I’m unsure what Mr. Jacobs, my high school physics teacher, would’ve thought about us arguing in science lab. As much as I liked him and that class, he was a pretty by-the-book kind of guy. But argument sure would’ve made us better science students, according to new research.
This Ed Week article, called Students Learn by Arguing in Science Labs, shared information about a method of teaching science called argument-driven inquiry and a study that folks from Florida State’s Center for Educational Research in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science did with middle school students who practiced this method.
As the article laid out about argument-driven inquiry, each lab task “involves an eight-step process, beginning with the teacher presenting a problem and small groups of students choosing on their own method and experimental approach to investigate it.” I like it already – the fact that students get to make some choices about their own experimental approach. I also already admire the teachers that were part of this work, for they knew that things were gonna get messy – as they should in a science class!
The article went on to say that
The students collect and analyze their data and develop arguments to present to the rest of the class. Based on those discussions, the students may collect more data, reflect on their findings, and write up an “investigation report” that has to go through a double-blind peer review process, modeled on the peer review boards that professional journals use to screen scientific papers submitted for publication. Each student then revises his or her work and submits a final report.
Now, what came of all this, according to the researchers? What change happened to students who undertook this process? Well, students in the inquiry labs improved in science writing and in understanding of the nature and development of science knowledge, They also showed, as might be expected, “nearly twice as much improvement in their ability to use and generate scientific explanations and arguments as the students in the traditional labs.”
Science class is often too neat and tidy, with packaged lab kits that lead students to some single answer. The kits and the kids that use them often “avoid [the] intellectual messiness” that’s part of doing real science. I like this argument-driven approach, and it seems well aligned with the popularity of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs and the career readiness they’re espousing.
I got the above great pic from here.