements use?
- Was there a connection to the original claim or idea?
Scientific reasoning gives an argument its strength. Scientific reasoning explains why; what it all means. The reasoning explains the science that was occurring and what it means to the question. Specifically, the reasoning is the science content or facts that links the evidence to the claim you made.
Strong reasoning links a claim and evidence, giving an argument justification and context within the natural world. What are the characteristics of strong reasoning statements?
Let’s compare and analyze the reasoning statements for the chemical reaction investigation. Analyze the student’s scientific reasoning for this investigation using the Strong Scientific Reasoning Characteristics as a guide.
Class: Think, Pair, Share: Discuss with your group the reasoning statements found on the Evaluating Reasoning as a Class sheet. Fill out the chart individually. Decide which statement is the strongest, and discuss you choice with your group.
- Which statement(s) used appropriate science vocabulary?
- Was a scientific “Big Idea” explained?
- Which statement(s) linked the claim and evidence?
- Which reasoning statement is the strongest? Why?
Once again you should have noticed that the strongest reasoning statements are those with the most boxes checked (appropriate science vocabulary, scientific big idea explanation, explaining why or how the big idea connects the evidence and claim) and the weakest reasoning had none or one box on the rubric checked.
Previously, you compared the claims and supporting evidence written after a classroom investigation that asked the question: Is Substance #1 and Substance #2 the same substance or different substances? On your own, now analyze students’ scientific reasoning for this same investigation.
Student: Review the investigation, data collected, given claim and evidence found on the Evaluating Reasoning as an Individual sheet. Choose the best reasoning statement. Explain why you chose that statement.
In summary, strong scientific arguments are persuasive and include three critical components: claims, evidence, and reasoning. The quality of these three components strengthens the argument that is answering a scientific question. You will now record notes on scientific reasoning and afterward you will put it all together and evaluate whole arguments for strength.
Student: Complete the Scientific Argument Notes: Reasoning sheet.
Part 5 of 5 - Evaluating Complete Scientific Arguments
In this tutorial you have learned to identify the components of a strong scientific argument (claim, evidence, and reasoning) and to evaluate the strength of each component individually. Now we will put it all together and evaluate arguments as a whole.
As a class, lets look at the following student arguments. These were written after the students completed an investigation in class to answer the question “How does exercise affect your pulse rate?”. Identify the individual components of the student’s argument (underline the claim, number the pieces of evidence, and circle the reasoning statement) and evaluate the strength of each. Ultimately, you will compare the two arguments and determine which is stronger and why?
Class: Think, Pair, Share: Identify the components of the argument (claim, evidence, and reasoning). Then use the rubric on the Evaluating an Argument as a Class sheet to evaluate the quality of each component. Answer the questions that follow the second argument.
Discussion Questions for Each Argument:
- Are you persuaded to the writer’s way of thinking? Why or why not?
- Does it meet the characteristics of each component of an argument?
- Is the evidence appropriate and/or logical with the claim?
- How can you improve the weaker argument?
Now that you have evaluated an argument as a class (identifying the components and determining their argumentative strength), you are going to try it on your own. In your student pages you will find two different arguments for the question “Why do you think penguins are able to survive in their natural environment?” Read, compare, and evaluate each of the arguments for strength. Determine which one is the stronger argument and why.
Student: Compare and evaluate the scientific arguments found on the Evaluating Arguments as an Individual sheet. Identifying the components of each argument, then rank each on the rubric. Answer the questions that follow the second argument.
Making an argument is one of the fundamental things we do as a society. People make arguments everyday. Basic argumentation means claiming that something is true and trying to persuade others to agree with your claim by presenting evidence and reasoning to support it.
Learning to identify and evaluate strong arguments is important for all citizens. Not only do scientists make arguments based on science, engineers do as well. Solutions in engineering are informed by scientific evidence and reasoning and presented to clients through argumentation. Through this tutorial you have learned how to identify and evaluate strong scientific arguments. This will help you increase your critical thinking skills and become a well-informed citizen.