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Elementary students' views of explanation, argumentation, and evidence, and their abilities to construct arguments over the school year


  • Katherine L. McNeill

    Corresponding author
    1. Lynch School of Education, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02467
    • Lynch School of Education, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02467.
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Science includes more than just concepts and facts, but also encompasses scientific ways of thinking and reasoning. Students' cultural and linguistic backgrounds influence the knowledge they bring to the classroom, which impacts their degree of comfort with scientific practices. Consequently, the goal of this study was to investigate 5th grade students' views of explanation, argument, and evidence across three contexts—what scientists do, what happens in science classrooms, and what happens in everyday life. The study also focused on how students' abilities to engage in one practice, argumentation, changed over the school year. Multiple data sources were analyzed: pre- and post-student interviews, videotapes of classroom instruction, and student writing. The results from the beginning of the school year suggest that students' views of explanation, argument, and evidence, varied across the three contexts with students most likely to respond “I don't know” when talking about their science classroom. Students had resources to draw from both in their everyday knowledge and knowledge of scientists, but were unclear how to use those resources in their science classroom. Students' understandings of explanation, argument, and evidence for scientists and for science class changed over the course of the school year, while their everyday meanings remained more constant. This suggests that instruction can support students in developing stronger understanding of these scientific practices, while still maintaining distinct understandings for their everyday lives. Finally, the students wrote stronger scientific arguments by the end of the school year in terms of the structure of an argument, though the accuracy, appropriateness, and sufficiency of the arguments varied depending on the specific learning or assessment task. This indicates that elementary students are able to write scientific arguments, yet they need support to apply this practice to new and more complex contexts and content areas. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 48: 793–823, 2011